The Family of God

Transcribed from the sermon preached May 14, 2017

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: I Peter 2:2-10, Proverbs 8:22-31, John 10:23-30


In my family, my father was the teacher of books and physical movement. He was a high school teacher and a coach. My mom was the gatherer of people, the one who became vocal and angry at injustice, the one who fought for her kids or anyone else who had been done wrong. I remember three separate incidents when children, lost in a crowd, found my mom.  She gathered them in and comforted them, and then helped find their mom. She had intuitive insight into relationships. My dad was a teacher of rules. Knowing rules allowed you to play a game and live life well. When people can agree on the rules you can organize, play, and things go easier. For my mom we were to do right because of some deeper sense of righteousness, wisdom and justice behind and beyond rules. So I resonate with this Proverb this morning, speaking of the power of wisdom with a feminine voice. When I hear the Ten Commandments, I hear my dad’s voice.  When we hear of God gathering and defending, crying out in righteous indignation, I hear my mom’s voice.

Our call to worship is the beginning of Proverbs 8, which is then continued later in our reading. Here we have the personification of Wisdom in feminine form, meaning and truth established before all creation, indeed all other acts of creation unfold from her.

Elizabeth Johnson in her book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, argues that Sophia (the Greek word for wisdom) is a female personification of God’s own being in creative and saving involvement with the world.” She notes that there is a “functional equivalence between the deeds of Sophia and those of the biblical God.” Sophia “fashions all that exists and pervades it with her pure and people-loving spirit.  She is all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere, renewing all things.  Active in creation, she also works in history to save her chosen people, guiding and protecting them through the vicissitudes of liberating struggle…By her light kings govern justly and the unjust meet their punishment.  She is involved in relationships of loving, seeking, and finding with human beings. (Johnson, Elizabeth.  She Who Is. P.91)

As God in Jewish monotheism is one indivisible being, Johnson continues, is to say that Sophia is the fashioner of all things, that she delivered Israel from a nation of oppressors, or that her gifts are justice and life is to speak of the transcendent God’s relation to the world, of God’s nearness, activity, and summons. Accordingly, the Wisdom of God in Jewish thought is simply God.” (ibid)

In other places in scripture, we hear descriptions of God using feminine terms: In Isaiah God is in anguish for the current state of Israel, and wants to bring Israel forth into a new creation. God comes off like a pregnant mother: 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.” Is 42:14

A little while later, in Isaiah chapter 49, the love of God for Her people is assured: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb?  Even if these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Hosea envisions the divine reaction to those who do injustice in terms of an angry mother bear: In Chapter 13:8  God says: “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will tear open their breast.”

In Matthew 23: [37] Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

So we are taught that there is a creative wise power, a purposeful Spirit behind all of life and creation. This means that this same power, this wisdom and spirit is within us. We see that God cries out and groans as we struggle to get beyond our current problems, to be reborn to new life.  We see God protective of Her children and ready to defend them against injustice.  And we see God gathering us for warmth, comfort and protection.

Now we all come from less than perfect parents, and some of us have had a parents who were not nurturing and protective.  Some of our parents are overprotective smothering and codependent. Yet God will challenge up to grow and take responsibility for our actions too. Maybe as Isaiah says, some would abandon us, but he says, God will not. So we have to move past the male or female images we learned from our parents to get to the deeper, more perfect divine love, rooted in the beginning of creation.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with this Wisdom Spirit at the beginning of Creation. But in this morning’s passage from John, that Wisdom is on the cross.

Jesus is nailed to the cross, close to death. To fill in the picture we might ask, “Who is not in the scene?” It seems that virtually none of the disciples are there.  They are not in the picture. We may assume they are in hiding. And Joseph, Jesus dad and husband of Mary is not there. It would appear that Joseph, had died before Jesus started his ministry, because he is not mentioned.

Who is there? The soldiers are there arguing over Jesus’ clothes. Then John tells us there is one disciple there, but we don’t know his name. Who is he?  All we are told is that he is the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” And who else is there? Well, not surprisingly, Mary, mother of Jesus is there, and Mary’s sister is there supporting her, and Mary Magdalene.

Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story: First he looks at his mother. “Woman,” he says–the same thing he called her before, at the wedding–“Woman, here is your son.” Then he looks at the disciple standing beside her and says to him, “Here is your mother.” Since his hands are not free, he has to do a lot of work with his eyes, indicating which woman and which man. When he is through, the adoption is final. From that hour, John says, the beloved disciple took Jesus’ mother into his own home.

Who benefits the most from this arrangement? Now Mary is a widow watching her son die. And in this patriarchal culture, with no father, no husband and no son, economically she will be left alone, with little means of support. Still Mary adds something to the equation herself. Taylor continues:

“When the beloved disciple takes Mary home, and when the other disciples come crawling out from under their rocks, they will find themselves in the presence of someone whose contact with the Holy Spirit has been far more intimate than theirs. She has seen things they have only heard about. She has felt things inside of her that they cannot even imagine. Perhaps that is why she stayed put by her son while they fled. Perhaps that is what allowed her to look full into the ruined face that no one but her (and her new son) could bear to see.

“While the principalities and powers believe they are tearing his family apart, Jesus is quietly putting it together again: this mother with this son, this past with this future. Although his enemies will succeed in killing him, he will leave no orphans behind. At the foot of the cross, the mother of the old becomes the mother of the new. The beloved disciple becomes her new beloved son. “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (Barbara Brown Taylor. Woman, Here is Your Son. )

I believe John leaves out the name of the beloved disciple so that we can imagine ourselves as a good character in this story that still lives. Maybe those of you who are mothers can imagine Mary’s love, knowledge, pain and hope.  Or perhaps we can identify ourselves with the supportive sister or the other Mary, who rose from a questionable early life into a witness to the amazing Grace of God in Christ. And if that doesn’t work, then we can be the beloved disciple. We can and should imagine ourselves as one whom Jesus loves. And wouldn’t we like to be the one who is brave enough, in love enough with Jesus, that like mom and aunt and Mary, we are going to be there.

I Peter says that the world may have made us cynical and bitter, but he says to put away all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander – and like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow up to salvation.

We may have become orphans, literal or spiritual orphans, isolated, alienated.  He says, once we were no people, but by the grace of God in Christ, we are adopted into the family of God, and given God’s pure, spiritual milk to nourish and sustain us. We may be poor peasants, outcasts, isolated, lonely, but not anymore.  In the eyes of the Motherly God, we are Chosen and royal, God’s own children.

All of this motherly imagery for God also tells us who we are to be as Christians and as a Church.  We are adopted, and we are to adopt one another into this family of God. I’m still exuberant that the home sale of one of our sanctuary families was finalized. This is a family we have known for years, though I will still refrain from using their name in this public document. Many years ago in Guatemala, while they were just boys, the military brutally murdered their father and burned down their home and village. Now, years later, with the help of St. John’s, they have a new home they can call their own. I pray that each of you feels beloved by God, nourished by the pure spiritual milk of the Spirit, and a welcome member of this family we call the church.

“Woman, behold, your son!” “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.