The Mothering God (Deut 32:18, Hosea 11:3-4. Matt 23:37, Is 66:13)

We all have or have had mothers. Every person here was formed inside a woman, protected and nourished by her.

 

As babies we all needed constant care. Somebody, some mother, fed us, cleaned us, clothed us.

 

It is part of the nature of human beings that we are utterly helpless for a long time after we are born. We depend completely on our mothers to an extent even greater than other mammals and for longer, for years.

 

We can’t really imagine what it’s like to be a baby, but I’m going to ask you to try. Try to imagine knowing no language, being unable to walk, crawl, or even to sit up; being unable to control your bodily functions, to pick up and even to focus your eyes. That’s how it is to be a new born. There is almost nothing you can do for yourself.

 

In the strange world of the very young baby there is one element that stands out and is the very centre. His or her mother. It’s thought that babies can recognise their mother’s voices from within a few days, or at most weeks, of birth. Babies’ sight is blurred and almost useless, except at the distance of about a foot that separates their faces from their mothers’ during feeding. It seems that they can recognise her face at around 6 weeks, while still unable to distinguish any other object.

 

We’ve all observed the way a very young child needs to know where his or her mother is. Feels safe so long as she is in sight.

 

This primary bond, of mother and child, is of a special and irreplaceable kind. There is nothing else that is like it. It is hard to argue with those who have said that this relationship lays the foundation for everything we will become.

 

The Biblical language and imagery about God is overwhelmingly masculine. The terms we are offered for God include Lord and Father. Jesus is the Son. It speaks of God as King. Nowhere do we find Lady, Queen or Mother as names for God.

 

We need to be careful that we don’t allow this to make us forget that when God creates human beings in the image of God he creates them male and female. Neither can claim to represent God alone. Somehow both reflect and show forth God’s nature and God’s rule, in their combination.

 

So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that motherhood, that most feminine and most important human role, is shown to reveal aspects of what God is for us. In Deuteronomy we hear that God gave us birth. The prophet Hosea tells us that God held Israel by the hand, teaching him to walk. Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wing and in Isaiah God promises to offer the comfort a mother offers.

 

The total dependence of a tiny baby on his or her mother is a good image of our relationship to God, in all sorts of ways. We can’t know the world the way God knows it, nor is God’s knowledge just an improved version of ours. Without words, without fully functioning senses, with no experience and no ability to use arms and legs the world of a new born is completely different from that of an adult. So it is with us and God.

 

But we all know that as babies grow all does not remain as straightforward and as harmonious as it is in those early months. The passages we’ve heard express the hurt and disappointment parents so often feel as young people seem to forget and to spurn all that’s been done for them. “You were unmindful”, God says, “you forgot”. “He doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him”. Jesus laments that he wants to protect Jerusalem, “but you wouldn’t let me”.

It’s all too easy to recognise and to identify with both sides in this litany of pain. Children, and we are all children, need to establish their own lives, make their own way, become their own people. Parents, and many of us are parents, have to accept that what their children will become adults who are unlike them, who live differently and have values unlike ours. This can be difficult and can cause great hurt and damage where the bond breaks down and understanding fails, especially when the world is changing as fast as it is today.

 

Our passages remind us that the Biblical story is one where all humanity is in the position of a child who has taken all a mother can give and then turned their back on her. We have forgotten, we haven’t cared, about the care we have been given. We don’t visit or even call, we don’t send flowers or cards, we no longer share our triumphs and disasters, nor do we accept the protection we are offered.

 

On this mother’s day I hope that all of you who have mothers living have remembered them. I hope those of you who are mothers have been remembered. And I hope too that we are all properly mindful that God feels a mother’s love for us, that we are offered comfort by God of the kind a mother offers. We have no need to earn that love or that comfort, any more than any child has to earn their mother’s love, but what would we think of a child who ignored it, or didn’t return it?

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Potters Bar 9 Sept 2012 – Isaiah 35:4-7 and Mark 7:24-37

From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a hart,

and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy,

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water.


In this soaring poem of hope and expectation the people of Israel look forward to the day when their Lord, their God, will restore them to the land they have lost, to Zion. When they will be brought home from their exile in Babylon and all that is wrong in the world will be put right. When the desert will run with water and all that ails human beings will be healed by God’s action. This is a song of exile, a song of faith in God’s promise of return. It is a song of our faith, our hope, our expectation.

It’s sometimes easy for us modern Christians to forget that we are a people too, a people in exile, pilgrim in a foreign land. Think of what we’re promised, eternal life and eternal joy, and compare it to the realities of our lives. We are prey to ageing, to loneliness, to sickness, and to death.

We put these things out of our mind or tell ourselves that this is just the human condition, but that is not the good news Jesus comes to bring us. He tells us that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Kingdom is one where these everyday miseries and the greater ones of war, famine, injustice and oppression are no more. In the Kingdom of God not only poverty and injustice but sickness and death are banished. This is the good news we are given to proclaim.

In the healing miracles we have heard described in our reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus is showing something of that Kingdom. Jesus’ message is that God is at work to restore creation to its intended state, as it was before the fall and that our response to God’s reaching out to us should be love, love of God and love of neighbour. In his healing he shows us what God’s action is like, what the rule of God means for us.

When he grants hearing and speech to the man in the second of our stories he makes him fully human for the first time. In the Jewish law those who could neither hear nor speak were denied all the rights of a member of the community, denied the status of human being. They could not own property, could not marry, could not give evidence in or initiate legal proceedings. While protected by the law they were not recognised as people by it.

Language was seen as the condition of entry into the status of human being and while we are right to see the treatment of these unfortunates as unjust we should also recognise the wisdom and truth in this estimation of the importance of language. When God created human beings in his image an essential part of that was the gift of language.

We are human because we exist in communities, and conversation is at the core of what a community is. When Jesus healed this man he created him as a human being and we can hear that in the words spoken in response: “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak”.

In these words we hear an echo both of the creation story in Genesis. The word translated as “well” here is the word God uses when he sees that what he’s made is “good”. When Jesus says the word that opens the man’s ears and releases his tongue he makes him good as God created all things good in the beginning. The healing that brings this man into the community completes the work that God began by bringing him into being.

This is the realisation of the promise made by Isaiah. The moment of the healing word is the “then” of the prophetic poem. Jesus is God come as Isaiah hoped and foretold he would. The faith of the prophet is made good through Jesus. This is the inner meaning of this miracle, that God will restore us to health, a health only complete in our living in a community of love, peace, and justice.

Now we all know that the full realisation of this Kingdom is still to come. We don’t live in a world where God’s action has put an end to sin and death, but at the same time, as the Church, as Christ’s body, we are called on to proclaim that Kingdom and above all to be its representatives in building up community, in loving one another, in serving those who need us.

I haven’t been with you long but already I see this holy work among you. You care for one another and in doing so you repeat Jesus’ action of restoring some of what has been lost. Of course there is always more that could be done, of course we all have much to learn and much to repent of, but through the grace of our Lord and the inspiration of the Spirit we can and we do witness to the gospel, the good news of God’s rule and God’s love.