Don’t Mess with Barbara: Remembering Barbara Newton

barbara-newton
Visiting with Barbara one week before her funeral service.

Eulogy delivered for Barbara J Newton Friday, December 16, 2016

The first chapter of our Bible teaches us that in the beginning “God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Canadian Theology professor Douglas John Hall wrote that the “image of God” is not necessarily something we human beings have or possess, but more of something that we are created and called to do and to be. Imago Dei is not a noun. Imago Dei is a verb.

During our relatively short time on this earth, we are called to do what we can where we can to image God, to reflect God, to mirror God. That’s why we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And perhaps this is part of the reason that as a pastor and a preacher I have come to the conclusion that the only aspects of a person’s life that should be included in a person’s eulogy are those aspects of a person’s life that mirrors who or God is and how our God acts in the world.

Because of this, and unfortunately, because of the way some people live their lives on this earth, sometimes writing words of eulogy can be one of the most difficult tasks of a minister.

However, I have discovered that for most mothers, especially mothers like Barbara Newton, writing a Christian eulogy comes fairly easy.

For throughout the scriptures, God is oftentimes described as a mother.

In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read:

  You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is portrayed as the mother of Israel. It is God who gave birth to the nation and loves Israel as a mother loves her child.

In the New Testament, it is obvious that Jesus understands this maternal love as he uses birth imagery to explain the gift of salvation, the gift of new life, abundant and eternal. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to truly experience life, he must be born anew, born from above.

And throughout the Church, baptismal waters have always been symbolic of the waters of the birthing process. The God that is portrayed throughout scripture is continually in labor. Always creating, recreating, working all things together for the good. Always giving life, abundant and eternal.

Fig, Kelly, and Chad, there is no doubt that part of the reason Barbara was such a wonderful human being was the way Barbara uniquely mirrored the motherly love of our heavenly parent. Her love was divine.

Now, I know what some of her immediate family are thinking: “Preacher, I don’t know about that. Mama loved us, but sometimes mama perhaps loved us to a fault.”

“Mama loved us so much, that if we were ever wronged or hurt by another, Mama was not the type to just let that go. The perfect title of her Eulogy might be: ‘Don’t…Mess with Barbara.’

So preacher, I am not so sure that I would describe her love as ‘divine love.’”

However, this is precisely how the holy scriptures describe it.

The prophets Hosea and Isaiah proclaimed a God, when it came to loving God’s children, you better not…mess with.

Hosea 13:8 reads:

I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs…  

In other words, thus saith the Lord, if anyone harms my children, if anything is done that causes pain and heartache to the ones that I love the most, you better believe that I am not letting that go!”

Isaiah 42:14 reads:

For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.

Sound like anyone you know? And here is the good news for all of us who are grieving today.

Today, we are hurting. Today we are in pain. For death has wronged us. Barbara was too young and too good to suffer as I have seen her suffer since I have been her pastor.

And the good news is that our maternal God loves us so that God is not going let that go.

One day, Jesus and his followers encounter a funeral procession while traveling through the town of Nain.

He watches as a casket and a grieving family go by.

But because Jesus is God incarnate, the very image of our God, because Jesus loves with a divine, motherly love, Jesus can’t let it go.

The scriptures tell us that when he encounters this scene, he was moved with compassion. More specifically, he was moved very deeply.  The Greek word used here is a visceral verb. It means that Jesus was moved from deep within his inner bowels. Jesus has a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to that funeral procession. Jesus had this reaction, because Jesus loved. Some would say that he “loved to a fault.”

And Jesus’ deep compassion was for something more than the deceased. Jesus’ compassion was also for the living. Jesus recognized the tragedy of death.  Jesus recognized the pain and heart ache that this death had caused. Jesus recognized that it was not the will of God for any of God’s children to suffer like this. And because of his great love, Jesus is not going to let it go.

With great love and compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the casket and speaks to the one within it, “I say to you, get up!”  And then, listen to these wonderful words, “When the dead arose, Jesus ‘gave him back to his family.’” Isn’t that beautiful?  This young one’s life was restored, but so were the lives of the family.

Thus, Jesus demonstrates what our God is all about. God is and has always been about life. God is and has always been about bringing life, new life, abundant life, eternal life to God’s people.  In fact, giving life is the first, most important work that God does. For in the beginning, in the Genesis chapter one, we read that God breathed life into humanity.

Therefore, we have the certain hope that when Barbara breathed her last breath on this earth, God did not that go, but was there to breathe new, eternal life into her. And it is this hope that should also breathe new life and breathe peace into the lives of those of us who are grieving this day.

And we can rest assured that the divine motherly love of our God is not going to let our pain go today.

In Isaiah 66:12-13 we read:

For thus says the Lord; I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, an dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

The Psalmist declares:

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

And in Luke chapter 13, we read these beautiful words of Jesus:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem…  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!

In Revelation 21 we read:

See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

Paul Smith, a pastor from Kansas City says, that here in the last book of the Bible, in John’s picture of eternal life, “We see God’s maternal presence doing something that almost every society understands as a mother’s delight.”  Someone once told me that there is nothing in the world that can wipe away tears better than a mother’s blouse, when she holds you tightly in her arms.

What a wonderful and hopeful joy to know that Barbara breathed her last breath on this earth…only to breathe her next breath in the arms of God, wiping away any tears that she may have shed. And God is also here to hold us, wiping away our tears.

God is not going to just let our tears go!

This is the hope for all of us who grieve this day. We look forward to the day when we, like Barbara, will be held in God’s arms, but until that day comes, we can find comfort in God’s church that has been commissioned with the mission of sharing the motherly love of God with all people. The good news is that God has graced each of us with friends and family, who like Barbara emulate our motherly God to care for us, especially when we are hurting.

And God, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also here. God’s not letting our pain go. God is right here to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until death is no more. Until mourning, crying and pain are no more.

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Maternal God

mama bear

I need a brand new start, a fresh new beginning. I need to begin again, begin anew, begin afresh. I need to experience some new life, some new creation, some new opportunities, some new birth. I need some more Easter in my life. I need to be born again, born anew. This world and all of its injustices and hate is draining the very life out of me.

The good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church. The Bible is open, and our maternal God is making all things new.

Deuteronomy 32:18  “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

The Bible suggests that one of the reasons that we yearn for newness of life is that we have simply forgotten the God who gave us new life in the first place. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is portrayed as the mother of Israel. It is God who gave birth to the nation and loves Israel as a mother loves her child.

In the New Testament, it is obvious that Jesus understands this maternal love as he uses birth imagery to explain the gift of salvation, the gift of new life, abundant and eternal. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to truly experience life, he must be born anew, born from above.

And throughout the history of the Church, baptismal waters have always been symbolic of the waters of the birthing process. For the God that is portrayed throughout scriptures, the God we worship this morning is a God who is continually in labor. Always creating, recreating, working all things together for the good. Always making a way when there is no way.

So if you are yearning for a fresh start, a new beginning, a new birth, some more Easter in your life this morning, the good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church, and the Bible is open to help us remember the source of all new life.

Psalm 22:9  “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

This is a beautiful portrait of God as a midwife who helps in the birth process. As the church, one of our chief goals is to make sure that we do everything in our power to help others experience new life. I believe we are called to share the maternal love of God and its power to create, re-create, renew and refresh with all people.

One special way we do this is by being a community of love and forgiveness, one that always gives all persons a welcoming and accepting environment to be born again and to start afresh.

Whenever people walk through the doors of the church they need to instinctively know that that they are loved without conditions, without reservations, and without limits. People need to know that, unlike most places in this world, we are not as concerned about your past, as we are about your future. In this place, we don’t care as much about what you have done or where you have been, as we care about where you are and where you are going.

So, if you are looking for a new birth today, if you are looking for a little more Easter in your life, the good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church, and the Bible is open proclaiming the love and grace of our birth giving, new life-giving, maternal God.

Isaiah 49:15  “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”

 I think that it is important to acknowledge on this Mother’s Day that the Bible does not blindly and sentimentally honor our earthly mothers as some churches will do this morning. The Bible is honest enough to admit that for some of us, this day we call Mother’s Day brings more pain than it does joy. Today, some of us remember mothers who abused us or abandoned us. And for some of us mothers, this day is a fresh reminder of children who have continually disobeyed and disappointed us. Today, there are mothers everywhere who have been forgotten by their children. For some there was no card in the mail and there will be no visit or phone call. However, as Isaiah reminds us, God, our Heavenly Mother, who gave birth to us, the true source of our lives, the one who nursed us when we were children, will always show compassion for us and will never forget us; will never leave nor forsake us.

As a church that is committed to share this maternal love with all people, may we never forget the pledge we have made to Gentry Jo today and so many other children we have pledged our support to in this place.

May we not forget this pledge when one day we are asked to volunteer in the nursery, to teach a Sunday School class, to serve as a camp counselor, to work at Vacation Bible School, or to spend the night at the church for a children’s lock-in.

And may we not forget this pledge, and sit quietly and idly by, as Gentry Jo’s schools continue to be underfunded, Gentry Jo’s teachers continue to be underpaid, and public education in general continues to be undermined.

And may we not forget the pledge we have made to our children and remain silent when we hear of children who are being exploited or abused, who are being bullied and harmed for being different, for being poor, or for being vulnerable.

May children everywhere know: It is Mother’s Day. We are in church. The Bible is open, and we are worshipping and serving and following a Heavenly Mother who never forgets any of her children. We are worshiping and serving and following a Heavenly Mother who has filled us with compassion and a determination to bring new life, re-creation and restoration to all of God’s children, especially to those who are easily and conveniently forgotten by the majority.

Hosea and Isaiah proclaim this tenacious determination:

Hosea 13:8a  I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs…” 

Isaiah 42:14  “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

 This passage reminds me of the great words of Martin Niemöller, the prominent German Lutheran pastor who was arrested and placed in a concentration camp for being an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

According the US Department of Health and Human services, 27% of Oklahoma’s children under five years-old live in poverty. 12,000 children in Oklahoma are the victims of neglect or abuse a year. The number of child victims has increased 62.2% since 2009. Of this number, 61.7% were either Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or of another ethnicity other than Caucasian.

These numbers are not often talked about in the majority of churches in Oklahoma, because these children are not in the majority. Just as the majority of churches are deathly silent today in the face those who are currently legislating, dictating, and propagating hate and discrimination towards minorities.

However, it is Mother’s Day. And we are in a church that truly believes where the Bible speaks, we speak; and thus, like a woman in labor, like a mama bear robbed of her cubs, we are no longer restraining ourselves, but are crying out with our maternal God against the evils and injustices that are so much a part of our world.

And we do not cry out in despair, but like a woman giving birth, we cry out with great hope knowing that something inexplicable, yet certain is coming. Something is about to be born. Something new is coming. Something miraculous is coming. Something refreshing and comforting is coming.

Isaiah 66:12-13  “For thus says the Lord; I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, an dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

We never cry in despair, because we know that whenever we cry out to God honestly, whenever we cry out telling God the whole truth, our God always shows up, filling our cup, giving us hope, making a way when there seems to be no way, sending a river in the desert, and enveloping us with a peace and a comfort that is experienced by a child nursing in her mother’s arms.

So, today, we cry out like a woman in labor, we gasp and we pant knowing that God is coming to work all things together for the good. For it is in God’s very divine maternal nature to extend God’s peace and comfort and God’s grace and mercy to all people regardless of who we are or what we have done. Thus Jesus says:

Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The good news is, albeit good news that is difficult for us to hear, that there is not only hope and comfort coming for the children who are exploited and abused, there is also hope for the perpetrators. We worship a God who maternally loves and cares for all people, good and bad. And because of that unconditional love, our God is suffering greatly this day. Our God is suffering like any mother who has felt the sting of her children’s rejection. So, as difficult as it may be, it is for the sake of God on this Mother’s Day, that those of us here in the church with our Bibles open, also pray for our enemies, as we will continue to pray for the entire creation.

With the determination and tenacity of a mama bear, we will pray for and work for the comfort of all of God’s children, that all may experience new life, experience the hope of Easter, experience the grace and the forgiveness, the comfort and the peace in the shadow of the maternal wings of our God—until that day comes when God makes all things new!

Hear now these very maternal and hopeful words from Revelation:

Revelation 21  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
and they will be God’s children,
and God will be with them
to wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”

Yes, thanks be to God, it is Mother’s Day. We are in church. Our Bibles are open, and our maternal God is wiping every tear from our eyes and making all things new. Amen.