Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 March 2023.
• First Reading: Exodus 2: 1-10 (Moses put into a basket in the Nile – rescued by Pharoah’s daughter – grew up as her son)
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 (Thanks to God who comforts us so that we can comfort others in the same way)
• Gospel: John 19: 25-27 (Jesus’ mother and others at the cross. ‘Here is your son – here is your mother’)
I am deeply suspicious of the Alpha-male image. It might be acceptable for packs of hunting animals, and there are certainly Alpha-females in herds of horses and elephants but in human society, things are a little different.
If all we need is a strong man to wield a sword against our enemies this might be simple enough. But take an office-bound culture and things are perhaps a little different. People of skill, leadership and organizational ability – fine.
But people to order others around without thought at the meaning or outcome of the orders – not so good. And when ‘Alpha-males’ have to be protected from beta males by surrounding themselves with women, then something is wrong.
And this is before we even consider the alpha-females – now much promoted in our culture. Aggressive, attractive, and utterly unscrupulous. Not always such a pretty sight.
Now look at another aspect of leading in Exodus. Moses is born against the orders of Pharoah, concealed at home for three months and then becomes impossible to hide.
His mother has an incredible dilemma. Protect the child and sacrifice her own feelings – or keep the child close and hope for the best.
She chooses to put the life of the child above her own desire to keep him at home. And so she steps up to the task, making a waterproof basket, placing the baby in it and then launching him forth into an unknown future.
This is costly and she will have spent her life wondering if this was the right thing to do. But an added twist is when she is asked to nurse the baby for his now adoptive mother. To love and care for him without proffering a relationship of mother to son.
Now she is being twisted every way you can think of but the mask does not slip. Moses grows up hers but also of an alien culture.
This is not the stuff of self-fulfilling womanhood. It is deeply sacrificial. There is no room for demanding equality, let alone special attention to the vulnerable. Rather, she continues to live in the portion that God has allotted her, even and perhaps especially, when the personal and emotional cost is so demanding.
But the same thing happened to Jesus’ mother, Mary.
Having carried him and raised him for some 30 years, seen Him grow in all aspects of life, Mary also had to let go of Him.
John tells of the sharp exchange between her and Jesus when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana and Jesus began to reveal Himself. Now He was on the road to the cross and for John, Mary had helped to launch Him into that ministry.
And yes, she had been warned that Jesus’ life would cut into her own heart as well. There was no simple or uncomplicated motherhood here. Mary was the closest living relative that Jesus had and she still had to watch, often from a distance.
No easy answers to the letting go. The cost of doing so was part of her ongoing offering in the plan of God for the salvation of the world. And even this would be liable to misuse as her image became in danger of being used against the ministry of Jesus.
Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote of how God meets us in our own times of trial. He does so in ways that we never expected and could never have predicted.
God takes us by surprise, turning defeats and disappointments into victories. He confirms us in our prayers even when we feel that they are so weak, and even ambivalent.
And yet the ways in which God meets us – through the scriptures, the encouragement of fellow believers, the outcome of strange and even wonderful coincidences, the inner promptings of our souls, and even the beauties of nature and the surprises of our city scenes – all show that whatever we are going through, God has been there before us.
And in Jesus He did just that, coping with both mind-numbing desolation and crushing crowds, personal adulation and yet people ready to stone Him to death.
For whatever our mothers may have felt and been through, in Jesus, God has done the same and more besides.
Whatever portion of human barbarity and degradation we may have witnessed, God has not only seen it all but on the cross has taken the blame for it as well.
But this is perhaps the point. God does indeed meet us at that point of need – and in doing so He enables us to encourage one another also in those places of need and of desolation.
Part of that place of support and encouragement is the fact that rather than projecting His strength, Jesus was content with weakness. The inner, moral and spiritual strength was real enough but the need to control and to demand of others was irrelevant.
In going to the cross Jesus brought that inner strength and the outer meekness together so that He might complete the work of atonement that He had been sent into the world to accomplish.
As we reflect on the work of mothers then we also see a combination of self-giving for the child with the inner strength of faith in the purposes of God in all our lives.
Even Mary’s journey from the home of the Annunciation did not end at the cross of Golgotha. She also found a new hope with Jesus’ beloved disciple, she was there on the Day of Pentecost and she saw the birth and growth of the very early church.
And she was there to give counsel and support in all of them.