“Mother Love”

Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 13: 31-37
Kelly Ann Seaman

May 8, 2022

Today is Mother’s Day! Happy Mothers Day! We are so glad you’re here with us this morning. But unfortunately, not everyone in this room is celebrating today. Today, you may be mourning instead of celebrating. You may be grieving a mother who has passed, you may be struggling to become a mother, or perhaps you have a very complicated relationship with your mother…

I want us to hold a space for that tension today. I also want to celebrate that not all people who mother us happen to be our biological mothers. Often, God puts beautiful people in our lives who love and care for us like a mother, and that love always points us back to the love of God. For today, as I am talking about mothers and mothering, I invite you to think of all the people God has put in your life who have mothered you well. We love you, we know today can be both beautiful and brutal. As author Glennon Doyle says, “life is brutiful.”

You know what else is brutiful? I’ve spent the last few days taking care of my daughter, Magnolia. She’s feeling much better now and is cleared by her doctor, but she spiked a fever, and started complaining on Tuesday night. So, this week, I’ve spent preparing for this message at home with a whiny, albeit adorable 7 year old within 10 feet of me at all moments. One afternoon, as I realized I wasn’t going to get anything done, I made her lay down with me. After insisting that she wasn’t tired at all, she fell asleep within 3 minutes directly on my chest, just like she did when she was a baby. If you’ve ever held a sleeping baby in a quiet house, you know that is holy ground. Time stops, even if just for a moment, and the perspective you so desperately wish you always had is clear. I had to wipe tears from my eyes as I watched her breath rise and fall, and felt her hair get wet and sticky against my cheek as her fever broke. As long as I live, I pray I never forget moments like that. How amazing is it to think God loves us the same way I love my little girl. It feels impossible, but I know it is true: God loves us even more.

Dr. Wil Gafney, an Episcopal priest, biblical scholar and professor at Brite Divinity in Fort Worth has dedicated her career to studying, critiquing and elevating translations of scripture. She has done fascinating research on biblical translation. The inspiration for my message today comes from how she translates the Hebrew word “Rakhum.” The root of the word means womb. Usually “Rakhum” is translated as compassion or mercy. It is used almost 100 times in the Bible, and 80% of the time, it is describing the character or heart of God. Dr. Gafney translates “Rakhum” to “Mother Love”.

So, Exodus 34:6-7 when God is introduced at the burning bush becomes, “Yahweh, Yahweh, mother loving and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with loyalty and faithfulness.”

I Kings 3:26 becomes, “Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the King Solomon, for she was overcome with mother love for her son and said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.”

Isaiah 59:15 becomes, “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no mother love on the son of her womb? Even though she may forget, I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”

I could go on, but… we’d be here for 96 more verses 😉

You may ask, why does this matter? This is such a tiny blip in all the words of the scripture. It matters to me. It matters because I understand it to a depth of my soul that I cannot fully convey with words. I have had great compassion for people. I have shown mercy. But the mother love I have for my children, and for the people I hold dearest in my life is larger than anything I have felt before. That small change in translation opens up the scripture to me in a whole new way. It expands my understanding of God’s love.

There are many places in scripture that use mothering and female imagery to describe the divine nature and the character of God.

In Genesis, God creates all creatures in his image: male and female. We are all created in the imago dei: the image of God. In Exodus 3 at the burning bush, God is called Yahweh, the first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine. In Deuteronomy 32, God is the father who creates and the one who gives birth. God is also a mother eagle circling her nest. In Job 38, God is the one whose womb birthed the seas and the frost and the ice. Isaiah is full of female imagery. In Isaiah, God carries us in a womb (46). God cries out and groans in labor (42). God is a mother comforting a child. God love is compared to a mother nursing her child. In our OT reading from Hosea today, God is like a mother teaching a toddler to walk, healing them, lifting them to God’s cheek, and feeding them. John tells us everyone who loves is born of God. In Luke, God is like a woman who has lost her coin, and relentlessly searches and then rejoices when it is found. Jesus is a hen, who longs to safely protect her chicks.

This beautiful female imagery and language in the Bible expands our understanding of who God is!

Paul says in Romans chapter one,

“20 Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, eternal power and divine nature… have been understood and seen through the things God has made..

Scripture opens up when we better understand the things God has made. Jesus’ wish to gather Jerusalem like a hen who gathers her chicks is a beautiful image on its own, but it is one that becomes even more powerful when we understand the things God has made. I could think of many animals Jesus could have used that would communicate his point, but he chose a mother hen… Baby chicks are very vulnerable to predators, but I’m sure it’s no surprise, so are chickens… At the first sign of a predator, a mother hen instinctively calls her chicks to her side and places herself between the predator and her babies. A mother hen does not flee from predators, she stands her ground, unfurls her feathers, stands in an attack stance and shoves her chicks behind wings. A mother hen will often give her life to protect her chicks… just like Jesus did. Jesus in all of his wisdom picked the vulnerable and courageous mother hen because he mother-loves us like that.

Both of our readings from today are addressing people who have acted like rebellious children. They’ve turned away from God’s love, have forgotten, or have found something “better”. In Hosea, God laments this rebellion but wants to remind Israel how much they have been loved and nurtured since birth. In Luke, Jesus wishes to gather Jerusalem under his wing. That’s not just mother love, that is also forgiveness… grace. Our faith is built on the recognition of that love. We are called to be a community transformed by the grace and love of God. That love is not meant to stay here in this room, it is meant to transform us and then transcend out of the doors of this building to the people who desperately need it!

You may be wondering why I chose the image on the front of your bulletin today: a group of majestic elephants… Well, elephants are my mom’s favorite animal, so, happy mothers day to my mama!

But did you know that Elephants are some of the best mothers on earth? Forget Tiger Moms! I want to be an elephant mom! Elephants are fascinating creatures who have a lot to teach us about those invisible qualities made visible in God’s creation but also about what a community built and sustained by mother-love looks like. Female elephants spend a lifetime (70-80 years) traveling in matriarchal herds. Male elephants leave these herds as teenagers, but they still come back periodically to reconnect with their mothers (probably to celebrate Mother’s Day). Elephants are very affectionate and they kiss, hug and cuddle one another. Elephants grieve and their grief stays with them. Many elephants return to where their loved ones have died to mourn them years later. Elephants are also protective and they work as a herd to watch over and defend one another. But perhaps one of the most beautiful expressions of an elephant’s nature is expressed during birth. Jen Hatmaker, Christian author and speaker describes it beautifully,

“In the wild, when a mama elephant is giving birth, all the other female elephants in the herd back around her in formation (like you see on your bulletin). They close ranks so that the delivering mama cannot even be seen in the middle. They stomp and kick up dirt and soil to throw attackers off the scent.

They surround the mama and incoming baby in protection, sending a clear signal to predators that if they want to attack their friend while she is vulnerable, they’ll have to get through 40 tons of female aggression first.

When the baby elephant is delivered, the sister elephants do two things: they kick sand or dirt over the newborn to protect its fragile skin from the sun, and then they all start trumpeting, a giant celebration of new life, of sisterhood, of something beautiful being born in a harsh, wild world despite enemies and attackers and predators and odds.”

Elephant Calves are supported in a community that is built and sustained by this protective and powerful mother – love. No matter if the females in a herd ever have their own children; they surround their young and one another with support.That love defines their lives, directs their travels, creates their culture and follows them their entire life. Today, I hope we kick up the dust and trumpet loudly to celebrate the mother love here in our community. I pray we show up for and support one another. May we mother love one another well out of gratitude and thanks that we have a God who loves us even more than the very best mothers in our midst.

Mother love is more than compassion, it is more than mercy, it is a love that is unconditional and vast, unable to be earned or comprehended. Mother love is the love of a savior, who humbled himself to this earth, who gave his life, who longs to gather every person in the protective, expansive embrace of his love.

It’s that mother-love, that incomprehensible love of God that follows us and forms us. May we look for and celebrate it everywhere we see and feel it today and may that love transform our hearts. May we go forth and love as we have been loved… That love is the only thing that will change our world. Amen

About Kelly Ann Seaman