"A MOTHER’S COMFORT"
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)
July 7, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Isaiah 66:13 (ESV)
A number years ago on Pentecost Sunday I happened to attend a special afternoon service at a Lutheran congregation of another synod. At that service John 14:17 was read as follows: "This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees her nor knows her. You know her, because she abides with you, and she will be in you." I don't have a clue as to whether that came from a real published version of the Bible or whether it was something that the pastor just made up. I do know that such a blatant altering of the text of Scripture was rather shocking to me and made me feel quite uncomfortable. We don't often find in the Scriptures or in other Christian literature references to God that employ the use of feminine imagery. God is referred to as our Father--our King--our Lord. It is not common to hear Him called Mother, Queen, or Lady--titles which, oddly enough, are used by Roman Catholics in reference to the virgin Mary. While we will readily concede that God (or at least two of the three Persons of the Godhead) are neither male nor female, we nevertheless prefer to speak of God in masculine terms, primarily because He is the Creator (and therefore the Father) of all and because, when He took on human flesh in the Person of Christ, He did so as a male.
Some who read through today's Old Testament Reading might come to the conclusion that Isaiah the prophet was centuries ahead of his time when He wrote these words, since he refers to the Lord here using the feminine image of mother. "As one whom his mother comforts," he writes, speaking for the Lord Himself, "so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." The prophet is not intending to suggest that God is female, but simply that there are certain characteristics of God that can best be expressed by using feminine imagery. In the passage before us this morning the Lord is speaking through His prophet about the comfort that He has to offer--the kind of comfort that is most clearly evident in our day-to-day experience in the love of a mother for her children. As we examine this unusual passage of Scripture this morning, let’s give some thought to why we as the children of God need to be comforted and how the Lord comforts us.
Why do we need to be comforted? What is it that we need to be comforted about? In the text the Lord promises: "You shall be comforted in Jerusalem." There are two ways of looking at this. First, the name Jerusalem means "peace." That may seem to be a cruel irony to those of us who have paid any attention at all to the news throughout our lives. For as long as anyone can remember, Jerusalem has been anything but a place of peace as the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims have fiercely contended over the control of it. But Jerusalem, the holy city, is also symbolic of the Christian Church. Now, who in his right mind would dare to suggest that the Church is a peaceful and unified body? Certainly we in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod ought to know better than anyone that even within a single church-body in which all the members supposedly share a common confession of faith there is still conflict and contention. I don’t know about you but, having attended three synodical conventions and about to attend my fourth, I could certainly use some comfort over the conflicts that I have witnessed in our church--our Jerusalem.
But it's even worse than that. The conflicts that we have in the Church and the wars that we see in the world are nothing compared to the real problem. The reason why there is no peace among men is because there is no peace between God and man. Man has rejected his Creator--rejected His lordship, rejected His commands, rejected His gifts, rejected His Person. Until men are reconciled to the God whom they have offended by their sin, they will never have true peace among themselves. This reveals our greatest need for comfort: not just the comfort of knowing that we can live in peace with our neighbor but, first and foremost, knowing that we can stand in the presence of the Holy God and not only be spared from the punishment that we deserve but can also be welcomed by Him as His dear children.
The Good News is that we who are in such great need of comfort are not left comfortless. The Lord Himself--the "Maker of heaven and earth" (Apostles' Creed, Article I)--comforts us, and in the text Isaiah describes just how the Lord comforts us. Speaking for the Lord Himself, the prophet says: "As one whom his mother comforts, so shall I comfort you." Now, I'm not for a minute going to pretend that I have any real appreciation for the depth of pain that is involved in childbirth. I have witnessed it but I have never experienced it--and I obviously never will (which is just fine with me!). Most mothers I know consider the gift of a child to be worth the pain of childbirth, but I have yet to hear any mother say that childbirth did not involve any pain. In the same way, the comfort that the Lord gives us--the comfort of His forgiveness and hope in the face of our sin and death--does not come without pain and suffering for Him. Just ask Jesus. Like our mothers, our Lord and Savior suffered in order to give us life.
But what a mother does for her children does not end with childbirth. They who give us life also nurture us so that that life might survive and grow. It's more than just a matter of meeting our physical needs; it's a total and complete caring--caring that has a lot of influence on our development and makes a huge contribution to who we are. That's why the bond between mothers and their children is so close--so special. That's why we are rightly mortified whenever we hear or read news stories about mothers abusing or murdering their own children. It's a gross violation of that unique mother/child relationship. The Lord who gave us life through the shedding of His innocent blood on the cross also provides us, in Word and Sacrament, with everything that we need to live as His people in this world of temptation and sin. Just as even grown children often take comfort in the love and care given to them by their mothers, so we take comfort every day in the forgiveness of sins given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In using the mother image to describe the care and comfort that He extends to us, the Lord is reminding us, in a very loving way, that we are totally and completely dependent on Him for our very life and well-being. He doesn't do that to glorify Himself; He does it for our good. Only if we realize that we are dependent on Him will we turn to Him in our time of need--especially when we sin and need His forgiveness, when we are weighed down with the cares of life and need His Word of hope, when we are confronted with the reality of death and need His promise of everlasting life. His Spirit always leads us to where true comfort, hope, and life are to be found: in the saving wounds of Jesus.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.