May 10 2015 Reflection

6th Sunday of Easter
‘GOD IS OUR MOTHER
Mother’s Day

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 98
Acts 10:44-48
1 John 5:1-9

John 15:9-17

REFLECTION

One of my favourite television programs in the afternoon is a program called Judge Judy. The program shows a real life court scene presided by a female judge named Judge Judy Sheindlin. She deals only with cases in which damages of no more that $5000 can be awarded.

The most interesting aspect about the program is Judge Judy herself. She approaches each case with her no non-sense witty attitude that mixes humour, sternness, and a bit of sarcasm (it’s amazing how many adjectives you can actually put in a sentence). Don’t get me wrong, she is still a judge with the authority to impose penalty and she never hesitates to scold anyone who fails to show respect in court. Indeed, even though it is a television entertainment, she always makes sure that everybody who comes to the court knows that it’s real and he/she should behave with enough reverence in her presence.

In Psalm 98, God is also depicted as a judge. The psalm is a part of a group of psalms called as the enthronement psalms. These enthronement psalms praise God as the king not only of Israel, but of all humanity, even of the entire universe.[1] Indeed, in the first verses of the psalm, God is celebrated as a victorious king who had done great things for Israel. In verse 6 of the Psalm, the people are invited to make a joyful noise with trumpet and horn to celebrate God, their king. (I wonder whether we should also have trumpet and horn in our Sunday worship?)

But Psalm 98 does not only celebrate God as a king; in verse 9, the entire creation is asked to celebrate the coming of God as a judge. Indeed, in ancient time, the main role of the king was to judge the people wisely and justly.

But even though God is depicted as someone who will judge the world, in Psalm 98, all humankind and the whole creation are invited to rejoice. In a very dramatic scene, the sea is asked to roar, the floods/tides to clap their hands, the hills to sing, and all creatures on land and in the ocean to join them! We often think that being judged by God would be a negative experience. Not according to this Psalm. Here, God’s judgment is not something to be afraid of; it is something to be celebrated!

We can find the reason why in the word, victory, that is repeated three times in verse 1-3. The verbal root of the Hebrew word that is translated as victory is yasha, which means ‘to deliver’ or ‘to free’.[2] So God is a victorious king because God has delivered and freed not only all of humanity, but also the entire creation from the power that has oppressed them. No wonder that humankind and the whole creation are asked to rejoice because when God rules as judge and king, the oppressive power will be defeated.

Even the sea and the flood, the very symbol of death and destruction, have been made tame. The roaring sound of the sea is frightening no longer. The threat of these ancient and powerful forces of nature has been transformed into praise![3] So creation is no longer fearful. Together with humanity, it is now a part of a choir that sing praises to God.

But God doesn’t only deliver people from the power of death and destruction in nature; God also delivers people from the oppressive power in human society. “Homo homini lupus est: a person is a wolf to his fellow person,” once said a wise person. But Psalm 98 declares that God rules both the habitable and inhabitable worlds.[4] Verse 9 of Psalm 98 says that God will judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity. It means that when God rules, people will no longer be judged by their status. Privileges will no longer be given to a certain group of people; everyone will be treated the same.

We hear the same proclamation of Psalm 98 in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through his resurrection, death has been defeated. Jesus has returned as the victorious king and, because of that, people would no longer be judged by their status or background.

This proclamation is pronounced clearly in our reading today from the book of Acts. In the reading, Peter and his Christian-Jewish companions were in the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, a Roman centurion from Italy (Acts 10:1). The Spirit of God had guided Peter to Cornelius’ house to proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:19-20).

After meeting Cornelius, Peter finally proclaimed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35 - NRSV).” And, in our reading today, the unthinkable happened: the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius, a Gentile, and his family.

So being Jewish was no longer a privilege and following Jewish law was no longer suffice. A new law has emerged; a law that has become the foundation of the world. In our reading from John’s Gospel today, Jesus told us that this new law, this new commandment is love (John 15:12).

Yes, love is the measurement by which God will judge us. We will be judged not by the status that we have in society or by our wealth, but by whether or not we have loved in our life.

Love is the foundation of God’s judgment because God loves the world. Indeed, God loves the world like a mother loves her child. In another psalm of enthronement, Psalm 90: 2, the psalm proclaims that God formed the world. The Hebrew word that is translated as formed is hiyl, a word that is often used in the Old Testament to describe a birthing process.[5] So God formed the world means literally God gave birth to the world. Indeed, God is our mother and the world, together with everything in it, are the fruit of God’s womb.

It’s interesting that, in the first letter of John (5:1), those who believe in Jesus Christ are also called as those who have been born of God. And those who have been born of God are called to love God by obeying his commandment (1 John 5: 2-3). And just like what we have heard in John’s Gospel, God’s commandment is this: as much as God has loved us, we are to love one another (John 15:12).

In 1995, a mother was diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer. She had six grown-up children and all of them were now faced with a difficult task to decide who was going to look after their beloved mother. One of her sons, who did not have a family of his own, offered himself to be their mother primary caregiver. He volunteered to move back home to look after their mother on her final days on earth.

But his offer upset his brothers and sisters. He had caused their mother a lot of heartache in the past; he had lied and stolen from their mother to support his drug addiction. Even though it was a decade ago, and he had undergone rehabilitation, his brothers and sister still could not fully trust him.

But their mother, without hesitation, accepted the offer. She allowed her former drug-addict son to return to her house to look after her while she underwent treatment. And this time, he didn’t fail his mother. He was there for her on good days and bad. Until their mother passed away, he did a wonderful job, looking after their mother, providing her with the love and care and attention that she needed at home.

Indeed, she left her children with a legacy that will last for a lifetime: a legacy of love and forgiveness. She had given her once-lost son the chance to restore the broken relationship between him and her and the rest of his family.[6]

God is like this mother of six. God, our mother, who is also our judge and king, will judge us not with malice or evil intention, but with love because the world and everything in it are the fruit of God's womb. And God’s love, just like this mother’s love, will set us free from all kinds of things that keep us in bondage.

Friends, today on this Mother’s Day, we are reminded again that all of us are God's children. Together with other people and the whole of creation, we are to obey the commandment that God, our mother, king, and judge has given us; we are to love one another and the world just like God loves us. This is the legacy that God has left us with; this is the way that will set us free.

Amen.

[1] Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Commentary on Psalm 98, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (May 10 2015)
[2] Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Commentary on Psalm 98, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (May 10 2015)
[3] Season of the Spirit, Lent-Easter, Year B 2015, p. 176.
[4] Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Commentary on Psalm 98, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (May 10 2015)
[5] Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Commentary on Psalm 98, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (May 10 2015)
[6] Penny Graham, A Legacy of Forgiveness, in The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide (August 4, 1998).