“The Motherhood of God”

Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
Mother’s Day
May 14, 2017

Isaiah 66:6-14 

Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, dealing retribution to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.
When I was in high school I started going to church for the first time in my life. My pastor used an illustration back then that I’ve never forgotten.  I don’t know if I’ve remembered it because he shared it a number of times, or just because it expresses an important spiritual truth. Or perhaps both. The illustration goes like this.

A woman was on a large ship traveling across the ocean. She knew it was a journey that would take several days, so she packed according. She very carefully planned out her meals, packing a small cooler and food for each day. She only ate what she had apportioned to herself, so that she’d have enough food to eat. On the final day of the cruise she decided she hadn’t seen enough of the ship, so she went exploring all the decks.  Soon she came upon a huge dining hall with the most glorious display of food she’d ever seen. She walked up to someone in line and said, “If you don’t mind me asking, how much extra did you have to pay to enjoy all this food?”  The person looked at her rather strangely and said, “Nothing. It’s all free. You paid for it with your ticket.”

My pastor said that our relationship with our Creator is a lot like that – there’s so much more spiritual food that is ours, if we only realized it.

Jesus said that the one who comes unto him will never go away hungry or thirsty.

Our God is a feast of spiritual food. And we will never finish the entire feast this side of heaven, prior to the heavenly banquet. There is always more for us to explore and feast upon.

I like the title of a book Catherine Marshall wrote years ago, Something More. There’s always something more.

Well, today I want us to explore something more. It’s a subject we don’t talk a lot about, which is a bit surprising considering our modern sensibilities. But if we don’t consider today’s subject and its importance we’re likely to go through the journeys of our lives missing out on some beautiful spiritual food, just like the traveler at sea who missed out on the feasts and lived on something much less than what was provided for her.

What I want us to consider on this Mother’s Day is the Motherhood of God.

Illustration. Often with Confirmation Classes I’ve done an exercise with the kids called the “God Collage.”  We provide a table full of magazines, and each person in the class has to cut out pictures from the magazines that represent God, that present images of God. They would then glue these images to poster board. And so there are often ocean scenes & beautiful mountains, to express God the Creator – sometimes even stars to show us the vastness of a God who is greater than the cosmos. There are pictures of people smiling to represent the joy of God.  Sometimes there are pictures of an elderly man with long white beard, looking like Gandalf. Sometimes the kids find pictures of Jesus who we believe presents us with the clearest picture of God the world has ever seen. Once in a while someone will put a picture of a mother and child, symbolizing a closeness with God.

At some point I’ll usually ask the kids, Do you think God is more male or female?

Sometimes the answer is God is both, or God is neither. But it is surprising how many times I’d hear the answer, God’s a man.

Now why would kids think that?

Well, we sing, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” not, “Eternal Mother, Strong to Save.”  We sing, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” not, “Dear Lord and Mother of Humankind.”  We sing, “This is My Father’s World,” and not, “This is my Mother’s World.” (By the way, it’s a lot easier picking hymns for Father’s Day than Mother’s Day!)

Of course, Jesus did give us a prayer that began, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  I believe his point was more about parent/child intimacy than it was about gender. But it is understandable that our young people and even the rest of us not-so-young would think of God primarily in masculine terms and masculine images.

Illustration. I attended another church on vacation once and the soloist got up to sing the great hymn, “He Leadeth Me.” The first verse and the first time through the refrain she sang it straight from the hymnal.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought, O words with heavenly comfort fraught,
What e’er I do, where e’er I be, still tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me. He leadeth me. By his own hand, he leadeth me. His faithful follower I would be for by his hand he leadeth me.

The 2nd verse was pretty standard, too –

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine, nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content what ‘e’re my lot may be, since ’tis my God who leadeth me.

But then she sang,
“She leadeth me. She leadeth me.
By her own hand she leadeth me.
Her faithful follower I would be.
For by her hand, she leadeth me

I wonder if you had the same reaction that I did?  I said to myself, “I know that’s theologically correct, but it just sounds weird – to my traditional ears.” I’m not proud of that reaction. I only share it because it illustrates that sometimes our comfort levels haven’t caught up with our theology. And our language & vocabulary hasn’t caught up with our theology.

Today I’d like to help our comfort levels catch up with our theology – because in over-emphasizing traditional masculine imagery of God, we may de-emphasize other aspects of God that are equally important and therefore miss out on a beautiful part of the feast of spirituality.

Illustration. In St. Paul’s Cathedral in London there’s a plague that shares a similar truth. The plaque says: “This great cathedral was built to honor the majesty and glory of God. But as great as God’s majesty is, greater still is God’s mercy and love.”

Our language for God, especially in our hymns, often expresses God’s almightiness, God’s omnipotence, God’s majesty – but greater still is the tender mercy and love of God.

Illustration. I remember an introductory course in seminary, where the professor was telling us what they expected from us in writing papers. She said we’re to use inclusive language for people – “humankind” instead of “mankind”) and we were to use non-gender language for God, avoiding, “He.” I then piped up and said, “I don’t mind using inclusive language for people, but when you extend that to God you’re messing with theology.” The professor was profoundly Christian and gracious, and she didn’t laugh when she pointed out to me that I was in theological school. We were there to do theology!

Let me give you one good, solid reason for considering the Motherhood of God – the Bible. This isn’t about Political Correctness. It’s about Biblical Correctness! It’s about Theological Correctness!

Let’s look at some passages together. (Bulletin Insert)

“The Motherhood of God”

Deuteronomy 32:13, 18The Lord set him atop the heights of the land, and fed him with produce of the field; he nursed him with honey from the crags, with oil from flinty rock . . . You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Hosea 11:1-4 – When Israel was a child, I loved him . . . it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms . . . I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. From the Book of Job: God asks Job, From whose womb comes the ice?  Who
gives birth to the frost from the Heavens?  (Job 38:29)

From the Book of Genesis: So God created man in his own image, in the
image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Gen. 1:27)

Both men and women are reflections of God!

The Words of Jesus: Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I desired to
gather your children together as a mother hen gathers her brood under her
wings.   (Matt. 23:37)

From the Book of Hosea: God says, I will fall upon them like a mother bear
robbed of her cubs. (Hosea 13:8)

From the Book of Deuteronomy: As a mother eagle stirs up her nest,
fluttering over her young, and takes them and bears them on her wings, so
the Lord led Israel.    (Deut. 32:11)

From the Book of Isaiah:
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort
you.  (Is. 66:13) 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, says the Lord.  (Is. 49:15)

For more maternal images go to Luke 13, Luke 15 & John 16.

In  Luke 15 Jesus gives three images for God. The third one is the Forgiving Father in the Prodigal Son story. The first image is the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock and goes looking for the one lost sheep. But the second image for God that Jesus gives is that of a woman who loses a coin and then turns the house
upside-down looking for it until she finds it. 

The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Lost Son.
God is like the Forgiving Father.
God is like the Good Shepherd.
God is like a woman.

Imagine how Jesus’ listeners must have reacted when Jesus said, “God is like a woman.”  It must have challenged their comfort levels.

In Luke 13 Jesus says, The Kingdom of God is like a woman who when she bakes uses just a little bit of yeast to effect a whole lot of flour. (Luke 13:20)
God is like a woman baking.

In John 16 Jesus compared our struggles today to a woman in labor, who once the struggles are over experiences the fruit of her labor. Listen to how he says it: When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. (John 16:21)

Even though we don’t believe Jesus was married, he still had a deep appreciation and understanding of motherhood.

Throughout Church History theologians have noted the feminine images for God in the scriptures and have highlighted their importance in our relationship with God. —- St. Anselm, St. Jerome, St. Augustine. Thomas Aquinas, and Count Zinzendorf, the founder of the Moravian Church – all lifted up the motherhood of God.

These images have a lot to say about the equality of woman and for women’s roles in the church – which is a given for us, but think about the fact this morning that in over half of the churches in this country women are not allowed to be clergy. (in contrast, our denomination first ordained a women, Rev. Antoinette Brown, in 1853)  In many conservative Protestant churches, as well as, in Roman Catholic churches, women are not allowed to stand in a pulpit. If God’s a male, then maybe that’s okay. We men are in charge. But if God encompasses both and/or transcends both genders, then it’s not okay (especially considering St. Paul’s words, “In Christ there is no male or female” Gal. 3:28).

The female images for God are also helpful to those who had fathers who were distant or passive or emotionally unavailable.

They’re also tremendously helpful for women who’ve had an abusive, traumatic experience with a man.

These images for God as a comforting mother, a nursing mother, a nurturing parent are helpful in reminding us of the love God has for us and the intimacy God desires for us

So the next time you see a mother cradling her precious baby, remember that you’re seeing a reflection of the love of God . . .  the love God has for you!.

Think about it.


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