Sermon, Mothering Sunday, 14th March 2021, St Peter’s and All Saints by Revd Sarah Flashman
Readings numbers 21 v 4-9, Ephesians 2 v 1-10 and John 3 v 14-21
It seems hard to believe that another year will pass without us being able to celebrate with our mothers and all those who care for and ‘mother’ us in the church community and beyond. Mothering Sunday, situated as it is in the middle of Lent, is located within the incredible overarching story of God’s divine love, mercy, compassion and grace gifted to us in the person of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work upon the cross. The heartbeat of this grand narrative is beautifully expressed by Paul as the ‘immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’. (Ephesians 2 v 7).
Moses stands in the Gap
Our first reading, which occurs fairly early on in God’s overarching story, opens with a familiar theme. We are confronted with ‘the murmurings’ (as one bible commentator calls them!) of the Israelites against God and against Moses. It is not the first time we learn of their impatient diatribe and is by no means an isolated incident. In this instance, the Israelites leave Mt Hor and journey south around Edom taking the Red Sea road. They once again idealise their time in Egypt (much as we might idealise the eternal sunshine of childhood summer holidays; it was so much better back then!). Their complaints and angst (miserable food, wilderness and no water) bring about immediate consequence. Poisonous snakes enter the camp. The Hebrew word for poisonous serpent serapim comes from the verb sarap meaning ‘to burn’. We see denoted here, not just punishment but healing, destruction AND protection, a twofold effect only complete when the people, jolted out of their misery, are moved to repentance. Consider Isaiah 6 and the fire of holiness from God’s throne as the seraphim bring hot coals to touch Isaiah’s unclean lips; repentance and healing/cleansing.
Key in this, is Moses’s role and his calling to act as intercessor. He ‘stands in the gap’ to borrow a phrase from Ezekiel 22 v 30. He stands in the breach to plead for the people. It is not the first time and won’t be the last. The Psalmist refers to this calling of Moses. (Psalm 106 v 23) . As intercessor his prayers effect a powerful salvific response from God’s throne.
Jesus must be lifted up
The theme of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness following his intercessory intervention, is picked up in Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 as Jesus explains that the Son of Man must also be lifted up. Jesus stands in the breach in our place so that, for those who gaze upon him hanging upon the cross and believe, there is no more condemnation. Salvation is brought about by God sending his Son into the world not to condemn but to save through belief in him. As Paul reminds us, grace saves us through faith; it is not our doing but the gift of God (Ephesians 2 v 8). Jesus lifted up upon the cross, overcoming sin, death and hell through his submission and resurrection also stands in the breach for us as intercessor (Hebrews 7 v 25).
Intercessors called to persevere
Moses’s leadership role was often outworked in a parental mode (he only had to turn his back for a moment so to speak and the Israelites got themselves into deep water. Consider the time Moses ascends the mountain and in his absence the people make a golden calf as an idolatrous image). I think there is good reason why the people are referred to as the Children of Israel! In this parental leadership role we see him ‘standing in the gap’ on their behalf, interceding for them. It’s almost as if he holds their pain and angst in taking it to God. A costly gift to his people. On this Mothering Sunday I am reminded that it is so often women who are called to intercede for wayward children, for those who are in deep pain, for those who are struggling. It is often women that feel that call to intercede for hurting people and places, praying for salvation and healing. My own mother at 94 yrs is one of many. A great army of intercessors whose wave of prayer creates a tsunami of love and powerful effect across this dark world. It is not only the preserve of women of course, but today we remember and give thanks for all women who ‘mother’ in all sorts of ways, especially through their intercessory prayers.
For those of us who ‘mother’ and care for the struggling and downcast, perhaps we can be encouraged to persevere as we remember that our actions as well as our prayers so often require us to ‘stand in the breach’ on behalf of others. We cannot today receive our customary token of thanks in the form of posies, but perhaps we can receive the affirmation and encouragement of God to keep praying and standing in the gap as intercessors for needy. These days of covid are depleting and wearying, sometimes discouraging and hard work, and yet God calls us on to keep being intercessors on behalf of others, praying in the saving name of Jesus.
‘So, Moses prayed for the people’ and the Lord responded; ‘whoever would look at the serpent of bronze would live’. Likewise, ‘so, everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life’. May the Lord strengthen and encourage us to intercede that many more will believe and be saved.
‘The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.’ (Thess 5 v 24)…..Amen.