Sunday, March 13, 2022
Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

Prayer of the Day

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 The covenant with Abram and his descendants
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17–4:1 Our citizenship is in heaven from where we expect a Savior
Luke 13:31-35 I have desired to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood

Sermon

Title: The Completeness of Our Ungendered God

From the plethora of concerns that seem to be considered divisive in our nation these days, the issues around gender: gender identity, gender expression, gender fluidity, non-binary identity, and preferred pronouns, seems to be one that is especially contentious. And now laws are being passed that seem to victimize people who are simply seeking deeper understanding of self and the opportunity to live as their authentic self. Rather than listening to their voice and their witness, the dominant society is working hard at maintaining the limited scope and definitions of the past.

I, for one, am thankful for the challenges that these conversations have brought forward, for the new insights that these new understandings have generated. I still remember my first meeting at which preferred personal pronouns were part of our introductions. And why not?  I ask people to learn how to call me by name, why not ask that they learn how to speak of me in the third person. And certainly, the limitations of language should not limit self-understanding or expression.  At various workshops, I have been blessed with discussions and exercises that gave insight into the continuum of gender expression rather than a two box system.  At one workshop, we were even asked to think on how our gender expression might change or adjust according to the setting or context we are in.

But I am most thankful for the expansion that the gender conversation has brought to our view and our expression of the God who is beyond gender, beyond language’s limitations, and beyond our imaginations. I am glad that I now trip each time a masculine pronoun comes up for God that causes me to think beyond the tradition-limiting word HE.  Sometimes this causes me to use another word, not changing the meaning but only expanding the reality of God in my most limited and limiting brain. Some are suggesting using the non-binary THEY for God.  Which, in light of the Trinity, makes a lot of sense.

In many ways, a gender-fluid expression of God and humanity’s relationship with God is nothing new.  In today’s first reading, we could see God as midwife, promising and assuring Abram that there will be a long line of his progeny. Later in the Hebrew scriptures, the nation of Israel – though named for a man, Jacob, whose name is even interchanged with Israel throughout the writings, yet the prophets will speak of Israel as God’s wife – especially when she commits adultery on God by worshipping idols and chasing after other gods.  And today, Jesus joins in this gender fluid conversation with today’s gospel reading in which God is a hen trying to gather her chicks.

Some of the most inspired gender-fluid expressions of God, actually come to us from long before the current debates and controversies.  Julian of Norwich, a late 14th century mystic writes of her revelations of God’s love moving seamlessly through gender expression for God seeking to bear witness to the fullness of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. Rather than report to you what she writes, I would like to offer you a reading from her writings.  And, taking advantage of this current method of multi-media worship, I would also like to share with you some images that express what Jesus is talking about when he describes God as a mother gathering and protecting her chicks.  I pray that through words and pictures this can be a time of meditation and deeper insights into the love of God that is not limited by our language or our traditions.

From Julian of Norwich SHOWINGS – Chapter 59

And all this bliss we have by Mercy and Grace: which manner of bliss we might never have had nor known but if that property of Goodness which is God had been contraried: whereby we have this bliss. For wickedness hath been suffered to rise contrary to the Goodness, and the Goodness of Mercy and Grace contraried against the wickedness and turned all to goodness and to worship, to all these that shall be saved. For it is the property in God which doeth good against evil. Thus Jesus Christ that doeth good against evil is our Very Mother: we have our Being of Him,—where the Ground of Motherhood beginneth,—with all the sweet Keeping of Love that endlessly followeth. As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all, and especially in these sweet words where He saith: I it am. That is to say, I it am, the Might and the Goodness of the Fatherhood; I it am, the Wisdom of the Motherhood; I it am, the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love: I it am, the Trinity, I it am, the Unity: I am the sovereign Goodness of all manner of things. I am that maketh thee to love: I am that maketh thee to long: I it am, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.

For there the soul is highest, noblest, and worthiest, where it is lowest, meekest, and mildest: and [out] of this Substantial Ground we have all our virtues in our Sense-part by gift of Nature, by helping and speeding of Mercy and Grace: without the which we may not profit.

Our high Father, God Almighty, which is Being, He knew and loved us from afore any time: of which knowing, in His marvellous deep charity and the foreseeing counsel of all the blessed Trinity, He willed that the Second Person should become our Mother. Our Father willeth, our Mother worketh, our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirmeth: and therefore it belongeth to us to love our God in whom we have our being: Him reverently thanking and praising for our making, mightily praying to our Mother for mercy and pity, and to our Lord the Holy Ghost for help and grace.

For in these three is all our life: Nature, Mercy, Grace: whereof we have meekness and mildness; patience and pity; and hating of sin and of wickedness,—for it belongeth properly to virtue to hate sin and wickedness. And thus is Jesus our Very Mother in Nature [by virtue] of our first making; and He is our Very Mother in Grace, by taking our nature made. All the fair working, and all the sweet natural office of dearworthy Motherhood is impropriated to the Second Person: for in Him we have this Godly Will whole and safe without end, both in Nature and in Grace, of His own proper Goodness. I understood three manners of beholding of Motherhood in God: the first is grounded in our Nature’s making; the second is taking of our nature,—and there beginneth the Motherhood of Grace; the third is Motherhood of working,—and therein is a forthspreading by the same Grace, of length and breadth and height and of deepness without end. And all is one Love. (Thanks to Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org for the text.)

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Whether spoken of as shepherd or hen, farmer or king, male or female or ungendered, we must start from a place of acknowledging that our language is insufficient to speak of the completeness of God. It is why Jesus speaks in parables, why we use symbols.  To hold to just one expression is to not only limit our understanding of God but can also build a barrier between God and someone seeking God.  And time and time again, we see how Jesus reacts to those who build such obstacles.  Paul, continuing the work of Christ, writes to the Philippians of those who would limit the scope of God’s grace as enemies of the Cross of Christ. The cross itself reminding us that God is even to be found there of all places.

Especially in this time of Lent, when our focus is on returning to God, drawing closer to God, growing in faith and appreciation; let us follow Jesus’ example and teachings and use all the language we have and the images we see and the lessons of nature to venture deeper into the completeness of God that is beyond anything our limited minds can comprehend.  For God is all in all. And everything that points us and guides us into deeper faith is truly further evidence that God who is father, mother, sibling, dove, fire, wind, water, hen, butterfly, lamb, bread, light…I could go on – let’s just say the completeness of God that provides for us so mercifully in itself bears witness to the love and grace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit who opens hearts and minds to believe and then express in all of faith’s rich diversity.  Let us be thankful, for in a world of foxes, God is a hen.  In a world of war, God is peace.  In a world of death, God is life.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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