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Mothers: Living Portraits of God's Tenderness

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While God is never spoken of as being a woman, woman was created in his image--along with motherhood.

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Today is the day that our nation has decided to honor one of the greatest positions that exists among all mankind—the mother. So in honor of the occasion, allow me to make a corny dad joke: Mothers are so important that none of us would be here today without them... you get it? 
Seriously though, mothers are incredible creatures. For just a moment, think about all the things you love and appreciate about your mother from the time you were growing up. Chances are (if you had a good mother), you likely remember her as being warm yet stern when she needed to be, compassionate, empathetic, affectionate, kind, comforting... she's the one you wanted to talk to, or cry on her shoulder when you were having a bad day. Practically speaking, a mother is a nurse, chef, psychologist, police officer, air traffic control officer, soldier, sherpa, stylist, teacher, and diplomat all bound up into one package.
So, mothers definitely deserve a place of honor. Yet, our popular culture tends to demean motherhood, even if it doesn't mean to (though I think often it definitely means to). Allow me to illustrate.
There was once a third grade teacher who went around her classroom asking what each child wanted to be when they grew up. Of course every little boy wanted to be a doctor, fireman, police officer, a famous athlete, or something of the like. Strangely enough, the little girls answered with much the same answers as the little boys. Except for one little girl. With a huge grin on her face, she said, "I want to be a mommy, just like my mommy! She's always at home with me, she loves me, we play games, she teaches me all sorts of things like how to cook, sew, clean..."
But the teacher put out her hand and stopped the little girl mid-sentence. And then she uttered the words that I believe have inspired many of the problems we see in our culture today, and discouraged many a potentially amazing mother: "That's sweet, dear. But don't you want to do something more with your life?"
I'm afraid that despite a special day being reserved for the position, being a mother (especially a "stay at home mom") is not seen as a legitimate aspiration. Maybe "motherhood" is something a woman does for a little while in addition to her "career goals," but a woman whose desire is to simply be a mother is often politely (or impolitely) ridiculed, and thought to be lazy and unambitious. 
You see, the irony of feminism is that it actually demeans the feminine! The biological female can do things that no man could ever dream of doing—she's special as she is, for who she is! If feminism is advocacy for a woman's rights, shouldn't it truly protect, prize, and praise what are seen as "feminine" ways? But of course, it usually does exactly the opposite. 
So with those things in mind, here's where we want to go this morning, and it all starts with one big question: Where did femininity come from? More specifically, where did the characteristics we think of as being "feminine" come from?
When we read the Bible, and what it has to say about God, we are mainly given a very masculine picture of Him. God is the Father. He has a Son. And even that Son is depicted at times as being a very masculine being—the lion of the tribe of Judah, the commander of the armies of the Lord, a man who worked with his hands, whose friends included manly men like fishermen. That son is said to be the image of God the Father, so if someone has seen Jesus, they've seen the Father.
But for just a moment, let's direct our thinking this morning in Genesis, and the beginning of all things. Look at Genesis 1:26-27:
Genesis 1:26–27 ESV
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
We've seen this before. God made man in his image. But what I want you to pay attention to here is this: God made mankind in his image. Both man AND woman, as they are, were made in God's image. 
Which brings us to the following thought: Women, mothers, are a reflection of who God is, too! Where did femininity come from? If you believe the Bible, God, of course! And since woman is created in God's image, too, that means all the kindness, compassion, warmth, tenderness, patience, and comfort that we attribute to femininity are direct reflections of God! Thus, womanhood, even motherhood, is a divinely sacred thing!
Now let's be careful for a moment. God is never explicitly said to be a woman. God is always depicted as a man. But even there we also need to be careful, because gender is a product of biology—and God is not a biological being! He's a spirit (). So we need to be careful in thinking of God as actually being either gender.
But for a few moments let's expand our thinking this morning (as CHRISTIANS) on this subject to three passages which I think help to illustrate this point. Each of these passages describe some characteristic of God. But what makes them interesting is that they do so in feminine terms.

1) God/Jesus as a Protective Mother

Look at with me. After Jesus sternly rebukes the Pharisees, pronouncing his "woes" upon them, he turns his attention to a much broader group—Jerusalem. 
Matthew 27:37 ESV
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Matthew 23:37 ESV
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Jesus wasn't happy about the impending doom of these people. So far as I can tell, he wasn't saying these words through gritted teeth. He starts with what sounds like a lament, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem." He's heartbroken. He's hurting.
Jesus wasn't happy about the impending doom of these people. So far as I can tell, he wasn't saying these words through gritted teeth. He starts with what sounds like a lament, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem." He's heartbroken. He's hurting.
All Jesus, all God wanted to do was to protect these people. He gives a beautiful illustration here of a mother—a mother hen, but still a mother—who wants to protect her chicks. She wants them to come under her wings, to keep them safe from the storms, or whatever threats are coming their way. But she can't. And it's not because she isn't able. It's because they aren't willing to come under her wings! How horrible!
That protective nature is part of motherhood, though, isn't it? We see it in the natural world, even in animals besides chickens. The wise man said it would be better to meet a she-bear (mother bear) robbed of her cubs than to meet a fool bent on doing something foolish (). It doesn't take much to imagine how ferocious a mother bear could be if separated from her children.
The same is true of human mothers. Want to see a gentle or meek woman get riled up? Mess with her kids. I can't remember where I heard this story from, but a man once told me of his gentle, meek wife and how her behavior surprised him on one occasion. They were traveling out West as a family, along with their two daughters, and had stopped at a seedy looking gas station (or something to that effect) for a few moments. It was one of those where the bathroom doors are outside and kept locked. You have to go inside to ask for the key, which is attached to a plank of wood (if you can imagine THAT kind of place). 
Now before I go any further, I need to mention that this man told me they traveled with a pistol in the car. File that little bit of information away for just a second.
So there were two rough looking men who were standing near the bathroom doors. The man tells of how as his daughters walked by the men both looked at the girls, then at each other, obviously with ill intent in mind. The father started to say something to them... but before he could, he heard his wife say in a very commanding voice, "Don't." He turned around to see her, arms draped across the hood of their SUV, pistol in hand, with it pointed at those two men. Of course the two men scurried away like the cowards they were.
Like I said, mothers are very protective creatures! And protection is what God wants to offer! He wants to nurture, to draw you under his wings like a mother bird. The question is, are you willing to come under his wings?
This passage isn't the only instance where God or Jesus are said to be like a mother bird...

2) God as an Instructive Mother

Look at with me. These verses are part of a song spoken by Moses in the hearing of the Israelites. The context here speaks of who God is, what he has done, and what he will do. Moses says the following:
Deuteronomy 32:11–12 ESV
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.
These words speak of the care that God gave to Jacob (i.e. Israel) as they came out of the land of Egypt. The picture here is of an mother eagle teaching her eaglets to fly. That's what God did for Israel (or at least wanted to do)—bring them to a place of safety, and teach them how to fly on their own!
I did a little looking around on this one. It's really interesting what a mother eagle does when she thinks it's time for her eaglets to learn to fly. First, she will perch on the edge of the nest and flap her wings over them, agitating them out of the nest (think of a mother shooing her children). Then she flies right there with them as they take their first flight, catching them if need be, and lifting them back up into the sky so that they don't crash into the ground. Of course, her goal is not to fly for them, but to stay next to them and teach them how to fly for themselves without simultaneously seriously injuring or killing themselves.
Moms, that's a lot like what being a mother is like, isn't it? Especially with small children. One minute you are teaching your child new words, how to put on their own clothes, tie their shoes, and other such things. In the very next second you may be catching one as they start to fall out of a chair, or digging in their mouth to pull the quarter out that they just tried to swallow.
A good mother isn't an enabler. She has the heart of a teacher. They keep their children close, protected, and encouraged. But they know the time has to come for them to spread their own little wings—and they diligently prepare for that time.
That heart came from God. That's who God is, too. But in order to be like that, you also have to be attentive... and that brings us to our final passage which portrays...

3) God as an Attentive Mother

One of the most tragic things you can see in the news is the story of a young child forgotten in a hot car, who then dies of heat stroke. Forgetting one of our kids anywhere is something that terrifies me, and maybe it's one area where being a little OCD can be helpful. 
But something I've noticed about those stories is this: While you will occasionally read of a mother forgetting her child, it seems you are far more likely to read of a father, a daycare worker, or some other caregiver being the one who forgets about the child. Just do an internet search for the phrase "daycare worker forgets child in hot van" and you will be overwhelmed by story after tragic story.
But most moms seem to have this sort of "connection," this awareness of their child that no one else has. With that in mind, look to with me:
Isaiah 49:14–16 ESV
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
The context of this chapter is referring to God's restoration of Israel after their captivity in Babylon. At a certain point some would feel as though they had been forgotten by God. They'd been left alone to suffer in the oppressive heat of captivity.
Yet God assures them, "I will not forget you." He asks, "Can a woman forget her nursing child?" Well... maybe. But God won't forget them. He says they were engraved on the palms of his hands. This isn't a tattoo—God said he had them carved into his metaphorical flesh!
But here's the connection to us: When he speaks of a restored Jerusalem, he isn't just talking about a city in the Middle East. No, he's referring to the church—to you, and me!
True, you may also have times in your life where you feel like God has forgotten you. Even Jesus on the cross expressed as much when he quoted the words of
Psalm 22:1 ESV
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
But he hasn't. God will never forget about you. No matter what comes your way, you are carved into the flesh of God's hands. You are like a nursing child, a child he has begotten. How could he forget you?


Here's a final thought: God himself is the ultimate source of all the warmth, compassion, kindness, mercy, tenderness, patience, comfort, and encouragement we tend to associate with femininity, with motherhood.
Thus, when someone demeans, criticizes, or in any way ridicules motherhood they are demeaning, criticizing, and ridiculing the divine image of God!
I want my daughters to feel like they can do things, to have a certain level of ambition. But at the same time, I don't ever want one of my daughters to feel like choosing to be simply a mother is somehow not living her life to its fullest potential. After all, what greater life could someone aspire to than one lived in the likeness of God? And for that matter, I think it's apparent that mothers have as strong, if not a stronger hand on setting the direction of a society. You want real power? Be a mother. Shape the future. Raise up the next generation.
So, God bless mothers. And if you are a mother, or aspiring to be a mother, God bless you. Stay encouraged. Stay strong. Know that you are created in the very image of God to do what you do. And never let anyone tell you otherwise.
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