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April 23, 2016

Mother, Nature, God

Very rough, preliminary draft
Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
For Sabbath, April 23, 2016

I was sitting at the lake across the street on Wednesday morning. The sun had just climbed above the eastern horizon, painting magic in the sky and water. A coot did its hurky jurky swim across the path of light painted by the sun. I reached for my phone to take a picture. Too late. The bird had already moved too far for a good picture. Then from around a clump of reeds on my left a female mallard appeared. Right next to the shore with nine tiny ducklings in tow. She brought them right to the edge of the water in front of me, clearly hoping for a handout. I refused. She lingered, the tiny ducklings mimicking her big duck behavior, dipping their heads and throwing water over their backs, bobbing for whatever kind of stuff ducks eat. Eventually she moved them on down the lake edge to my right, keeping in the cover of bushes and reeds to avoid the eagles and other predators in the neighborhood.

I was impressed. How does a mother handle NINE ducklings?

The Seattle Times a few days ago had a picture of a couple of adult geese supervising a troop of four goslings crossing a road. That seemed manageable. But NINE ducklings? All by herself?

I don’t know how they do it, but somehow mothers manage. They’re amazing.

King David was an old man. He was slipping. The administration of the kingdom was beginning to reflect the king’s failing mind. A bizarre example of this failure came when one of his sons raped his half sister Tamar. The king learned of the rape. He was furious, but he did nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a slap on the wrist.

Two years passed. Finally, Tamar’s full brother Absalom decided if the king was not going to act, he would. Absalom killed his brother, then fled the country.

David mourned for both of his sons, the son who was dead and the son who was gone.

One day a woman comes to the court begging for royal intervention. The king hears her case.

My husband has been dead for a long time. I have two sons. They are all I have. They were good boys. But they got into a fight when they were working out in the field. The older boy hit the younger with a rock. My son didn’t make it. He died. Now my relatives are demanding I hand over my son so he can be put to death. They insist this is the only way to preserve justice. They claim they are pro-life and quote Moses:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6

And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 24:17

They say that if I spare my living son I’m dishonoring my dead son. But I think they just want to eliminate my heir so they can get their hands on the property. And what will I do? Where will I go? What will I have?

King David ruled in her favor. Your son will not be executed. She pressed him. She knew how fierce was the public opinion against her son, how determined the righteous people back in her village were to see that “justice was done.” Those “good people”  would not stop until they had executed that evil murderer.

“No,” the King said. “I promise. Nothing will be done to your son. Go back home. You have full royal protection.”

Finally, the woman dropped her pretense. This was not really about her sons. It as about the King’s son. The King’s general, Joab, had put her up to this. Why, the woman asked, did not the king apply this principle to his own two sons. One was dead. One was gone. He could not bring the dead son back to life, but he could bring his exiled son back home. Why not do it?

So the king did. He brought his exiled son home.

The woman’s story was simple and clean. The story of David and Absalom is messy and complicated—because it is real life. Still the mother’s perspective stands as a vivid, powerful statement of theology.

If we make a movie about two men and through the lens of the camera we see one man kill another, it is easy to think that justice would be served by punishing the murderer. And what better punishment than execution. We could quote the Bible: If a man sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed. But if the camera pulls back and we see not merely two men, but a Mother’s two sons, everything gets more complicated. Is it really justice that instead of losing one sons, a mother loses both sons?

And then when the camera pulls back ever further and we see that not only does a mother lose two sons, but a grandmother also loses two sons and a  great grandmother, and eventually the God Mother, justice gets redefined. And execution is seen for what it is—another terrible breach of the moral fabric of the universe. If execution is going to be justified you compensate for all the terrible, heart-breaking ripples that flow outward from that act we first imagined as a simple, clean punishment.

Taking account of a Mother changes theology. It makes it better.

Another tale: King Solomon and the two prostitutes and their babies.
The moral of the story: A true mother will choose life.

Two ways to see and experience nature:
Cold, rational nature.
Mother Nature.

With the eyes of faith we see Mother Nature as the truest revelation of the purpose of God. Just as we dismiss passages in the Bible that portray God as coldly indifferent. We vigorously oppose reformed theology with its coldly rational notions of predestination and eternal torment. We reject classic theology which has embraced Greek notions of the impassibility of God. We believe in a tender-hearted God.

One of the most poignant visions of God in all of Scripture is captured in Jesus’ words reported in Matthew 23:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone heaven’s messengers, how often would I have gathered your children together like a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not come.

This paragraph comes at the end of the sharpest, most strident rebuke recorded in the Gospel. Jesus lambasts the religious leaders for their love of authority and influence. He mocks their willingness to impose on others burdens they would never think of hoisting onto their own shoulders. He compares them to decorated graves—beautiful on the outside and inside, full of dead, dry bones. Jesus blames the religious leaders for the spiritual and political failure of the nation.

Then, after this diatribe, after this sharp and severe language, Jesus ends with this mother’s lament. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I called. How hungrily my heart has reached for you.”

Jesus sounds like a mother. Like an ideal mother. Like the perfect mother in a children’s book. “You are mean and hypocritical and disgusting and repulsive. Please, won’t you come home.” Only a mother would talk like this. And God.

God calls. Like a mother.

Always. To everyone.

And we, having learned God’s way, join in singing and sharing the invitation.

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