Mothering God Dave Rogalsky May 14 2017
Scriptures: Luke 2:1-52
Theme/Goal/Aim: To see God in Mary’s behaviour towards her son, God’s son.
This week brings Mothers’ Day. Anna Jarvis originally planned it as a day of remembrance for her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905. Soon it was established by many states in the US and by President Woodrow Wilson as a national celebration in 1914. Canada made it official in 1909. But in just a few years Hallmark cards got on the bandwagon and Jarvis was upset at the commercialization. She was arrested in the late 1920s for protesting the commercial use of the holiday to raise funds for American War Mothers and also protested at a candy makers conventions. She arranged for boycotts of the holiday. By the way she called it “Mother’s Day”- with the apostrophe between the r and the s - as it was to individually apply to each mother.
Mothers are important. This Sunday we will explore the meaning of motherhood and God by looking at a key story of motherhood in the Bible – Mary the mother of Jesus in Luke 2:1-52. And, while we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven” on a weekly basis, is God male?
Let’s dig in.
Mary was the very human mother of Jesus. In the early church there were a number of theological theories about how this could have taken place. Some thought that Jesus was actually fully human, the son of Mary and Joseph, and that he somehow attained or obtained being God as well. Perhaps it was when the Holy Spirit came on him at his baptism (see Matthew 3:13-17). Others thought it came later or earlier, that God had adopted him as God’s own son just as Christians can become God’s children by adoption (see Romans 8:15). Menno Simons, the Dutch priest who lived in the 1500s, whom Mennonites are named after, thought that Jesus was always God - that he “went through Mary like water through a downspout.” This was very similar to some of the Gnostics in the 2nd century. They too thought Jesus was always divine and only pretended to be human. Swedenborg thought that Jesus had a human body and a divine spirit or soul. It wasn’t until the discovery that it took material from both the man and woman in the 1700s that such theories had questions raised about them. Until then it was thought that the man, or in this case God, planted seed in the woman, a fertile field, and the seed developed into a human being. The discovery of the ovum changed everything.
In the end we don’t actually know how Jesus was both human and divine, or when he figured that out. What we do know is that Mary, the young woman from Nazareth in Galilee, carried in her womb God’s own son. Mary gestated God in her, leading some Eastern or Orthodox scholars to name her “God carrier” or Theotokos.
Think of it, God was willing to take nine months to become a human - longer if you think about how much learning an infant needs to do in order to become part of our society. Jesus became fully human, fully part of his society at age 12, at his Bar Mitzvah, his “son of the covenant” celebration. But was it Mary alone who gestated this embryo to infancy? Or does God in some way carry every child from conception to birth? Does God gestate us for nine months, or for twelve years, or for as long as we live?
Then Mary went through the work of giving birth. Luke tells us that “6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” Luke 2:6 (NRSV) “The time came” – the contractions began. Her water broke. Far from mother and female relatives and friends, Mary’s time came. And I expect she did it with the same calmness that we hear in her original “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Luke 1:38 (NRSV) Labour is hard. I observed it twice and have heard many stories about it: slow labour, fast, back labour, on and on. Pain is part of it. Did God experience that pain? It was God who had brought about this pregnancy. Did God wince when Mary had pain? Like God coming among us as a human being, sacrificing power, knowledge, the ability to be everywhere all the time, Mary sacrificed herself to bring about this birth. And this was no sure thing – infant and maternal mortality rates were high.
And then in the temple the prophet Simeon speaks words that drove fear into her heart. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too." Luke 2:34-35 (NRSV) Mary will suffer along with her son. She was one of the women at crucifixion outside of Jerusalem some thirty years later. (John 19:25-27) Michelangelo’s Pietà is a statue showing her in anguish, her dead son draped across her lap. Mary suffered with her child. Mothers do this all the time. God suffers with us too when we suffer.
Mary fed and cared for this baby, changed his swaddling clothes when they were wet or soiled. (See Luke 2:7). She did for God’s son all she would do for her other children. She protected him, giving him all he needed. God feels that way about all human beings. When Jesus was confronted by opposition in Jerusalem he said, “34 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, and you were not willing!” Luke 13:34 (NRSV) God’s desire is to be like a hen, gathering her brood under God’s own wings. God wants to mother all humanity, care for them, protect them, and give them all they need. God is a mother to us.
Jews were among the most literate people in the world in the early first century. All Jews could read to some extent. Men probably more. But reading was taught so that folk could read the scriptures, understand the story of God at work in the world. Of course there is much more to learning than skills or facts. Wisdom is learning how to take those facts and skills and use them best for all around. “40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Luke 2:40 (NRSV). And then there is that incident in Jerusalem where Jesus showed himself knowledgeable, but perhaps not yet wise. Not telling his parents he was staying behind shows the simplicity and arrogance of a child and not yet an adult. Mary is the one who chides him gently, “4Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." Luke 2:48 (NRSV) I expect Mary had a great hand in teaching him how to live. He trusted her opinion greatly. At the wedding at Cana when the wine ran out, Jesus was resistant to making more, but Mary expected it of him, and he did it. (See John 2.)
Is this not how God acts toward us? God slowly, through the years, teaches us wisdom, how to be in relationships, gently curbing our excesses and encouraging our strengths. God mothers us into maturity.
And in that story of the wine, Mary needed Jesus. If Jesus would not make wine or buy wine or do something, this family celebrating the wedding would be shamed for the rest of their lives. Very likely these were near kinspeople to Mary. Her cousin or niece or nephew would be shamed. She needed Jesus to do something. Does God need us? Perhaps not exactly – God is all powerful. But somehow, within God’s plan for this planet, God has chosen to work with and through people. God, in some way, has chosen to need us. Just like parents do as they and their children get older.
Twice this chapter tells us “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:19 and 51 (NRSV) Mary remembered Jesus and things about him. God remembers us. God never forgets us. God treasures the little things about us – first steps, first loves, accomplishments, failures. God, like a mother, treasures these things about us in God’s own heart.
Now, I don’t want imply that men don’t nurture and care, not at all! But God is neither male nor female because God is more than male or female. God is Father, and Mother to us.
Two years ago we were in Peru on Feliz Mama. Everywhere there were signs advertising that one could buy things for Mama. At the parochial school where Annemarie’s cousin’s kids went a huge display of music and dance was given in honour of mothers. Interestingly, there is no father’s day in Peru. It’s all about Mama, and spending money.
The same holds here I guess, though the merchants here have caught on to selling things for Fathers’ Day – and Grandparents, and secretaries’ and administrative assistants and on and on. I start to feel like Anna Jarvis!
But when I think about how God acts toward us, as mother and father, I begin to want to celebrate how both mothers and fathers nurture children. God nurtures us in the same way, and calls on us to be toward others, as God has been toward us – nurturing, growing patient, and loving.
Take five regular breaths
Think about your own mother. What treasures do you preserve in your mind and heart and life from her?
What did she teach you?
What did she teach you about God?
Sit with God with these thoughts
After two minutes invite Marcus to play.
Prayer - Mothering God, you gestate us, bear us, and birth us. You feed us, nurture us, and teach us. You guide us, form us, suffer with us, and wonder of wonders you choose to need us. This is too wonderful for us to fully comprehend. We thank you. Help us to grow in following your example. Amen