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
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.
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.
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.