Obedience and Sacrifice, all in a day's work for Mum (Exodus 2.1-10, Luke 2. 33-35

As the old Christmas Carol goes ‘Christian children all must be, mild obedient, good as he.’ I was of course always an obedient child, I never spoke back to my parents and always did their will without question. Obvs. Well, of course I didn’t. We’re all human and sometimes we have to go our own way. Sometimes life also calls for obedience.
Here’s another family story, in case you missed the one from last week. Mum still brings this one up about once a year.

We had a green race car teapot when I was growing up, it was a beautiful object, it was a nineteen thirties art deco piece. It was a treasured possession of my mum’s. It WAS a treasured possession.

So when I was about three years old, we had the decorators in to paint the landing and to give it a bit of a tidy up. One of the decorators had put the teapot on the floor. I think you might be able to see where this is going, so into the room I come, and obviously to my three year old brain, that’s not a treasured green art-deco teapot in the shape of a racing car, It’s a racing car that I can play with. I go over to it, and pick up the lid. Just then mum entered the room and she saw me with the lid in my hand about to slam it down back into the teapot. She looked at me, and said ‘NO’. I looked at her, I look at the teapot, I looked back at her again, and in a moment of total defiance, perhaps insanity, I took the lid and went bang, bang, bang, bang on the teapot, and chipped it.
Obviously, there were consequences, both for me and the teapot, sometimes disobedience can cost us.

Last week, if you can cast your mind back that far, I spoke about the ten commandments, and about how doing those things keeps us in right relationship with God and with one another. That obedience to those commandments transforms our relationships and our lives. Being in right relationship with God and each other requires us to be human beings.
This week we have part of that theme again, obedience, we heard the story of two women, Mary and Moses’ mother who are courageously obedient, but also we have the stories of two mothers, who both make enormous sacrifices. Obedience is part of life, so is sacrifice.

Both of these women had immense trust in God. Just before the reading in Exodus Pharaoh has ordered the murder of every male baby born to Hebrew families. In fact this whole story is about subversive and powerful women. In Chapter one, the midwives when Pharaoh tells them to kill the firstborn males at birth, they say, oh no, the Israelite women give birth so fast that they can’t get there in time!  

In an act of desperation and trust, Moses’ mother makes a basket and places baby Moses in it, at the side of the river, hoping that an Egyptian will come along and look after him. She didn’t want to do this, but she knew that she must make this sacrifice in order that he could survive.

Cleverly she left the basket near the path, and told her daughter to keep watch.
Pharaoh’s daughter, is moved with compassion, which causes her to disobey her father, and to take care of the child. So the Egyptians aren’t all bad.
Moses is brought up by a Hebrew despite being adopted by the Egyptians, and is nursed by the very mother that was forced to give him up, to sacrifice his fate to God. 
Our reading from Luke comes just after the song of Simeon, that great and awesome song of thanksgiving to God for the coming of Christ. We hear it sung every week at Evensong, the Nunc Dimittis. ‘For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. To be a light to lighten the gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel. Do we often listen and forget the power of those words? It was before Simeon’s very eyes that he could see the light of the world, the Christ that would redeem all people. The universe entire reflected back at him, in the eyes of that small baby.

Simeon trusted in God, and it was revealed to Him.

That’s what Mary and Joseph are marvelling at, that their baby will be the saviour of the world. But after this song of praise comes a stark warning, take care though, says Simeon, there will be great sacrifices that you as his mother will have to make.
This whole section of Luke is written to explain what kind of upbringing Jesus had. Jesus was brought up in a family that abided by the law of Israel. His parents were the kind of parents, that tried to live by the ten commandments. Obedience to God, for him and his family was an unargued assumption of life. Mary is a model disciple, as she dedicates her child to God, by making a poor person’s offering before God in the temple.

Obedience is not something that’s popular, and to some is seen as old fashioned. It’s often viewed as needlessly authoritarian, and dominating. A throwback to a time when we were expected to mindlessly obey our betters. Religion has been used in this way, to exploit people, to tread them down and keep them quiet. I think this idea of what religion is about, is why many people rail against it. The notion that belief in God requires us to put up, or shut up. This is not the case.
God’s authority is not like this. It’s not something that seeks to grind us into the ground, it’s not a heavenly KGB that forces us into submission, but light, life and liberty.

Sometimes obedience is what’s required of us by God, lest we chip our own teapots.
I wonder if you’ve ever had the call to obedience in your life? I wonder if the cost of disobedience has affected you? Or even if obedience has been costly too?
Obedience for Christians can sometimes be costly, there are huge numbers of martyrs through history and in modern times who died as a result of their obedience to Christ. What does that obedience look like to us in our context?

We are obedient to God when we love each other, we can transform the world through love and forgiveness. We are obedient to God when we pray for each other and the world, being in conversation with God about our lives and our church can only ever be a good thing. We are obedient to God when we attempt to do good things in His name, giving God, not ourselves, or even our church the glory.
The Psalmist writes “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake.” This is our task, through our loving action, and through our vision for this place.

What’s all this got to do with Mothering Sunday?

Being a mother requires some lever of sacrifice most days. Mothers will gladly sacrifice themselves and their needs, for the needs of their children.  Like the ten commandments, when done in the correct way, and like God’s authority, Mothering is transformative in the lives of other people. It’s sometimes painful to do the right thing, it’s sometimes painful to be a mother, it’s these sacrifices that we honour today. The important and formative roles that our mother’s have in our lives can shape who we are.

I have been shaped deeply by my own Mum, and I can see that so clearly, but I’ve also been shaped by people who’ve mothered me, who are not my biological Mum.
Being a mother is an abstract thing. There are women and men who have mothered me at different stages of my life. Mothering is not just limited to biological parents, it’s not just limited to mum’s and their children, but is something that we can all partake of, and is what we celebrate today.

Mothering, which is done truly in a spirit of love and grace, is obedient to God’s purposes. It’s when we take the time to nurture others, to build them up and protect them. Mothering is wisdom and knowledge, support and comfort. There will have been relationships in your lives that were mothering to you, even if at the time you didn’t realise it.

God is often referred to as our Father, but God is equally our mother too. God’s mothering of us cares deeply, breaks bonds and protects us from ourselves.
We might not always be mild and obedient, sometimes we are unruly and perhaps even stroppy. We chip our teapots and smash our plates. We wreck the house, spill coffee on the floor and stain the carpet. We disrespect our mothers.
And yet, the nurturing mothering of God sees past all that. Like a good Mum God forgives us when we disobey, because she wants the best for us.
We might be defiant to God, we may be disobedient unlike Mary, we may not trust unlike Moses’ mother, but at the end of the day what we have to remember is this, and purely this,
Mum knows best.
Preached at Evensong 11/03/18, St Peter Mancroft, Norwich 


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