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Wendell Berry must have loved his mother. Berry, a lifelong Baptist, farmer, poet, activist, environmentalist and spiritual thinker wrote a poem as a tribute to his mother.
He must have loved his mother, for this is what he wrote:
I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
He must have loved his mother—so full of grace and love and forgiveness… so full of God!
Wendell Berry’s memory of his mother reminds me of how Hosea imagined the heart of God being like the heart of a mother who is having to deal with her prodigal and rebellious children. (us!)
Did you hear the angst and grief in our text? What is she to do with this rebellious child? What CAN she do, but love!
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them…
8How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
Oh what forgiveness, grace and compassion and love Hosea wants us to see in the heart of our God.
So I am not surprised and indeed I find it interesting that when Hosea, and frankly other writers of scripture: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalmist, the writer of Deuteronomy—when they want to lift up something of the nurture and compassion of God… and when Jesus wants to do the same as he grieves over Jerusalem as a mother hen would grieve over her brood… when they want to express their experience of the intimacy, the tenderness, the safety, the love that we associate with God, often they turn to the metaphor of a mother.
Put together the many images or metaphors of God being like a mother and we get this picture of God: God is someone cares, nurses, cradles and plays with children as many of us experienced with our own moms. God is someone who, like my Mom, allows us to grow, to make mistakes, even rebel. God gives us freedom. God is also one who grieves when the children go off in a direction that just breaks God’s heart. And yet, God will never abandon the children… Quite the opposite: God is willing to suffer for and with them… ready to forgive them, though they do not know it.
It is not surprise to me that Jesus and many of the writers of scripture have turned to images of a mother to describe our God who is a comforting, loving, forgiving mother. A mother who never forgets us and who loves us with a love that was there at our birth and will never let us go.
It’s the kind of unfaltering love spoken of in one of our new and favorite hymns:
“I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I rejoiced the day you were baptized to see your life unfold…
I was there when you were but a child with a faith to suit you well; in a blaze of light you wandered off to find where demons dwell.
When you heard the wonder of the Word, I was there to cheer you on. You were raised to praise the living Lord, to whom you now belong.”
I think the power of that song is the image of God—a loving, compassionate, ever forgiving God – as a God who never gives up on us. God who the Psalmist says is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger and abounding with steadfast love. (Psalm 103)
This is the God of Hosea and certainly the God Jesus revealed in his own person and life. This is the God of the prodigal… who is ever ready to welcome his child home… a God who is simply waiting for us to stop wandering off and to come home… always ready to welcome us home.
Is this not the God we yearn for?—A God who sometimes is like a mother to us? Ready to hold us and to love us?
Do you remember ever seeing the commercial that begins with a mother cradling a feverish daughter in her lap? You can tell that it is set in the late 70s/early80s. It is late at night and the mother has just given her daughter some medicine to ease the fever. She holds her little girl in her lap and softly sings a lullaby as the child holds onto her and looks up at her with trusting, loving eyes.
The scene then fast forwards to today, and now it is the grown daughter who is holding her own daughter late at night, in the same way, singing the same song and the daughter’s daughter holds onto her mother and looks up to her with the same, trusting, loving eyes. She’s still sick, but there are no signs of distress. She may not feel well, but she does feel held close, safely in her mother’s arms, and you know a peaceful sleep is on its way. Why?
She is being held by the one who loves her like no other… someone so full of compassion… tenderness… grace… someone who assures her… that all will be well… all will be well… all will be well… as she drifts into sleep.
Someone, Hosea and many others would say, is like God.
For the Lord said:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me.. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them…
Sort of, like a mother.
 Thanks to Matt Brown from South Mecklenberg PC in Charlotte for this illustration