Mother’s Day 2015
For thus says the Lord… As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who have mastered the fine art of being able to place any amount of food on a plate without anything touching.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who count the sprinkles on each kid’s cupcake to make sure they’re equal
You realize that you have just cut your husbands Veal Scallopini into
bite sized pieces for him.
I have a brief word for young mother’s, especially if you have left a basement full of laundry and a pantry full of muddy boots and there is a make shift fort in front of your garage. The baby is teething; the boys fought all the way to church and your husband spent an hour on the phone this weekend, working on a deal.
It is from a mother in a former generation (Erma Bombeck). “There will come a day”, she says, when “you’ll straighten up the boys’ bedroom neat and tidy: bumper stickers discarded, bedspread tucked and smooth, toys displayed on their shelves. Hangers in the closet. Animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.
You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?” And you’ll have it.
No more tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more lost shoes under sofa pillows. No more playpens to arrange a room around.
No more anxious nights with a vaporizer. No more sand in the sheets. No more fake tattoos, rubber bands for ponytails; tight boots or wet knotted shoestrings.
Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. Washing clothes only once a week. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.
No PTA meetings. No car-pools. No blaring radios. No teenage girls washing their hair at 11 p.m. Having a roll of Scotch tape with tape actually on the roll.
No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. Only a voice crying, ‘Why don’t you grow up? And the silence echoing ‘I did.’
Erma even gets me a little misty. But I have to tell you, she wrote this just before her grown children moved back home.
Kids are precious aren’t they? I read about one woman whose daughter just turned 11 months old. Full of the awesome wonder of the new world, her first words were ‘Wow’. “She spoke this marvelous word for anything new and wonderful to her, such as the assortment of toys she spotted in the pediatrician’s office or the gathering of clouds before a storm. She whispered, “Oh Wow!” for things that really impressed her, like a brisk breeze on her face or a flock of geese honking overhead. Then there was the ultimate in “Wow,” a mouthing of the word with no sound, reserved for truly awesome events. These included the sunset on a lake after a magnificent day and fireworks in the summer sky.
One day when she was 14 months and they were cuddling in the bed on an October day. Her daughter just said ‘happy.’
Another day, when she was in the midst of her terrible two’s she pointed to a beautiful model on the cover of a magazine and said ‘Is that you, Mom?’
And one day when she was three she put her hand on her mother’s arm and said “Mom, if you were a kid, we’d be friends.” ‘At moments like that’ her mother wrote ‘all I can say is ‘Oh, Wow’!
It is for this reason that we should say a word about Mother’s as the divine presence. For we worship a God who knows every hair on our head, a God who cares for us, an unseen presence that we recognize as comfort and strength. I wonder where we got that idea? [Caroline- hit the video] You know, every week, we repeat a prayer that begins “Our Father, who art in heaven”. And the Apostle’s Creed begins “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
But did you know that there is another tradition in the bible that thinks of God as Mother? It is a minor tradition, to be sure, but it is important nevertheless.
In the book Children’s Letters to God, one letter is from a girl named Sylvia, who wrote: “Dear God, Are boys better than girls? I know you are one, but try to be fair.” Sylvia.
I think most of us are like Sylvia. We think of God as Dad, probably because Jesus referred to God as Abba, daddy, papa.
I remember the first time I prayed “Oh God, our Mother, you comfort us in our time of need like little children.” I was in a little Baptist church in rural Kentucky and one of the farmers came up to me afterward and told me I should stick with the way the Bible talks about God. I showed him our passage. He was dumbfounded.
It’s not surprising. We didn’t have these passages read to us much when we were children.
There is a hymn of praise in Isaiah that is kind of startling. It starts off with a military male image and then concludes with a birthing image. It says “The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he show himself mighty against his foes. [Then we have God speak] For a long time, I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant” (Isa. 42:13-14).
Isaiah is totally comfortable with the image of God as a mighty warrior and as a woman in labor, and Isaiah puts them side by side.
And there is another balance of metaphors in Moses speech to Israel in Deuteronomy 32: 18. He says “you deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who have you birth.”
The combination reminds us that god is not limited to male or female images. And it also suggests that God is a personal being, but not a human being. Today Peter William Chick was presented for baptism by Tim and Caroline, and just like this verse, mother and father stood together and promised not to desert the god who fathered them or to forget the God who gave us all birth.
The prophet Hosea uses one image for God, seeing God as a parent who teaches a child to walk, a parent who picks it up and bends down to feed it. These are all the tasks that a mother performed in ancient Hebrew society. God is agonizing over the prodigal child, but rejects fierce anger in favor of warm and tender compassion, like a mother waiting up and night in worry. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me… Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with chords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to feed them… My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not human, the Holy one in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:1-4; 8-9).
Yet another prophet, Jeremiah, speaks of the love that God has for us that comes from the womb. “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in? As often as I speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore, my womb trembles for him. I will surely have motherly compassion on him, says the Lord” (Jer.31:20)
These are not verses our children have memorized but perhaps they should. Jesus knew them; in John’s gospel he uses this image of giving birth to describe the ordeal of the disciples as they were being birthed into a new life. He said “You must be born again”.
Jesus freely identified with a mother animal image, likening himself to a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. (Here we mean chicks in the ancient barnyard usage, not the Men’s locker room understanding). He says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing”. Jesus uses an image of a comforting mother to describe his deep love for a lost city.
Finally, there is the image of God in the Revelation of St. John at the end of the bible. John pictures a new heaven and a new earth. He sees the compassion of God at work. It is not an exclusively motherly image, but it is an image every one of us associates with our mother. I read from Rev. 21:3-4. “And God will be with them fully; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
I think that is right. There is a strong sense in which our Mother’s are the presence of divine comfort for us. Or conversely, for the vast majority of us, when we experience the presence of divine comfort, we remember our Mother’s- vaguely, viscerally.
The psychologist Robert Coles wrote about the children that first went through the experience of integration in the Deep South in the early 60’s. It was traumatic at the time, these black children walking to school with white parents protesting outside, yelling slurs at them, while they tried to keep their composure and just walk in the front door of the school. Coles wondered what that was like for them, so he interviewed some of their parents. One African-American mother he interviewed said this.
“Every day when my daughter comes home from school, I can tell she is anxious and worried. Those adults yelling hateful things at her on her way to and from school. She would never show it in front of those people but she was afraid and nervous. So everyday when she got home from school, I would have her put away her books and things. And then I would have her come over to me and sit on the couch and I would just hold her there in my arms. After a bit she would just start to cry. I would hold her and rock her and she would get through it.
And then it would make me angry and worried. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it, except every evening I would go over to my Mother’s house. We would share the goings on of the day, how she was doing and what not. Then I would reach over and put my hand on her arm. And she would put her hand over my hand. I would just stand there for a moment and we’d get through it.
At some point I began to realize that my daughter was leaning on me, I was leaning on my Mother, and my mother was leaning on Jesus. That’s where we got the strength. My mother was Jesus for me and I was Jesus for my daughter.”
That’s it in a nutshell. I don’t know anybody, how old, how independent and tough, that doesn’t need a little divine mothering. I don’t know anybody, however young and naïve, that can’t pass on a little divine compassion to others. I hope you get to be part of the blessing somehow, someway.
A blessed Mother’s Day to you Mother’s, a blessed Mother’s Day to you Mother figures, and a blessed Mother’s Day to that Mother most in need of liberation, the woman in every woman. Amen.