God, Our Father and Our Mother

The text of the sermon, based on John 14.15-21, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 14, 2023.


Today, Mother’s Day, I, with you and countless others, join in homage to the women who gave us birth. And all who, in the grace and with the generosity of their nurturance, have been as mothers for us…

I think of Sallie Simmons, who died recently at the age of 96. Sallie and her family were members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, St. Louis; the community of faith of my birth. Sallie, for me and all the children, with her kindly, sometimes no-nonsense guidance, was a second mother for us all.

And, today, Mother’s Day, I, as a pastor, who has the privilege of sharing in peoples’ lives, their joys and their sorrows, also remember, with compassion, women who long to bear children, yet have not or cannot…

And women who, as my mother at the death of my brother, in outliving their children, endure that violation of the order and common course of life…

And honesty compels the admission that some mother-child relationships are complicated…difficult; sometimes, periodically, sometimes, characteristically. As was true of my relationship with my mother from whom I craved love unconditional, yet whose love, although genuine, was always conditioned by whether I lived up to her expectations.

Today, Mother’s Day, contemplating all of this, I recall what, for me, is one of the most powerful biblical images of God. A birthing mother. When God called the people Israel out of bondage in Babylon to return to the Promised Land, thus, giving new life in freedom, the prophet Isaiah declared: “Thus, saith the Lord, ‘For a long time…I have kept still and quiet; now, I cry out as a woman in labor!’”[1]

I also think of Dame Julian of Norwich,[2] who, contemplating the nature, the love and wisdom of God, wrote, “Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.”[3]

I’ve said before and, now, again, that the 50-day, 7-week Easter season offers us an annual opportunity to celebrate at length and to contemplate at depth the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.

Today, I declare that Easter, profoundly and simply, means nothing less, nothing other than this: God loves us.

The words of a hymn come to mind and heart:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

to lay aside his crown for my soul.[4]

A song of praise for the love and wisdom of God, Father and Mother, who, in Jesus, the Son, sacrificed heaven’s bliss, and, through the mystery of birth, took our flesh, shared our life, and died to save us from sin and death.

Today, this Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

This is no cause-and-effect declaration. Jesus is not saying that if we love him, then we’ll be able to keep his commandments. Nor is Jesus saying that if we love him, then, as proof of our love, we will keep his commandments. No.

I digress, so to define Jesus’ “commandments.” Yes, his ethical instructions about how we are to live. Yet, even more, his self-sacrificial way of life. Therefore, our laying aside our crowns – whatever gifts of blessing and benefit we have in this life – for the sake of others…

To keep Jesus’ commandments is no mere sign of our love. Keeping his commandments is our love. For love always is active. Love always is the action.

Still more, to keep Jesus’ commandments is to become, therefore, to be love.

How does…how can this happen?

“I will ask the Father”, says Jesus, “who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever…the Spirit of truth…who abides with and within you.”

God, who is Spirit,[5] who took flesh in Jesus,[6] through the same Spirit, takes flesh in us.

Easter, then, means nothing less, nothing else than our being like Jesus: Incarnations of love in this world today.

© 2023 PRA

[1] Isaiah 42.14

[2] Julian of Norwich (1343-1416)

[3] Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1373-1374). Julian’s record of a series of mystical experiences and the earliest surviving example of a book in the English language written by a woman.

[4] What Wondrous Love Is This (aka Wondrous Love), Christian folk hymn (c. 1811)

[5] See John 4.24

[6] See John 1.14

4 thoughts on “God, Our Father and Our Mother

  1. I loved this on many levels Paul!!

    First what struck me was the advocacy part… an advocate with us for all time!! The spirit of truth! As an advocate for my Mom until her death and for many others over the years, knowing you have someone with you always is PRICELESS!!

    The thing I connected with the most was the concept of God being both father and mother. Given that my Mom raised me basically as a single mom she tried her best to fill both roles… though as it turned out she chose not to have my father in our lives given his lifestyle but she did her best to fill both roles. On Father’s Day I always got my mom a card too. I am more than grateful that I grew up in my grandparents house and had a fabulous male role model who definitely lived his life dedicated to following God’s commandments.

    Thank you and much love!!


  2. Loretta, I, too — and very much — like, indeed, love with both a visceral affection and high-minded sense of benevolence this notion, indeed, reality (which, by faith, I perceive) of the presence and power of the Spirit as Advocate or Paraclete (literally, the one who comes alongside). I also have come to believe that Christianity, at its basic and lived truth, is all about our, through the presence and power of the Spirit with and within us, being advocates for others. We are paracletes, those who come alongside of others, especially those in great need…

    In this truest sense, then, you are a paraclete for our sisters and brothers who are afflicted with dementia and their caregivers.

    As I’m wont to say: Carry on!



  3. Dear Paul and Loretta,

    Your words about the Motherhood of God brought me back to a piece that has meant much to me as a daughter and a mother for many years: Bobby McFerrin’s Psalm 23, dedicated to his mother. Every time I return to it, I marvel again at its beauty and its wisdom.

    Much love to you both,


    The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
    She makes me lie down in green meadows,
    Beside the still waters, She will lead.

    She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
    She leads me in a path of good things,
    And fills my heart with songs.

    Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land,
    There is nothing that can shake me,
    She has said She won’t forsake me,
    I’m in her hand.

    She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
    She anoints my head with oil,
    And my cup overflows.

    Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me,
    All the days of my life,
    And I will live in her house,
    Forever, forever & ever.

    Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter,
    And to the Holy of Holies,
    As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be,
    World, without end. Amen


  4. Thank you, dearest Karen, for sharing McFerrin’s, for me, most evocatively, soulfully-stirring rendition of Psalm 23. One word: Amen!



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