Sunday’s sermon: Unshakable Love

Prodigal son - mother
artwork by Charlie Mackesy

Texts for this sermon – Exodus 2:1-10 and Luke 15:11-32 (KJV)

  • Up to this point in our Prodigal son Lenten series, we’ve spent time with a couple of the obvious characters – the father and the older brother. We’ve fleshed out their stories a little and tried to understand the intricacies of this story from their perspectives, but we’ve had the text to help guide our journey and speak to the mindset of these characters. But this week and next week, we’re venturing off the beaten path. We’re going to explore some of the silent characters in the story – the voices we don’t hear, the missing pieces to the puzzle. → this week: the mother
    • Perspective that’s going to require us to use our imaginations
      • Who was this woman?
      • How did she experience this saga?
      • What can our guesses and imaginings about part she played teach us about our lives of faith?
    • Part of challenge of imagining this unnamed woman’s role – everyone has a different experience of “mother” → Those who fulfill that “mother” role are different for everyone. Think for a minute of all the mother figures you’ve had in your life – all the women who’ve taught you, helped you, shaped you, strengthened you, and above all else, loved you. These are the “mothers” we’re talking about today – literal and figurative mothers, anyone who’s ever fulfilled the role of “mother” in any of the ways that matter: mothers in name and body and deed and heart.
  • OT story = perfection illustration of fact that mothers come in all shapes, sizes and iterations
    • Context within rest of the Exodus story: new Pharaoh comes to power in Egypt = greatly alarmed by vast population of Hebrew slaves (“What if they rise up against us?! What if there is a war and they join with our enemies?! What if they decide to just up and leave us worker-less?!”) → Pharaoh decides to quell population by directing all Hebrew midwives to kill newborn baby boys → midwives disobey, so Pharaoh gives command to all the people of Egypt: Drown the baby boys in the Nile![1]
    • 2 obvious mother figures: Moses’ birth mother and adoptive mother (Pharaoh’s daughter)
      • Mothering from Moses’ birth mother = protection – text: The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.[2]
        • Do you realize how dangerous this woman’s actions are? Can you grasp how subversive and seditious and rebellious she is being? The Pharaoh was regarded as a god by the Egyptians. Pharaoh’s word was law … PERIOD. No questions. No objections. Certainly no disobedience, especially for slaves like her. And yet she defied Pharaoh’s order to save the life of her son.
      • Mothering from Pharaoh’s daughter = deliverance: [Pharaoh’s daughter] saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child – a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew babies.”[3] → adopts Moses as her own son
        • Again, there is defiance and disobedience in this mothering. Pharaoh’s daughter herself recognizes that Moses must be a Hebrew baby – one of those whom her father had sentenced to death. But instead of carrying out Pharaoh’s atrocious decree, she brings this condemned one into her home – into Pharaoh’s own palace and family line – to raise as her own.
      • Less obvious mother figure = Moses’ sister – text: The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. … Then his sister was before [Pharaoh’s daughter]: “Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Yes. Go.” The girl went and called the child’s mother.[4] → This precocious big sister watches out for Moses, both literally as she follows his river journey in the basket and figuratively as she finds his own mother to nurse and nurture him for Pharaoh’s daughter once he’s been pulled from the river.
      • And because we cannot help but be affected by the mothers and mother figures in our own lives, why on earth would we neglect someone who must have had an influence in the life of the prodigal son just because she isn’t given a speaking part in this story.
  • You know, people often joke about things “only a mother could love” – a face, a voice, and so on. More often than not, these are self-deprecating jokes at best – ways for us to make fun of ourselves and our own perceived imperfections. But behind these jokes are both the recognition that there are things about us that are sometimes difficult to love and the age-old knowledge that our mothers – adoptive mothers, birth mothers, mother figures of all sorts – love us even in the face of those foibles. → journey of the prodigal son = life path only a mother could love
    • Talked about father’s love and generosity of spirit a few weeks ago → build on that for unvoiced mother: As the father grieved his son’s departure, we can guess the mother did, too. As the father worried and prayed each and every day for the younger son’s safe return, we can guess the mother did, too. As the father ardently celebrated the younger son’s homecoming, we can guess the mother did, too.
      • Scholar: We get the sense that the spurned parent was in fact keeping vigil, praying for the day his boy would return. … The father remained hopeful that the seeds he had once sown in love night yet be harvested in the return of his child.[5] = words that could certainly be reflected in the mother, too → The prodigal son left his whole He left his father, yes. He left his brother, yes. And he left his mother. She was a spurned parent, too. She sowed her own seeds of love in the life of that son who turned away.
        • Unconditional kind of love – love that spans …
          • All our idiosyncrasies
          • All our temper flares and frustrations and accusations
          • All our mistakes
        • Unshakable kind of love – love that follows us …
          • No matter how far away we are
          • No matter how many barriers we try to build
          • No matter where we try to hide
        • Love poignantly and powerful given voice in blog post:

You won’t remember the way I stood in the bathroom late that night in labor with you, fearfully and excitedly gazing up at the moon, knowing I was going to bring you into the world soon and whispering to you, “We can do this.”

You won’t remember the way you looked at me right after you were born, or the way I pulled you up next to my heart and marveled “Hi, baby” in your ear.

You won’t remember the way you healed my broken spirit. The way you completed my heart. I was weak before I had you, and you made me whole again.

You won’t remember the way I proudly watched you everywhere we went, you were always the most beautiful boy in the room to me.

You won’t remember the way you made me laugh with all of the silly things you did. I saw how kind your heart was.

You won’t remember the way I would brush the hair off of your forehead and the way you’d look up at me. Without any words, our souls could touch and say everything to each other that words couldn’t.

You won’t remember the tickle fests we had, and how I always cheated so I could hold you close and cover your salty little face in kisses.

You won’t remember all the times I went to bed at night and felt such fear being your mother: Am I doing okay? Have I messed up too many times already? Can I be the kind of mother he needs?

You won’t remember the way my heart broke and grew a little bigger each time you passed a milestone, watching the sand fall through the hourglass while feeling overjoyed witnessing you expand and grow.

You won’t remember the way I would hold your little feet in my hands, imagining how much bigger than my own feet they will one day grow, and how I will have to let you go.

You won’t remember, but I will… and I’ll hold these memories in my heart for the both of us.[6]

  • Friends, this is the kind of love freely given to us by God. Unconditional love that covers us. Unshakable love that follows us. Love that is immovable in the midst of all our ups and downs. Love that revels in the ordinary, everyday moments for the precious moments of intimacy that they are.
    • Scholar: As the story [of the prodigal son] unfolds, it is clear that … in the end, this parable points to the great embrace and deep expansive love, compassion, and justice of God, deeper, wider, and higher than our imagining.[7]
    • Scripture = clear that we’ve been taken into God’s heart, scooped up as beloved children – Gal: You can tell for sure that you are fully adopted as [God’s] own children because God sent the Spirit of [God’s] own Son into our lives crying out, “[Abba!] Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child?[8] → comes with the kind of love we see in today’s passages
      • Protective love
      • Nurturing love
      • Saving love
      • Unconditional love
      • Unshakable love
  • But how does this inform or inspire our faith? Well, think about the mother figures in your life this morning. Think about all of the things that they’ve done with you and for you, all the love they’ve given away not because you asked them for it or because you earned it but simply because it is the most precious and exceptional thing that they can give you. As mothers give that love away, they do so with the hope that the ones they’re loving will someday find someone else to love, too.
    • We find a home and hope in God’s unconditional and inescapable love
    • BUT we also are called to give that home and that hope of unconditional and inescapable love to others
      • Jesus’ command to Peter in Jn: This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love.[9] → extends beyond our own families and friends, our own loved ones – even extends to those we find it difficult to love
        • Scholar: Sharing in God’s grace requires that we join in the celebration when others are recipients of that grace also. … Each person is of such value to God that none is excluded from God’s grace. Neither should we withhold our forgiveness.[10]
          • Grace so expansive, it cannot be held back
          • Forgiveness so expansive, it cannot be hoarded
          • Love so expansive, it cannot help but be shared
          • That is our charge. That is our challenge. That is our call – to take that unshakable love that we find in God and share it with the people in this world who need it most.
            • Not bestowing it on them on God’s behalf – it’s a love always accessible to every single person in this world
            • Open their eyes to this love – help them to see/recognize love that already exists for them, already follows them, already covers them … Amen.

[1] Ex 1.

[2] Ex 2:2-3 (The Message).

[3] Ex 2:5-6 (The Message).

[4] Ex 2:7-8 (The Message).

[5] Daniel G. Deffenbaugh. “Fourth Sunday in Lent: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 118.

[6] Jessica Dimas. “You Won’t Remember, But I Will” posted to The Huffington Post, Posted 23 Dec. 2014, edited 22 Feb. 2015. Accessed 5 Mar. 2015.

[7] Michael B. Curry. “Fourth Sunday in Lent: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 121.

[8] Gal 4:6-7a (The Message).

[9] Jn 15:12-13a (The Message).

[10] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 305.

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