Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
July 29, 2012

Scripture:

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

So here we are. Weíve come to the third and final sermon in this three part series on the language we use for God. In the first two sermons we looked at the nature of that of which we speak when we speak of God and found that God, while always paradoxically present with us in the world, is ultimate mystery, transcendent, beyond, totally other. In the second sermon we looked at what that understanding of God means for language for God and found that our God language is necessarily symbolic not factual. Now we come to the third and final sermon, and I understand perfectly if youíre saying to yourself, or even out loud to others, Why in heavenís name has Sorenson subjected us to these sermons that are more like theology lectures than sermons? I freely admit that these sermons are more like theology lectures than like real sermons; but today I ask you to bear with me one more Sunday, because as heady as the subject of this series has been, this stuff is really important. Today we turn to the necessity of using feminine images for God, and thatís really, really important.

Itís really important because the language that we use for God matters. It matters a lot. As Elizabeth Johnson, one of my teachers, one of my favorite theologians, and a real hero to people of faith today because of the outrageous and unfounded attacks on her work by the Catholic hierarchy, says:

ďThe symbol of God functions as the primary symbol of the whole religious system, the ultimate point of reference for understanding experience, life, and the world. Hence, the way in which a faith community shapes language about God implicitly represents what it takes to be the highest good, the profoundest truth, the most appealing beauty. She Who Is

What we say about God both reflects and shapes what we take to be good, true, and beautiful; and that really matters. Our traditionís history of using exclusively male images for God matters.

I hear women say that they do not feel excluded by male language for God. Some of you have said that to me. Good. Iím glad you donít feel excluded. But I have to tell you that the issue weíre addressing of the use of feminine images for God is larger than whether individual women do or do not feel excluded by exclusively male language for God. Like all true symbols, the symbols we use for God function, as Elizabeth Johnson says; and they function in the psyche of people and of whole cultures whether individual people are aware of their functioning or not. The Christian traditionís exclusive use of male language for God has cultural consequences even if on the individual level we are not conscious of those consequences. Thatís why the issue of the language we use for God is so important.

The tragic but undeniable truth is that throughout Christian history women have been and still are dismissed, diminished, and disparaged by sexist cultures in church and society. Patrimonyórule by men, excludes them. Androcentrismóthe centrality of the maleódiminishes them. Misogynyóhatred of womenódegrades and even dehumanizes them. The sexism of the Christian tradition cannot be overemphasized. It appears even in the later writings of the New Testament, especially in the letters known as the pastoral letters, which seek to limit the role of women in the church. In the high middle ages St. Thomas Aquinas, still a towering figure and unavoidable authority in Catholic theology, taught that women are inferior to men in every way, that they are essentially misbegotten men. Martin Luther, the leading figure of the Protestant Reformation, agreed, saying that women were created only to serve men and to bear children. Our Congregationalist forbears in New England branded independent women as witches and even killed some of them. Today by far most Christians belong to churches that will not ordain women to the full ministry of Jesus Christ, a fact we in the progressive UCC would do well to remember. Even in our secular American society sexism persists. Women still donít earn equal pay for equal work, for example. Christianity has a miserable record on its treatment of women both in the past and today.

Exclusively male language for God not only expresses Christian sexism, it is a ground of Christian sexism. It perpetuates Christian sexism. Over and over Christianity says God is Father. It calls God He. It doesnít say God is Mother. It doesnít call God She. We hear it over and over, and we learn, subconsciously perhaps but all the more powerfully for that, that God is male. That men are more like God than women are, that God is more like men than God is like women. Because, as Elizabeth says, our language for God reflects what we take to be the highest good and greatest beauty we learn that male is the human norm. We learn that women somehow deviate from the human norm, are somehow less than the human norm.

Let me give you an example of how unconscious sexism works. Have you ever noticed how our young girls, our daughters and granddaughters, call all of their stuffed animals ďheĒ? They do, or at least until very recently they did. They learn very young that male is the norm. I was pleased recently when I heard my five year old grandson call his favorite stuffed animal, called Baby Bear, she; but surely thatís an exception among us. In our society and in our faith tradition male is the norm, and our exclusively male language for God is both a source and a buttress of that sexist conception.

We have learned that God is beyond all gender distinctions. We have learned that our language for God is symbolic. We have learned, I hope, that our exclusively male symbols for God are destructive. They diminish women, whom Genesis says are made in the image and likeness of God every bit as much as men are.

So if all of that is true, and I am convinced that it is, why donít we use female images for God? We call God Father. Why donít we call God Mother? We call God He. Why donít we call God She? Some Christians do. Elizabeth Johnsonís primary symbol for God is ďShe Who Is.Ē I am convinced that it is imperative that we too start using female words and images for God.

Throughout my ten and a half years here as your pastor I have actually avoided male images for God. I have tried to use gender neutral ones; but, as Elizabeth Johnson taught me long ago, itís not enough. Gender neutral images arenít enough because they donít do enough to correct the destructive imbalance in our God image that our centuries of exclusively male language have created. Our hymnal, the New Century Hymnal, also avoids male images for God, but it has only a few female ones. Iíve managed to find a couple of hymns that do, and weíll sing them in this service. I wish there were more of them.

My friends, I intend to start using female images for God in our worship. Not exclusively, for God isnít female any more than God is male. I will however continue to avoid male images because of the crying need for a corrective to all of those male images that weíve all heard for so long. My purpose in this whole, heady three part sermon series has been to explain the rationale, the justification, and the necessity for us to start using female words and images for God. I didnít want to spring them on you unawares. So you will hear me call God Mother. You will hear me call God She. You will hear me start the Lordís Prayer the way they do at University Congregational UCC in Seattle, my home church before I got the call here as your pastor, namely ďOur Father, Our Mother who art in heavenÖ.Ē I hope you will understand. More than that, I hope you will join me as we reject a harmful part of our tradition and move into new, broader, healthier, truer images of God.

It wonít be easy. I know that. We are all products of a faith tradition that has never used female images for God. Weíve never, or at best have only rarely, heard them. They sound strange. They grate even. I know that. I also know that itís time, indeed itís way past time, for us to take corrective action. The symbol of God functions. Exclusively male symbols for God function destructively. God is neither name nor female. Our words for God, be they male, female, or gender neutral, are symbols that point to God not facts about God. Female images for God are every bit as appropriate as male ones, and they are much more needed today. ďIn Godís image God created them. Male and female God created them.Ē Women too bear the image and likeness of God, and God may come to us in images of women and from the lives of women. Itís time. Itís way past time. So let us pray to God our Mother. Let us praise the name of She Who Is, the great I AM in feminine guise. Itís time. Itís way past time. Amen.