May 5 | Madres Creadoras, Creator Mothers

Madres Creadoras, Creator Mothers
Texts: Psalm 91:1-4; 1 Cor 13
Speaker: Joel Miller

The final line of our Membership Commitment Statement says: By God’s grace, may we be a sanctuary, where we welcome, protect, and challenge one another.

We’ll recite the full statement together in two weeks as we welcome new members and renew our own commitments.

Today we get to highlight one of the ways we live out that final line through our Keeping CMC Safe policy. 

A policy-based sermon is not exactly a prime candidate for inspiration and insight.  But here’s a thought: If we were to commission someone to do a visual representation of Keeping CMC Safe – a single painting, let’s say, of the theology and practice of being a sanctuary where we welcome, protect, and challenge one another, it could look something like this. 

To be clear, this artist was very likely not pondering congregational policy while painting.  This piece is by Angelika Bauer, a German woman who, in the early 80s, made her home in the town of Santiago, on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.  If you know a bit of Guatemalan history, you know this was a time of civil war and tremendous military violence, US-backed, directed especially at the indigenous Mayan population.  This piece was inspired by the resistance and resilience the artist witnessed during that time. 

You wouldn’t know just by looking that this came from a war zone where thousands of people were disappeared, never to be seen again.  Bauer’s paintings aren’t overtly political.  But protecting the vulnerable, and believing that we are all – all – surrounded by the loving arms of God has implications for every part of life, including the political.  And, we might add, congregational policy.  She calls this work Madres Creadoras, meaning Creator Mothers.  I’ve been drawn to it ever since I first saw it hanging on the wall of my older sister’s college dorm room.  It will serve as the backdrop of this reflection.

We’ve been a little hit and miss with the Narrative Lectionary recently, but we’re back to it now, with the cycle ending in two weeks, Pentecost Sunday, also Membership Sunday.  Here on the other side of Easter it’s all about the church struggling to be the church.  What we get, preserved in our New Testament, are these letters, written to little assemblies of people popping up around the Roman Empire.  What does it look like to live the kin-dom of God which Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed and lived?  What does it mean to live by a power even greater than the state-sanctioned violence that executed Jesus on a cross?  A whole people practicing resurrection.  These are the open questions of these little assemblies.  And these are the questions letters like the one written by Paul to the Corinthians are addressing.  Reading through these letters can be both discouraging that there was never a golden age when people were doing this well; and encouraging, that there was never a golden age when people were doing this well.  These are the open questions we still live with.   

The assembly in Corinth was diverse, and conflicted.  Gentiles and Jews; female and male leaders; some wealthy but mostly poor; married, single, widows, and children; slaves and free people.  Not mix of people simply getting together for a social club.  Unsurprisingly, the shear breadth of human difference in Corinth led to conflicts, which Paul addresses throughout the letter.  But human difference, according to Paul, is not itself the problem.  Perhaps surprisingly, it is itself a sign of the Spirit at work among the community. 

In chapters 12 and 14 Paul names different spiritual gifts – like prophesy and wisdom and knowledge and healing and the discernment of spirits and ecstatic spiritual states that caused one to utter sounds no one could understand – speaking in tongues.  There is only one Spirit, Paul writes, so vast and unpredictable each human can only express a small part of it.  This is a strength, not a weakness, of the church, which is, like the Spirit, ultimately one.  One body, many parts.  Our young people are going to be working more this with idea in next week’s service, which they will lead.

If these Corinthians are one body, they’re going to have to learn how to take care of it, how to care for each other.  Not just perform these spiritual gifts for each other, but learn how to value and honor, challenge and protect each member.  And so Paul inserts a poetic chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13. 

If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 

In other words love is the backdrop for all these other things Paul is writing about.  All these other, quote, “spiritual gifts,” derive from and take place within the greater reality of love.  And not just human love, but Divine love.  Divine Love is the context within which all of this happens.  Everything we do – everything we do – takes place within the loving arms of Divine Love.  This is expressed poetically in Psalm 91 – “God will cover you will God’s pinions, and under God’s wings you will find refuge.”  Which is an echo of the Genesis 1 creation story where the Creator Elohim is hovering, bird-like, over the primodial waters, the cosmic backdrop within which creation takes place.  The same idea is illustrated beautifully in Madres Creadoras.    

We need reminded of this frequently because it is not self-evident. 

It is not self-evident in a war zone that we live within the embrace of Divine Love.  It is not self-evident when the poor are most negatively impacted by climate change that we live within the embrace of Divine Love.  It is not self-evident when those in positions of authority prey on the vulnerable that we live within the embrace of Divine Love.

And yet, like an artist’s imagination, able to envision that which is truer than what appears self-evident, our faith challenges us to see this as the story we are living within.   

By God’s grace, may we be a sanctuary, where we welcome, protect, and challenge one another.

One of the things I especially appreciate about Madres Creadoras is that we can find ourselves in each of the different persons.  100% of humanity, every one of us, have been that child in the middle.  Even though we can’t remember the earliest days, we have each been entirely dependent on others for nurture and safety.    This is something every person on this planet has in common.  And we never quite graduate from that spot.  There are times, as adults, when we need similar kind of care – we experience depression, burn out, health problems, whatever it may be – there are times when we need nothing but to rest in the caring arms of another, including at the end of life.

Past those very earliest and before those very last days, we are each capable of being that first giver of love and protection.  It’s the mother figure in this painting, but we don’t need to be limited to specific gender roles.  Parents care for their children.  Siblings look out for each other.  Mentors and teachers guide mentees and students.  A child cares for a pet or rescues an injured bird.  I think of all the ways each of you care for each other through friendships and small groups, providing meals and help during hospitalizations and births.  This second figure is both embracing and being embraced.  She is directly caring for another, even as she is being supported. 

The next person out is caring for the whole of the family.  Those of you who are supervisors and team leaders in your work place give yourself to this kind of presence – supporting the supporters.  In our church I think of those caring for the structure and finances; commissions and commission chairs helping others do the work of the church.  It’s a good image for church staff as well, pastoral and administrative.  If I were to position our Keeping CMC Safe policy within Madres Creadoras, I would put it here.  It wraps around not just the children, but the adults as well.  Its intention is to provide a safe and supportive place where we can all flourish within its embrace. 

At their best, this is what policies do.  In our scriptures, this connects to the ways Jews take delight in the commandments of Torah – blessed obligations which serve the common good. 

We see in these three figures human difference as strength.  

And then we have this outer presence.  The one the Psalmist praises.  That which Genesis and religions and cultures around the world intuit as the creative energy out of which all existence flows.  What Jesus called “Abba” and what this painting portrays as a cosmic mother with all the phases of the moon in her undomesticated flowing hair.  That which is beyond anything imaginable, yet present in every atom.  Not a person in the sense that we could zoom out and find those big arms around our planet or galaxy, yet more personal than our own breathing.

As Paul continues to write in 1 Corinthians 13.  Now we know only in part, like looking through a foggy window, or into a dimly lit mirror.  Someday we will know more fully.  The throughline from unknowing to knowing, from birth to death, is love.  And it is through the concrete practices of love, which can even include church policies and the things Mim outlined, that we come to better know that which holds us within its eternal embrace.  Even in a war zone.  Even in a culture-war zone.  Even here, in our congregation, today. Thanks be to God.