Text: Isaiah 42:14-16 and 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17

This sermon originally preached May 11, 2015 at First Baptist Church of Hyattsville, MD.

Audio recording of “Our Mothering Father” with accompanying texts.

Excerpts from the sermon:

The depth of a mother’s love is unparalleled.  Which I think might be one of the reasons why struggle to understand the depths of God’s love because the primary metaphor we use for God is “our heavenly Father.”  I hope you associate your father with love, but the fact of the matter is that for many of us love isn’t at the top of the list – especially if your father was absent from your life as many fathers sadly, tragically are. 

So why do we refer to God as Father?  We use that metaphor because Scripture uses it.  We use that metaphor especially because Jesus uses it, and we should all strive to do what Jesus did, right? 

But as the people of Jesus, we should know and understand that “Father” can be problematic for many people because of their own personal experience, and we should also know and understand that Father isn’t the only metaphor Scripture uses of God.  This morning in the Bible 101 class I’m teaching one of the things we looked at was the feminine imagery the prophet Isaiah uses to describe God and God’s actions – and much of that imagery is mothering imagery.

And In our OT reading for this morning, Isaiah 42, God declares through the prophet that He is going to cry out like a woman in labor, that He is going to birth something new, that He is going to lay waste to the world as it is –not in anger, not for the purpose of destroying for destruction’s sake; but in order to create something new, more precious, more beautiful, more just: to turn darkness into light, to make the rough places into smooth, level ground – and God Himself will lead the blind (patiently, tenderly) down this new road He is blazing.

So, this Mother’s Day, I want to spend some time together exploring what mothers, including our mothering heavenly Father, have to teach us about the nature and the power of love – whether or not we ourselves are mothers, whether or not we have the intention of being mothers. You don’t have to be or become a mother to be of one mind with God.  But we do have to be people of love.

That’s what the letter of 1 John has been emphasizing for us these past few weeks – and been emphasizing for the church these past several centuries: at the heart of everything to do with God and Jesus and faith is LOVE. You cannot believe in God if you don’t love God, and cannot love God you if you hate or ignore your brothers and sisters. God’s love isn’t abstract; it’s tangible. It demonstrates itself by how we inter-relate with one another, especially how we inter-relate with those who do not possess the same measure of worldly wealth and health we may possess. 

“If you say you love God…but do not help those in need when it is within your means to do so, you are a liar…because love is tangible, and if it isn’t tangible it isn’t love, period. Mothers know this and model this better than anyone each and every day.”

1 John is very blunt about this.  If you say you love God, but do not love your brothers and sisters; if you say you love God, but do not help those in need when it is within your means to do so, you are a liar! You are a liar because love is tangible, and if it isn’t tangible it isn’t love, period. Mothers know this and model this better than anyone each and every day. It’s not just the way you wrap your arms around someone, it’s the way you wrap their sandwich in their lunchbox. It’s the way you laugh with someone, and cry with them, and dream with them, too. It’s about meeting their needs and anticipating their needs.  It’s about wanting the best for them. 

Sophia Loren has said, “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” And once mothers think, they act.  That’s why Kristen always carries this bag around with us wherever we go: crayons, band-aids, juice boxes – you name it, whatever the girls might need, it’s in there. I can’t tell you what all’s in there – just how heavy it is.  I think Dad is an old Anglo-Saxon word for “resident pack mule.”  But I digress.

Jesus doesn’t call us to this kind of sacrifice because He wants to make our lives difficult; He calls us to it because He wants to make our lives richer. Sacrifice is not only the product of love, it’s also the basis of love.  When you sacrifice for someone, when you sacrifice with someone, you are bonded to them. That’s one of the reasons why mothers love their children so much.  They’ve sacrificed more than fathers can ever realize to birth their children.  And they sacrifice for them in a 1,000 different ways big and small every single day. Sacrifice creates and strengthens the bonds of love. And sacrificial love is also the basis of authority. 

There’s a big difference between power and authority. Many mothers exercise tremendous authority over the lives of their children, even if they possess very little power – economic, physical, or otherwise. Jesus had authority. One of the things that distinguished him – He spoke as one who had authority, not power.

Lot of lamenting and handwringing these days.  People aren’t interested in church.  Look at all these empty seats.  People would rather sleep in than worship God. They’d rather watch the game than go to worship service or Bible study. Would submit that if they aren’t responding to our invitation, yes their desires are part of the equation, but only part.  A bigger part of the problem is that our invitation doesn’t carry the weight of authority.

If the people of Jesus, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, if we don’t speak as people who have authority, that’s not a problem with their attitude; it’s a problem with our witness.