Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, March 2, 2014
God’s Mothering Love:
Cast your Worries to the Wind!
[Isaiah 49:8-16a; Matthew 6:24-34]
As we consider God’s words to us through the writings of Isaiah and Matthew, we encounter God’s TENDER and INTIMATE love for the people of Israel and for all of God’s disciples in every generation.
When God promises to love us, those are not idle words. Our lives are secure, because we are inscribed on the palms of God’s hands. We are SAFE, we are LOVED, we are KNOWN and we are REMEMBERED. That’s a profound and enduring promise, which has given me a great sense of freedom and adventure throughout my life. We do not need to fear or worry, when our lives are rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When God’s story becomes our story, there is nowhere we can go and nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love ever or anywhere.
As a child when I would get sick and feel miserable in the middle of the night, my mother would sit with me and often tell me, “No one loves you like your mother.” That had been her experience and I am named after my mother’s mother even though she passed away before I was born. I feel a great sense of WARMTH when I remember my grandmother. Even though we never met during my life time, her DNA is part of me. Not everyone has positive memories of their mothers, which can have a life-long deleterious effect on a child. But the good news is God can “re-mother us” and heal us from the inside out through other loving Christians. Despite the flaws or weaknesses my mother and grandmother may have had, they were rich in unconditional love for their families and I was “bathed” in that environment, from the time I swam in my mother’s womb. Thanks be to God!
However, I have also been blessed with additional female mentors who have mothered me with their academic, emotional and spiritual wisdom, guiding me to develop and utilize the gifts God has given me to their fullest potential. Grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters have accompanied me on my spiritual journey all over the world.
My mother did have one quality that I did not always admire. She worried a lot. I’m not sure why. Her life story contains a few clues. My mother’s father was an alcoholic and it was not until I was quite a bit older, that I learned how his disease impacted her family. My mother and her sister were crazy about their father, because when he was home and sober, he was a delightful storyteller and a compassionate, intelligent man. His own parents died when he was young and he was raised by “Aunt Annie Gaino.”
But many times, when my grandmother, Susie, had cooked one of his favorite meals, he wouldn’t show up. And that could last several days. No one would know where he was. According to my mother, her mother never said a negative word about George, but her heart was broken time and time again when it happened. She died in her 50s of a heart attack.
After she was married, my mother would sometimes get a call late at night when her father was drinking, and at times the family had to go find him, beat up by the side of the road or passed out somewhere. What a heartache! Perhaps that’s how the small reservoir of fear and worry filled up in my mother’s heart. My grandfather loved the Lord Jesus Christ and eventually beat his disease in the latter years of his life but both my grandparents died in their 50s.
My mother’s only sister, Doris, died of a massive heart attack at age 44 when I was in elementary school. That was another blow to my mother and her grief over that loss was huge. I guess she had reasons to “worry” – if I look at her life story, but I am proud that my mother lived until she was 72. She tackled many of her fears and worries head on, by putting them in the hands of Jesus Christ. She also lived long enough to benefit from 3 successful heart bypass surgeries.
In my mother’s latter years she led Bible studies in a women’s prison in Pittsburgh with the mother of an African American woman who stole her wallet while she was working downtown. It’s a great story. My mother had a picture of Rebekah in her wallet. I was living in Korea at the time. She valued the wallet which she purchased in Korea and the picture of Rebekah more than money, so when she found out the perpetrator was in the nearby women’s detention center, my mom walked right down there to ask for it back. But God spoke to my mom on the way to the prison and gave her three words to say: “I forgive you.”
Alexis was in her cell. She was in the depths of depression and felt worthless. When she went to the visitor’s area and saw a pale blonde woman waiting for her, she didn’t know what to say. My mom’s first words to Alexis were: “I forgive you.” Alexis chatted with mom and then went back to her cell and wept like a baby. She was at her absolute lowest point in her life, when my mom told her: “I forgive you.” That was the beginning of nearly 10 years of fruitful ministry with Alexis’ mother, Inez, and my mother. One white mother/one black mother who went faithfully to the prison once a week to do Bible studies, pray with the women and eventually establish an organization called “Lydia’s Place” – which helps women when they get out of prison to start a new life and practice a lifestyle without crime. Of course many relapsed and wound up back in prison, but Lydia’s place was poised to help time and time again.
My mom became a faithful letter writer to many women she met in prison while they were there and after they got out. Some of our relatives told my mom she should be more “careful” – that she should not give out her phone number or address and be careful whose company she was keeping. My mother never worried. This was her calling and her joy the last 10 years of her life.
At my mother’s funeral, on January 23, 1998, a host of African American women attended the Memorial Service, despite the fact it was a cold, wet day. Denise, one of my mom’s closest friends from the prison, who eventually became the Director of Lydia’s Place, sang at my mom’s funeral and shared that my mother was her SPIRITUAL MOTHER who taught her how to love herself. What a gift Denise was to ME on the day I was grieving.
My mom was not a public speaker. Her knees shook and her voice quivered, but she was a radiantly loving woman who always saw the best in people, including me. But she was called on many times to tell the story about her and Alexis and Inez. The ministry of Lydia’s place continues long after my mother’s death, as God continues to “mother” people through that organization.
Finding our own true calling as Christians happens when we KNOW DEEP IN OUR CORE that we are loved and precious in God’s sight. That’s what gives the lilies their carefree ability to bloom and sway in the wind. That’s what gives the birds of the air their freedom to fly and soar and build their nests in the tops of trees.
That’s what gave my mother the ability to throw caution to the wind and love those women in prison without fear or worry. As she nurtured their souls, they nurtured hers. I went with mom to the prison once and met a woman named Tracey who had one of the most beautiful singing voices I had ever heard. When she got out, she became active in church and sang in many churches, using the gifts God gave her.
God believes in us. God invites us into God’s family and sets the table for us. Whatever prison you may find yourself in… whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, God meets you where you are. If your prison is the result of family baggage that you did not originate, or if your prison is of your own making, God meets you right where you are. God knocks on the door of your heart and waits for you to open it from the inside. God never pushes his way in!
A lady named Vonita Spencer, a missionary in Korea, often had women in her home for lunch and prayer on Fridays. We were women of all nationalities. One particular Friday, Vonita and the ladies prayed over me when I shared my family’s history of heart disease. We prayed for issues large and small, including the healing of memories between the people of Korea and Japan, who carried deep feelings about Japan’s occupation of Korea in the 1900s.
God offers us the food of freedom today – his broken body and shed blood – to take all the cultural and personal judgment off our shoulders. Some of that baggage goes back for generations. All God asks is that we take this bread and juice with gratitude, eat it, savor it and be transformed by the grace we receive through it. “I forgive you,” God whispers. “Come and eat with me. The table is set, the family is here, the wine is poured.” Let us pray.