“We're all called to be mothers of God,
for God is always waiting to be born.”
-Meister Eckhart, 13th Century mystic
For those who might not know me, or to those who think they know me, I have something to confess… I have a mom. Shocking, I know. My mom lives in Silver Spring, MD with my father. She is the kind of woman who speaks her mind and lives out her faith. She’s also a die-hard Alabama Crimson Tide fan and a dye-in-the-wool Republican. She is extremely hospitable, but in her house you’d fare better being a democrat, then as an Auburn fan.
Believe it or not, I also have a mother-in-law. She too, is the kind of woman who speaks her mind. So much so that I haven’t said a word to my mother-in-law in over six months because it would be rude to interrupt her. The best thing about my mother-in-law, of course, is Kathleen, the mother of our three wonderful children. I’m sure there is a good joke to be had here, but I enjoy sleeping with both eyes closed.
Through the lens of these three great ladies in my life, God has been able to teach me about who God is, how God loves me, and what God desires most from me. What I have come to realize is this: God needs mothers.
Years ago my son Sean asked, “Who’s God’s mother?” While my answer was a bit esoteric for a 4 year to comprehend, I answered truthfully and said, “You are.” The look on his face said it all. God needs mothers of all kinds.
young ones, old ones, tall ones, short ones, rich ones, poor ones, good or bad alike, God needs mothers.
In spite of my gender, I work hard at trying to emulate the mothering qualities of God – blessed to bring forth new life; blessed to nurture, encourage, comfort and forgive; and blessed to live with the tension, just like God does, of providing freedom to my children and a safety net upon which they can depend.
But here’s the thing, I don’t like to preach about mothers on Mother’s Day. It’s a complex subject – for some of us more than others. It’s not all ooey-gooey, beautiful flowers and delightful family meals. Your day may include some of that, and that’s wonderful, but there is a flip side.
For every woman who will be honored and praised for her mothering, there will be another who is barren, longing for a life that is not growing within her womb. Happy Mother’s Day – not so much.
There’s the person, either woman or man, who quietly hides the fact that their mother was not much of a mother at all. Yes, she gave them life, but beyond that, their minds are filled with memories of years dominated by abuse and pain. Happy Mother’s Day – not so much.
There’s the person whose mother has died – maybe a month ago. Maybe years ago. The emptiness is the same. There’s no calling her on the phone to get that favorite family recipe. No ability to hear that reassuring voice in times of despair and confusion. Happy Mother’s Day – not so much.
There’s the mother who lives in a shadow of darkness, separated from her baby for whatever reason. The child may have been aborted. The child and mother may have arrived at what seems like an impossible impasse, estranged and without contact. The child or mother may have disowned the other, creating an abyss wider than seems possible to cross. Happy Mother’s Day – not so much.
There’s the mother who has had to bury her child – a heart-ache beyond belief, with a sorrow that can never quite go away. What is a part of her will always be a part of her, but she never again, on this side of life, will hold her son or daughter in her arms. Happy Mother’s Day – not so much.
Mother’s Day is fraught with a gamut of emotions. Some joyful. Some painful. Some filled with ambivalence and confusion. But the truth is every one of us has a mother. Good or bad, you are here today because of her. God needs mothers. And so do we.
While the Bible predominately focuses on the stories of men, it records some very important women too, especially mothers. And so I’d like to briefly acknowledge a few that stand out for me.
- Eve – the mother of all humanity. She births Cain and Abel and suffers intense grief when Cain murders his brother. She teaches us that birthing children will be painful on so many levels.
- Sarah – Abraham’s wife, who was originally barren, but who in her old age, conceived and delivered a son, Isaac, making Abraham the father of the Jewish nation. She reminds us of the power of God’s promised covenant.
- Jochebed – the mother of Moses, Aaron and Miriam. God used her children to free the Hebrew people from their 400 years of slavery, and takes them to the Promised Land. She teaches us that motherhood and freedom are worth taking the risk.
- Hannah – the mother of Samuel the prophet. She, too, like several other mothers in the scriptures suffered years of barrenness. Out of her intense grief she prayed for a son, promising God she would give him back for God’s service. Samuel is given over to Eli as a young boy to become a priest. Through her, God reveals great wisdom and warnings to humanity.
- Bathsheba – the object of King David’s lust. A son is born out of that sinful union, but God is so displeased, that the child is struck dead. Their next son is Solomon, who became Israel’s greatest king. Through this blemished woman, David’s bloodline begets the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
- Mary – the blessed mother of all. She, like Eve, is the mother of life. A new life, and a new creation, will come through her Son. Unwed and barely old enough to have children, she is the most honored mother in the Bible. Her purity is highly favored by God, who entrusts her to carry and care for the Savior of the World. Mary is the example of righteous, self-giving love.
I am not suggesting that to qualify for this role, all women must be pregnant or that men need to become more like Kaitlin Jenner and less like Bruce. But God is calling you and me to give birth to a new kind of motherhood; one where kinship isn’t based on DNA. But is tied to a particular bloodline nonetheless.
As his last act before dying on the cross, Jesus says to his mother, “Woman here is your son.” And then to John he says, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took Jesus’ mother into his own home. Something amazing has just happened. Something new is born.
Just as it was in the story of Naomi and Ruth, widows and orphans become one unit. Bearing the blessing and love of Christ, they form a new community that supports and cares for one another; welcoming all people in need of a family to call their own. With this new life they would take a new name. And soon people would know them by their love…by their love.
In the 13th Century, Meister Eckhart wrote, “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.” Yes, you and me, male and female, each called to be mothers who carry in our bodies the very life of God. As the Greeks would say, we are to be Theotokos, “God-Bearers.”
This title is often reserved for the Blessed Mother Mary. But God cannot be limited to just one person. God needs mothers, good and bad alike to pick up where Mary left off. If we dare to call ourselves Christians, then we must also be brave enough to bear God’s incarnate love; to allow it to form and take shape within us, and bring it safely into being.
Through us the Divine comes into the world to heal and to feed, to help and to hold, to teach and to lift, to forgive and to redeem all of creation. From the cross, Jesus calls you and me to be a reflection of God’s sustaining love, power and presence in the world. Jesus unites us, and transforms us with his own body and blood, to become one unit; the Church, the very Body of Christ.
From conception, to birth and life, all the way through death and resurrection, Jesus gives us great power and responsibility. Through him, the love of God remains alive inside us all until the fullness of God’s glory, the mother of all love, is revealed throughout eternity.
My only question is this: Will you carry this love to full term?
Special Thanks to Rev. Wendy Van Tassell, First Congregational Church of Spencer, IA, who co-wrote this sermon with me. Wendy is a wonderful mother and a perfect daughter of God. I am honored to have shared this day with her, a true mentor and friend.