Fierce Like Mama

This sermon was originally preached for a hybrid service at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square on March 13, 2022.

The Lenten theme for St. Luke’s is “Coming Home” and this Sunday’s theme was “Coming Home to a Mothering God.”

Relevant lectionary readings can be found here.

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Grace and peace are yours from God our Mother, amen.

There are cuss words in your Bible. They are sometimes a little hard to recognize since swears, like a lot of things, have changed in the past 2000 years or so. What counts as vulgar or polite is inherently contextual, varying from time to time, place to place, culture to culture. Our translations often soften words to make them more palatable. But even when they don’t, without the background information, things like innuendo or crude language can easily get lost. That’s why you might not have noticed when we just read Jesus cussing out Herod to the religious leaders today.

In the midst of Jesus’ teaching and healing, some religious leaders come to Jesus to warn him (or threaten him?), saying that he should stop what he is doing and leave, because King Herod wants to kill him. King Herod was a puppet ruler put in charge by the Roman Empire to keep control over the Jewish people. It was his job to enforce Law and Order by repressing any uprisings to keep people from fighting back. 

Herod was Jewish, like Jesus, and agreed to this arrangement, cozying up to the Empire for the sake of maintaining his own position. As Jesus continued to forge relationships, build power, and gather a movement, things became more and more tense. 

Herod’s job was to keep the people quiet, docile, afraid, compliant. 

Jesus was giving stirring speeches about a new world order, providing for people’s physical needs by feeding and healing them, and empowering people to dream about a liberated future where God would turn everything upside down.

You can see how this would lead to conflict between them.

So the religious leaders deliver this message to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

And Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox, that I don’t answer to him. I’m not on his timeline. I will be continuing my work until I say it’s time to go. Go ahead and tell Herod he can meet me in Jerusalem. Because I’m not backing down.”

This is one of those moments where cultural differences make it harder to understand Jesus’ original meaning. In our culture, a fox has certain connotations. In more contemporary Western fables or even in cartoons, foxes are associated with being clever. They are cunning, often prone to trickery. Foxes in our stories are what we might call, like “street smart.” There’s even a connotation of foxes as handsome or attractive characters. We use “foxy” as an adjective that basically means “hot.”

But foxes in Jesus’ culture had a different connotation. In that culture, there were two types of men. Men were either lions or they were foxes. Lions were the alphas, strong, moral men, and leaders. And foxes? They were lesser men. Weak. And this is even more clear because the original Greek text has Jesus using the dative singular, in its feminine form. And just like we have a particular pejorative way of insulting someone by calling them a female dog? We can think of Jesus saying something pretty similar.

Like, “Yeah, you can go tell little _____, Herod….that I’m not afraid of him.”

I’m all about spicy Jesus, personally. But it can feel a little bit “yikes” to have God going around calling people the equivalent of female dogs as an insult. In our culture that word has been reclaimed by some but it definitely has a lot of misogynistic roots and undertones. 

One thing that makes a big difference to me, though? Is the way that Jesus blows this entire framework wide open. In a world where men are either alphas or betas, strong or weak, lions or foxes? Jesus opts out of that whole paradigm of toxic masculinity all together.

Jesus tells us he isn’t a fox. And he isn’t a lion.

He’s a fluffy mama chicken who wants to cuddle her babies close under her wings.

This is one of the many images that we have of the divine feminine in scripture. God is so beyond our human understanding that we often use poetic language or imagery to talk about God. Each image we have of God in scripture illuminates something new about who God is. And yet, each image is also limited. 

Although there are several images of God in our sacred text as mother, as woman, as divine feminine, you may have noticed that for the past 2,000 years or so the church as an institution, so often held captive by the sin of patriarchy, has mostly latched onto masculine imagery for God.  It is important for us to notice and lift up the diversity of imagery we have for God. This not only helps us to know and love God better, but it also helps us to better love ourselves and our neighbor. Because the more that we can understand God as a woman, the more we can also see the image of God reflected in women. The more we see God in a variety of genders, in all gender and no gender, beyond gender and through gender, people of all genders can find liberation. 

As a mama myself, I love thinking of coming home to a mothering God. Mama God elsewhere in scripture nurses us, feeding us from her own body, not unlike the God we encounter at the altar during the eucharist. In our reading today she holds us, cuddles us under her soft feathers. 

And if you look at mama God in scripture, you will see that like many of the mamas you might know? She is fierce.

Sometimes patriarchal stereotypes about mothers or women paint us as passive and accommodating…cooking, cleaning, showing up for the bake sale with Pinterest-worthy homemade pastries. And as we’ve seen, God loves to feed us so I don’t doubt Mama God’s brownies would be the best out there.

But unlike some of the patriarchal views of mothers in our society, there is nothing meek about Mama God energy.

Mama God is nurturing 

and protective 

and also relentless.

She won’t back down, especially not when it comes to her children. 

This morning we read about Jesus as the kinda mama that would curse out a tyrant. 

She’s the kinda mama in Texas who is clawing through every barrier to get her transgender child the gender affirming care they deserve.

She’s the kinda mama we see in Ukraine and every other war ravaged country, doing everything she can to hold it together while her heart is pounding out of her chest, singing sweet lullabies in her babies ears to drown out the crashing of bombs in the sky.

She’s the kinda mama that I met on West Florissant in Ferguson. Braids in her hair. Baby hanging off her back. Bullhorn in her hand. Facing down the police state with flashing eyes and heaving chest.

Just like those mamas in Ferguson who marched right to the seat of power, holding vigil at the Ferguson Police station, this revolutionary Mama God is ready to march right to her own local seat of power. As tensions mount, as threats loom, she heads right towards Jerusalem, towards freedom for her babies, even while knowing the violence that awaits her.

Our Mama God is anything but passive.

She doesn’t play by Empire’s timeline. She won’t be intimidated by lesser men, tyrants who think they run the world. Doesn’t fear conflict or confrontation, not when it comes to protecting her babies. She doesn’t back down. She comes to us, tearing through Heaven and Earth to get to us.

Jesus doesn’t wait for us to come home.

Mama brings home to us.


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