Listen to the sermon from Sunday, June 24, 2018, titled “Mother of the Sea” by Anna Strickland.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You, o God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I’m honored to be invited back to this pulpit. I took the risk of not looking up the lectionary passages for this Sunday before I agreed to preach, and boy did I luck out! The 38th through 41st chapters in Job are the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, just barely edging out the first chapters of Genesis and John for my favorite. While all three of these passages that I love so much have to do with a Creator God crafting the world like an artist, I am particularly drawn to these chapters of Job for the way the words paint the intricate details of the cosmos. “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?” It gives me goosebumps.
Genesis 1 has God creating all the birds of the air and the fish of the sea in a single verse, where Job gives six verses to the ostrich alone. This artisan God crafts each of her creations with love and attention, gently carving the details of the stars, the earth, the rain, and the raven. We see God as a builder, placing the foundations and cornerstones of the earth with precision. An entire chapter is devoted to the creation of the crocodile Leviathan, which God describes like a sculptor proud of her work. The horse is clothed with a mane by God’s hand in the same way a seamstress carefully attaches trim to a garment. The stars are bound together like beads on a jeweler’s chain. But scattered among all these images of God as artisan is a slightly different image of the creative energy of God: that of Mother.
God provides prey for the lion, like a mother returning from the hunt. Frost, ice, and dew spring forth from the womb of God. She describes the birthing of mountain goats and deer, from pregnancy to weaning. As soon as the waters burst forth from the womb, God wraps them in swaddling clothes of darkness and clouds, the same way Mary would one day wrap God. Mother God places the sea in a crib and sets up baby gates. “This far you may come, and no farther.” She is nurturing, protective, attentive, loving, and direct, like good parents are. But this motherly God isn’t usually the first image that comes to mind when we think of Job.
The book of Job has a complex reputation. Frequently heralded as the most depressing book of the Bible, this story has been a source of great comfort for those of us who have suffered deep grief, chronic illness, profound loss, and insufferable pain, who have sat in the ash heap, scraping our wounds. Sometimes we respond like Job in earlier chapters, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And sometimes we respond like Job in later chapters, taking God to court and asking, “Where are You?!” The story of Job takes a turn when God, so silent until now, responds.
When we read God’s response in our minds, we tend to cast Samuel L. Jackson or our high school gym teacher as God, yelling at Job like a drill sergeant. But lately, I hear Kari Taylor. Let me explain! My mama loves me fiercely. She is a mother bear who will drop anyone who threatens her cub. After long days corralling preschoolers, she still found the energy to mother me, too. Now, I was relatively well-behaved, but I wasn’t perfect. I still had teenage years.
Teenagers can relate to Job. Like a teenager, Job’s life is full of overwhelming emotions and situations which are beyond his control. Just before today’s reading begins, Job has let loose a string of complaints against his Mother and slammed the door with a resounding “Just leave me alone!” But then, Mama breaks through the door in a whirlwind and says, “You are not grown. I am still your mother, and I know what’s best for you. How dare you question me? I love you so much and don’t you ever forget it.”
It’s that last part that we hear only in hindsight. Every concert my parents wouldn’t let me go to was out of concern for my safety. Every strict rule was because they loved me so much that they were willing to take the pain of their daughter’s frustration and disappointment so that my body, mind, and spirit could be healthy. Like the Mother of the sea, they set doors and bars in place out of deep parental love. This selfless love, so hard for us to see in the moment, is also hard to see in God’s booming response to Job. We can hear the anger and judgement and “Excuse you, but who do you think you’re talking to?”, but parental love? Oh yes, it’s there.
As God begins to describe Behemoth, She says, “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you.” The bones of bronze, the sinews knit together to create powerful thighs, the strength of the muscles in its belly, all crafted with loving care by the Creator. God’s description is beaming with pride, like a parent showing off a picture of their child while listing every accomplishment. And this being was created, God says, “just as I made you.” All the pride, joy, care, and love God has for Behemoth, God also has for us.
In all these detailed accounts of the cosmos, from the Pleiades to the dew, God isn’t trying to make Job feel small or worthless. God isn’t being petty or rude, though there is certainly a good dose of sarcasm! God is showing Job the infinite love that connects all creation as one family, a bigger picture he can’t possibly see in all its fullness. We are as loved as the greatest of God’s creation and as the least of God’s creation. We are siblings of the stars and of the snails, created and loved by the Mother of the Sea, who loves all Her children equally.
When this Mother God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, Her boundless parental love was still there. Like a parent, Jesus fed, healed, loved, and welcomed the vulnerable, from the little children to the lepers. He even described his own deep, nurturing love as a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. And, like a parent, he taught, guided, reprimanded, corrected, rebuked, and cracked the whip when he needed to.
Today’s story from the gospel of Mark is such a parenting moment. Jesus is just trying to rest when the kids start squabbling. The sea is threatening to beat up on her brothers and the wind is playing “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”, so the disciples run to Dad, sound asleep on the couch. “Don’t you see what’s happening? Do something!” A little cranky from being awoken from his nap, Jesus tells the storm to calm down and sends the sea back to its room for some quiet time. “Kids,” he says, “y’all gotta learn to solve your own problems. Have some faith in yourselves. Now, can I get back to my nap?”
The disciples are stunned. They didn’t realize yet that contained in this itinerant preacher from the backwoods was not just the wisdom of the Father, but the Mother of the Sea herself, who could rebuke the wind and calm the waters. They didn’t yet know that he would one day give himself over to suffering and death for the sake of his children in the ultimate act of parental love.
As children of this infinite, creative, loving, powerful God, we share a family resemblance. We, too, have the power to create and to love. The Spirit calls us into co-creation to build the world God has been imagining from the beginning, a Beloved Community bound together by family ties. A world where one is not greater than the other, but all are deeply, fully loved as children of God.
As part of the family, we are charged with caring for our cosmic siblings, from the redwood to the river, from the children of the elite to the children of immigrants. Siblings care for one another. They change diapers and cook dinner when the parents are away. They babysit at home and defend on the playground. And they aren’t afraid to call each other out when they see a sibling breaking the rules.
We as members of the whole family of God are not only co-creators, but co-parents, each of us nurturing, protecting, correcting, and loving, and each of us being nurtured, protected, corrected, and loved. We are called to care for and call out our siblings in times of inter-family conflict and to sit in the ash heap with the suffering. We must love our siblings fiercely in the name of Christ, even as the wind howls and the storms rock our boat. Amen.