Isaiah 42:5-23 (The Message edited)
The God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
Laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,
Makes them alive with God’s own life;
“I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
And provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
Opening blind eyes,
Releasing prisoners from dungeons,
Emptying the dark prisons.
I am God. That’s my name.
I don’t franchise my glory,
Don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
I’m telling you about it.”
Sing to God a brand-new song,
sing God’s praises all over the world!
Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause,
With all the far-flung islands joining in.
Let the desert and its camps raise a tune,
Calling the Kedar nomads to join in.
Let the villagers in Sela round up a choir
And perform from the tops of the mountains.
Make God’s glory resound:
Echo God’s praises from coast to coast.
God steps out like God means business.
You can see God’s primed for action.
God shouts, announcing God’s arrival;
God takes charge and God’s enemies fall into line:
“I’ve been quiet long enough.
I’ve held back, biting my tongue.
But now I’m letting loose, letting go,
Like a woman who’s having a baby -
Stripping the hills bare,
Withering the wildflowers,
Drying up the rivers,
Turning lakes into mudflats.
But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way,
Who can’t see where they’re going.
I’ll be a personal guide to them,
Directing them through unknown country.
I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,
Make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.
These are the things I’ll be doing for them -
Sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”
But those who invested in the no-gods are bankrupt – dead broke.
Pay attention! Are you deaf?
Open your eyes! Are you blind?
You’re my servant, and you’re not looking!
You’re my messenger, and you’re not listening!
The very people I depended upon, servants of God,
Blind as a bat – willfully blind!
You’ve seen a lot, but looked at nothing.
You’ve heard everything, but listening to nothing.
God intended, out of the goodness of God’s heart,
To be lavish in God’s revelation.
But this is a people battered and cowed,
Shut up in attics and closets,
Victims licking their wounds,
Feeling ignored, abandoned.
But is anyone out there listening?
Is anyone paying attention to what’s coming?
It’s Mother’s Day, Mothering Day, friends. However this day finds you – achy or filled up, celebratory or longing – may you know and feel your belovedness today. I celebrate with tenderness something we all have in common - no matter what happened after we were born - we were all held and sustained by the wombs of our mothers and we are all held beloved within the womb of God even now.
I want to talk about mothering today. Not mothers exclusively as a noun although all of you who are mothers, who take it so seriously and give yourself over to it for the love of others are sacred to me and I bow to you. Thank you for sharing your children with us here at Liberation.
A mother is a noun, to mother is a verb, the mother of all - an adjective, and I want to posit that it’s an energy, a POWER that lives within all of us. It’s the power at the heart of the Easter season (that we’re still in), it’s the power at the heart of resurrection, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today’s lectionary gospel which we didn’t hear today is John 14:1-14. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible, one of my favorite sections of all the Gospels. Here are the first four verses. Maybe you too almost know them by heart.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going."
It gets me every time. It comforts me.
But here’s what I also noticed about this Mother’s Day lectionary text – it refers to Father 13 times in 14 verses. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but Father is not the only image or metaphor for God! Makes me wonder - didn’t anyone look at the dates when they were assigning texts?
And then I thought, well who knows maybe the lectionary was put together before Mother’s Day came into being. No, Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914 and the lectionary was put together in 1969 after Vatican II. I know Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday, not a feast day, but it is an opportunity to put a crack, just a crack, in the male dominated imagery in dominant Christianity. And fill it with the gender inclusive images of God that are alive in our wider Christian inheritance and in our Bible.
So I went looking for the birthing imagery of God that I’ve heard exists in the Bible and I found it in Isaiah. We heard Ryan read it today.
This is a God who creates, stretches, lays out, breathes life into, and make them, the earth people, alive with God’s own life.
Sounds like womb love to me!
This text is part of second Isaiah that is thought of as the comfort section. Just like a mothering spirit, it can be a fierce comfort! Isaiah literally means God saves and the prophet is speaking as the voice of God to comfort Israel. I’m starting to think of salvation, of God’s saving work as God sharing and infusing us with God’s power.
I went into the reverse lectionary to find out when this text, particularly 42:14 (the section that reads “I’ve been quiet long enough. I’ve held back, biting my tongue. But now I’m letting loose, letting go, like a woman’s who’s having a baby.”). When is this verse read in the lectionary cycle? When would the hearer’s of the word ever hear this God invoking the power and the voice of a woman in childbirth?
It’s not included in the lectionary. Isaiah 42:1-12 is included by the lectionary text stops two verses shy of 14.
It matters who controls the narrative and in some churches the narrative is controlled by the lectionary. But not here, thank god. So here we go.
I also love this text because it’s speaking to a nation. Our nation, the United States, needs a mother right about now, would you agree? I long for a birthing God to speak to us right now.
And if that God was speaking to us through Isaiah, was no longer biting God’s tongue, was letting loose, was letting go I think God would have some similar things to say and in response to the questions, is anyone out there listening? Is anyone out there paying attention to what’s coming? To the announcement of the new salvation work?
I can confidently and thankfully say yes, some people are we’re lucky enough to have them in our midst and in our nation.
I don’t listen to 45. I pay just enough attention to not be ignorant – but I’m done obsessing over that team’s destruction. I’m paying more attention to the creative resisters - those who are resisting through rebirth. I follow men and women, but today I want to share the messages of three women who have a public platform and use it: Valarie Kaur, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Michelle Alexander.
Valarie Kaur is of Indian descent, an interfaith storyteller, an organizer, a lawyer, and a mother. She started Groundswell and the Revolutionary Love campaign. She has a Sikh religious inheritance and her grandfather rode a steamboat here from India. She preached alongside many other folks you may know (the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Rev. James Forbes, the Rev. William Barber) on New Year’s Eve 2016 at a Watchnight Service and maybe you’ve watched it on YouTube (if not I’ll be posting the clip on Liberation’s page this afternoon).
She says this calling on the memory of her grandfather being detained in a jail cell upon arrival in the United States on a steamer from India:
“I close my eyes and I see the darkness of my grandfather’s cell and I can feel the spirit of ever-rising optimism in the Sikh tradition – Chardhi Kala – within me.
The mother in me asks, what if?
What if this darkness is the not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?
What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born?
What if the story of America is one long labor?
What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now, those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detention and political assault, what if they’re whispering in our ear today, tonight, you are brave! What if this is our nation’s great transition?
What does the midwife tells us to do?
Breathe! And then - Push!
Because if we don’t push, we will die. If we don’t push, our nation will die.
Tonight we will breathe.
Tomorrow we will labor in love, through love, and your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children.”
Glennon Doyle Melton is white, an author, an organizer, a speaker, and a mother. She’s been radically open about being in recovery and struggles in her previous marriage to a man she still peacefully and generatively co-parents with. She recently fell in love with a woman. She’s a fellow UCC’er. She writes a popular blog called Momastery and now spends a lot of time preaching on social media platforms like IG and twitter and holds “family meetings” on FB for fellow white women who need to be called in on some things.
She tweeted on April 14, 2017, the day after the United States dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast aka TMOAB on Afghanistan:
“The one time the administration invokes the feminine is to name their bombs. No, thank you.
“Quit calling it the “mother of all bombs.
“Motherhood is about creation, not destruction.
Life, not death. Patriarchy dropped that bomb. #Resist” [#Create]
Michelle Alexander is African-American, born to a white mother and an African-American father, author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a civil rights lawyer, visiting scholar at Union Theological Seminary, and a mother. Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein in conversation moderated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (which I will also post on Liberation’s FB page).
“You know I have been having some trouble with the frame of resistance for some time…
I understand why the term, the phrase, the rallying cry emerged after Trump’s election. It makes complete sense to me.
But I think we’ve got to think beyond resistance. Resistance is inherently defensive.
And as I see it, we are part of a bold and beautiful, revolutionary movement that aims to REBIRTH this country.
And this movement isn’t new. We can trace this movement, in some ways, to this nation’s founding with the first runaway slaves and the native people who fought for their land and their territory
There has been a yearning for freedom for all people since this nation’s founding. There have been great revolutionaries.
Martin Luther King Jr.
And we could go on and on naming the incredible revolutionaries that have helped to remake America.
As I see it, Trump is the resistance! [Trump is the resistance!]
There is a revolutionary spirit alive and well that is trying to birth a new America and Trump and his cronies are resisting, wanting to take America back.
And if we are going to do the work that is required to build truly transformational movements in which there is any hope of us building a multi-racial, multi-ethic, multi-faith, multi-gender democracy in which every voice and every life truly matters we’re going to have to connect and tap into, embrace that revolutionary spirit and the spirits of the ancestors. The freedom fighters that came before us and say we’re not about resistance, we’re about building a revolutionary movement for the collective liberation of us all!”
Isn’t this the Gospel? Isn’t this why we’re here today? Because we believe this is possible? Or we came here today to be reminded.
These women have all invoked birthing imagery, references to labor and transition, pain and rebirth, those who have come before us and the spirit that lives on.
The Mother of all God’s power is not a bomb.
The Mother of all God’s power is not a bomb!
The Mother of all God’s power is regeneration! To be eye to eye in the face of natural death or unnatural, unjust death and know in your very bones – something has ended that will never be again, but life is not finished. It’s not the end.
The revolutionary movement for the collective liberation of us all was and is and is to come. Sound familiar? It is here, right now, and we are in it. This is the Gospel still alive. We just need to look and listen for it, to connect and tap into it as Michelle Alexander says and then keep REBIRTHING IT.
Because our resistance is our resurrection!
Our resistance is our resurrection.
This is what Easter is about!
The Mother of all God’s Power, the power is alive in Jesus in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The power that makes Jesus possible, that is alive in us and makes our lives possible is CREATION! It’s a fierce, tender, gorgeous power!
This power is within all genders and beyond all gender, within all sexuality and beyond all sexuality, within all parenting and beyond all parenting. Because God is both within all and beyond all - breathing life into all - and laboring for our rebirth - all the time. It is the pattern of life, the pattern of creation. And we are being called to join in. Our collective liberation is dependent on our on participation. It doesn’t happen without us.
We cannot forget this, but I fear we forget, I know I do, in our fret or despair. We have to look for it – we have to listen for it!
Listen for the voices when you’re low – listen for the mother spirit, the mother power, in all God’s people. Look around at creation. A good place to start is listening to these passionate, intelligent, articulate, generative women.
And when you’ve been quiet long enough – when you’ve held back biting your tongue and you’re tired of bleeding in silence then let loose, let go, RISE UP like a woman who’s having a baby, RISE UP like Jesus out of the empty tomb, RISE UP like God calling on the Mother of all God’s power that is alive in you and you and you and you and you and you and you and cannot be destroyed.
Preached at Liberation United Church of Christ
 Inspired by an Ellen Bass poem, Gate C22: