Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, May 9, 2016


(Sermon by The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara at Grace Episcopal Church, Massapequa, New York on Mothers’ Sunday, 5/8/2016)

Since this is my first time speak here, I would like to teach you an Affirmation Prayer which I named The Episcopal Tai Chi:

TAI CHI: I am a child of God; I stand on His holy word. I breathe the Holy Spirit. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts; I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness; I take in good health. I push out poverty; I take in prosperity. I push out hatred; I take in love. I push out despair; I take in hope. I push out sadness; I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my family, to my friends, to my neighbors, here and all over the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

This week, I received an email from a famous Department Store and it reads: “Dear Winfred, congratulations for being an excellent mother. Now click here for your reward.” When I clicked I was given options for several ladies cosmetic products.

I bet they emailed it to millions of their customers indiscriminately and maybe they thought Winfred is a female name, but it kept me thinking: “Is motherhood a gender identity or a character identity?” If so, what makes for an “excellent mother?” 

I shared this news to Facebook and there were many who got interested with the issue. One friend said that she had a bad experience of her earthly father so that affected her imaging of God as Father.  So she suggested that that since it is Mothers’ Sunday, that I preach on God as Mother. 
I am not here to define God’s identity but let me cite at least three characters of God as closer to my characterization of a mother: 
1.     God Cares like a Mother cares
I think the first character that I associate with mother is the quality of care. I do not mean that fathers don’t care. I simply mean that mother’s caring is often called TLC – tender loving care. 

When I was a child, I remember my father as a strict disciplinarian, always reminding me of the rules. And whenever we, children, break the rules he set, he did not hesitate to use the rod. I guess he believed in the saying, “spare the rod and spoil the child.”  I appreciated being taught the laws but I seldom cherish the punishment, so where do I go for comfort? My mother! She would often enfold me in her arms and hide me under the shadow of her wings.
In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s motherly care when God said, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you”( Isaiah 49:15) and again in Isaiah 66:13, God assured God’s people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
When I was a child, one of the songs I learned sound like this, “I once had a dear old mother, who loves me tenderly for when I was a baby she took good care of me.” Someone said, “A caring mother is sweeter than homemade bread.” The caring mother is like a magnet that attracts even erring children to return home. So when God beckons His people to return, God acts as a mother.   

The prophets often warned the nations saying, “When the Lord speaks concerning a nation that He will destroy it because of its sins, but when that nation repent of their evil, God will forgive and bring blessings again.” Destruction and punishment seem to be God’s male image, the image of fatherly discipline. But after warning of destruction, the prophets would suddenly shift to the Mother image and cry ”Turn, turn, turn to the Lord; turn to him now with all of your heart. Turn now with weeping, fasting and mourning, then will His spirit move over your land. Then will his spirit move over your land.”

Turn to God with weeping and mourning. I could not turn to my father weeping…he would belt me up for he did not want me to cry. But I would run toward Mother with weeping and she will dry my tears away! Yes, when God wipes away your tears, as in the Book of Revelation, God is acting like a Mother.
2.     God Protects as a Mother Protects 
In Exodus 3, God compares himself with the mother eagle, fiercely protecting her young. “Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself.(Exodus 19:4) 

How does a mother eagle protect her young? Moses himself answered this question. In the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 32 a “Song of Moses” says of God: "For the LORD'S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.  He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.” That was the Mother Eagle!
Perhaps this was the motherly image that was imprinted in Jesus, when beholding the apostasy and hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees and the disobedience of God’s people, Jesus cried, “ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Yes, God cares and protects us like a mother. Because of that motherly protection, God will never leave us nor forsake us, because He has looked upon us like the apple of His eyes.

3.     God loves like a Mother loves
We often quote John 3:16 that says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever lives and believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” God’s love is unconditional, self-giving and boundless. It is boundless and universal. 

In the gospel today God’s people are not only those who openly confess His name. God’s sheep are not only the flock within the boundaries of the hills and valleys. “And I have other flocks which are not of this fold, I will call them also so there would be one flock and one shepherd.”
In the Book of Hosea, there is a poignant story of God who was experiencing pain in decision-making. God wanted to destroy His people as in the Noah’s Flood for their sinfulness. But God’s righteous judgment  was being tempered by his motherly love. And so God was suffering and in extreme agony. In Hosea 11:8, God wept saying,”How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me and my compassion overflows.”
I remember an Asian story about a mother and her son. She was a loving mother but he was a stupid son. Not only that he was stupid; he also had a face "only a mother can love." He became infatuated with a woman on the other side of the mountain who told him, “I would accept your offer of love if you can give me the heart of your mother.” Maybe it was just a figure of speech or that the woman was wicked. The boy however thought about it and in a moment of stupidity and madness, took a knife, stabbed his mother and took her heart out. He then ran towards the mountain to offer the heart to his object of affection but he stumbled on the rice paddies and the heart fell down in the mud. He scooped the heart and as he was wiping it, the heart spoke:” Son, are you hurt?”

Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lays down his life for his love.”  The mother’s love in a way illustrates the extraordinary, lavish and self-sacrificial love of God. God also forgave our stupidity in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s suffering and death (like that of the mother’s) was substitutionary.  The prophet Isaiah aptly said, “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, upon Him was the chastisements that made us whole and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53). 
I remember how my own mother suffered every time one of us children got in trouble or got sick. When I was a child, I got sick with dysentery and as I lay very ill and almost dying, I overheard my Mom prayed, “God, let the sickness be upon me, for I can’t bear to see my son die.” That was a terrible prayer and thank God, that prayer was not answered but it motivated me much to take bitter medicine and cooperated with my healing. Mom taught  me faith, hope and love but most of all, unconditional and  sacrificial love.
So today I honor all of you mothers, grandmothers, god mothers to be, mothers to and wanna be mothers----both male and female---like God and you and me. Amen.

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