Father Nicholas Lang
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
What images of God did we grow up with? How did we imagine God looks like, to act toward us? I guess it all depends on our religious experiences of the past. Many of us pictured God as an old man with a long white beard. Some denominations preached a God of judgment and anger. Others taught how sinful we are and how we need to be cleansed in purgatory when we die. If we grew up with a stern, emotionally distant father, how might we have related to the image of a God as a father figure, white beard and all.
Now though the readings today create enough fodder for several sermons, the passage from Isaiah got my undivided attention. Here we have one of the most gorgeous examples of poetry in the Old Testament—a picture of God’s maternal face. Isaiah portrays God as a mother who comforts her child, bringing joy to the heart and nurturing the child’s growth. It is, sadly, not the image of God that far too many people have been exposed to in their childhood and beyond. The passage is almost iconic and invokes an image of a new mother tenderly holding and caressing her infant child. If you have observed that scenario—and, especially, if you’ve been the mother or a daddy—you know that the depth of love present is almost electrifying. There is a sacred, powerful energy between the mother and the child she holds in her arms and it is almost palpable. That’s the image of God that Isaiah paints for us. In another passage he speaks of God as a loving mother in labor and the author of the Book of Numbers speaks of God as one who gives birth, breastfeeds, and carries the child in her bosom. Unfortunately, these are not the images that are often captured in preaching. That’s a problem because the way we perceive who God is for us shapes the way we will relate to God and determines who we will let God be for us and how much we can let God give to us. If our image of God is marred by God’s being portrayed as judgmental and harsh, we’ll be in relationship with a God who is distant and formal, and we will never develop the kind of intimacy into which God invites us.
Jesus also encouraged people to seek this kind of intimacy with God when he told us to call God, “Abba,” which really means “Papa” or “Daddy.” For Jesus, addressing God as “Abba” was not meant to reveal God as male as opposed to female, but rather to reveal an intimately parental person. Male and female, loving mothers and fathers reflect for us the image of God.
That’s a big piece of the good news Jesus preached and is the message he has asked us to proclaim to those who most need to hear it; for it brings with it the same blessing pronounced by the seventy who were sent out by Jesus—the blessing of peace. So many people hunger for that—for peace in themselves, peace in their relationships, peace in their jobs, peace in their homes. They long to hear that God is as caring and tender as both mommy and daddy, a God who wants them to explore and to grow and to fully realize their potential as God’s own beloved ones.
Alan Jones, former Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, once said that “nothing can so mask the face of God as religion.” I think one of the many appealing things about the Episcopal Church is the way it introduces who God is for us, a tender, loving, motherly God.
Today the Scripture gives us a gift: the image of a new mother tenderly holding and caressing her infant child and asks us to imagine the depth of love that is present in that sweet relationship—the same sacred, powerful energy that emanates from God’s heart to our own—lifting each of us up, breathing divine life into our life, and sustaining us through every joy and sorrow, every bright and dark path on which we walk. That’s comfort food for the soul and it is delicious.