Transcribed from the sermon preached May 8, 2016
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Psalm 130:1-14, Isaiah 66:9-13, Matthew 23:37-39
Here are a few Mother jokes to get us started:
Q: What did the baby corn say to the mama corn?
A: “Where’s Popcorn?”
My mother said, “You won’t amount to anything because you procrastinate.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Just you wait.”
Q: Elephant: Why do mother kangaroos hate rainy days?
A:Because their kids have to play inside!
As we read psalm 139 we are struck by the image of God playing inside of moms, in particular, knitting in the dark. And in our other two scriptures for this morning we get two other feminine, motherly images of God.
Isaiah responds to the people of Israel who have been driven off into exile. They are in a foreign land, given the choice of working for the oppressive empire or death. They are home sick and wonder if God has abandoned them forever. It conjures up that primal infant cry when mother is not visible, when we are hungry and in need of comfort, and we fear we may have been helplessly abandoned. Perhaps all loss, separation and grief go back to those first separations from mom. Psychology tells us that babies have no sense of other – as far as they are concerned they are the world. So when their immediate needs and desires are not met they experience a tearing apart of self. So we need moms who are good enough – moms who are there but not all the time – who are missing but who come back with predictability and regularity. So we experience the suffering of separation and the realization that there is more to the universe than us, but we also begin to trust that love and help and compassion will return – and we, our newly developing self can survive until mom does come back. We learn faith from our moms. As Jesus departs and ascends to heaven he gives the spirit to sustain our sense of self in God until he comes again.
So this is the image, the people of Israel as an infant, hungry and crying out for its mother – wondering desperately if mom will return and feed us, or is she gone forever. And Isaiah says,
Rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her;
 that you may suck and be satisfied
with her consoling breasts;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from the abundance of her glory.”
Then God says, 13] As a mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
Some are mothers, some are not, some are father’s some are not, we have all been given different gifts and different roles to play. Some of us have had smothering mothers, others of us have had distant mothers, and still others have had moms who are unpredictable. Some moms are with us and some are not. But it is appropriate to lift up the image of motherhood, to give thanks, to ask for comfort, strength for women dealing with the issues of motherhood. As a mother has compassion for her children, so I will have compassion for you.
Compassion or Rekhem in Hebrew has the same root as womb. There is something womblike about God.
I learned compassion from my mother. I remember several times her finding a lost child and like a mother hen, she gathered the little one in until the child’s own mother was found. My mom took in four young single mothers during their pregnancies. She mothered the mothers and taught them to be mothers. Another time she was walking me home from school and down on the corner from my house there had been a car accident. A young woman was sitting by herself on the curb, crying and clearly shaken up. My mom told us, you guys walk yourselves the rest of the way home. You will be alright. We didn’t go all the way home. We had to stop and see what mom was up to. She just went and sat down next to that woman, and put her arm around her. Now my dad was a pretty good guy, but he just didn’t have that motherly intuition and compassion.
As a mother comforts, so I will comfort you says the Lord. We know that God is Spirit, and Spirit is beyond any words, metaphors and images we might have for Her. On the other hand there are aspects to who God is for us that are communicated well through certain symbols and images. I would call God the life force of the universe, the creative power. Love itself. It might be wise to just stop there. It is when we hold certain images too tightly and make them idols that we run into trouble. And yet there is something personal about this Spirit, this life force – we feel as if the force has compassion for us, that it nurtures and protects. Someone recently suggested that I take the word Father out of the Lord’s Prayer. No, I said because I feel there is something true being expressed in the idea that God is parental and personal and loving. It doesn’t work linguistically to say, “Our parent who art in heaven.” What child when they cry out in the night says, “Parent.” What child when they are excited to try a dive in the swimming pool says, “Parent! watch me.” No, can we say here at St. John’s that we are pro mom and dad. Maybe your father or mother was not that loving, not that protective. Come to God – the loving father, the compassionate mother.
Jesus never had biological children despite what Da Vinci Code suggests. And, by the way there was nothing radical about that Da Vinci Code idea of Jesus having a baby. The thing that is radical about the Gospel is exactly the opposite, that the decedents of the king are not blood relatives, but everybody, including peasants and foreigners who receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has no biological children but sees all of Jerusalem as if they were chicks, and he was their mother Hen. This is an interesting choice of metaphors for Jesus. Teams usually like to choose a mascot that is tough and mean: the Trojans, the Wolverines, the Tigers, the Lions. Herod was the brutal Rome appointed King and he was known as a fox. But Jesus chooses a Mother Hen to represent who he is. A mother hen, all warm, fluffy, feminine and inviting, gathering, protecting.
A wonderful group in our church are the knitting ladies. They gather once a month on Friday afternoon to knit and drink tea and tell stories. Some of them are better at drinking tea and talking than knitting, but one or two could probably knit blindfolded. And when someone is sick they send them a blanket or shawl or a sweater. (You know the definition of a sweater – something you wear when your mom is cold.) People who receive them have really been touched by the gift – and I think because it is more than a piece of cloth, but knit together with care and given with compassion to remind people of the warm, fluffy, feminine comforting aspect of God.
Psalm 139 is my favorite psalm.
I have read it hundreds of times. This time around I was struck in a new way. Maybe you immediately got it this way but I didn’t.
 If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee.
What evidence does the psalmist give for this thought that night is bright as the day to God?
 For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are thy works! I know them full well.
It never dawned on me before that the evidence that God can see in the dark is the image of Her hanging out in the darkness of his mother’s womb, knitting us together.
There is a personal, loving, compassionate, motherly force knitting in the universe, creating you and me, protecting, hemming us in, behind and before.
Look at your neighbors around you and say, God knit you together in your mother’s womb; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that full well.