Sermon May 9, 2021 by David Hodgson

God’s Maternal Instincts

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her.” says the Lord.  “you shall be carried upon her hip, and be dandled upon her knees.  As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” 

Isaiah 66:10-13

As we gather in God’s house to celebrate our mothers, recalling with grateful hearts the maternal instincts that blessed us in our formative years and gifted us throughout life with unmeasured grace, do you suppose we could make room in our thinking for an image of god with maternal instincts?

We have been trained to be comfortable with the experience of the fatherhood of God ~ with masculine qualities of authority and judgment, wisdom and discipline.  But what about the experience of the motherhood of God?  Does God also possess some of those qualities that we recognize in our mothers?  Qualities like meekness and compassion, sensitivity and grace.

The Bible begins with the bold declaration that the answer is Yes, declaring that both masculine and feminine qualities as we have come to identify them abide in the Almighty.  Remember that amazing moment in the creation story when God appears to be talking with God’s self as to another?  [I’m trying not to offend today’s pronoun police here, but using the Bible’s pronoun…]  “He created them in his own image, male and female he created them.”  There it is:  the androgynous nature of God!

The historical setting for our text was the rebirth of Israel in the aftermath of their exile in Babylon ~ a time when they were set free from captivity, an experience of liberation and comfort they knew was of God ~ and with a reawakened spirit of adventure that dared to believe that they had been reborn, given a second chance by God!

Then three images of motherhood are used by God to explain ~ or to interpret ~ what these children of God were experiencing.

1. The first is the image of a mother carrying her baby on her hip, perhaps in a shoulder sling or just tucked under her arm.  It is the image of a mother carrying her child out into the adventure of daily life, taking the child places it could never go on its own, confident that such exposure to life will awaken in her baby an awareness of the adventure of life.

Contemporary footnote!  If you have ever felt yourself being carried through the shifting circumstances of life by a providence that is beyond all understanding, but have found that in those experiences chaos turned into renewed confidence, and a spirit of wonder was awakened, and the experience of adventure was reborn, then you too ~ no, then we too ~ know what it is like to be carried upon the hip of our mothering God!

2. The second image is that of a mother dandling her child on her knees.  Dandling!  Somehow I intuitively knew what that word meant even before I found it in the dictionary.  It describes the playfulness and rapport between a mother and her child when she bounces the child upon her knees ~ perhaps to inspire laughter, or to amuse, or to enjoy.

Footnote in the margins of today’s narrative!  If you have ever felt the playfulness of God ~ at times when you were taking yourself much too seriously, or maybe when you were brooding because the world wasn’t treating the way you wanted it to ~ and suddenly began to feel a sense of inner joy that you cannot explain, a spiritual giggle, perhaps, in your inner being, and you begin to see life in an entirely different way ~ dare to believe that God has been dandling you on Her knees, and smile back at the wonder of it all!

3. The third image of God’s maternal instincts is that of a mother helping her child to deal with the bumps and bruises, the hurt feelings and disappointments that are a part of human life.  It is the image of a mothering God comforting her child until the world seems bright again.  And the Spirit of God jumps off the printed page to declare in devotional space:  “Yes!  That’s exactly how I am with you!  I am the one who picks you up and dusts you off when you fall, who tends to your bumps and bruises and wounded pride, and I am the one who sets you down again able to be all that you are ready to become!

Footnote:  How often we imagine that it is we who take our woundedness to God and pray for healing, only to discover that in fact it was the mothering nature of God that answered our prayers before we offered them, who comforted us where we didn’t know we needed comforting, … until we find ourselves once more on the playground of life!

Before we leave this theme ~ or rather, before this theme is finished with us ~ it is appropriate to note that the words of our text also ring true in the setting in which they were first issued.  For most of my lifetime the once-holy lands have been a place of hostility and violence, and many on the religious side even used the systemic hatred as proof that it will be there that the Armageddon will happen, when history will end in an inevitable conflagration!

I was there when the six-day war broke out in 1967, and the most unsettling part of that experience was not the violence but the acceptance on both the Arab and Israeli sides that this was somehow the norm!  I never thought I’d live long enough to see how the realignment of power, and the incentives for economic development, and the willingness for cultural tolerance, would cause Arab and Israeli ~ and indeed the whole world ~ to (in the words of our text) “rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her.”

I’d like to enter into our worship experience on this Mother’s Day the words of The Abraham Accords Declaration, and as I do, see if you can sense, as I do, the maternal instincts of our loving God.

The Abraham Accords Declaration

We, the undersigned, recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.

We encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.

We believe that the best way to address challenges is through cooperation and dialogue and that developing friendly relations among States advances the interests of lasting peace in the Middle East and around the world.

We seek tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world a place where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, no matter their race, faith or ethnicity.

We support science, art, medicine, and commerce to inspire humankind, maximize human potential and bring nations closer together.

We seek to end radicalization and conflict to provide all children a better future.

We pursue a vision of peace, security, and prosperity in the Middle East and around the world.

In this spirit, we warmly welcome and are encouraged by the progress already made in establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and its neighbors in the region under the principles of the Abraham Accords.  We are encouraged by the ongoing efforts to consolidate and expand such friendly relations based on shared interests and a shared commitment to a better future.

That sounds to me like the touch of a mother’s hand upon a very patriarchal part of the world!  Happy Mother’s Day, my Lord!

David Hodgson, May 9, 2021