#MotherHen

Easter 7 – Mothering God – May 12, 2024

Loving, mothering God, it was you who formed my inward parts;

 you knit me together in my mothers womb.

 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  Amen

 Mothering God

Lilacs at EmmanuelHappy Mother’s Day to all of us!  Mother’s Day — the 7th Sunday of Easter this year — is a time to celebrate God’s nurturing, all-loving power, especially as we watch Mother Earth’s great work of spring.  Through God’s good grace, life bursts forth in spring — budding, sprouting, greening, blooming, and growing, from Mother Earth’s fertile womb — breeding lilacs out of the dead land, as T.S. Eliot writes.  Nurturing and caring for life is loving, mothering activity — done by mothers — regardless of their actual gender or biological role.  Happy Mother’s Day to all who love and serve that way.  We also need to hold a mothering space of comfort and love for those among us whose experience has been more complicated, whether through loss of a child, loss of a mother or a mother figure of whatever gender, or through relationships that became troubled and broken, whether in childhood or later on.

It’s into these broken and aching places that the church shows up — that means all of us.  People who mother, regardless of gender, age, or biological relation, have compassion.  They notice and attend to another person’s needs and pain just as surely as a mother kisses a hurt and makes it all better.  Reach out to those among us who might be having a tough time this Mother’s Day with a kind word or an extra hug.  Be the mothering, nurturing presence they need in this moment, because that’s what the church does, and scripture tells us that loving, nurturing, mothering activity is God’s own deeply maternal work, comparing God’s faithfulness to a mother’s love:

God says in Isaiah 49:15:

 

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

 

In Isaiah 66:13, God says:

 

As a mother comforts her child,

so I will comfort you;

you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, the Apostle Paul says:

 

 though we might have made demands as apostles

of Christ, we were

gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring                                          

  for her own children.

#MotherHenAnd in Luke 13:34, Jesus laments:

 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings… .

 

We hear testimony and see evidence of motherly love all around us, love that is both tender and fierce.  For example, we all know never to get between a mother bear and her cubs, and while we’re on the topic of bears, we’ve all heard tales of what’s called hysterical strength — episodes of superhuman strength and agility when a mother can actually wrestle a bear to the ground to protect her child from danger.  As an etymological side note (because you know I love this part!) the very term hysterical strength refers specifically to mothers, as hystera is the Greek word for uterus.  Comic book artist Jack Kirby claims he was inspired to create the Hulk after seeing a woman lift a car to save her baby in 1962.

Friendly Lawyer

Mama Bear with two cubsMost of you know that I practiced law for thirty years before my ordination.  I was what we call in the biz a deal lawyer — not a litigator or a trial lawyer, but the friendly kind of lawyer.  Some clients used to wonder aloud whether a lawyer who was a mother — known for tenderness and love — could advance their causes as effectively as the heroic male warrior lawyer of their imaginations.  I always responded that a mother’s love is the true heart of advocacy, because a mother cares deeply for her children, and will fight for their best lives with all her heart, mind, and strength.  Mommy lawyers have become more commonplace now — half or more of every law school class, and disproportionally represented at the top of the class, I might add.  When our son Judson was 5, he had a preschool assignment to think about what he wanted to be when he grew up.  I suggested to Judson that he might think about being a teacher like his Daddy, a doctor like his Poppop, or a lawyer like Mommy.  Judson looked at me like I had three heads and immediately replied, “That’s silly.  Boys can’t be lawyers!”  And reflecting on all my women lawyer friends he knew as aunties, his perspective made sense.

Now that we have established the maternal heart of advocacy, let’s review the testimony and the witnesses in today’s readings.  The reading from First John refers to testimony either directly (7 times) or obliquely (4 times) in as many lines.  We’re supposed to notice that.  New Testament professor Nijay Gupta tells us that, in order to make full sense of this chapter we’re reading today, the reader should notice the frequent use of testimonial language.  The speaker in the epistle — sometimes referred to as “The Elder” — treats the truth of Jesus as if it is on trial and he must prove his case and call the proper witnesses.  And it is essential to our understanding that we listen to these witnesses’ testimony carefully so that we can really understand what they are trying to make clear.

This specific text has often been read carelessly to seem exclusive — diminishing and disrespecting others’ tender faith.  A simplistic reading can be and has over time been the source of bias, interest, and prejudice for almost 2,000 years.  Careless readers interpret today’s testimony from First John to say that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you do not have eternal life.  This happens not only with our Jewish and Muslim friends, with whom we share a common Abrahamic and scriptural heritage, but also within different denominations and sects of Christianity.  But in the Episcopal Church, we read and understand scripture from our three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason.

If It’s Not About Love, It’s Not About God

#BishopCurryWe are guided by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s often-referred-to tradition and reasoning on scripture and pretty much everything else in the church:  If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.  When we read First John with that rule of interpretation in mind, we can better understand the testimony in this courtroom setting in today’s reading.  God’s testimony is even more credible than human testimony, this passage says.  Fair enough.  So far so good.  And God’s testimony has been given in the person of his son, Jesus.  Also clear.  BUT:  Those who do not believe in God have made God a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.  Listen carefully to who this text refers to:  THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD.  Those who do not believe in God AND THEN do not accept God’s own testimony in God’s son, Jesus — THOSE are the people this witness in First John testifies will not have life.

So who are those who do not believe in God in this passage?  Not faithful Jewish people.  Not faithful Muslim people.  And, no matter what either orthodox or fundamentalist Christians may say about Episcopalians, that’s not us either — even though we do have mommy lawyer priests in the Episcopal Church.  We have heard the witnesses’ testimony.  And today’s gospel reinforces Jesus’ tender, fierce, mother-like love:  Jesus prayed for his disciples, asking God to protect them, asking selflessly on their behalf, says John’s Jesus, not on his own behalf.

We follow Jesus’ example of loving one another knowing God loves us — even when we fall short of our own expectations.  We are rocked in God’s bosom, embraced and adored.  As scripture tells us, God loves us as faithfully as a woman loves her nursing baby.  God loves us as tenderly as a nurse cares for her own children.  God loves us as completely and protectively as a hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings.  In faith, we practice Jesus’ commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us — as selflessly as a mother loves her child.  Further Affiant sayeth notAmen

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