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March 15, 2015, 12:00 AM

Lent 4 - Year B

 

 

Lent 4

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, was once referred to as Refreshment Sunday. As the name suggests, today offers a bit of a relaxation from the penitential character of Lent. Should random Church history facts appear as a Jeopardy category in the near future, Refreshment Sunday is the only day in which it was legal to officiate a Marriage during the Lenten season. 

    Today is also known as Mothering Sunday. If you want further proof that the greatest existential threat to the church is the revision of Thomas Cramner's 1952 lectionary, look no further. Traditionally, today's epistle reading highlights the theme of maternal love by enlisting Ephsians 4:26 which states "Jerusalem, which above is free; which is Mother of us all."

    There are two wonderful traditions which accompany Mothering Sunday. The first, recognizes our earthly mother, saw servants and workers sent home for an opportunity to worship in their "Mothering church." Once there, members of the church would practice "clipping the church," they would encircle the building, each holding hands and, in a sense, embrace their mother church as a family. 

     I love that image, of a parish family embracing each other and the institution which has brought them together. All of a sudden I feel like The Earl Grantham, pining away to buttress eroding traditions. 

    As this is Refreshment Sunday, I wanted to say just a few short words about this theme of Mothering Sunday and clipping the church in our modern American context. 

    Taking a quick look at this morning’s lectionary, America’s favorite proselytizing verse from scripture is taken from John’s gospel this morning. In my 30 or so years since I have been watching football, I can’t think of a single game, college or professional, in which some member of the crowd, usually near the end-zone, isn’t holding up a banner which reads John 3:16. That verse, which we read this morning, says this:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    That verse, in a sense, is a wonderful representation of the Gospel of John as a whole. You can read it straight-through and have a succinct understanding of the message’s import, or you could spend a life-time delving into the mystery of those same words. 

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    Week after week, month after month, I see various polls and statistical models which point to an over-arching decline in religious attendance and religious belief. Now, you could argue that while Religious participation is declining, perhaps those numbers are also dropping due to declining social pressure to “admit” to going to church. Perhaps we have the same number of people attending church, but more and more people feel liberated to simply tell the truth that they no longer attend. 

    And there are many numbers of reasons why religious attendance figures are in decline. There are somethings we might try to counter-act those macro-level events, and there are somethings upon which we need to rely on God’s grace to stem the tide. I won’t go into all of those now, except to offer that need to return to our mothering church and it’s original faith:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    The Gospel, the Good News that the Jesus movement offered people was a reunion with God. Men and women felt separated from the Almighty. They were told that their illness, their poverty, everything that caused them grief was the product of their own sin. Yet this Jesus fellow came around to remind people that there is no correlation, absolutely none, between our suffering and our sinfulness. Human misery, it turns out, exists not because of human sin, but as an opportunity for human righteousness—to see love transform the broken into the bound. 

    In the two millennia since Jesus’ earthly ministry, the human Church has been rocked by schism and controversy. As if we were looking in mirror dimly, the Church has prioritized the wrong messages. We have been consumed by debates over church hierarchy, personal freedom, and human relationships, sometimes at the very cost of our most basic message: That God loves us—each of us. That God’s love for us was so devout, so unshakable, that He would sacrifice his only Son on our behalf. 

    That is the good news this morning. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That is the teaching of our mothering Church, the message to which we and the Church itself should return to this Mothering Sunday. Should we find ourselves preaching that message of God’s love, we shall also find ourselves surrounded by a wider circle of earthly saints clipping the church alongside us. 

Amen.


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