Scripture Lesson: Psalm 138
Sermon: Mother’s Milk
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Sure we have a good life. Most of us have plenty of food to eat and a safe place to live. Many of us have adequate access to health care. We have friends and family to love. There is awe and delight in every day for many of us. We have blessings to count and we know it.
But still, these are trying times by most people’s standards. You can hardly have a conversation with anyone without some hot button issue coming up: Rosanne. The Mueller investigation. Gaza. Korea. Trade wars. #metoo. School shootings. Immigration. Puerto Rico. All of this with a backdrop of increasing income inequality, a health care crisis, never-ending wars, and environmental problems. It can seem like we are under assault. Being continuously re-traumatized.
In these times it is important to cultivate and nurture compassion, reconciliation, and courage. This is a time for fierce, tenacious, healing love. Oh Jesus, how we need you now. How we need your model of just that kind of loving. Strong. Honest. Bold. Gentle.
In the past couple of weeks people in the church have expressed gratitude for the ministry of the church; for the support and inspiration they’ve received from this faith community. Twice the expressions of gratitude noted how extraordinary this is. How special. How notable. Really? To me it seems like we are simply doing what we have always done. Trying to be a church. A faithful part of the body of Christ. A supportive, loving community. Why does that seem extraordinary? I think it is because things in the public realm have become so charged. So uncivil. So coarse. So mean-spirited. The “outside” has changed, and so the church, which I think has pretty much stayed the same, seems much more loving and kind. And, of course, that is how the church should be.
We need our religion, our spiritual path, now more than ever to help us to stay grounded in compassion, love, justice, and reconciliation. We need the church to help us to stay kind and courageous. We need our faith community to help us to resist sinking to the ways of many around us, sad to say, the ways of many in leadership in this country. It is a time to band together and stay strong and loving. There is that beautiful verse in the Psalm that we read: “On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” Oh how we need our faith to help us stay strong and courageous and grounded in love. We need our faith to nourish us, to feed us, to keep us healthy, and to help us grow as we journey through life never knowing what lies ahead.
Now, in the realm of life science and biology, one of the most nourishing, sustaining substances we know about is breast milk. In recent years, studies by evolutionary biologists, dairy scientists, microbiologists, anthropologists, and food chemists have uncovered amazing information about human breast milk. Breast milk has proteins, fats, carbohydrates, nutrients, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamins A, C, and E, and long chain fatty acids that provide omega 3’s. Sounds like a liquid multi vitamin!
And there are microbes in breast milk; it is not sterile and these bacteria aid the baby’s digestion. Breast milk also has 150 oligosaccharides. These are complex sugars unique to breast milk that cannot be digested by the baby. They are to feed the microbes in the baby’s digestive system. So the milk feeds the baby and the good bacteria in the baby’s gut. Pretty amazing!
Breast milk has all the nutrients that a baby needs for the first six months of life and added to that are germ and disease fighting substances that protect the baby from getting sick. Breast milk is amazing for promoting health. And on top of all that, apparently, the taste of the milk changes according to what the mother has eaten. It’s not just the same flavor day after day after day. How perfect is that?
Breast milk also has pluripotent stem cells. These can form more that 200 different kinds of cells found in the human body. So breast milk has huge potential for regenerative medicine.
Now all of that seems pretty incredible, doesn’t it? But here is what I think is the most amazing characteristic of breast milk. The composition of the nutrients and disease fighting elements of the milk change. Daily. Every day the make up of the milk changes to meet the baby’s need at the moment. And the hormones in the milk change during night and daylight hours to promote sleep or activity depending on the time of day. So there is night milk and day milk each with different hormones. Breast milk is constantly changing according to the infant’s needs. How incredible is that?
And how does this happen? Well, here’s where we get a little graphic so bear with me. Apparently, when the baby sucks a vacuum is created. The milk comes out. But it has been discovered that saliva from the baby’s mouth gets sucked into the mother’s nipple. Basically, think back wash. And there are receptors in the mammary glands that adjust the milk depending on what is in the saliva. So if the saliva includes indication of a sickness of some kind, the mother’s body sends the antibodies needed by the baby through the milk. Now that is awesome in my book. You can read all about this in Angela Garbes new book, Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, or in the article that she wrote for The Stranger in 2015. [“The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am,” https://www.thestranger.com/features/feature/2015/08/26/22755273/the-more-i-learn-about-breast-milk-the-more-amazed-i-am]
Now you may be wondering why in heaven’s name we are discussing human breast milk of all things. Well, we are talking about how we need our faith to stay strong and grounded in love and goodness. How we need our faith to keep us healthy. I think that Christian spirituality, faith, religion, and certainly the way of Jesus, work kind of like breast milk. I think that we can find in our faith whatever it is that we need for any given moment, any circumstance, any issue, any problem, and any challenge. I don’t think ours is a religion that only addresses one problem or issue. I think our faith tradition has lots of teachings and traditions and expressions that meet us where we are and help us to find our way so that we stay rooted in universal, unconditional love for ourselves, for others, and for the world. Our faith gives us the strength to respect the fundamental dignity of every human being – even if they have done something terrible; even if we disagree with them; even if we find them hateful and harmful. Our faith gives us the strength to love. What we need at any given moment to sustain our love, courage, and compassion is offered to us by our faith tradition. Just like an infant, at different times in our lives, we need different things. And the way of Jesus offers us what we need. Whatever that may be. We have but to take it.
In today’s world, a time of drastic change, including of changing theologies, some Christians embrace the concept of a theistic God, a spirit God, alive and active in the world. Our faith tradition helps us to draw upon that image of God for strength, forgiveness, and love. The teachings of Jesus speak to those rooted in that kind of faith. There is a source of strength for the living of these
Some Christians today embrace a concept of a non-theistic God. This is an image of God as ground of being, love, unity, a concept of cohesion and interconnectedness. And there is much in our tradition to offer strength, wisdom, and guidance, for people rooted in that kind of image of God.
Some Christians don’t really care to concern themselves with doctrine and theology about things like whether Jesus is God and whether there is life after death, etc. They find their roots in the ethical, wisdom teachings of Jesus. Ok. For those Christians, again, there is sustaining food and nourishment for staying rooted in love and facing the many issues of our times and the challenges of life’s journey.
We know that throughout our lives, we need different things from our faith, depending on the times, depending on what is going on in our lives, and we are part of a faith tradition that speaks to us, that meets our needs, that offers us sustenance and health in all circumstances.
The world is changing around us, there are new developments everyday that confront us with racism, sexism, oppression, greed, callousness, and violence. New technologies present new ethical challenges and issues. We face health concerns; physical health concerns, mental health problems, addiction. We must come to terms with our mortality. Our families face problems. Our relationships change. Abilities change. Geography changes. We must deal with life decisions and transitions day after day.
We are in a constant dynamic state. Our lives and the world around us are in continuous flux. And like the breast milk that adjusts to the needs of the infant at the moment, so our faith will speak to us in the ways that we need to stay strong and grounded in compassion and love. We want to be open to receive what we are being given.
The psalmist celebrates, “On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” We can count on our faith, on the way of Jesus, on the teachings of the Bible, on the wisdom of the ages, on the messages that come to us from countless sources, to increase our strength of soul wherever we are on the journey so that we might be agents of goodness and compassion in this ever-changing world. The strength we need will come tailored to our situation. It will be just right for our circumstances. Designed to promote our growth as we seek to serve the world. And it may even come in a way that offers pleasure, awe, and delight. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.