A mother in Israel

I was out preaching at another church this morning; I’d planned the sermon some weeks ago, before I realised it would be Mothering Sunday. This week I’ve struggled again with a commercialised festival that constructs a romanticised picture to celebrate, ignoring the pain this heaps on so many who for whatever reason cannot fit that picture. Pete Greig tweeted a wonderful litany this morning which captured this remarkably well; my response was to tell a story in the ‘children’s talk’ slot that explored a rather different vision of ‘Biblical motherhood’ than is usually offered. The style is visibly, to me, a second-rate Bob Hartman rip-off, but here it is: ‘A mother in Israel’ There are lots of mothers in the Bible. You may have heard of some of them. There’s Eve, right at the beginning, who is called ‘the mother of all living’ There’s Sarah, who laughed when God told her she would become a mother at eighty. There’s Hannah, who prayed for a child and rebuked God’s priest. There’s Mary, of course, who believed God’s word and became the centre of God’s plan. Lots of mothers in the Bible – but there’s one mother who, as far as we know, didn’t have any children. Her name was Deborah – which, for those of us of a certain age, brings to mind a Marc Bolan song, but we’re not going there… Deborah was a prophet, and she led God’s people for years. She ‘held court,’ the Bible says, under a palm tree. Whenever God’s people had a problem they could not solve, they would come to Deborah, and she would tell them what to do. She was wise. She had authority. She was a real leader. But – as far as we know – she didn’t have any children, and so she wasn’t a mother yet.   God’s people had one big problem in Deborah’s day. His name was Sisera. Sisera was the commander of the army of King Jabin of Canaan, and Sisera had nine hundred armoured chariots, and so no-one could fight against Sisera. And for twenty years – twenty years – that’s only one year less than the age of lots of your mothers  – for twenty years Sisera and his chariots had oppressed and abused God’s people. But God had had enough. God needed someone to be a great leader; God needed someone ready to fight; God needed someone brave enough and strong enough to take on Sisera and all his armoured chariots You might have looked for a king. Or a knight. Or a general. Or perhaps a superhero like Batman or Captain America (or even Emmet the lego-man – but we’re not going there…) God looked for a mother. ‘Deborah!’ God said. ‘What do mothers do?’ And Deborah, being wise, and knowing God well, said ‘mothers love and protect their children, Lord, and show them the right way to live.’ And God said ‘You’ve loved my people for years, Deborah, and you’ve showed them the right way to live for years. Now I need you to protect them too.’ So Deborah looked around. Deborah knew all God’s people – she’d been their leader for years – and she called one of them who she knew could do it to put an army together. (His name was Barak, which might sound like a politician you’ve heard of, but we’re not going there either …) ‘God wants to save his people from Sisera, Barak, and you’re the one he’s going to use – get an army together and fight!’ But Barak was scared. He wanted his mummy. ‘I’ll only go if you come with me,’ he said to Deborah. So Barak and Deborah went, and they fought Sisera and his army, and all his chariots. And they won, because God was with them. And Deborah and Barak sang a song to celebrate their victory – a duet like they sing in the Battle rounds on The Voice – but we’re definitely not going there… Their song was a bit like the psalms; it was a song about how God had helped and saved their people. And in that song – it’s in Judges, chapter 5 and verse 7 if you want to look it up, Deborah sang that all God’s people were too scared to fight ‘until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel’. So Deborah, although as far as we know she didn’t have any children, was a mother after all, or so the Bible tells us. She was a mother because God called her to love and to protect God’s people, and to show them the...

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‘In Memory of Her’

In Memory of Her is an idea I’ve been working on for a while; it’s not quite where I wanted it to be before going live, but International Women’s Day seems the right day to launch it. It’s a website, telling the stories of women who have had significant preaching or teaching ministries, or otherwise led the church. Nothing more than that. I hope it will grow to include hundreds of stories. I hope that perhaps someday a young woman sensing God’s call in a context that does not encourage her might discover some of these narratives of mothers in the faith and find the courage and faith to follow her vocation as a result. That’s all. Do have a look, and if you’d like to write someone’s story, or draw a picture or something for the site, you’d be most...

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