“Big Momma Makes the World”

pdficon_small Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

July 29, 2018

Genesis 1:1-2:3 (as retold in Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root & Helen Oxenbury)

Mark 1:9-11

 

I love that image of God as Big Momma.  It makes me hear the whole story differently.  Do you know what I mean?

I’ve read that story from the first chapter of Genesis any number of times.  In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good…  I’ve cherished it so closely, heard it so often, to the point where it’s so familiar that I almost can’t hear it any more.  Do you know what I mean?

But when I hear it as Bruce just read it for us, as Phyllis Root and Helen Oxenbury tell it to us, the whole thing sounds new again.  A new story, a new creation, a new image, a new message.

As I picture Big Momma, holding her little baby on her hip with one arm as she goes about her work of creating the world with her other hand (you know that mamas learn to do many things one-handed…), I can see her watching her baby’s face as she creates the heavens and the earth, arranging it all just so for her child’s delight, hoping to hear the sweet gurgle of that baby’s laughter and see the glow of a smile.  I can hear her leaning close to her baby’s ear, whispering in that way that people who love children do, narrating what’s happening, naming what’s all around, offering the comfort of a familiar, gentle voice.

Look, sweetheart, there’s water.  Do you see it?  The water is wet.  Here, let me scoop some up and put it on your head.  How does that feel?  It’s a hot day today.  I think the cool water feels really nice.  Would you like to splash your feet in the water?

Okay, I’m going to make the light shine now.  Close your eyes… it will be very bright.  Light!  Dark!  Day!  Night!  Sun!  Moon!  Stars!  Look up, sweetheart.  This way is up, up, up toward the sky.  Now look down, down, down to the ground.  That is earth!  What does it feel like?  It’s soft on your toes.  Do you feel the grass tickling your skin?  Here, taste this fruit.  It is sweet and juicy.  Yum! 

What do you think, my love?  It’s good, real good, isn’t it?  I made this all for you!

 

Can you picture God that way?  A parent, a mother, doing all that is within her power to build a world where her children can thrive, can flourish, can delight…  Blessing the world and all that is in it, smiling and saying, “That’s good.  That’s real good.”

 

It was that God, I believe, who showed up on the day of Jesus’ baptism, when he was coming up out of the water, and he saw the heavens open up, and the Spirit descended like a dove on him.  And a voice—Big Momma’s voice—came from heaven, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God beamed at her child in that way that parents do, and God leaned close and whispered to Jesus, “Oh, my son.  You have so much to offer to this world.  Your fierce compassion, your tender courage, your keen sense of justice, your deep care for all who suffer…  You can heal the sick.  You can bind up the brokenhearted.  You can inspire the complacent.  You can melt even the hardest heart.  Oh, my son, my son…”

And then a shadow crossed God’s face, because she knew that for all her efforts, the world in which her child lived was not always a place where children thrive, flourish, delight.  She knew that the powers that be were massing themselves against Jesus already, conspiring to silence his message of love that changes everything.  She could imagine the things that would happen, the pain he would know, and her heart broke in that way that parents’ hearts do when we contemplate our children’s suffering, when we feel it viscerally in our own bodies.

So she leaned a little closer, and she whispered, “Oh, my son…  If they would let you, you would make all things new.  But even when they hurt you, when they condemn you, when they take your dignity and even your life, I will be right there by your side, come what may.  Remember that.  Remember that I am with you.  Remember who you are.  Remember that you are my beloved.  And one day, we’ll build a world that will treat you that way.”

 

It is that God, I believe, who shows up on this day, the day of Hunter’s baptism.  God hovers near and beams at this child, just as you all beamed at him a few minutes ago.  And God leans close and whispers to Hunter, “Oh, my son.  You have so much to offer to this world, gifts the likes of which we have never seen.  You have already taught your parents so many lessons.  You will teach your family, and your church family, many more as you grow and learn and change.  When you take your first steps, it will be a giant leap for humankind.  When you speak your first word, it will be a word the world needs to hear.  My prophets wrote long ago that ‘a little child shall lead them,’ and Hunter, you are just such a child.  Oh, my son, my son…”

And then a shadow crosses God’s face, because she knows that for all her efforts, the world in which this child lives is not always a place where children thrive, flourish, delight.  So she bends a little closer and whispers, “Oh, my son…  When the day comes when someone hurts you… if they call you names, if they hit you where you’re vulnerable, if they tell you that who you are is not enough… if the person you grow up to be is different from who others tell you that you should be… if your hopes are dashed and your dreams seem out of reach… I will be right there by your side, come what may.  Remember that.  Remember that I am with you.  Remember who you are.  Remember that you are my beloved.  And one day, we’ll build a world that will treat you that way.”

 

It is that God, I believe, who shows up to each and every one of you in your moments of joy and sorrow, struggle and celebration.  It is that God who leans close and whispers encouragement in your ear… who promises to be with you, right by your side, come what may… who reminds you of your truest, deepest identity as God’s beloved.

And it is also that God who shows up to children whose belovedness this world would deny.  To the hundreds of migrant children who are still separated from their families, some of whose parents were deported without their babies back to the desperate conditions they fled and can no longer be found in order to be reunited…  To children of color who are denied access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the persistent poison of white supremacy in our society…  To LGBTQ young people who are told that their very identity is wrong, that their love is unworthy, that they do not deserve equal protection under the law…  To children living in situations of poverty, hunger, addiction, exploitation, and violence…

God looks at those children with eyes full of tenderness and heartbreak, and God leans very close indeed, and she whispers, “Oh, my children.  You have so much to offer to this world, gifts that no one else can give.  If they would let you, you could change everything.  Don’t give up.  I am right here, right by your side, and I will be here, come what may.  Remember that.  Remember that I am with you.  Remember who you are.  Remember that you are my beloved.  And one day, we’ll build a world that will treat you that way.”

 

And then God leans over to us, right here on Woodstock Hill.  She looks at us with those same brimming eyes.  And she says, “I know that you meant it when you promised your love and support to Hunter and his family this morning.  I know that you meant it when you named him as my child, when you claimed him as part of your family.  You are my beloved, and I am right by your side as you make these promises, and I will be right by your side as you live them out in the days and years to come.”

And then she hitches up that baby on her hip, and she says, “But here’s the thing.  You can’t make promises to Hunter and ignore the rest of my babies.  You can’t celebrate this child and forget about my other children, the rest of my family.  I need you,” she says, “I need you to help me build a world that will treat Hunter and every other child as my beloved.  I need you,” she says, “I need you to help me.  And if you do your part, and I do mine, then together, we will make this world good, real good.”

 


Hungry for more?  Read another sermon from our sermon archive.