I didn't know where to start this sermon. I've had a lot of ideas floating around in the last week, bubbling just under the surface of a busy time. I knew the ideas were linked, and I could even see what those links were - but they all seemed to go both ways, with idea as important as the next, and no logical order to put them in. This is not a position I like to be in when writing a sermon.
So, instead of presenting any of those ideas directly to start with, I'll say something I've said for the last four nights: (Drunkenly) "It's nice to be nice, isn't it? Know what I mean? It's nice to be nice." I've just been in a play, and at one point I had to act very drunk, and come out with some mindless philosophy, including that line. However ridiculous it was in the play, it's worth considering. It's nice to be nice. Many a true word is spoken in jest, and all that.
So, what - if anything - separates the words of a drunk from the words of a preacher, apart from about twenty-six hours in this case?
The answer is Christ.
I could just preach that it's nice to be nice, and that we should all love our neighbours as ourselves, and that would even be Biblical - but there'd be something missing. It is Christ who informs our love, who acts in any of our "nice" deeds - and that's why we heard so much about Christ in the letter to the Colossians. Two snippets in particular appeal to me: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" and "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus." Just those two bits encompass all of "it's nice to be nice", and a lot more besides.
So, what are the words of Christ we have heard this evening? To his mother: "Woman, here is your son." To a disciple: "Here is your mother."
Those verses always send a slight tingle down my spine. There's something so personal in them - something so simple, but meaning so much. When I first looked at the readings for this evening, I looked them up in my copy of the Jerome commentary, as I always do. It didn't make much sense to me. It often takes a while to understand the commentary, being dry and academic as it tends to be - but this time it was more than that - it just seemed to be missing the point, or at least missing the point which most affected me.
Here we have a man being crucified - hanging on a cross, saving the world through his suffering - and he takes these two individuals and gives them a message. Be there for one another. Look after this woman, this man. Treat them as family. It's almost as if no-one exists for those few verses apart from Jesus, his mother, and the disciple. Just a perfect moment of love and unity. This is Christ at his most personal. Here is a man, vulnerable and in pain - and yet at the same time the Son of God, love itself in human form.
Christ knows all about being a dutiful son - he is giving up his life in accordance with his Father's will - and he knows all about being a loving father, being one with God the Father as he is, and thus the loving parent of all humanity. The Trinity is undoubtedly a hairy topic, and I'm not going to really go into it tonight, but you might like to consider during the week that Christ is in the unique position of knowing both sides of the same sacrifice - what it means to give up your child for the greater good, and what it means to be that child. And in that moment of sacrifice, he cares for others.
Christ isn't God's only child, however. He is unique in the nature of his relationship with God, certainly, but we are all children of God. He loves us all with the deepest commitment and the most patience that a parent could ever show. Through Christ, we are brothers and sisters in spirit as truly as if we had all been born to the same parents. This is why we are urged in Colossians to bear with one another, etc, just as biological brothers and sisters are urged to.
On the local preaching course I'm on, one of the things we're encouraged to do is consider the application of the Scripture to our lives today. I was looking at the reading and considering its application, and everything I thought about seemed to be just messing around with the order of Paul's words. He just says it very, very well. Call this a cop-out if you will, but I don't think I could do better than just to repeat his words:
"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complain against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Of course, that is still a little bit abstract. I'm not going to preach on the war in Iraq - I'll let wiser and more experienced preachers do that - but I'd certainly invite you to consider how that passage applies.
Now, I'm a lazy person, but I'm not quite lazy enough to leave it there. Instead, let's think about how we can apply Paul's ideas to the passage from John. Jesus took two people in need, and connected them. As a mother and son, they would look after each other. Indeed, John writes that "from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." My feeling is that we are all in need. Being brothers and sisters in Christ is wonderful, but there are times when a brother isn't what you need - you need a mother. There are times when a sister can't look after you - you need a son.
Look around you, now. Look at all of the people here this evening in a new light. Here is your mother, your father. Here is your son, your daughter. Look at those walking down the same street as you, in the same train carriage as you, in the office with you. Those are your parents, your children.
Today, we celebrate Mothering Sunday, remembering and marking the incredible love shown by mothers everywhere. God gives that love - and more - to us every day, every minute. Imagine a world where everyone loves one another as perfect parents and dutiful children. Where respect is the rule, not the exception. Where tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and charity are seen on every street.
Today that world seems such a long way off. None of us can do it alone, and I doubt that we'll see that world in our lifetimes - but with the help of the Spirit, with the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts, we can make a difference and bring it closer. Look at the cross, see what Christ did for us, and follow his example of love. And whatever we do for the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters we see around us - whatever we do, we should do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.