The Lord Is My ShepherdPosted: May 11, 2014
The Lord Is My Shepherd
SLIDE 5: JEWS SURROUNDED BY FERTILITY CULTS
Our Judeo-Christian tradition has been accused, not without cause, of contributing to the culture of patriarchy. Our translations of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures overwhelmingly have used male images and pronouns to refer to the divine. The Jews found themselves surrounded by fertility cults that engaged in ritual prostitution and even human sacrifice. When we read about Josiah’s reform of the Temple as late as 630 BCE the King was ordering the destruction of the ritual houses of male and female prostitution that were part of the Temple itself. He also ordered the destruction of the altars to the god Chemosh in the Hinnom Valley just southwest the Jerusalem City wall, where King Ahaz Josiah’s great great grandfather had set up altars of fire and there sacrificed two of his infant sons. It wasn’t until the time of Josiah that Israel finally embraced monotheism and even then the notion of one God had a fairly tenuous hold. So Judaism from the time of Josiah until well after the Babylonian exile maintained a deep suspicion of feminine images of God.
SLIDE 6: FEMININE IMAGES OF THE DIVINE
Still even in the Scriptures we find feminine and androgynous references to the divine. For instance, in the first chapter of Genesis God says to the heavenly court: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So God created humankind in the divine image, male and female God created them.” The prophet Isaiah compared God to a mother comforting her child (Isaiah 66:13) and as a new mother nursing her child (Isaiah 49:15). Jesus compared God to a mother hen protecting her chicks, a woman searching for a lost coin, and a woman working yeast into dough to make bread. The first letter of Peter compares the nurture of new disciples to a mother giving the milk of mercy to her children.
SLIDE 7: CHURCH OF PETER’S DENIAL
In Jerusalem there is a beautiful new church that claims to have been built over the remains of the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, where Jesus was tried and Peter denied knowing Jesus. When they excavated the site to find the remains of the House of Caiaphas, they also uncovered the ruins of a Byzantine Church that had been built in the 400’s.
SLIDE 8: MOSAIC OF GAIA
While digging, one of the artifacts they found was a mosaic floor featuring Gaia the goddess of mother earth. Again a feminine image of the divine.
SLIDE 9: INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE
In more recent history feminist theologians have championed the use of inclusive language that honors the feminine as well as the masculine attributes of God, and embraces all of God’s creation male and female as precious children of our creator. And so today on Mother’s Day we not only honor the love and care of our Mothers, but we are also bold to celebrate the feminine attributes of God.
SLIDE 10: 23RD PSALM MOST MEMORIZED SCRIPTURE
The 23rd Psalm is the most memorized passage from scripture. It is beautiful, lyrical and has powerful images. Scriptures like the 23rd Psalm we memorize in our youth can survive the ravages of brain damage from stroke and dementia. As a very young pastor I was called to the bedside of an older member of the church, who had suffered a massive stroke and appeared to be comatose. Unsure of what I should do, I started reciting the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And then suddenly Ethel Capitola’s lips began moving and she responded, “I shall not want.” Those were the last words I ever heard her utter. But I believe the Psalm she had memorized as a child was there to comfort her in her dying.
SLIDE 11: BOBBY MCFERRIN’S 23RD PSALM
Today is Mother’s Day, and Bobby McFerrin has written a version of the 23rd Psalm, appropriate for celebrating our mothers and the divine mother. I want to thank Judy Cameron for introducing this version of the 23rd Psalm to me several years ago.
The 23rd Psalm
The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.
She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.
Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won’t forsake me,
I’m in her hand.
She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.
Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.
Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen
SLIDE 12: MOTHER’S LOVE IS SPECIAL
A mother’s love is special – unconditional. Some of the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy and child birth contribute to the bonding between a mother and her child.
SLIDE 13: MOTHER’S MILK FOR INFANTS
Mary Luti in a Still Speaking devotional this week lifts up a mother’s love for her new born as a model for the grace we experience in our relationship with God. First Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”
SLIDE 14: SALVATION IS IT REALLY A GIFT?
“When I was little,” Mary Luti writes, “I was taught to achieve salvation by building up a bank account of merit until I’d acquired enough to please God. Later, I was taught to work out my salvation in fear and trembling. There’d be consequences if I didn’t do it just right. Then I heard that salvation is a gift, which should’ve been a relief, but wasn’t. If something is really a gift, a giver can withhold it just as easily as bestow it. That worried me.”
SLIDE 15: SALVATION – WEASEL WORD
“I was confused. No one ever said what they meant by that weasel word, “salvation,” and everybody had conflicting ideas about how you get whatever it is. Then I read First Peter 2:2. Instead of anxious effort; instead of an iffy gift; instead of the exhausting spiritual aerobics we confess in church every Sunday — falling down, getting up, trying again — this made organic sense to me:
SLIDE 16: WE’RE INFANTS AT GOD’S BREASTS
We’re infants at God’s breasts, helpless at the start. As we’re fed the milk of mercy, we grow. As we’re held in the arms of the family of disciples, cooed to with songs of faith, read to with stories of Jesus, we grow. As we toddle along the Way and speak our first Word of faith, we grow.
SLIDE 17: MYSTERY OF GROWTH
Maturation is not without its pains. And it takes effort—everyone’s, since it really does take a village to raise a child. But there comes a day when we stand back and admire, wondering how this graceful thing happened, knowing that we did not make the splendid grown-up, the mature disciple, standing before us, even though in a way we surely did. And for this mystery of growth, we give God the glory.
Mary Luti offers this Prayer:
SLIDE 18: PRAYERS FOR OUR MOTHERS AND OUR MEMORIES OF THEM
Nurse us, Mother God. Set us growing until the day we stand before you in the splendid maturity you nurtured us into, you and the church that forms us in your name. Receive this day our prayers for our mothers and our memories of them, and accept our thanks for all the nurture and care they have given to us and that we have gratuitously received. Amen.