By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
May 8, 2022
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/1051188499115138
Scripture: Isaiah 49: 13-15
How many of you have read the book, Tuesdays with Morrie? Or seen the movie? It’s kind of a famous book, but I had never read it until a couple of weeks ago. I just sort of vaguely knew what it was about before then. But when I decided to do this sermon series about “things I’ve been meaning to tell you,” it popped into my mind. That’s because it is about a man named Morrie who is dying, and he has this series of conversations with a former student of his named Mitch. The book is about their relationship and the wisdom that Morrie shared in his last days.
Now, to be sure, my being appointed to a new church is not the same as someone dying. But we are in the final stages of this phase of our relationship as pastor and congregation. We have about … gosh just a little over a month…five weeks…before my last Sunday here. Time is now growing quite short.
One thing the book brought to my attention was what a gift it is to know your time is growing short. Morrie, who was diagnosed with ALS, experienced the slow and incredibly difficult decline of his body as he journeyed through his last months and weeks. Yet even so, he was able to see a great gift he had been given. Morrie even says to Mitch, “It’s horrible to watch my body slowly wilt away to nothing. But it’s also wonderful because of all the time I get to say good-bye…not everyone is so lucky.”
Mitch of course is incredulous at this. He can’t imagine considering himself lucky if he was in Morrie’s situation. But Morrie has amazing insight. He can see the good and beauty and joy even while he acknowledges the suffering.
It puts our loss into perspective, I suppose. Yes, I have been appointed to another church. Sad to be sure, yet nothing like a terminal diagnosis. But it does offer the same blessing of time to say goodbye, time to say the things we wish we should have said more frequently or more clearly. It is no time to mess around. We’ve only got five more weeks.
So I want to make sure I say some things, some important things before I go. Mother’s Day affords me a particular opportunity. As I was reflecting on our many Mother’s Days together, I noticed that I often talk about using feminine images for God on this day. I want you to know why I do that.
I should start by saying, I know that it probably made or makes some of you uncomfortable when I refer to God as “She.” That’s why I only do it once in awhile. I’m not interested in ruining your worship experience or making it uncomfortable just to annoy you. That’s not what I’m up to.
I use feminine language for God for three reasons.
First, it is because it is orthodox. When I say orthodox, I mean this. Orthodoxy is about using the right language when we talk about God. We try to use language that expresses who God is as accurately as possible. I say try because ALL the language we use falls short of the fullness of God who is ultimately beyond our understanding. Right? As limited human beings, we cannot fully wrap our minds around or perfectly express who God is. This is orthodox thinking that goes back to Thomas Aquinas and Augustine.
But we try. One of the things we don’t want to do is fall into idolatry. Now, you know what idolatry is, right? When we talk about making something an idol in the bible, what do you most often think about? [A golden calf.] That’s a reference to a story in the Book of Exodus where the Hebrew people start worshipping a golden calf and say that it is God. The problem with this is not the image of a golden calf proper. One could say, God is like a cow in that God provides nourishment and sustenance for God’s people. That would have been fine. But when the people say, “No, this golden calf, this one image here, IS God,” that’s idolatry.
The same is true for all of our images of God. Even the best and most commonly used images, like God as a Father, become idolatry when we insist that God is literally and only that one thing. We need a multiplicity of images, we need many and various images of God, to try to get at the full reality of who God is. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes, “insofar as male-dominant language is honored as the only…way of speaking about God, it absolutizes a single set of metaphors and obscures the height and depth and length and breadth of divine mystery” (p. 18).
In summary, I throw in an occasional feminine pronoun for God to ensure we are rightly imagining God…who is beyond the male gender and in fact all genders. But we need to employ the feminine image to disrupt the exclusively masculine one.
Secondly, I use feminine language for God because women are made in the image of God. Period.
I will paraphrase my mentor Rev. Vicki Flippin here who preached one time that if we can’t imagine God as a woman, then we cannot imagine that women are fully created in the image of God. Friends, I hate to tell you this, but if we are not able to comfortably imagine God as a woman, we might be carrying some misogyny around with us. It could be that, deep down, we think that it is insulting to call God a “woman” to call God “She.” This is not due to your or anyone’s personal failure. We swim in a culture where 99% of the images of God we hear and see are male.
Yet, if we do believe that women are made in the image of God, why not use a or many feminine images for God?
The bible certainly has some examples for us to choose from. In our text from Isaiah today, we hear God comparing Godself to a nursing mother. Elsewhere in Isaiah, we have God as a comforting Mother when She says to Her people, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13). We have God as a woman in labor in Isaiah 42.
But Isaiah is not the only important person in the bible who uses feminine images for God. In the New Testament, in Matthew (23:37) and Luke (13:34), Jesus himself says to Jerusalem “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Here Jesus imagines himself as a Mother Hen.
Jesus also describes God in a feminine image in the Parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15. There Jesus helps us imagine God our Mother searching for us and seeking us out until we are found. This is actually a companion story to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Back-to-back in Luke chapter 15, Jesus invites us to imagine the God who seeks us out when we are lost: first as woman who has lost a coin and who celebrates when she finds it, and secondly as a Father who welcomes his “lost” son home. Jesus himself uses a multiplicity of images to try to help us understand this ultimately unfathomable God.
There are other feminine images in the bible: a strong mother eagle, a tender mother of infants, and my favorite image in Hosea 13, when God declares: “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…” You know any moms like that?
This is my favorite feminine image for God not just because I can relate to it. It reminds us that God’s mothering love for us is both tender and fierce. Imagining God as mother does not take away from Her power: it helps us to imagine a God who is both gentle and nurturing, and mighty to save.
Finally – here is one final, critically important reason I use feminine language for God sometimes. It’s because for some people, hearing feminine language is going to open a door for them to grow in relationship with God, to understand themselves as loved by God, when more traditional language simply alienates them. This gender inclusive business that I am all into… more than anything, it is because I am here to break down every barrier that might make someone feel like they are not loved by God, that they are not created by God, that they are not welcome to know God here.
There are a million churches people can go to that use only male images for God. And there are just as many people who struggle with those images – many, many who have been alienated from the Christian faith. Maybe it’s because their relationship with their own father is just too disastrously broken for Father language to feel safe for them. Maybe it’s because the male king images and warrior-God images have been used and abused to justify violence and oppression. Maybe it’s because those images and that language make them think of the old man Santa Claus God that they believed in as children, and they know God is more than that and bigger than that and beyond that, and they need some different language to help them shake off their childlike understandings.
I know how important it is to break open those understandings so that folks can come back into relationship with God because that’s what I needed. If I hadn’t found a church somewhere that helped me to grow up in my understanding of God as a mystery beyond my imagining…If I hadn’t found a church that allowed me to love Jesus without insisting that God was just a man sitting on a cloud…If I hadn’t found a place that affirmed that I was created in God’s image … without an asterisk or exception … and that I – a woman – was good enough, was worthy enough to preach this amazing gospel of love and liberation…If I hadn’t found that church, well, I don’t know where I would be right now.
But I know I wouldn’t be here…ending five amazing years with all of you…and ready to go where God sends me next.
So I’m going to keep making us all a little uncomfortable by pushing every darn boundary on our ideas of who God is with us and for us. Because I know there is someone listening right now who needs that door opened for them. That’s the only reason I am here. To open those doors. It’s the only reason I ever stand up here and dare to talk about God.
Because I want every one of you to know the God that I know. The God we encounter when we follow Jesus. God who is beyond any one image we can grasp.
God who is our Perfect Mother, our Perfect Father, our Perfect Parent, our strong rock, our fortress, our savior and redeemer…
Thanks be to God.