Toorak Uniting Church

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Mothering God

1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 12
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
22 July 2007

Meditating on the Theotokos Icon or
"Mother of tenderness"

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 12

A few months ago the meditation on the theotokos or mother of tenderness Icon was part of the leadership day of the Icon school I was privileged enough to be part of. It gave me a new, to me quite revelatory insight in the relationship between me, Christ and the Church. An insight that has worked itself out in the sermons I have preached on the letter to the Corinthians since then and is still further developing in my theological awareness.

So what was so revolutionary about the "Mother of tenderness" that it inspired a whole series of sermons on the Church and a whole retreat day to be based around it?

Once I’d "seen" it, it was really very simple, but perhaps that is always the case with truly profound insights: that they are shockingly simple once the veil has lifted but need a lot of work before we get there.

When I tried to put my discovery into words at the time Rob said, somewhat puzzled and if he had of course understood this long before me: "You mean that we are all Mary’s giving birth to Christ?"

And yes, basically, that is what I meant, I think, but that wasn’t the revolutionary bit. It is that I suddenly understood that we are Jesus at the same time. That is what struck me most I think. That we are in both Mary giving birth and Christ giving shape to what is of God in the world at the same time. And that in the constant profound, caring and loving back and forth between the two the Church, us, comes to its true being and purpose.

Mary is the image of the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit and giving birth to God in the world. An image that invites us, as a Church and as individuals, to do the same: to receive the Holy Spirit and give birth to God in the world and "mother" what comes from God and nurture it so it can grow.

But Mary is not the only image of the Church or individual believers shown to us in the Icon. In Christ we see another image of the Church, an image of what we all can become when that shattered image of God gets healed and transformed and we become what we truly are and what God intended us to be: people who reflect his image by growing into Christ more and more and so become the living, breathing body of Christ in the world.

When we look at the Icon in that way we see humanity, Mary, called to give birth to God, to Christ, receiving, nurturing and caring for what is of God in this world, and embracing it with a single minded focus.
But we also see Christ, the true image of God, healed and whole, taking shape in human form, calling us to also be transformed and made whole in God’s image and become like him. We see Mary as image of the Church giving birth and nurture to Christ, but we also see the Church as the body of Christ caring and nurturing Mary.

Looking at the Icon I realised, (a thought originating in process theology which states that God is a continually and eternally becoming entity, creating and recreating Godself in and through humanity) that what the Icon depicts is an eternal creative movement between Mary and the child, between humanity and God, between the Church as mothering nurturing agent and the Church as the body of Christ taking shape in the world.

The Icon draws us into that movement by both Mary and the Christ who both have their eyes not only on each other, but also on us, calling us, beckoning us to become part of the intimacy between them, between the mother and the child, between God and (wo)man, between Christ and his Church.

A movement we are invited to become part of, on a personal, individual level, as well as on a communal level.

A lot of theology, of words and dogma fall away if we can simply see that relationship as the beginning, as the birth place, as the core of what is really important for our faith and our being as faithful people: the flow of grace between us and God, between Christ and the Church, with God reaching out and longing for our embrace as much as we do for his.

The Icon draws us into that intimacy, into a mutual relationship with God, that is a never ending circle of love between God and humanity, where both, mutually, care for each other, reach out for each other and are focussed on each other.

God loves us. And God invites us to love him back. And when we let ourselves be drawn into that loving relationship in the same way as Mary did, God will be born in our lives and to the world and we ourselves will become Christ, his hands and feet, his body and soul, and in us the world will be made whole, with tenderness and care.

Both Christ and Mary look out, into the world, to where you and me are. The world where Mohammed Haneef is in detention, where war ravages Iraq and AIDS leaves millions orphaned in Africa. The world where people die before their time and where in many people’s lives the shattered image of God is more of a reality than the in wholeness restored life of Christ.

Mary and Jesus, as images of a humanity that is true to God beckon, opening their embrace to whoever happens to look their way, inviting the world into their intimacy and loving relationship, seeking to bring to birth more of Christ, seeking to find more of Mary in that world so it will be transformed and will find a way back to where it can be what it was meant to be: a world and a people in whom God lives and breathes and finds his being. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2007

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