(Exodus 2.1-10, Psalm 127.1-4, Colossians 3.12-17 & John 19.25b-27 – 2022)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As you listen to my sermon this week, you may think that it does not sound much like a sermon for Mothering Sunday.  However, as we reflect together on the saving of baby Moses, I invite you to pay attention to the women in the story, for they are compassionate, they are courageous, and they are motherly.

So let us begin by setting the scene which led to the extraordinary events of Exodus.

I’m sure many of you have seen or listened to the musical ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’.  Joseph, the son of Jacob (otherwise known as Israel) was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. However, God used this evil act for good, and Joseph rose to be the most important man in Egypt, second only to Pharoah, and from his position of power was able to save his family and many others from famine.

Many years later, Joesph died and so did his protector.  The acts of Joseph were forgotten.  The promises of this Pharoah were forgotten. But the Hebrew descendants of Jacob still lived in Egypt, and over generations they thrived.  They grew in number, until the new Pharaohs became threatened.  They spread rumours, incited fear of the  Hebrews, creating a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ mentality.  They claimed the Hebrews were traitors and would rise up against Pharoah. 

But Pharoah needed the Hebrews for physical labour, so he forced them into exploited slavery.  Pharoah could not do this alone.  Tyrants need willing hearts and hands to help them to oppress others.  Oppression requires social structures and propaganda that reinforces prejudices and prevents equality and justice.

And if you are thinking that this sounds very familiar, if you see shades of the Holocaust, or echoes of the killing fields of Cambodia, or even the language and actions of Putin, then you are right.  Here in the Book of Exodus we see the first recorded example of the Ten Steps to Genocide.

And what comes next?  Pharoah tells the midwives to kill the baby boys when they are born.  This is an act of extermination.  The Hebrew women will have no male counterparts to marry, and so they either have no families or they are forced to marry Egyptian men and assimilate. Pharoah’s words, but requiring governmental structures to enforce.

But God has given us free will.  And God is able to use the righteous acts of human agents to turn the tide against oppression.  Enter the midwives, Shiprah and Puah.  They love and fear God, and want nothing to do with Pharoah’s vile command.  They are compassionate, and they have courage.  So what do they do?  They find a loophole, and claim the babies are being born before they are able to arrive and kill them.

Pharoah then commands that every baby boy is to be thrown into the Nile.  Moses mother, Jochebed, hides her son for as long as possible but then takes an enormous risk to try to preserve his life.  She sends him away, floating in a basket.  She is compassionate, and she is oh so courageous.

Free will exists not only for the oppressed, but also for those on the other side.  There is no way that Pharoah’s daughter does not know the commands of her father, and when she finds the basket floating on the river, she acknowledges that this boy is a Hebrew child.  She had much to lose by defying her father, but she is compassionate and she is courageous, and she rescues baby Moses.  Later she would take him into her home adopting him as her son, thereby creating Moses as an intercessor, one could stand between the Hebrew people and the Egyptians, understanding each side more have lived as both; and so the scene is set for the liberation of the people of God…

Of these women only one was the biological mother, but it took all of them to save Moses.  Each one of them in their own way played their part in God’s story, by using their free will to stand up against evil and act righteously.  I’m sure we all know the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” and we see that here.  In the big scheme of things, these women were powerless and voiceless, but they were not without choice.  The things they did required compassion and they required courage.  

As Paul wrote  to the Colossians, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3.12), or as our school motto tells our children every day: “be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16.13-14).

We are facing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.  Sadly, there will always be people trying to be new Pharaohs, but I saw such compassion and courage from our communities during the pandemic, making sure that people were cared for and loved, that I have no doubt that in the face of cruelty and war we will once again be inspired by God’s love, and ready to use our free will to be compassionate and courageous.  This Mothering Sunday let us be inspired by Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed and Pharoah’ daughter, and let us together be God’s agents at work, the loving mothers and fathers that this world needs.