My friends, today we have been given the gift of seeing the face of our loving God more totally than we are accustomed to, at least in the traditional church. The people in New Testament times were accustomed to referring to God in male terms, reflective of the power structure within which they lived, much the same as we have learned to do within our world. God, in all her glory, who in reality is most likely comprised of male and female aspects and more, in order to create us in God’s image, is reflected in Isaiah’s reading today in female form—that of a mother nursing her new-born child. In addition, the psalmist speaks in nature and other material images—“rock,” “stronghold” and “fortress.” All of this is with the intent that God can be seen as big and as inclusive as God is. And even with this array of images, we don’t even touch who God truly is! God in her/his/other wisdom knew that we would need many images, none of them perfect, nor complete, but each touches a bit of the truth of who God wants to be for us. For this reason; we should never “settle” on just one image, but be open to others.
Think of the image of a mother nursing the baby of her womb, considering the intimacy of that action. We can think back to the images of our own children, grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our friends’ children, being cuddled by both mom and dad— protected, and imagine our God wanting to be that close to us, because that is what Isaiah is telling us today! And God intends that as we have these experiences; we will reflect and understand that just as we want to be close to our children—are in fact hard-wired to desire this, unless something has happened along the way to prevent it; God wants to be close to us in just the same way. Everything we can do to grow in this understanding will be good for us and our relationship with our good God.
Now in order to image our God in this way; we have to dispel the notion of God as an old man with a long white beard—not that it is a bad image in itself, but we would do better to image God in the person of someone we love and cherish. I believe God gives us many images so that each of us as individuals can find an image that speaks to our hearts, because it is in the heart that our relationship with God must be; if it is going to be something that can affect us deeply enough to make a difference in our world–a world that so desperately needs a word of compassion/an embrace of love, in the same way that our God has loved us from the beginning.
The wonderful image of being loved by God as a mother loves the child of her womb is to come to know that we are cared for tenderly and with great compassion. And if we have been loved that way by mother or father, or both, or someone along our life’s journey, than we can more easily make the leap to a God who loves us in the same way.
I have to believe that our little Elliot will never have to wonder whether he is loved and it will make all the difference in his life, as it will assist him in believing that there is a God who loves him in just the same way. This is what our God wants for each of us—to know how mightily we are loved and cared about. When we haven’t been loved and cared for by those closest to us, it then becomes quite difficult to believe in a loving God. When love is present in our lives from the very beginning, a loving God is so much easier to wrap our minds and hearts around. Through my years in hospital ministry, I met many people who missed being truly loved and cherished, and simply struggled then to understand and believe that there could be a God who cares about them.
Once we know that we are loved, we can take the next step of responding to the love. Speaking of responding with love, I think of a young woman who comes each week on Tuesday afternoons to the peaceful demonstrations at Windom Park. When someone drives by who has a disparaging comment, thumbs down or worse, she yells at the top of her lungs, “Hugs, lots of hugs and lots of love to you,” jumping up and down as she does it. Many of the rest of us in response to the negative display are apt to be discouraged or feel some resentment or anger, but not this woman! And the wonderful thing is that, it makes us all feel great and completely dispels the negative effect. This is of God!
Each of us friends is called by our God to do our best—as Christians the message is clear; live as Jesus did—love everyone, include everyone, love as we have seen Jesus love. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today continues his message from last Sunday—don’t hold up other humans as models, but just keep your eyes on Jesus. We, each of us, Paul says, have been privileged to share through our lives what we know of Jesus—we must not get in the way of him shining through us.
There will be times of course when we are about living the life of Jesus, sharing the Word by how we try to live our lives, whether we work in medicine, education, social services, on the land, in business, for the Church, that we will become discouraged. We will wonder if we can go on in the midst of apparent set-backs—people who misunderstand our intentions, those in positions of power, in the Church or State who just don’t seem “to get it!” It is at these times that we must remember that this is God’s work and that God has called each of us, knowing our imperfections, to do our part. It has been said, “If what we are about is of God, it will not be put asunder.”
Our gospel today tells us beautifully not to worry, only trust that God will provide as with the birds and the flowers. Sometimes we may wonder if this isn’t magical thinking on the part of Jesus, but not so! He is not affirming laziness and disinterest on our parts, but he is expecting each of us, within our natures, to do the piece that is ours to do. St. Francis of Assisi, probably one human who lived closest to Jesus’ example, said on his death bed—“I have done what was mine to do—pray that God will teach you what is yours.”
For humans it is natural that we would work to provide for ourselves; and once that is done, then we must trust in God’s wonderful generosity to provide as with the birds and the flowers. We are called to faith and belief that God does truly love us as a mother loves her newborn infant—giving her life if need be for the beloved one.
I know you have watched your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews display love toward their children and we have to marvel at how wonderfully each of us is made with the very capability of God, to love and nurture others. Sometimes the world gets in the way of this God-given ability and we forget too often that love is what our God wants us to extend to our world, like the woman on the street corner—not violence, not vengeance, nor power–over-others—just love!
In our present day, many of us are being called to put our beliefs that our world is meant for all its inhabitants into action—that our God who loves us so fiercely, as a nursing mother, wants justice and equality for all, not just a few. That our beautiful earth needs to be cared for, so that it will still be here for our children, grandchildren and their children.
My prayer for each of us today friends is that we would know that we are mightily loved by our God and that we would know it through the love and care bestowed on us by family, friends, co-workers and strangers alike. For those who didn’t get the love, guidance and acceptance needed along the way, the rest of us, like the young woman on the street corner, have to jump up and down and return love instead of violence. Amen? Amen!