Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.
May 14 – 5th Sunday in Easter
“Father Mother”. Text is from John 14:1-13
Sermon audio follows:
Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.
This text comes from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John to his disciples at the last supper.
In chapter 13, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples and he has predicted the betrayal by one of their number. Judas slips away from them; and then Jesus tells them he will only be with them a short time longer and that they cannot follow him, and then he foretells the denial by Peter.
And now Jesus is telling the disciples to trust him, to believe in God and to believe in him. That his destination of ascension is also going to be the same place for them. And Thomas, always taking what Jesus says literally, and likely what’s on everyone’s mind, asks Jesus about his destination, asking how are they supposed to follow if they don’t know where he is going?
And Jesus is kind in his response, not reproving Thomas at all, but gently telling him and all of them, that he is “the way, the truth, and the light,” and that he is the way to God, the Father. And then the good news follows, that knowing Jesus is knowing the Father and that they already know the Father because they already know him.
Philip, not quite certain of what Jesus is saying, takes over the questions, and asks to see the Father. Jesus gently reminds Philip of his connection with the Father, in an abundance of words, and repeats. He seems almost frustrated with Philip, or perhaps with the disbelief present among them. But then he offers them a promise, that anyone who works in his name will do greater works than he has done and that if they wish anything in his name, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he will do it for them.
This is Christ the roadmap, very simply. He offers the way and means to our ills and woes and that we need only seek Christ to find all the answers we seek. His words offer proof of his indwelling with the Father as well as his indwelling with his believers, the disciples, and us, all of us who believe in him.
But this language of the father. Given the importance of the celebration on this day, the day we set aside to honor those in our life who act in a maternal role, we have a gospel reading that underscores the patriarchal nature of not only society in Jesus’ time but also the millennia of church. Our passage is not exactly a long one, but the word Father is mentioned thirteen times, offering stark contrast to the sense in our hearts of the dedication that many of us are making today to the people in our life we celebrate on Mother’s Day. How do we look at such a text in light of that.
I think the first thing we can look at here is the way Jesus often referred to God the Father. The Aramaic word that we know that he used was “Abba”, which is more in line with an affection term such as Daddy or Poppa. It makes his relationship to the first person of the trinity more intimate. More tight knit. And while it may not lessen the sense of male superiority that emanates from our Gospel reading, it at least contextualizes it into a more emotional link that one might have that is not necessarily or always featured in a son’s relationship with his father. In fact, I know that the language we find in the gospels about the father loving the son and the son loving the father is not a strong feature of many paternofilial relationships. I know that here in the Western world, in our time, expressions of love from a father to a child are often far less frequent as those from a mother to a child.
However, I despise gender normative assumptions, which makes it in some ways easier for me to read this in light of the relationship we have with God. We find in many places in scripture not a harsh, overly masculine God but a God is much more maternal, who seeks to bring God’s people into God’s bosom and nurture and care for each and every one of…his…her… children. God is a providing parent. God gives to God’s children everything they need to grow and thrive, they only need receive it in faith.
So while the language of our gospel today may seem to be overly alienating to some of us, particularly those who see fathers in a harsher light, who have had experience with fathers that cause them to question any references to Father such as these, let us all remember that the Father Jesus is referring to, to his disciples, is neither simply a Father in the classical sense or one that we understand, but also the God of grace and mercy, the God of love and nurture. The mothering God who birthed us and breathed life into us, who holds us in our dying days and carries us forth into the promised land.
God, who created humankind in their own image, male and female God created them. God the Father is always God the Mother as well because whatever roles we might assign in our heads to those names, God has already exceeded beyond our wildest expectations. God is our Creator, our Founder, our Caretaker, our Bulwark.
And lest any of us be uncertain about the scriptural support we have for God’s gender-defying parental role, I invite you to reread with me the first paragraph from our Second Lesson today, First Peter chapter 2 verses 2 and 3.0020
“2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
God is the Good Parent who claims us as God’s own, who feeds us and nourishes us that we may become all that God wishes us to be. God is the Good News, the Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life that death may no longer have power of us, and who rose into heaven and rules us from his heavenly throne. God is the Good Advocate, the Holy Spirit that enriches us and pushes us forward that each of us may be more than our society-assigned roles lay us out to be and able to achieve greater miracles as we claim God’s faith and united together as God’s holy people, in the foundation of the church, the body of Jesus Christ on earth.