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Mother God

 
 

Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017; the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  The scripture text is 1 Peter 2:2-5 and John 14:1-14.

I’ve been thinking about being a parent a lot these days. I’m sure it has something to do with the imminent departure of our son, Kenneth, to the other side of the continent. I’ve been blessed in my life to have been a hands-on parent:

Hands on diapers

Hands on binkies

Hands on tissues

Hands on the nebulizer

Hands on clothes that don’t match

Hands on fast food against my better judgment’

My wife, Paula, and I shared a single church appointment for 18 years when our children were young, meaning I was the parent in charge for half the time. With our older son, Aaron, this included all that was necessary to keep him alive

Medications

Cleaning

Avoiding illness

Being with him in the hospital when he got sick

Sleeping on the floor next to his bed

And waking up every hour to listen to his breathing with a stethoscope

Hands on parenting.

Life changes when one becomes a parent as anyone who’s been a parent knows. Parenting is sacrificial. A baby’s needs are non-negotiable. The loss of independence is irredeemable. Once a parent, always a parent and all the sacrifice – all the loss –  all the work – ultimately tells us much about God.

The texts for today are not overtly about parenting, but there are connections. The mention of “spiritual milk” in the text from I Peter. The spiritual milk must come from somewhere, which got me to thinking about the whole business of God as a Father or a Mother.

When I say that I was able to be a hands-on parent, it implies that I was able to do what is usually associated with being a mother:   Rocking a child to sleep and dealing with them when they are screaming in Safeway. I’m pretty sure my Father never had to deal with that one.

My parents fit the stereotype. I went to my Dad to get perspective and wisdom. I went to my Mother go heal my wounds.

The word “Father” is such an ubiquitous image of God in the Bible it loses its force – it’s more like a name than a metaphor. What’s more, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house” is a text that is often used at memorial services, so for me it has an almost morbid aspect.

So I thought it would be interesting to change the gender of the parent in this text and say: There are many wombs in my Mother’s body. Feels different, doesn’t it.

When we consider God as a mother we are bound to imagine more of the hands-on tasks of parenting. God comes closer. Less the guiding disciplinarian parent – more the nurturing parent who has Kleenex in her pockets.

This text is a part of what is called the Farewell Discourses. Jesus is talking to his disciples before he leaves them. The image of a Father feels like a stern parent just giving advice. The image of a Mother brings to mind tears.

Did Jesus cry when he left the disciples? Did the disciples? Something about imagining that comforts me. We need advice and wisdom sometimes and other times we just need a big hug.

When I say goodbye to Kenneth in Washington, D.C., I’ll probably figure I’ve given him enough advice over the years. I’m guessing I’ll be giving him a big hug and there may even be tears. Don’t forget, in the face of Lazurus’ death Jesus wept.

We don’t want to see fathers cry because we value strength. We value the fatherly oriented parental tasks: Guidance, discipline, perspective – parenting from a distance – so as to create independent entrepreneurs, and not emotional fathers who like quiche, and talk about beauty and sadness. If anyone does not get respect in our world, it’s a mother or anyone who does the hands-on parenting.

We were talking about this a bit in our Sunday school class a week ago — in the positive sense, about how much hands-on parenting changes a person, inculcating empathy, intuition, patience, and spontaneity, but in the negative sense, how all that motherly, nurturing stuff is always fighting upstream against our culture, which values economy above all things.

Imagine going to a job interview and being asked about your strengths, and you say, I’m a very nurturing person, and I have empathy, patience, intuition and I listen well. Do you think you’d get the job? I’m not talking about preschool teacher here.

I think often in interviews we force ourselves to say we are motivated, confident; we have drive and persevere; all traditionally masculine characteristics.

Economically, there is no reason to have a child, which I’m thinking about since we are sending Kenneth to a reputable, private university across the country where tuition per year would get me an Audi rather than my little Fit.

Hands on parenting gets lip service, but no help from the economy, and little help from the government. We can talk all we want about Family Values, but if it doesn’t translate into paid maternity leave and paternity leave, then it’s hollow. In the United States, 12 weeks are allowed without pay. In France, it’s 16 weeks at full pay.

Years ago, I read a book entitled The War Against Parents by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West which expounded upon the grim realities for parents in America. They say that parenting is the ultimate non-market activity. Nearly all families need two jobs, meaning less time with children.

There was a time when having children provided security But now that we have Social Security and Medicare. Raising children is a waste of time and money.

Parents feel sandwiched and stressed so that when they are with their children they get reactive and you can forget about quality time as an antidote. Quantity time is what is needed – being present. And as we continue to put the economy first, parents have less and less time with their children and there are consequences for it.

Hewitt and West refer to a comprehensive survey of parenting having 90,000 participants. The Journal of the American Medical Association determined youth who have experienced a strong bond with parents are less likely to commit suicide, participate in violent crime, abuse drugs. This is the heart of the matter.

In our Sunday School book, Jim Wallis says that we must put parenting first, that parenting is more important than anything else in our society. I thought to myself, ‘He can say that, he’s the editor of Sojourners. He’s the CEO!

I have been blessed to have been a “hands on parent”. I still hug my boys. I learned many practical things, but it’s the spiritual things that move me.

Parenting is a spiritual experience and a means of grace. It teaches empathy, intuition, patience, sacrificial love, eros love, that feeling when you see your child at a distance and your heart melts…. What an incredible human being. And suddenly I know more about God. That there are many wombs in God’s body.

Economically, it was a bad decision to job share for 18 years. According to the economy, all that time hanging out at the playground, pushing him in the swing one more time, is empty and non-productive time. But then, we saved Aaron’s life.

We lost a great deal of retirement money on that decision, but the spiritual wealth that comes with pushing one’s child in a swing and rocking them to sleep at night…

On Wednesday I went to hear Bruce Galvin tell us about the changes ahead for our healthcare and pension. It’s always going to cost us more. But every time I go to one of these I get that feeling…. financially speaking…. We haven’t made the best decisions.

Economically speaking, it is probably a bad decision to send Kenneth to American University at $63,000 per year. We should be putting more money into our retirement account. I’m sure Bruce would say it’s not a good investment…. depending upon what we are investing in and to see Kenneth’s face when he can go to the university of his dreams… What’s really important to us? We will be pinched financially, but I’m fine with my Honda Fit and I like tofu, beans, and rice

There are no rewards for being a parent. No promotion or special recognition. No bonus. But in my life, it has been one place where I have experienced God. God’s love… like a parent’s love.

Incongruously, being a hands-on parent is another way of resistance in a system that doesn’t respect parents much. Remember, it’s the ultimate non-market activity. Making it consequentially a form of resistance. There’s “Family Values,” but the system is not set up to value parenting.

I think the government needs to be reminded that parents are just as much people as corporations and deserve just as many tax breaks.

Speaking of taxes, I think that in the same way Jim Wallis refers to the national budget as a moral document, one’s tax returns can be considered a spiritual document. It identifies dependents, investments, gifts and charities, work… What do our tax returns tell us about our devotions and priorities?

I think Wallis right –  parenting ought to be our first-priority. But it is countercultural to do so. We still live in a male culture. Strength, accomplishment and a fat wallet still rule the day.

We value Entrepreneurs over Servants. Wealth is the primary sign of success. And there’s a limited amount of room in the world. Boundaries are placed on love and grace.

But the perspective of mothering… of being a hands-on parent has made my heart strangely warm with the knowledge that there are many wombs In our Mother’s body.

That with Her there is boundless grace. That She is a Hands-on God with Kleenex in her pocket. And she sometimes uses them for herself as She ponders beauty and sadness.

Amen.

 

Cedar Cross rainbow

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