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THE MOTHERLINESS OF GOD Mother’s Day became quite special for me six years ago when I became a grandmother. If it stays fine, we’re off to Rainbows End to join Adam and his family to celebrate his sixth birthday, the first time 8 May has been Mother’s Day again since he was born. RE is not really my idea of how to spend Mother’s Day – breakfast in bed, a lazy afternoon and then watching a chick flick would be more my style, but I’ll be there with the family because that’s what mothers do. And fathers, but today our theme is going to be Mothers, because ever since 1908 the second Sunday in May has been trademarked as a day to honour our mother. That’s when Anna Jarvis of West Virginia conceived the notion of a day to honour one's mother. Not just mothers in general but our own mother; she was very specific about the spelling and the apostrophe to make sure of that. There were traditions going back further, in England for example, where Mothering Sunday is part of the season of Lent that six week period of fasting running up to Easter. MS was a day of relaxation in the middle of the severities, when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their home Church, and of course their mothers and families. We follow the American version of the holiday, which many consider has become far too commercialized; Anna Jarvis

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herself felt it had become a "Hallmark Holiday", because in the USA, as In NZ, Mother's Day is huge for sales of flowers, greeting cards, and longdistance phone calls. This is a difficult day for some. Your mother may have passed away, perhaps recently, or perhaps your family suffers conflict or estrangement. You may have longed to be a mother but because you are single, or maybe for medical reasons, you do not have children of your own. I don’t want to diminish the experience of those of y;.ou for whom this day is painful. But the fact is we have all had a mother, and for most of us the memories of her are precious. That is why it is fitting to take some time to recall, and treasure and thank God not just for our own mother, but for all those old and young married or single who have nurtured us and helped us become the person we were meant to be. This little video does come from America, but if you can get past Mom instead of Mum, it’s a good reminder of how we can use this day… Mothers have not always been valued or thanked. I’m sure one of the reasons why Anna Jarvis wanted to set up a special day was that over the centuries, women have had a bit of a raw deal. It you were a righteous Jewish man 2000 years ago

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you would have risen early each morning to commit the day to God with this prayer: “Praise be to God that he has not created me a gentile, praise be to God that he has not created me a woman‖. Centuries later the great reformer Martin Luther wrote: “Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips.…they ought to stay at home, to keep house and raise children because of the way they were created with broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon.” Even in my own lifetime the role of mothers has been devalued – from the Stepford wives of the sixties, through to more recent times when politicians provide benefits and subsidies only to women in the paid workforce, and film stars adopt multiple children as if they were just another fashion accessory. Jesus was different. Despite the fact that the status of women in the Palestine of his day was decidedly inferior, he is recorded as never doing anything that treated women as inferior beings. Women were not allowed the study the Scriptures or sit at the feet of rabbis – but Jesus encouraged his women disciples like to do both. It was regarded as undignified or even disreputable for religious men

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to speak to women; rabbis did not even speak to their wives in public, but Jesus spoke freely to women even Gentile women. Women were not normally allowed to bear witness in a court of law, but Jesus chose women as the first witnesses of his resurrection and entrusted to them the carrying of the good news to others. Clearly Jesus promoted the dignity and equality of women in the midst of a very male-dominated society. The playwright Dorothy Sayers put it this way: ―(These women) had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized…who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious." Jesus’ focus on the equal dignity of women is expressed in his teachings and parables. He knew the life of women, and told stories about grinding flour, baking bread, serving visitors, and a very topical theme – brides and bridesmaids. But wait there’s more.

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In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three stories in a row, each depicting God’s deep concern for that which is lost. The first story was of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost -the shepherd is a picture of God. The third parable is about the prodigal son – and here the welcoming father is God. The second story is of the woman who sought the lost coin, so clearly the woman is also a picture of God! Jesus did not shrink from the notion of God as feminine. In fact, it would appear that Jesus included this womanly image of God quite deliberately at this point for the scribes and Pharisees were among those who most of all denigrated women–just as they did ―tax-collectors and sinners.‖ He wanted to show that there is a feminine side of God. Now don’t be horrified at this notion. God describes his character using feminine images in a number of places in the scriptures; this in Hosea is a favourite of mine, but there’s also the female eagle in Deuteronomy, and Jesus the mother hen in Matthew and Luke. And theologians are careful to remind us that God has no gender in the biological sense. Or perhaps it would be better to say God reflects both genders, for he has both fatherly and motherly attributes, and we are made in God’s image.

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This year I’m doing a university paper that looks at gender in the workplace, and so I’ve done some reading about this. Last century we thought of gender in terms of stereotypes; men are assertive, competitive, independent, courageous, and careerfocused, while women are loving, compassionate, caring, nurturing, sympathetic and sacrificial. There is some research to support those generalisations but we realise now that most are socially constructed, meaning it depends on the way you were brought up. The more extreme stereotypes are that women are hopeless at maths, bad drivers, and emotional and irrational, while men are sex-mad, aggressive and never listen. Although there are some gender differences hardwired into our biology (spatial awareness, verbal communication, and the fact women and men see colours and experience pain differently) most of these stereotypes are hugely misleading and can stifle creativity and growth. Yet we still rely on these stereotypes, I get so annoyed at the toymakers who market everything for either girls or boys, and even colour-code the store aisles. It’s called pinkification, and it squeezes kids into little stereotypical boxes before they can even talk. Last month I noticed even the Bible Society sells special Princess Bibles for 4 year old girls, with the boys’ one being marketed as the Mighty Warrior!

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In this century social sciences research has been more focussed on the effectiveness in business, and families, of balancing the masculine and feminine ways, and finding a way to be more integrated as organisations and as persons. And that’s interesting, because a number of Biblical scholars have in recent years noted how Jesus of Nazareth is a superb blend of these traditional stereotypes. If men are more project-oriented and women more relational – and the jury is still out on the science - Jesus transcends the stereotypes by being both and including all that is good, in the masculine and the feminine. That’s what I want to talk about for the rest of today’s message; I want us to see how God – as we see him in the character of Christ – expresses all that is ―excellent, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and worthy of praise‖ and how mothering can in many ways be a picture of God. Let’s look at how mothers (and other people acting in motherly ways) influence their families. They give birth, they provide food, they bring healing, they teach, and eventually, they make sacrifices. Let look at these one by one, and make a connection with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1.Mothers give birth – or at least most do, and those who adopt also have a period of hopeful expectations that ends up with a baby; Helen and

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Grant will attest to that. And when women get together and start sharing birth stories there’s no stopping them. They’ve experienced something awesome, something of what God did in creation – brought something brand new into being, something about which they can say, it is good. The gospel is also about something brand new being brought into being. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about it. He used a very feminine metaphor, that of childbirth: ―I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God…..humans reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.‖ Jesus came into this world so sinners who received him, who believed in his name could become the very children of God. What a motherly thing to do! Here’s a question for you – whether you are a mother or not: What is waiting to be born in my life? What new aspect of faith is ready to burst forth in my soul? 2. Mothers feed their children, breast or bottle, breakfast or burgers, round the world it’s still mostly the women who serve the food. They are often the ones who say, eat your veges, finish your mouthful, clean your plate, although for one of my grandchildren it’s her father who engages in negotiations at the dinner table. ―What’s the deal,

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Dad?‖ she says. A deal is a tradition passed on from his father, and it means she is hoping he will say, eat three more pieces of chicken and you can have an ice-cream. Parenting is often a trade-off. Jesus came to give us spiritual food. He called himself the Bread that came from heaven, and offered a lonely woman living water so that she would never thirst again. And he offers us the ultimate deal – his death on the cross for new life in the family of God. Question: How does God want to feed me today? Is there someone I can nurture on his behalf? 3. Mothers are often the source of healing in a family – not just the kiss on the jammed finger or the plaster on the skinned knee, but the peace making that sorts out conflicts and restores relationships. Mothers know that often what is needed is a listening ear, not a father’s quick diagnosis or a fix-it approach, and they can bring reconciliation and hope into situations of distress and despair. Jesus did that too. He listened closely and cared deeply. He brought physical, emotional and spiritual healing to all sorts of individuals and social situations. And by his spirit he brings healing today, a balm for brokenness and relief from our burdens.

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Question: Who in my life is in need of Christ’s touch? How can I be his healing hands? Mothers do a lot of the teaching especially of young children. I don’t know if that is why research shows that it is the IQ of the mother that has most influence on the intelligence of a child, but I like to think so. Churchill was once asked to check a list of his teachers for a newspaper article; he sent it back with the annotation, ―you left out the greatest of all my teachers – my mother!‖ Jesus too had a huge respect for the intellect of women, compared with other rabbis of his day like Eliezer who thought teaching a woman was obscene. Jesus respects all of us as intelligent beings, and expects us to use our brains in applying our faith to daily life. The Bible seldom offers simplistic answers but if we trust the Spirit as our Helper and Guide, we will discover a rich faith that will sustain us through dark times. The Message paraphrases John 16, the Spirit of the Truth I send will take you by the hand and guide you into the truth…he will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said.‖ That passage reminds me of that verse from Hosea, about God drawing us with leading strings of love. Question: What does God want me to learn from him today? Is there someone I can teach or mentor?

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Lastly mothers make sacrifices. Let’s finish with a story about that. Its sentimental but we are allowed to be on Mother’s Day. A Scottish mother was walking home with her baby when a sudden snow storm made her lose her way. In the morning rescuers found she had died from exposure to the cold, but underneath her body the tiny baby was still alive, wrapped in her coat and most of her clothes. Years later, the minister who had conducted her funeral was preaching in Glasgow. He used this experience to portray the sacrificial love of Christ. Afterwards a man came to him weeping, he had been passing by and slipped into a back pew to listen. When he heard the story he was cut to the heart, because he was the boy. He had never forgotten his mother’s love, but now it took on a new meaning. Tell me more, he said, about the love of Christ. Who can you tell about the love of Christ today? Pray.