Video of this sermon is available on the YouTube channel of First Congregational Church of Walla Walla
A few months ago, one of our many awesome kids who go to Sunday school came up to me and said said, “You told us we can ask you questions. So, can I ask you a question?” “Of course,” I said. “My mom told me that God is beyond gender. But in that prayer you pray, you say ‘Our Father and Mother.’”
She was referring to how we do the Lord’s Prayer at our church: we say, ‘Our Father and Mother who art in heaven.’
So here she’s saying to herself, “People in church are calling God ‘Father and Mother.’ But mom told me God is beyond gender. What’s with that?” I love it! Because I’ve had a couple of people – adults – come up to me after church to say, “The way you add ‘Mother’ to the Lord’s prayer, what’s with that? That isn’t right. That’s not in the Bible. It’s God the Father period.” I love that the controversy for this kid was with putting a gender on God at all. I think we’re doing good work, everybody. And good job mom!
What I told her is that, first, yes, she’s right – and her mom’s right. God is not some guy with a beard on a throne in the sky. Or a woman with on a throne in the sky, with a beard or not. God doesn’t have a gender. God is infinite. God is eternal. God is the source of everything that is, and beyond all that. Most living things don’t have a biological sexes. Bacteria far, far outweigh humans. They don’t have sexes or genders. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, there are more than 10 times more earthworms than humans by weight. God created them too. Stars … blackholes … gender does not apply.
Gender does not apply to God’s nature. Wrong category.
And … God is not only some amazing powerful eternal spirit way off in the cosmos, God comes to us so we can have a relationship with God. God comes to us in ways that we can understand. That can feel to us to be like a mother, who gives birth to us, who nurses us and nurtures us. And that can feel to us to be like a father, who supports us, and guides us, and protects us. Or God can feel to us to be like a teacher or a leader, like Jesus.
How we imagine God is very important, because it can shape how open we are to experiencing what God has to offer us, it can direct us and limit us, shape what we value and who we value. We do need to have some images and words for God, to help us grow and evolve in knowledge of God and of ourselves. But clinging to them too tightly turn into idolatry.
For Mother’s day I want to lift up those images of God as a strong female figure. The Bible mostly presents God in masculine terms. Although there are lots and lots of images for God that are from the natural world, and poetry that takes us way past the bounds of the human realms. And, in the Bible are some powerful times when The Divine speaks with a female voice. These moments in scripture are particularly powerful in how they express Connection, Comfort, Challenge, and Wisdom. It is with a female voice perhaps that we best experience how God finds connections with us, how God comforts us, how God challenges us. We have a deep, deep need for all that these days. In the book of Isaiah God speaks with a mother’s voice saying,
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 66:13
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” – Isaiah 49:15
These are good words of connection and comfort. As we hear in Psalm 131: “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.”
Yet there are also words of fiery challenge.
In the Book of Proverbs the Wisdom of God is a female character. Wisdom, Chokhmah, was the first of God’s creation, we hear. And it was only with her, only through Wisdom that God is able to create everything else. She pervades the universe as the fundamental order of creation. And when she speaks to us, it’s heard as a powerful female voice, challenging us to live in a wise and prudent way.
“Lady Wisdom goes out in the street and shouts. At the town center she makes her speech. In the middle of the traffic she takes her stand. At the busiest corner she calls out: “Simpletons! How long will you wallow in ignorance? Cynics! How long will you feed your cynicism? Idiots! How long will you refuse to learn? About face! I can revise your life. Look, I’m ready to pour out my spirit on you; I’m ready to tell you all I know. As it is, I’ve called, but you’ve turned a deaf ear; I’ve reached out to you, but you’ve ignored me. “Because you hated Knowledge and had nothing to do with the Reverence for God, Because you wouldn’t take my advice and brushed aside all my offers to train you, Well, you’ve made your bed—now lie in it; you wanted your own way—now, how do you like it? Don’t you see what happens, you simpletons, you idiots? Carelessness kills; complacency is murder. First pay attention to me, and then relax. Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.” – Proverbs 1: 20-33
And later: You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight. She’s worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary. Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition. Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete. She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her. Hold her tight—and be blessed! – Proverbs 3: 13-18
Carelessness kills; complacency is murder.
I dare say in the midst of the crisis we’re in, we need to hear and to head what we hear in these feminine divine voice from scripture. Connection & comfort & challenge & wisdom.
Carelessness kills; complacency is murder We need a renewal of the Spirit that cares for and shares with and seeks the uplift of all humanity,
We need the same Spirit that was at work in the followers of Jesus who scripture says, “lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.” – Acts 2:44-45
Let me end with some words of wisdom learned from a close study of the order of nature, formed by Wisdom. This is from the biologist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer, about different organisms who form close symbiotic partnerships with each other: “When times are easy and there’s plenty to go around, individual species can go it alone. But when conditions are harsh and life is tenuous, it takes a team sworn to reciprocity to keep life going forward. In a world of scarcity, interconnection and mutual aid become critical for survival.” – from Braiding Sweetgrass, pg. 272
So I wish you all connection with God’s wisdom at this time – connection, and the comfort and challenge that comes with it. God bless you. And thanks be to God.
(Delivered May 10, 2020, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)