Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 5/25

Mothering God Nurtures Us

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
May 25, 2008
Matthew 6:24-34
Bethany Lutheran Church

The request came to me in adult bible study only a few weeks ago. The question was this: what are the motherly attributes of God? While we did not have time to discuss the question at that time, this morning seems like the perfect opportunity. I am simply taking my cue from the readings this morning which could not point any closer to the ways in which God mothers us. And while I will try to unlock some of God’s mysteries this morning in attempting to understand precisely how God mother’s us, I can only go so far since I have never actually mothered a child. This sermon will have to continue over breakfast and coffee hour where I hope that the women of the congregation will enlighten us on their experiences as mothers and ultimately preach the end of my sermon.

Our psalm this morning was extremely short, but the image could not have been stronger. Hear the words again: “I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me” (Psalm 131:2). There is absolutely nothing shameful about it. With only few exceptions, in our infancy we were all fed at our mother’s breast. We have all witnessed the cry of a small, helpless, and vulnerable hungry baby. It cannot yet understand the life it lives, but the baby’s cry is hushed and is at peace when finally it is fed.

The bond between a mother and a child is perhaps something that we men will never fully comprehend. It seems like a mother instinctively knows when her baby is hungry. And so our reading from Isaiah poses the same question: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” Isaiah’s answer: “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). In my own words: How much does God love us? God loves us even more than a nursing mother.

The church has long understood this motherly relationship between God and humankind. Julian of Norwich, in the 14th century was perhaps one of the first people to actually use the language of “mothering God.” And because she too was a Trinitarian thinker, she even made reference to God as “mothering Christ” and “mothering Spirit.” It is language penned by her own hand which we will sing in our hymn of the day today.

In late medieval Europe, at a time when middle and upper class women began hiring nurses to care for their infant children, the church’s response was to commission artists that depicted mother Mary with an exposed breast, feeding the infant Jesus. The church understood the sanctity of a mother’s love to her own child. It is a love that no nurse could ever fully replace.

And I wonder if perhaps history may be repeating itself. More and more daycares continue to spring up in our nation so that women can return to work sooner. I do not blame the women for this problem, for they are merely fighting for gender equality and seeking their own professional endeavors. Perhaps our nation would do well to offer both maternity leave as well as paternity leave, building up the relationship of the child with both parents.

The image of mothering God extends well beyond conceiving and birthing. The image of mothering God is also about nurturing. The average ongoing mother-child relationship can last anywhere from two years to two decades. Some children leave their mothers in their late teens to head off for college, other children live with their mothers for decades beyond that, continually receiving the nurturing care. But even for those children who move away, the mother-child relationship is continued through regular and sometimes frequent phone conversations. The nurturing continues, regardless of the distance. So too is our relationship with God – a God who at times may seem distant and far away, yet a God to whom we continually return in prayer. A God, who, through her mothering care, continues to nurture us, continues to love us, continues to provide for us.

Do not think, however, that this mothering image of God is merely sweet and tender. For mothers can also become very angry and protective. If you have ever come too close to a bird’s nest, like I have, you might have experienced the mother bird go into attack mode in order to protect her young from what she believes to be a predator. I have worked on a grounds crew at a golf course for three summers and let me tell you, having a mother bird peck at your head or a mother goose swoon directly toward your face is no picnic. The same is true of other animal species, such as mother bears who will attack only when they feel their young cubs are threatened.

But these birds and these bears and all the other animals that God has created do not structure their days around sowing, gathering and reaping. Rather it is God who feeds them. It is God who provides for their every need. It is the mothering God who provides for our every need.

And so we have arrived at the message of our gospel on this day. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:25, 34). Our God will provide everything that we need. Indeed the gospel even says that God will clothe us. The nurturing love of our mothering God will wrap us up, just as we were once wrapped as infants in our new baptismal garments. We will be wrapped up and held in the arms of God and discover that the worries of tomorrow and even the troubles of today are already being addressed by the God who loves us.

One point of clarification: There is a difference between worrying and preparing. Worrying denotes fear and fear only leads to disillusionment. However, by not worrying it does not mean that we get lazy either, simply waiting for things to happen. Rather, we trust in God through our preparations. The goal is never to have security, as if hoarding goods and storing up wealth could ever ensure that.

The goal is to continually have a renewed sense of vision, a vision of what is to come, a vision of what the church could truly be in this and every land. And what a beautiful vision it is – a vision where no child will ever go hungry again – a vision where there will be peace and safety for all of humanity, without fear of war and conflict – a vision where we are all metaphorical mothers to each other. Each and every one of us is called in this Christian vocation to care for one another and to protect one another. We are called to continually nurture one another in the faith of the God who is the source of our life, the source of our very existence. It is the same God who gave up his life to suffer death on a cross so that we, her children, may have life and have it abundantly.

Life ultimately comes from God, and yet childbirth is one of God’s many blessings to us. I will never be a mother, but over the last almost 26 years of my life I have known the unconditional love of my own mother. I have even been blessed with the love of many surrogate mothers throughout everywhere I have lived. Most importantly, however, I have been held in the loving embrace of the mothering God who gives me life each and every day. It is the same mothering God who embraces you.

Vicar Luke Smetters

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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