Two Mother's Day Vignettes - Kyle Hanawalt & Vince Brackett


On Mother’s Day today, we thought we’d do something a little different
We’re going to take a break from our current series of talks
And instead, in a moment, Kyle and I are each going to share a little vignette

And our hope is to highlight an oft-missed opportunity to connect with God
That is: connecting with God as a mother
Before we’re done this morning, we’ll offer a couple suggestions along those lines
One of the most common images for Jesus as he taught about God and modeled connecting with God himself was “God as a father”, and we don’t want to take anything away from that this morning
BUT some of the most powerful things Jesus sought to communicate to humanity about the profound goodness of God, he communicated using images of mothering

One instance that stands out to me is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible. In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus is lamenting the general vibe of “stubbornness to ask for and accept help” that he encounters in the city Jerusalem.
There’s a general vibe that feels as present as ever in our world 2000 years after the events of Jesus’ life, right?
“Stubbornness to ask for and accept help” -- Yep! We 21st century Chicagoans are familiar with this!
Well, evidently, Jesus is especially heart-broken and compassionate toward this sort of attitude...
He’s recorded saying: “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 [there’s our mothering image], and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”

To Jesus’ original 1st century Palestinian-Jewish audience, this image of mothering would have packed quite a punch
The background here is that, in that day, talking about a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings was a way to refer to great sacrifice on behalf of another
It came from the unfortunately common experience of barn fires
In a barn fire, the response of a mother hen was among the most predictable (and most inspiring) - she would gather her chicks to herself under her wings
And she would be burned up, but the chicks would survive
This was likely why Jesus ends with “Look, your house is left to you desolate”
He seems to be saying: with the way you are spurning God’s mothering, you’re not going to survive the proverbial barn fire!

In one sense, Jesus is foreshadowing here the way he would non-violently sacrifice himself to die at the hands of the religious authorities of his day...
And to illustrate this most key chapter of his mission, Jesus turns to an example of “mothering”

Mothers are a picture of self-sacrifice, are they not?
Giving birth... self-sacrificial element there, I’d say
I’m sure anyone in the room who has given birth could tell you better than me
But of course, it’s more than that…

Considering my own mom’s self sacrifice every year on mother’s day is an especially meaningful thing for me
We lost my mom to cancer far too early… when she was not yet 51 years old.

As strange as it sounds, my experience of her self-sacrifice in a lot of ways comes down to cookies
The variety and volume of homemade cookies that this woman churned out every December for like two decades for our 4-kid, dessert-obsessed family is still astounding to me
My mom was, and I’m willing to personally fight each of you on this, a better baker than your mom

As we came to December 2000, we all knew that she would not make it to December 2001…
And for some reason she had at the top of her mind the fact that this would mean it was our last chance for all of her home-made cookie brilliance
My mom spent a good deal of her final months baking cookies.
Filling massive tupperware containers full of these cookies, and then storing them all in the freezer so we could pull them out and eat them as far into the year as possible.

I can’t remember when one of us kids or my dad made the remark, but…
We wondered to each other if she might have lived a little longer had she not pushed herself to make so many cookies those last months
I feel like one of the most common responses to losing someone I hear is “I wish I just had a little more time with them… even one more day”
And I certainly felt that about my mom as we reflected:
Why would she do that to herself!? We would trade all the cookies in the world for even one more day with her!
But at the same time, from my mom’s perspective…
I’m guessing this just felt like another obvious self-sacrifice on behalf of those she loved…
Which of course she would make
That, faced with the same choice 50 more times, she’d do things no differently every time

It’s a bit of a silly suggestion to say that cookies have taught me about God,
But I’m standing by it.

When my mom died, I knew very little about Jesus, and I’d never had a spiritual experience
But my mom’s model of, perhaps quite literally, sacrificing a bit of herself to make cookies for me, as her last grand gesture…
That, I’ve come to believe, primed me to experience connection with God later in my life
I knew better what to expect from a God who claimed to offer self-sacrificial love because I’d experienced that from my mom

[Well, let me invite Kyle back up for our second vignette this morning… Join me in giving him a hand...]

Intro to my stories:
I think, as Vince touched on, for many of us the earliest ideas of who God is was formed through our relationships with our parents. The reality of this can often be complicated because our parents are imperfect people, they too are human. But at least my experience is that, in spite of their flaws, my parents, my mother has helped me understand who God is, what his character is like. That he loves me, wants to care for me, guide me, that he wants me to have the best possible life. Seeing my own wife become a mother this last year has only increased my understanding of this. So, as this is mother's day, while acknowledging how complex relationship with our parents can be, Vince and I wanted to each share a story of how our own mothers helped us see, understand, and experience the heart of God. Our hope in this was that we can honor our own mothers in doing this, and honor the unique role that all mothers have, but also recognize that God has a mothering heart for us all regardless of what our experience with our own mother is and was.

My Story
For me, there is a very specific memory that comes to my mind of my own Mother. When I was in elementary school I was told that I needed glasses, so my mom took me and we picked some out, and I was told that I needed to use them for reading, but I hated them, absolutely hated them. This maybe wasn’t so unique, an 8 year old who doesn’t like to wear their glasses. But, for me the reason I hated them was for a different reason than you might expect. You see, I hated wearing them because they made my head hurt, and they made my head hurt because when I put them on my vision got blurrier not better. You may think that would be something I would share, “hey these glasses which are meant to improve my vision actually make my vision worse.” But, in my 8 year old mind, I don’t know, for some reason it didn’t trip any alarm bells for me, maybe that points to my level of general awareness as a child. However, one day after complaining once again that I hated wearing my glasses, my mother asked my why I hated them so much. And I told her because it hurts my head, I have to focus so hard to read with them on. I can still remember the look on my mother’s face, What do you mean, it’s harder to see with your glasses on?
Well we eventually figured out was that the glasses place had gotten my prescription wrong. But, here is the part I can remember more anything. It was fierceness of my mother when she went back into that glasses place. You see, my mother is like 5ft tall in heels, a small women. But, that grown man, who worked there had fear in his eyes. She let him know that what he did to her son, was not ok, it was not no big deal. They were going to make it right, and make it right now. I just remember seeing her fight for me like that. It was this sense of care and protection, that she was going to do everything in her power to make sure that I was ok. And even more than that, when she came back to me with the new glasses, she expressed such deep care and empathy for me. She told me that she was so sorry that I had been to sent to school with bad glasses, I just remember the care in her eyes at that moment. Like any wrong done to me had been done to her too, and I wasn’t alone, I had someone on my side.

To me, that experience, my mother, has helped me see and understand God better. That in my mother I was able to see more of who God was. That God will fight for me, he will care for me, that when I am wronged he is right there with me. That God is my advocate, constantly leading me to better life. So, mothers. What you do, How you care for you children, God uses it. He uses it not only to develop a bond between you two. But, he also uses uses it, uses you to show himself to your children. And man that is a gift, man that is a blessing.

And maybe you here, today would like to connect with God as one who will fight for you, or perhaps as Vince spoke of, if you would like to experience the self-sacrificial love of God. I have a suggestion for you.
A practice that you may find helpful
So, take a moment and figure out which of these two images of God would most feel most helpful for you to connect with.
And then start with a memory of any experience of a time you had experienced this in the past,
So if you connected with Vince’s story, Bring to mind a time that you felt like a recipient of self-sacrificial love, Like Vince would start with his memory of his mother for this
or if you resonated more with my story, bring to mind a memory of time that you felt like someone was fighting for you.
Like I would begin with bringing to mind my memory of my mother.
(for many of us, memories with our mothers might be a great place to start…)
And holding that memory in your mind, incline your heart to God, as best you can
Imagine yourself turning to face God
Or imagine yourself opening out your hands to God
Or even physically open up your hands and hold them out -- a lot of times physical actions can open us up spiritually
And then, still holding that memory in you mind, invite God to meet you now in the same way you were met then
Like Vince would invite God to help him experience the same level of self-sacrificial love now from God, that he experienced through his mother in his memory
And I would invite God to help me experience him as my advocate in the same way that I experienced my Mother as my advocate in my memory.
For me, this prayer exercise of memory and imagination helped me experience God’s love, God’s character, God’s heart for me in a more tangible way than about anything I have tried.
So, if you are up for it, I encourage you to give this a try.

Prayer/Flower Celebration
With this being mother's day we wanted to do something a little extra special. We wanted to honor the mothers here, allow us to honor those have been mothers to us, and honor those of us who feel as if mothers is an area of loss in our lives.
So, For those here that are mothers or those who have taken the role of mother for others, There are a whole bunch flowers in the back and we want to invite you to take a flower for yourself as statement of our thanks to you, and our desire to celebrate and honor you as a mother. So, please either during worship or on your way out, take a flower.
But, we also in a moment want to pray to honor our mothers, to honor the women who in many ways have helped us see and experience God’s heart for us. So we want to take a moment to give thanks for those who have been mothers to us. To try and honor the unique and powerful role they have in our lives.
And, we also want to take a moment to pray for those who feel a sense of loss on this mother’s day, whether is the loss you feel in a desire to be a mother, Or the loss you feel about your own mother, whether she is no longer with us, or whether she did not live up to her role as your mother. We want to pray that you would experience God’s mothering heart for you. That he loves you, cares for you, and is alongside you in your sense of loss. And that God will continue to be here love and care for you.

Now, we just want to take a moment and pray all three of those categories here.
Honoring the mothers we had
Receiving God’s heart for us in our sense of loss
Mother’s here, would you stand

I want to read a payer from the book of common prayer.

Loving God,
as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children,
so you watch over us.
Bless these women,
that they may be strengthened as mothers.
Let the example of their care and love shine forth.
Grant that we,
may honor them always
with a spirit of profound respect.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Pray support, encouragement, strength, grace, and guidance for moms here.
That there impact is no small thing