Let us pray:
We have come together this morning, O God, to worship you. We have come to find you in the midst of our lives, in the days and nights, in our relationships and our chores, our work and our fears. Open our hearts to your words. Speak to us this day. In your Holy Name we pray, Amen.
At pastor’s group this week, we were talking about the Trinity–because, you know, that’s what pastors do, I guess? The discussion leader had even brought a handout to help, and across one page were all these different depictions of the Trinity, like three people in a circle holding hands, a Venn diagram with three circles. We talked about each image, about what it said about the Trinity. And then our leader said, “Together, these images give us a more complete truth than any single picture can.”
That’s true of so much of what we believe in. After all, we believe that God is huge enough to create the universe, to know each human being. Any one word or image cannot describe God completely. Instead we use a multitude of images and words: God as Father, God as a rock; Jesus the Christ, Immanuel, Messiah, human; the Holy Spirit, dove and fire and wind. Each of these images tells us a truth about God, but not the whole truth.
The Bible is full of metaphors for God. Some of them we talk about all the time in church; some I’ve never heard mentioned. And the image I’d like to talk about this morning is one I’ve never heard talked about in church.
I would like to start with the gospel reading for today. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem to die, and He knows it. And so when He sees Jerusalem He laments: “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!” It seems like an odd image in some ways. Jesus is lamenting the deep sin of the people of Jerusalem, the ways that they hold on to power with a death-grip and refuse to see God, refuse to change; He is, in some ways, mourning the necessity of His coming death. And Jesus longs, instead, for Jerusalem to allow itself to be gathered up and cared for like a mother hen cares for her chicks. Jesus contrasts all the eternal import of sin and pain with all the everyday-ness of a mother hen brooding over her chicks, with all the dirt and frazzled motherhood and irritability that entails.
And if we turn to our Hosea passage: God is speaking here, and God looks to Israel as a parent looks to a child, with both the love and the pain that involves–for here too God is lamenting, remembering all the ways that Israel has rejected the love and care God has offered them through the centuries. God exhibits intense emotions, crying out again and again, “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I make you like Admah, like Zeboiim–that is, how can I destroy you?” God remembers Israel’s youth, when God brought Israel out of Egypt, when God fed Israel and taught them to walk–and remembers that time with both joy and pain, because even then Israel was worshipping other gods, running off to what seemed better and easier and newer and refusing to see the depth of God’s devoted love for them.
Here there’s no mention of which parent it is speaking, whether God is speaking as a mother or a father, and of course either parent could feed their child or help them walk when they’re still wobbly on their feet–but more often than not, traditionally, these tasks were cared for by the mother. In ancient days, women’s work was structured around being able to leave it and come back to it, being able to care for children and work at the same time, while men were in and out of the house with farm work, or out all day working as laborers. Mothers were the ones who were with the children day in and day out, caring for them when they couldn’t yet care for themselves, making sure they were eating, herding them along and making sure they napped each day, teaching them to walk and keeping them from setting the house on fire accidentally.
And it’s that level of familiarity that so often leads to the deep emotions that we see God exhibiting for God’s people, the mourning when they ignore what they’ve been taught, the lament when they go the wrong way and you can see so clearly that they’re headed for pain and trouble but they stubbornly, arrogantly refuse to listen to you.
For God loves us, loves us like a mother who’s been with us since we were born, who’s taught us to walk and talk, who’s fed us and weathered our tantrums. God loves us like a mother hen, who fiercely guards her chicks and keeps them warm at night, who teaches them how to find food and protect themselves. God loves us in the midst of life, in all of the normalcy of getting to work and getting home, sitting in traffic and fixing the computer that crashed again, doing dishes and paying bills, going on a picnic or to one more T-ball game, just as our own mothers got us out the door each morning, made sure we had food and clean clothes, taught us how to tie our shoes and how to get grass stains out of anything.
And part of that love is wanting what’s best for us–wanting us to follow God, to accept God’s outstretched hand and follow where God leads. And sometimes that place is uncomfortable, is painful, is really really hard. Sometimes that place is the opposite of what we expected or wanted. Sometimes it’s what we’ve always wanted. Sometimes it’s great. And sometimes it’s not, not at all.
But God knows things we can’t imagine. God knows what we need and, more than that, joins us each day in every part of life. God mourns when we try to go off on our own, celebrates when we return, and is with us through it all.
And so may we trust God as we trusted our parents, or as our children trusted us. May we follow where God leads. And, through it all, may we be truly able to join with the psalmist in saying, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me”.