Father/Mother/God

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
February 8, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                         Father/Mother/God

Scripture Reading:       Exodus 20:1-11

Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, in her book The Ten Commandments, tells the story of “a rabbi [who was] sitting next to an atheist on an airplane. Every few minutes, one of the rabbi’s children or grandchildren would [turn and] inquire about his needs for food, drink or comfort. The atheist commented, ‘The respect your children and grandchildren show you is wonderful. Mine don’t show me that respect.’ The rabbi responded, ‘Think about it. To my children and grandchildren, I am one step closer in a chain of tradition to the time when God spoke to the whole Jewish people on Mount Sinai. To your children and grandchildren, you are one step closer to being an ape.’” J

Ah, yes. “Honor your father and your mother.”

This is already the fifth Sunday in our series on the Ten Commandments. We’ve considered the first four commandments so far—“You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol” and “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God” and “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Those are the commandments that address our relationship with God. They describe our part in that sacred romance that God longs to have with each one of us. The others tell us how to relate to humankind.

Today’s commandment, the fifth commandment, is often considered something of a bridge between the first four and the last five. It holds space between the commandments that direct our divine relationship and the ones that direct our earthly ones, just as our own earthly parents are in the unique situation of holding space between our heavenly parent and us.

I want to draw a connection to my sermon title here …

You may have noticed that a moment ago I said “heavenly parent” and not just “heavenly father.” You may have also noticed that in our Call to Worship, the first person of the Trinity was referred to as “Abba, Father, Mother, Creator.” You will undoubtedly notice that in our Hymn of Response, God is referred to not only as “warm father God” but also as “strong mother God.” And, if you’re very familiar with scripture, you may also know that several Old Testament passages describe God in feminine terms. Genesis 1:27 says God created humankind in God’s own image, both male and female. And God says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 32:18, “You forgot the God who gave you birth” [literally, “who bore you in childbirth”]; and in Isaiah 42:14, “For a long time I have kept silent … but now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant”; and in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Consider also Hosea 11:3-4, Hosea 13:8, Deuteronomy 32:11-12, and Isaiah 49:15, where God is described as a mother bear, a mother lion, a mother eagle, a nursing human mother!

It took a while to get used to this, but I have come to love it, because when we acknowledge both the masculine and the feminine attributes—both the paternal and the maternal traits—of God, we experience a more well-rounded, more complete persona of God. God is now nurturing, protecting, comforting—the true mother image—as well as exhibiting those traits we traditionally assign to a father. And, let’s face it: there are some people—even some here, among us, today—whose relationship with their human father is or was less than ideal. Painful, even.  Maybe it’s you. And if we can all embrace (in solidarity with you) an image of God that includes the feminine, then for all of us the concept of “Honor your [heavenly] father and mother” will take on a deeper, more accessible meaning. It will bridge the gap between what you have experienced and what God intended for you. It will create for you something that is worthy of being lifted up and celebrated. It will create something worthy of being honored.

But really—what does it mean to “honor” someone? It’s interesting that, while we are told, in scripture, to love God and love neighbor, we are not told to love our parents. We are told to honor them. Why? Because honoring is the visible side of love. I can love my country, and that can fill my heart, but I honor it when I salute the flag, vote, or sign up for military service. I can love the earth with all my spirit, but I honor it when I make choices to recycle, use less of its natural resources, leave a smaller carbon footprint.

When we honor our parents—when we publicly, visibly, intentionally honor them, even if we don’t always feel they deserve it—we honor God. Your parents—whether they’re biological, step, adoptive, surrogate, foster, grand, in-law or some other combination thereof—aren’t perfect. (I don’t have to tell you that.) My parents aren’t perfect. As a parent, I am not perfect. As a parent, neither are you. (I don’t have to tell you that either.) But earthly parents, though flawed, though very much in need of being forgiven by their children, are the human counterparts of our perfect heavenly parent, and God says that is to be honored.

Even Jesus, dying on the cross, honored Mary, his earthly mother, and made sure she would be provided for after his death. John 19:26-27 says Jesus saw his mother standing at the foot of the cross with his “beloved disciple” John, and said to her (indicating John), “Woman, here is your son.” He said to John, “Here is your mother,” and John honored that request by immediately taking her into his own home and providing for her as if she were his own mother.

Honor your father and mother. But some are not so honorable. Does that mean God calls us to blind compliance, blind obedience? No. Here’s how one pastor[1] explains it: “If my parents abandon me, I will honor them by seeking, though not forcing, reconciliation. If my parents abuse me, I will honor them by praying for them, so that they might see their error—and by escaping, if possible, so that they cannot continue to sin upon me. … If they are breaking the law, and refuse to heed my warnings, I will honor them by calling the police. Making them accountable to the highest moral order is honoring them in that I esteem them capable of responsible action.”

Those are rare cases, though—thank God! Most parents are honorable. What most parents desire, especially later in life, is contact: family relationships. And we dishonor them by denying them that. Most parents want us to ask them for help when we need it and it’s something they can help with. They want us to honor their wisdom. They want us to ask their advice. My mom posted on Facebook recently a cartoon drawing of an aging couple, and the caption said, “Parents are not around forever. Call them, visit them. Take their grandchildren to see them. Laugh with them, hug them. Let them speak and tell you the same old stories over and over again. Take them their favorite foods and sweets. Treat them with respect, patience, and plenty of love. Tomorrow might be too late!” Of course I shared that post to my own Facebook wall—and then, of course, I called my parents. (And we plan to visit them in May and, hopefully, take one of our grandchildren with us.)

There’s another way we honor our parents that may not be as obvious. We honor God by striving to be all that God has called us to be—by being the best person we can, by living up to God’s best hopes for us. Do we not also honor our earthly parents by doing the same? Those of you who are parents—go back in your mind to the first time you held your newborn daughter or son or grandchild. You had high hopes for that child. Maybe you had no specific goals in mind, but you know you wanted nothing but the best for her/him. Above all, you wanted that child to feel as happy as he or she made you feel at that very moment. Your parents felt the same way when you were born. What would it take for you to fulfill that wish—to honor your parents’ wish for your happiness—to make their dreams for you come true? Are there steps you can take toward a lifelong goal? Are there obstacles to your joy that you can remove from your life? What’s holding you back?

My mom and dad have always been very supportive of me, even when I made choices they knew were not the best for me. We all made mistakes (I did; they did), but they kept the lines of communication open, and we made it through my more tumultuous years. When I was in my late 30s, I entered seminary, and when I was 45 (ten years ago last September), I was ordained. My parents attended my ordination ceremony in Longmont, and I will never forget what my dad said to me when he came through the reception line after the ceremony. Just five little words. He came to me, gave me a hug, and with a voice full of emotion, he said, “You make me so proud.” In that moment, I knew that what I had accomplished not only pleased God but brought great honor to my father and my mother. This was something none of us had ever imagined one of us would do. This was something that honored my parents, validated their efforts, repaid their sacrifices, and told them that their parenting brought honor to God. Who would have thought it would do all of that?

This commandment—this fifth one—is the first one that comes with a promise. It says “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land.” I think “long” means much more than long here. I think it means deep and rich and full and rewarding and complete, and full of happiness and healing and forgiveness and restoration. I think it means that if we honor our fathers and mothers, our own children will rise up, eventually, to fulfill our own best hopes for them. I think, in those “long” days in the land, God, who is “Abba, Father, Mother, Creator”—“warm father God” and “strong mother God”—will come to us, give us a hug, and with a voice full of emotion, will say, “You make me so proud!”

 

[1] A chaplain at the Glenburn Evangelical Covenant Church of Glenburn, Maine; quoted on page 157 of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s book The Ten Commandments.

Sabbath Rest

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
February 1, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                                                  Sabbath Rest

Scripture Reading:       Exodus 20:1-11

Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

This is the fourth Sunday in our series on the Ten Commandments. We’ve already explored the deeper meanings in the first three commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” [because no other gods seek to be in relationship, in covenant, with you]; “You shall not make for yourself an idol [of me; don’t set me in stone; let me breathe!]”; and “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God [don’t underestimate my nature and my ability; trust me!].”

But I think the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” trips us up more than any of those first three commandments, because it can be so hard to dedicate a whole day every week to worship and rest. In our culture, it’s nearly impossible. Where do you find the time to not work? Or at least to not cook? It’s not as if manna falls from heaven every Saturday and miraculously lasts through Sunday every week, as it did for the Israelites in the wilderness, so they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath. And look at me! I work nearly every Sunday! Where does that leave me? … Ah, yes. The gift of time …

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a mayfly. You push your way through your final moulting stage into adulthood, and it’s glorious! You delight in the windshield of a fast-moving truck, hanging on for dear life, wind blowing your antennae rakishly across your forehead, until you decide to let go and fling yourself to who-knows-where, and who-really-cares? Upon landing, you find others—thousands, millions of your cousins who also became adults today—and you swarm up and down and around with them, celebrating this wonderful thing called life! You find a mate, and that’s a good thing … and then you go on, flying, swarming, dancing, swirling, resting, eating, mating, flying, swarming, dancing, swirling, resting, eating—furiously for as long as the sun lights the day. Then as dusk falls, you begin to feel very, very tired. You find a place to rest, you go to sleep, and … you never wake up. For you are a mayfly, and your lifespan is one day.

Imagine now that you are Adam or Eve. Your experience is similar to that of the mayfly’s, at first. You suddenly find yourself alive, aware, and you delight in this wonderful thing called life! You, too, find a mate, and you enjoy that for a few … minutes J … and then you go on, running, dancing, exploring, resting, eating, running, dancing, exploring, resting, eating—furiously for as long as the sun lights the day. Then as dusk falls, you begin to feel very, very tired. You find a place to rest, you find your beloved and go to sleep and, for all you know, that’s all there is. But for you, it isn’t! The next morning, you wake up! You have been given the gift of another day! Imagine your surprise! You get to start all over again!You don’t understand it, but it’s wonderful! You get to live a second day!

(A side note to the critical thinkers among us: In my “unpacking” of the scriptures I’ll be referencing in this sermon, I am aware that it may sound as if I embrace a very literal interpretation of them. Please know that I understand some of the language to be not historical record but literary device. I’m trying to honor the text and get at the deeper message of it by taking seriously the patterns and rhythms within it.)

As the Creation story is recorded in Genesis, God created:

  • On Day One—day and night;
  • On Day Two—sky and sea;
  • On Day Three—earth, plants and trees;
  • On Day Four—stars, sun and moon;
  • On Day Five—creatures of sky and sea;
  • On Day Six—animals: wild, domestic and human.

It says God created humankind on the sixth day. And then, the Bible says, “God rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” So that second day that was gifted to humankind, full of surprise and delight—that second day that our poor mayfly didn’t get L—was the seventh “day” of creation. It was the Sabbath, the day on which God rested from his labors.

But was God tired? Is that why God rested? I don’t think so. But how did God spend that first Sabbath day? Here’s my take on it—and this is totally my own exegesis of this passage, drawn from my own imagination and understanding of what God is like. I think on that seventh day, God looked down on those human creatures he had made, and he became very, very interested in getting to know them. And God said, “I’m going to take a break from all of this creating business and go down and spend some time with those humans. You know, I’ve been kind of lonely too—like Adam was before I created Eve—and I think those humans may be good company for me.” So God took on a form that would not frighten those humans, and on that first Sabbath day—that morning that Adam and Eve were so amazed that they were alive again (and I’m sure it was, by the way, the most beautiful sunrise ever)God approached them and introduced himself, and they went for a walk in the garden and got to know each other. Building relationship. Community. Covenant. Trust. Love. God and the first humans spent the first Sabbath day in blessed fellowship and peace, exploring God’s beautiful earth together, because doing so met both of their needs. Isn’t that a compelling image?

And it became a habit—a wonderful habit. I don’t think I’m too far off here, because later in Genesis, it says Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” God wasn’t just wandering around the garden; God was looking for his friends. When he didn’t find them, he called to them, “Where are you?”[1] and God was heartbroken to learn that they had been “fellowshipping” with someone else. For the first time, God became jealous—jealous of the serpent who had risen up against God and tried to usurp God’s place in the humans’ hearts. God cursed the serpent and the ground he crawled upon. And where fruit had previously come easily for the humans—from the earth and from the womb—it now would come with toil and labor, sweat and pain. But still, already, God was merciful. God longed to restore the communion he had once shared with the humans.

God made effort after effort to draw them back in, and this is where the pattern of sevens (of Sabbaths) emerges: When Adam and Eve’s son Cain committed the first murder, God cast him out but promised to protect him—with sevenfold vengeance. After Noah built the ark, God gave him seven days to gather seven pairs of each animal and bird to save from the flood. And every seven days, Noah sent a dove from the ark to seek dry land.

The covenant between Abraham and Abimelech at Beer-Sheba was sealed by the gift of seven lambs. Jacob served Laban seven years to marry Leah and then another seven years for Rachel. Jacob bowed to the ground seven times when he met his estranged brother Esau. Joseph secured the future of the people of Israel by interpreting Pharaoh’s dream in which seven skinny cows ate seven fat cows and seven skinny ears of corn ate seven fat ears of corn.

Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath for the land: the land was to rest. There are dozens of other examples of God’s pattern of sevens, but this is my favorite: After every seven-times-seven (49) years, the people of Israel were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were forgiven, all family lands were restored, and all indentured servants were freed. A fresh start, for everyone!

The message is clear. It’s all about healing, absolution, restoration, liberation. It’s all about God reaching out to humankind to restore the communion God once shared with us in the cool evening breeze of the garden. The sevens are gifts. The Sabbath—the seventh day—the day of rest—is a gift.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, “But Sunday isn’t the seventh day of the week!” And you’re right. By our calendar, the seventh day would be Saturday. But Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday—the first day—as a weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. So I guess the seventh day depends on when you start counting. The important thing is that you start counting. My seventh day spans several days. I count the eight to twelve hours I spend every Friday to Saturday working on my sermon as Sabbath. That’s my time of communing with God, studying God’s word, hearing from God, and trying to capture it in words for you. Sunday morning is definitely Sabbath. The parts of Mondays that I spend in quality time with Nathan and other family members are Sabbath. And other unpredictable times during the week when God speaks to me through you and others, through music, or through the quiet of my own heart—those times are definitely Sabbath. Because Sabbath is a time to rest the body and nurture the spirit, and what a gift to us that is!

Jesus kept getting in trouble with the religious people of his time because he saw the Sabbath as a gift—a gift, for example, to the man whose deformed hand he healed on the Sabbath, a gift to his hungry disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath, a gift to the blind man whose sight he restored on the Sabbath, a gift to the woman whose back he straightened on the Sabbath. His critics thought doing God’s work—because it was “work”—was a violation of the Sabbath. But Jesus told them, in Mark 2:21, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus was saying, “It’s not about piling law upon law. It’s about healing, absolution, restoration, liberation.” The Sabbath, made for man, is a time for fellowship with our ourselves, our families, our faith families, and God; a time to rest the body and nurture the spirit.

After the first five days of creating, God said it was good. But after the sixth day, God said it was very good. A medieval sage said that’s because it was on the sixth day of creation, when God created humankind, that the world gained a soul. In the same spirit, Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote, “Each Sabbath we are reminded of our potential for doing good. It is our re-creation each Sabbath that helps us acknowledge our role in bringing goodness to the world. We are the bridge between the worldly and the divine.” So rest. Take Sabbath. And as you do that, may your spirit say, “Be Still, My Soul.” (Please join me in singing that hymn.)

 

[1] Genesis 3:8-9.