Epiphany 2: They Have No Wine!

Epiphany 2

16/1/22

Romans 12:6-16a
John 2:1-11 – Wedding at Cana


The Wedding at Cana is one of the great ‘epiphany’ stories that is included in this church season. An Epiphany is to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ I am not sure if you have ever had an epiphany moment – but they are quite extraordinary! Those moments when something new blows through your mind – you see the world, people, a situation in a totally new way.

Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life. They are not always dramatic affairs; rather simply a moment when you know that something has changed in your mind or in your heart. The circumstances might be dramatic but it is not a requirement. Epiphany moments are what we, as Christians, should be seeking for ourselves. Religion and even faith can become very dull if we are not watching and waiting for epiphany moments ourselves

Sometimes in life, we may need a bit of wine to liven things up! We share wine in all sorts of ways, it can add to dinner parties, we bring a bottle when invited to another’s home. Pre-Covid we would have shared the wine at communion. The Bible has many references to wine; both for celebration and for warning about the excesses:

In Genesis, Noah gets into trouble for his over consumption. There is also an early reference to bread and wine being used by Melchizdek, a king who set up a priestly line.

In Leviticus there is a prohibition against drinking wine but equally it was required in many offerings to God

Proverbs:
Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.


Isaiah gives us the beautiful invitation: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

In Psalm 104 we are told that: He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people cultivate- bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.


The New Testament has many references to wine as well. It is an important element of the Gospel reading this morning. The Wedding at Cana is ultimately not about scarcity, but that is where it starts. Mary takes Jesus to one side and utters four words that would strike fear into the heart of any host, ‘they have no wine.’ Jesus has not noticed the wine shortage, but his Mother had and she intends, nay expects Jesus to do something about it.

This is good news! We do not have to negotiate or beg or plead with Jesus to act on our behalf. We may have to persist, there are often many other factors at play that we do not know about or see.

At the heart of what Jesus is doing at the wedding of Cana is protecting the bride & groom and their families from shame. Hospitality is at the heart of Middle Eastern culture and always has been. To run out of wine at a wedding would be beyond humiliation, it would bring disgrace on a family. There were few things worse than failing to provide for one’s guests. Jesus, by providing wine for them, he fulfils the need they have in that very moment. Jesus protected them from shame and disgrace in front of their community. He does the very same for us, Jesus covers our shame, our sins. He covers us in his love. Jesus also covers us in the very moment we need him too. He can change your life, He can change your day and He can also change that very moment you find yourself in.

Back to the wine, Jesus uses six stone water-jars which each hold 20-30 gallons each – let’s say 150 gallons. That is a lot of wine and it was good wine; not the plonk served when the wits of the guests had been numbed. Jesus provided an abundance of wine; probably more than was needed and this is where this story goes from scarcity to abundance.

In Psalm 104, God is praised for providing grass, cattle, plants, wine, oil and bread in excessive amounts. The suggestion here is that it was more than a few blades, a few crusts and a few sips. The question has been asked, how much wine does it take to gladden the heart?

The answer is not very much! It only took the chief steward a mouthful to know that he was drinking something magnificent. The symbolism here being of course that God takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary. We are told that a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is required.

Many people try to fill their lives with excessive amounts of things (including wine) that will not ultimately satisfy them. It takes a little bit of love, a little bit of care and attention, a little bit of faith, forgiveness and grace to make a spectacular difference. God will give us more than we can ever ask or imagine; his generosity knows no bounds. Sometimes we have to come to Him and say ‘I have no wine’. He will provide an abundance of whatever it is we need.

Advent 4: Leaping for Joy (even when it seems crazy!)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Langley

19/12/21
Advent 4 – Year C

Micah 5:2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

When was the last time your heart leapt for joy? I know this seems like a bonkers question right now.

What gets you out of bed in the morning, floats your boat, makes your heart leap for joy? This might be a difficult question to answer especially if you are in a difficult situation currently.

If we look at the situations of Mary and Elizabeth it is difficult to see what there was to leap about. Mary is 14-ish and pregnant. Elizabeth is well – old and pregnant. Socially and medically this is a nightmare.

The men of the story are absent: Zechariah is mute as we are told a few verses earlier for his disbelief and doubt. Joseph might be the only one considering doing some leaping as he considers whether to jump ship (or not) on Mary.

There are also the babies and at least one of them, John, is leaping in the womb. It was at the voice of Mary’s greeting and being in the presence of Jesus that made unborn baby John leap.

Mary has gone in haste to see Elizabeth after Gabriel has appeared to her with some shocking news. I think that haste is a good word; it means ‘excessive speed, urgency of movement or action; hurry’. We often say ‘don’t be hasty’ when cautioning others (not usually ourselves) about making decisions too rashly.

Mary has good reason to go in haste to see her cousin Elizabeth. She was probably terrified, anxious, unsure. When she arrives at her cousins’ home and goes into the house, Mary receives the most wonderful response to her greeting. Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is overwhelmed in that moment with joy and not fear.

She seems to understand what is happening and her response is one of complete humility. Why her? Who is Elizabeth that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Both women have now been made aware of the other’s baby from heaven. Mary from Gabriel and Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth then goes on to bless Mary twice; once for the baby, the fruit of her womb and again for believing that there would be fulfilment of what was spoken by God.

What an example of faith this is to the rest of us as Elizabeth was in a less than ideal situation. This encounter shows us that becoming aware of the presence of God seems to make people leap for joy. Unborn babies, teenage girls and old women. As the Christmas story unfolds other people will leap too.

How aware of God’s presence are we?

My heart can leap for joy at a hundred different things – but not always in church or in prayer or at the communion rail. So I have to ask myself if I have forgotten to expect God to be present?

What would it look like for you to leap for joy at the presence of God? Is it paying attention in the more ordinary and less exciting parts of life?

Maybe it is looking to see Jesus in each other rather than disappointment or criticism?

Maybe it is raising our expectations of God to act in our situations.

Micah, in his prophecy, is told by the Lord to say to Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who was one of the smallest clans of Judah, that from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel. Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was small and insignificant. Yet great things were coming from it. Not for hundreds of years though as Israel had longer to wait and wonder.

In Mary’s response, this waiting and wondering comes to a head as she responds to the double blessing given by Elizabeth as she begins to realise God’s presence and faithfulness to her.

In her great song of praise which follows, Mary expresses her joy at the news she has had and all that it will mean for Israel.

The song, often referred to as the Magnificat, dwells on the great faithfulness of God to his people; his mercy and favour to those who, like her, are humble and meek.

Sometimes we need some reminding that God looks on us with favour – even when circumstances don’t look like it or we don’t feel it. Like Elizabeth and Mary we need humility and faith that God will act. We also need to make space in our lives for God for this to happen.

At Christmas we remember His presence with us and there is no greater reason to leap than that.

Starting with the Basics: Be Like Solomon, Jesus and Mary

I was hoping to be preaching for the home crowd at St Peter’s Lutheran in Cochrane today.

For St Peter’s Lutheran Church

Christmas 2

3/1/21

1 Kings 3:4-15
Ephesians 3:1-12
Luke 2:40-52

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness
to see the radiance of your glory. Amen.

Happy New Year to my St Peter’s family! It is lovely to be with you this morning from across the pond. Would have been lovelier if I had actually been able to be with you in person as I had hoped up until a few weeks ago!

None of us can be too certain about what 2021 holds – we are only three days in after all. On New Year’s Day 2020 I posted this quote from Beth Moore on Facebook: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

This is still very much true as we head into 2021. Many of us have no idea what is coming. I have decided to only use a pencil when putting things on the calendar! We can be sure that God will be faithful, He is going to love us, He will be our light and He will keep his word. Amen!

So where do we start at the beginning of this new and uncertain year? Let’s start with the basics. Many people have learned a lot over the past year, we have learned new ways of doing things, new technology, what we can and can’t live without. We might have learned where our limits are – so many people have been pushed right to the edge of theirs. Some people have never been busier in their lives, others have never been so bored. Some have discovered new activities and hobbies; others have barely made it through each live long day. Some haven’t made it at all.

We need to do something with all this learning. There are a few golden threads running through the readings this morning and we will pull on a few of them. Wisdom is the overarching theme; where and how do we get it? I suggest this morning that we Be like Solomon, Be like Jesus and Be like Mary.

Be like Solomon! Thank you to Pastor Paul for his excellent summary of 1 Kings from his reading. Wisdom comes through asking. As one favourite preacher of mine puts it ‘Go to the throne before you go to the phone. Or Facebook, Twitter, Insta, etc. Much bad advice abounds! I fondly remember a young homeless man when I lived in London. He would sit on the floor in the Tube station on a pile of old sleeping bags. He held up a cardboard sign that said ‘£1 for bad advice’. It was funny and he made some good money, but it was undeniably sad too. Bad advice abounds.

Solomon had it all, he came from a good family, he was likely attractive, rich, intelligent, established a kingdom. Yet, he was smart enough to know what he was lacking. Solomon had been given immense responsibility and power, well beyond his great ability. Solomon wanted an understanding mind to govern his people. Now you might be tempted to think, ‘Oh, if only our politicians had God-given, understanding minds!’ Before you go about calling the kettle black – honestly – how much God-given understanding do you currently have?

In asking for an understanding mind, God blessed Solomon with much more. Solomon sought God, he didn’t go to his advisors, or military leaders. He went to the source of all knowledge and understanding. Solomon went to the throne before he went to the phone.

I had a call from a woman recently who wanted to meet up to talk, let’s called her Sarah. Over the last three years, Sarah has made some unwise life decisions based on some poor advice she was given. The source of the poor advice is her husband. Sarah has a Christian faith and attends a local church when she can. At the end of our first session, I asked her, if at any point she had invited God into her situation? The look on her face spoke volumes. She hadn’t. Sarah had closed this particular compartment of her life to God and was paying a price for that. We ended that first session by praying that she would ask God into her situation, seek his wisdom for the way forward. Her situation is not resolved and likely won’t be for a long-time, but her outlook is different, she has included God, and this is making a difference.

Seek God’s wisdom first, invite him into your situations where you need wisdom. Not the wisdom of the world or heaven help us, social media or even the news. Even the people we love the most and should be the closest can give bad advice. Use God’s wisdom to interpret these other things. Wisdom plays the long game, we build it up, it is collected and gathered along the journey. If you read further on into 1 Kings, Solomon starts well but he goes off course – it would be remiss of me not to tell you that. Had Solomon continued to seek God’s wisdom, the outcome may have been different.

Be like Solomon and keep asking for wisdom, for a discerning mind and heart for whatever tasks lie ahead for you this year.

Be like Jesus in the Temple! This is one of the only stories of Jesus’ childhood in the New Testament. Very little is known other than the flight to Egypt in Matthew and his Presentation in the Temple also in Luke. It is often thought that Mary was one of Luke’s sources for his gospel which makes sense given the detail of this story. As only a mother could tell!

Jesus is found in the temple, sitting and listening and then asked questions. Please notice the order in which Jesus did these things.
He sat, he listened, he asked questions.

We live in a world of noise, so much information comes at us all the time. The platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, Tik Tok, Snap Chat, What’s App, etc give everyone an opportunity to have a voice. Fair enough, we have the right to free speech. Let’s not confuse free speech with cheap speech. Rights come with responsibilities. Use your voice and your thumbs wisely. Even a small amount of time online highlights that so many people are incapable of either of these things. I hope that we have not lost the art of conversation and good disagreement permanently.

When was the last time you just sat and listened? Try it! It is good for the soul. New Year’s challenge – set a timer for 10 minutes once a day, every day this week. Sit down and invite God to speak to you. Listen for his voice. There is no magic, just a bit a discipline.

Be like Jesus at home with Mary & Joseph!

There has always been much debate over how much Jesus knew about himself. Jesus knew that day that he had to be in his Father’s house – as much as this answer confused Mary & Joseph. Jesus then went home to Nazareth and was obedient to them. As Elaine talked about in the children’s story, Jesus grew up and did things that would set him up for his later ministry.

I am not sure what your reaction is when you hear the word obedience or obey. I suspect it is not too popular. Especially in our current world situation with constantly changing rules and opinions. What and who are we to obey? Obey can have negative connotations for many people, especially if it was meant as a form of control or abuse: do as I say, not as I do.


I see obedience to God like the way I see an umbrella. I live in England and it rains a lot, year-round. A good umbrella is an essential tool of living over here. On a rainy day, when my umbrella is up, I stay dry, I can see where I am going as my head is held up, I can see the way ahead of me and walk with confidence.

Under the umbrella of obedience to God, I am protected, I have enough space to live freely within the limits of that umbrella, I don’t worry about getting wet or losing my way and I know that I am loved.

On the same rainy day, I can decide to not put the umbrella up or leave it at home. I will get wet, instinctively my head will drop to keep the rain off my face and out of my eyes. I will not fully see the way ahead. I am not protected from the rain or the wind as I have removed myself from the benefits of protection given by the umbrella.

If I decide to remove myself, either consciously or unconsciously, from the under the umbrella of obedience, I am no longer guaranteed God’s protection or blessing.

God has not moved, I have. My problem is that I don’t always want to stay under the umbrella! Even though I know it is better under it than outside of it. I used this analogy with Sarah who I mentioned earlier, and she very kindly gave me these umbrella socks for Christmas!

Are you operating under or outside the umbrella of obedience? Jesus’ obedience to his parents led to an ‘increase in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favour.’ Forget five minutes of Facebook fame or infamy in most cases, go for divine favour, human favour of the right kind.

Be like Jesus – sit, listen ask and obey.

Finally, Be like Mary! Mary is a great one for pondering and treasuring ‘all these things in her heart.’ Maybe for many 2021 will be a rebuilding year. Some things will have to be left behind and ‘going back to normal’ – whatever that means – might not happen the way we want it to or ever. Treasure what is good, leave out the rubbish that clutters up our lives – whether that is physical, emotional or mental clutter. Pondering means thinking, thinking deeply. It is a form of discipline – think and listening before we speak. Not everything we think needs to go directly from our brains to our tongues and thumbs. Don’t bypass the heart! We are going to need more heart in 2021, more wisdom, more love, more understanding, more gentleness for ourselves and each other. Ponder before you pontificate!

I will end as I began: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

My prayer is that we will be like Solomon and seek God’s wisdom first; go the throne before we go to the phone.

Be like Jesus and sit, listen and then ask questions – in that order.

Be like Jesus and operate under the umbrella of obedience to God, stay dry and keep our heads up!

Be like Mary, ponder and treasure that which is good and let go of the clutter that distracts. His words are sweeter than honey.

Happy New Year! Go well and wisely into this year.

Lent 4: Giving Up

I realize that this is a couple of days late in posting as Mothering Sunday in the UK was this past Sunday. I believe that sermons should be the most useful not on Sunday but later in the week as we live and love and get on with the business of life. I talk about the giving up of motherhood that Moses’ mother and Mary experienced. In this season of Lent we too are asked to give up. It feels hard to do today!

Lent 4 – Mothering Sunday

Exodus 2:1-10
Psalm 34:1-11
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Luke 2: 33-35

While I fully appreciate and celebrate Mothering Sunday for the joy that it brings, I know that this day is difficult for many people. Motherhood can bring great heartache for many different reasons; for those who wanted to be mothers but were not able to for various reasons, the mothers who found it difficult to be a mother and carry that guilt or resentment. Some people’s mothers weren’t exactly as loving and caring as they were supposed to be and the hurt of that lingers on. I think of the mother’s whose children have died before them and the enormity of that grief. Others here may be missing their mothers who are far away or no longer living.

It is important to hold these tensions together this morning as this is what church family does. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Yet we try to find a way to celebrate mothers and motherhood for the joy and delight it brings. I know that motherhood has brought joy to many here as I have listened to your stories and remembered you and them in my prayers.

The aspect of motherhood that I want to focus on today is one that most people overlook or portray in a negative light: ‘giving up’ that is required of mothers.

The giving up of motherhood begins in pregnancy with the giving up of one’s body as it is inhabited by another. Not having ever experienced this I can only imagine what this would be like. Everything is shared as a mother must care for her own body so that it can provide the right environment for the baby as it grows and changes.

Mothers may also have to give up or at least put aside their own dreams and goals for the sake of their child/children. This can be harder for some than for others. This is a considerable issue for many young women in the current workplace; women who put off having a family for their careers face consequences of fertility issues as they age. Some women also need to consider the effects that having a family can present to career advancement later. Many women must go to work out of financial necessity so staying home is not an option for many. We can also fall into the trap that ‘giving up’ something must always be framed in a negative light; that giving up is the same as giving in. It is not!

In this season of Lent, we are asked to give up those things (albeit temporarily) which distract us from our relationships with God. Part of our growth and maturity as Christians is to give up those things that ultimately bring harm to ourselves and others. Giving up is not always a bad thing! It can be a challenge, – especially if that something is not what we are prepared to give up. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

But to give up a child? Or give up on the prospect of having children for the sake of a career or vocation? It’s one thing to lay off the booze and biscuits – but a baby?!

In our readings this morning we see two mothers, Moses’ unnamed mother and Mary, who both must give up their children. Moses’ mother does what she can to keep him hidden until it was no longer possible. She did not want to let him go but ultimately does. Mary is told that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High.

Mary may not have understood what this meant at the time but there was a plan and purpose for her child’s life known to God. Moses’ mother has no assurance of that that, no guarantee that he would be safe and not drown in the Nile, no safety net that putting him in a basket and floating him down the river would work out in the end. Both mothers simply trust that their sons will be taken care.

Moses’ Mother

I think that Moses’ mother was a very brave and cleaver woman. At this time in Israel’s history, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and Pharaoh has commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boys but to let the baby girls live. The midwives feared God and let the boys live. When Moses was born his mother saw that he was ‘fine’ and she kept him and hid him. Risking his life and her own. She had no idea if anyone would rescue him from the water.

In a rather cleaver move, we can assume, that she sent her daughter, the unnamed sister, to stand at a distance and watch. She might have hoped that an Egyptian would rescue him. Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, the very person who was demanding his little life. Did she mean to give her baby to the slave-driver of her people?

By giving him up, Moses’ mother saved his life and got him back. She was good to her word; nursed him and when he grew up took him back to Pharaoh’s daughter. Sometimes we are asked to give things up, we might do it for the season of Lent or maybe it is a permanent give up. If we do it because God has asked it of us, we get it back, maybe not in the way we think we will or even in this lifetime, but God will replace what we have given with better things. God is faithful and knows what we sacrifice and will care for us and love us through it.

Mary

These few verses are part of the bigger story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple to undergo the purification rituals required of new Jewish parents.

The whole of Christian life is one of blessing and sacrifice – we see that in the stories of Moses’ mother, Joseph and Mary. They were given their babies to care for and then had to give them back to God.

In this exchange in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are probably shocked at what Simeon has to say! All parents learn about their children by getting to know them, spending time together, paying attention to them. I would suggest that very few parents learn about their children, let alone their future through elderly strangers at church! Mary and Joseph do not know very much about their baby – up to this point, the shepherds knew more than they did.

Simeon doesn’t bless baby Jesus – instead he blesses Mary. Mary and Joseph needed to be blessed! Tough times were ahead for them! They may not have fully realized in that moment what they were being told or fully understood the sacrifice that was to come. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.’ Jesus would be the baby who grew up to become to new Passover lamb. The one who would be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.

Lent is a season of sacrifice; giving up those things that we are either asked to by God or voluntarily give to him. Moses’ mother got her baby back to give him up again later into the household of Israel’s oppressor. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple where his future was spoken over him, much to their surprise. They received a blessing of mercy. Why? Mary would one day stand at the foot of the cross while her first-born was crucified for the sins of the world.

How much sacrifice of giving up is asked of us? I don’t think we can quite compare with Moses’ mother or Mary. In the crucifixion and resurrection, we see the ultimate act of sacrifice and the greatest act of blessing. We are blessed and restored through the sacrifice and giving up of Jesus and Mary.

Jesus cares for us completely and fully. However much or little we are/were loved by our mothers, Jesus loves us more, cares more deeply, knows us better and longer than they ever will. This is also true for those of you with children – Jesus loves them more than you do!

Wherever you sit today in the range of feelings on yet another Mothering Sunday – bless you. Let the love of God fall on you today.

Lent 4: Mothering Sunday – Giving Up & Motherhood

Image result for hearts with cross lentI’ve fallen behind! I meant to do more writing and posting this Lent but  just haven’t made the time to do it. My last two sermons for Lent 2 & 3 were okay – passable even. I am still working on the condition of my heart – listening to it, having it tested through a number of events and it beats on. It is Mothering Sunday in the UK today. A day when hearts both rejoice and mourn. Here is my offering from this morning.

1 Samuel 1:20-28 & Luke 2:2-33-35

Well here we are again! Mothering Sunday. Looking around this morning I am aware that for many of you – this is not your first Mothering Sunday. Yet you made it to church – well done. Maybe you have had a thought or two about what you might hear this morning in the sermon and wondered if you would hear anything new. I have wondered that myself too!

While I fully appreciate and celebrate Mothering Sunday for the joy that it does bring, I know that this day is difficult for many people; motherhood can bring great heartache for many different reasons. It can be difficult for those who wanted to be mothers but were not able to for various reasons.

There are the mothers who found it difficult to be a mother who carry some guilt or resentment. Some people’s mothers weren’t exactly the loving and caring mothers they were supposed to be and the hurt of that lingers on. I think of the mother’s whose children died before they did and the enormity of that grief. Others here may be missing their Mothers who are far away or no longer living.

It is important to hold these tensions together this morning as this is what church family does. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Yet we try to find a way to celebrate mothers and motherhood for the joy and delight that it brings too. I know that motherhood has brought joy to many here as I have listened to your stories over the time I have been here. We have prayed for many of your children too.

One aspect of motherhood that I think most people overlook or portray in a negative light is the ‘giving up’ that is required of mothers. The giving up of motherhood begins in pregnancy with the giving up of one’s body as it is inhabited by another. Not having ever experienced this I can only imagine what this would be like. Everything is shared as a mother must care for her own body so that it can provide the right environment for the baby as it grows and changes.

Mothers may also have to give up or at least put aside their own dreams and goals for the sake of their child/children. This can be harder for some than for others. This is a considerable issue for many young women in the current workplace; women who put off having a family for their careers face consequences of fertility issues as they age. Some women also need to consider the effects that having a family can present to career advancement later. Many women must go to work out of financial necessity so staying home is not an option for many.

We can also fall into the trap that ‘giving up’ something must always be framed in a negative light; that giving up is the same as giving in. It is not!

In this season of Lent, we are asked to give up those things (albeit temporarily) which distract us from our relationships with God. Part of our growth and maturity as Christians is to give up those things that ultimately bring harm to ourselves and others. Giving up is not always a bad thing! Giving up can be difficult – especially if it is something that we are not prepared to give up. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

But to give up a child? Or give up on the prospect of having children for the sake of a career or vocation? It’s one thing to lay off the booze and biscuits – but a baby?!  In our readings this morning we see two mothers, Hannah and Mary, who both must give up their children.

Hannah seems to give up her Samuel voluntarily as she makes a vow to God. Mary is told that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High – this not a normal baby! Mary says yes to God – let it be according to your word.

Hannah (1 Samuel 1:20-28)

Hannah’s story is one of pain that is both public and private. Her pain centres on wanting something that she does not and at the beginning of the story cannot have. A baby. Hannah is desperate to have a baby – she is one of two wives and the other one was producing children. Hannah was tormented by Peninnah for not being able to have children.

We know from the beginning of 1 Samuel that the Lord has withheld children from Hannah and we are not sure why. Hannah has a husband who loves her regardless of whether she can have children or not. But his other, fertile wife is making sure that Hannah knows that she is deficient, worthless. This happens privately at home.

Hannah prays that God will remember her and not forget her and her misery. In due time – that is a way of saying that it happened when the Lord planned it – Hannah conceives a child. Like Moses mother, Hannah had to give up her son. Hannah wanted nothing more than to have a baby. She fought for one, pleaded for one, took all sorts of abuse about not having one. True to her word – once Samuel is weaned Hannah takes him to the temple and leaves him with Eli the priest.

Hannah’s sacrifice is rewarded with more children – 3 sons and 2 daughters. These children do not of course replace Samuel! He was the first one! But the others were a sign of God’s faithfulness.

Back to – sometimes we have to give things up – things we might feel we deserve or entitled to. Do we trust God enough that He will come through for us? Do we believe that He will remember us as He remembered Hannah?If we give up the things that God’s asks from us, we will be rewarded. We might not see the reward on this side of heaven – have to live with that.

We must remember that our view of the world is not God’s view of the world. He sees the past, the present and the future all at once. We are so much more limited and sometimes we apply our dim vision to God. But God is faithful and knows what we sacrifice and will care for us and love us through it.

Mary (Luke 2:33-35)

These few verses are part of a bigger story – one that we heard as part of Candlemas a few weeks ago as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to undergo the purification rituals required of new Jewish parents.

The whole of Christian life is one of blessing and sacrifice – we see that in the stories of Hannah and Joseph and Mary. They were given their babies to care for and then had to give them back to God. Hannah was remembered and rewarded. We too are remembered and will be rewarded.

In this exchange in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are probably shocked at what Simeon has to say! All parents learn about their children by getting to know them, spending time together, paying attention to them. I would suggest that very few parents learn about their children, let alone their future through elderly strangers at church!

Mary and Joseph do not know very much about their baby – up to this point, the shepherds knew more than they did. The other interesting part in this story is that Simeon doesn’t bless baby Jesus – instead he blesses Mary. Then he says, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.’

Mary and Joseph needed to be blessed! Tough times were ahead for them! They may not have fully realized in that moment what they were being told or fully understood the sacrifice that was to come. Jesus would be the baby who grew up to become to new Passover lamb. The one who would be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.

Likewise, parents need to be blessed! I spent a good portion of my Friday afternoon holding the week-old baby of some very good friends. Baby Lilian is not the next Messiah and probably won’t be destined for the rising and falling of many. But her parents need to be blessed – with sleep, with support, with guidance as they guide Lilian and make sacrifices on her behalf. I would encourage you to bless the mother’s you know – young and ‘more experienced’. Encourage and remind them of the blessing and sacrifice that being a mother brings.

Lent is a season of sacrifice; giving up those things that we are either asked to by God or voluntarily give to him. Hannah gave up her first-born son to God to thank Him for the gift of motherhood. She was blessed with five more children.

Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple where his future was spoken over him, much to their surprise. They received a blessing of mercy. Why? Mary would one day stand at the foot of the cross while her first-born was crucified for the sins of the world.

How much sacrifice of giving up is asked of us? I don’t think we can quite compare with Mary. In the resurrection we see the ultimate act of sacrifice and the greatest act of blessing. We are blessed and restored through the sacrifice and giving up of Jesus and Mary.

Jesus cares for us completely and fully. However much or little we were loved by our mothers – Jesus loves us more, cares more deeply, knows us better and longer than they ever will. This is also true for those of you with children – Jesus loves them more than you do!

Wherever you sit today in the range of feelings on yet another Mothering Sunday – bless you. Let the love of God fall on you today.

Amen.