God is like a mother

Good morning, Friends! Happy Mother’s Day!

In the old days, Quakers didn’t used to celebrate public holidays very much. 200 years ago, Quakers didn’t even celebrate Easter and Christmas.

But you know, women and their contribution aren’t always recognized, in the Bible or in society. So, it’s OK to set today aside this way.

Mother’s Day has an interesting background. There are actually two different versions of how the day got started.

The first version is that Mother’s Day was started by a woman named Julia Ward Howe. She was a writer and a social activist. She was the author of the famous song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which she wrote in 1861 during the Civil War.

But when she saw the terrible bloodshed of the Civil War, she changed her mind. After the war, when people were still celebrating, she asked America to create a new holiday, to honor mothers and to promote peace.

She wrote, “Arise, women of this day! Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. . .” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day_Proclamation)

Her Mother’s Peace Day didn’t gain a lot of traction, but another woman, Anna Jarvis, had more success.

Her mother spent many years working in the mountains in Appalachia, teaching women how to prevent the childhood diseases which wiped out entire families in those days.

During the Civil War, her mother helped to nurse wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict. Just three years after the war, her mother organized a reunion which brought together veterans and the families from both sides. The reunion brought most of the people who came to tears as they forgave each other.

After her mother died, Anna Jarvis worked for many years to set up a holiday to honor all mothers, and the first national Mother’s Day proclamation was issued in 1914.

In one of those strange turns of life, Anna Jarvis later turned against the celebration of Mother’s Day. She said it had become too commercial.

All the companies selling flowers, candy, jewelry and special telegrams had jumped on the bandwagon, and were using Mother’s Day as a way to cash in and make tons of money.

Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life opposing the holiday she established. She hated all the fancy cards – she said your mother would much rather have you visit her, or send her a letter.

I thought that today, we could take a look at one of the Psalms, which talks about God in a different way than we usually do.

It’s very short, but it’s very powerful. Let’s read together from Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 131

I know that we’re used to calling God “our Father” a lot of the time. But here’s a place where the Bible says that God is like a mother.

Before we were born, our mothers bore us. From a tiny seed, for many months, we grew and were nourished. Then with a great effort, maybe with pain and risk to their lives, our mothers pushed us out into the world.

For most of us, it didn’t stop there. Our mothers nursed us. They cared for us every day and put us to bed at night.

Our mothers cared for us when we were sick, and helped us to grow up, healthy and strong.

Just think about all the things we said to our mothers when we were little:

• Look at me!
• Feed me!
• Hold me!
• Don’t let me fall! Catch me!
• Listen to me!

We all said those things to our mothers, so many times. Maybe they got tired of all the things we said. Maybe they didn’t feel so great themselves. But mothers are here for us, time and time again, all through our childhood.

In many ways, our relationship with God is very similar to the relationship we have with our mothers. We say many of the same things to God, that we said to our parents when we were small: “Look at me! Feed me! Hold me! Don’t let me fall! Catch me! Listen to me!”

And way too much of the time, like kids that never grow up, we say to God, “Don’t bother me!”

The Bible is filled with stories about women who prayed to become mothers. The Bible is also filled with stories and prophecies, where God feels like a mother who has been rejected and forgotten by her children.

In the wisdom books of the Bible, God is portrayed as a mother. God calls out to her children, saying, “Don’t get drunk! Don’t sleep around! Why are you being so stupid?”

In the book of Proverbs, it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own wisdom. In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, who will make your path straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes; listen to the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh, and refreshment for your body.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

When we read the Bible, you can hear God talking to us like when we were teen-agers:

• “Pick up your mess!”
• “Eat your dinner before your dessert!”
•”Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it. If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?”
•”Stand up straight! Get the hair out of your eyes! Don’t look down all the time!”

Our moms said all those things to us. Maybe God says those things to us, too.

I remember my mom kept a little school project I made to bring home when I was in nursery school – it was a piece of clay, with my thumb prints all round the edge, and a picture of me in the middle. Mom treated it like it was the greatest art work since the Mona Lisa. Every piece of school work I brought home, Mom put it up on the refrigerator. I knew she was proud of me!

A couple of years ago, out on our marquee sign out front, I put up a message, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it!” We got more feedback and more compliments on that sign, than any other sign we’ve ever posted. God really loves us. Not just like a father. God loves us like a proud and happy mom.

God forgives us, more times than we can even remember. God is merciful to us, when we don’t deserve mercy. God has more joy when one child turns back, than over a hundred kids who never act up or run away.

Many of us here this morning no longer have living mothers. We wish that we could still send them a card, or a gift.

We wish that we could make just one more phone call, or sit with them one more time at the kitchen table.

We wish we could ask our mother a thousand questions that we never asked while our moms were alive.

At least, with God, that’s not a problem. We can call or visit any time. God is just a prayer away, and God always picks up the phone. God is never to busy to listen. We can ask God those thousand questions. God may not answer directly, in the way we want.

Sometimes we ask God why there’s so much that’s wrong or painful in the world, and God answers by showing us there’s so much that’s beautiful, or by showing us someone who’s helping.

As our reading from Psalm 131 this morning says, sometimes God’s answer is simply to hold us, like a nursing mother, or like a mother holding a little child in her arms.

When we’re little, we take that love for granted. But it’s still available to us. That love is always available, and it always will be. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter how far you run away, God still loves you.

Not everyone has a good mother. Mothers are human, after all. Most mothers are way less than perfect. Some mothers have beliefs or habits or history that make it impossible for them be the kind of mother we wish they were.

We sympathize with everyone who didn’t have a good mother, or who grew up without any mother at all. Mother’s Day can be pretty hard on you.

But rather than saying that God is like the mother you didn’t love, turn it around, and ask if God can be like the mother you wanted and didn’t have.

The Bible says to honor our parents. It’s the fourth commandment. “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land which I am giving to you. . .”

I always say that God wouldn’t make it a commandment, if it was easy. Sometimes honoring mom and dad is really hard. We all know many people who have gone the extra mile, and quite a few miles beyond that, to look after their parents.

If that’s you, we honor you for caring for them. It isn’t easy. There almost needs to be an extra commandment: “Honor the children who take care of their parents when they need it and when they are old. They will be blessed for their love and care.”

At least, this is one place where God isn’t like our mothers. God’s care never ends. God never needs to go into a nursing home. God never wears us out with needing care. The parent/child relationship is never reversed with us and God.

I don’t know if you remember the last line in today’s Scripture reading. The last line of Psalm 131 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore!

That’s one more thing we need to remember. We hope in God, the way we hope in our mothers. But God also hopes in us. Just like we know that we can count on our mothers, even when we don’t see them or when they’re far away, in the same way, we hope in God – we can count on God. God is good – all the time.

One of the most famous parts of the Bible says, “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious, or boastful, or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. Love isn’t irritable or resentful. Love doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

We usually apply those words to the love between two people. But those words apply equally to the way God feels about us. God is the best parent, the best mother we could ever imagine.

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