Readings: Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21
Daughter: Mum, what’s it like to have the greatest daughter in the world? Mum: I don’t know dear, you’d have to ask Grandma. Mother’s Day is a great way to show our appreciation for our mothers. And I think it’s a good custom to not only honor our biological mothers, but all women. Doing so recognizes the ways that many individuals have taken on some kind of mothering role for us at some point in our lives. The maternal models in our lives have nurtured us, protected us, taught us right from wrong, have cared for us when we’ve been sick, have been gentle but firm with us, have been kind but spoken the truth to us. And for many of us, it was our mothers and grandmothers that first showed us the way of Jesus.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
I find this one of the most poignant and hopeful verses in all the Scriptures. It is a verse that meant a lot to three sisters I knew in a previous parish. They’ve shared with me over the years how much this verse meant to them at the funerals for their parents. It is a reminder that even when we lose our earthly parents, Christ promises that we will never be truly alone.
Nearing his own death, Jesus tells his friends that he would come to them in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would fall upon them on the day of Pentecost, giving them clear signs and expressions of God’s life in, and through, them. The Holy Spirit formed them into a new family – a family that extends beyond space and time and life and death. A family continually drawn deeper in the very life of God. God, the divine communion of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We taste a bit of the divine life as a spiritual family at St. George’s.
The Divine Life Within us
I’ve seen it over and again these past several months as we’ve worshiped together and prayed together. I’ve seen it in the grace shown to one another during coffee hours. I’ve seen it at the communion table, in the way you’ve embraced new music and liturgy. And I’ve seen the Spirit powerfully at work in challenging times of grief and uncertainty sanctifying these times and bringing us closer to the truth about our vulnerability and the loving embrace of our God.
These are uncertain times for all of us. Of that, we are certain. So, I think it vital we hear and embrace God’s Word for us today: You are loved. You are not alone. God has not abandoned you or left you as an orphan. You are an extension of the Divine Communion – a branch bearing fruit, with God being the vine. One of the beautiful things about this image is that it reminds us who we truly are. We are members of the body of Christ, Christ’s arms and legs, extending outward to do the will and work of God. Abiding in Christ means, amongst other things, being who we truly are at our core: children of God.
We Are Truly Ourselves when we Receive and Give Love
Knowing this, when Jesus tells us that it is in following his command to love that we are abiding in him, we shouldn’t hear it as an impossible demand being thrust upon us. Jesus isn’t a stern general barking out orders to us, his underlings. Rather, Jesus is reminding us that we are being most truly ourselves when we receive and give love.
At the centre of the universe is the Divine Communion: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unified in the bond of love, a Divine Family if you would, giving and receiving love among the Persons. In love, the Godhead created life and humanity, extending outward to grow a family that would reflect God’s image. When we love, we are being who we are meant to be, and this ought not to feel like a heavy demand upon us, but a liberating invitation to be who we truly are!
St. Paul Addresses the Athenians
St. Paul alludes to the image of God as our creator and mother when he preached to the Athenians. He even referenced one of their poets who wrote, “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” And in case the audience didn’t get what he was referring to, Paul says that ‘we are his offspring.’ If we are to think of when we literally live and move and have our being in someone, we may think of the womb. It is in our mother’s womb that we live and move and have our being. It is in the womb that we first begin to develop our senses while relying completely on the nourishment and protection of our mother.
So it is in the spiritual life. We grow in the Spirit, developing our spiritual senses: the ability to perceive God at work in our lives, and in our world. We rely on God our Mother for nourishment and protection and love. St. Paul attacked the Athenians for their idolatry: for acting as if God is made of the same lifeless substances that can be manipulated for humanity’s twisted purposes. Idolatry is anything that wounds our relationship with our Maker. Idolatry represents the ways we try to control God, people, and the world around us. Idolatry can represent the ways we make our own constructions of God, limiting the work of the Spirit in our lives.
I believe we do this when we demand God to grant our wishes. I think we are guilty of this when we blame God for the choices we make and when we hold stubbornly to our ideas about God. I believe we are doing this when we hold onto resentment and refuse to forgive those who hurt us, and ourselves. If we try to contain or limit God, we are not granting God freedom in the relationship. Where freedom is absent, there can be no authentic relationship. Without that relationship, we quickly lose the nourishment we need to grow into the children of God we are.
St. Paul’s sermon to the Athenians picks up on the theme of the intimate relationship God desires to have with us. Using familial language about God is not perfect, but it is helpful to get us thinking about what place God takes in our lives. God is our Creator, our Mother and our Father, Jesus is our Lord and our Brother, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, Advocate, and Lover of our Souls. And you are God’s beloved child.
Searching for the Spirit
This week the Church will commemorate the Ascension of Christ and join with the disciples in a period of waiting and anticipating Pentecost. I’d like to give us an opportunity, as I wind down this sermon, to open ourselves more to the truths God’s Word has revealed to us today. Prayer, I believe, is the key to our relationship with God, to our deepening awareness of the Holy Spirit within us. Prayer opens our spiritual senses to the enfolding love of God that holds us and keeps us safe. Did you know that a recent study revealed that people googled ‘how to pray’ more during the pandemic than at any other time? I think we are all searching for the Spirit of Truth and Love.
I frequently make use of the help from the Irish Jesuits at sacredspace.ie in reflecting on the daily gospel reading. I found their invitations to reflection very meaningful this morning, and as they connect with my own thoughts on today’s passages. So, I’d like us to take a few moments to shift gears somewhat, and take a prayerful, reflective approach to the good news today.
Praying with the Irish Jesuits
Wherever you are, if it is possible, I’d like you to be quiet, perhaps closing your eyes, as I lead us through a few simple reflections and opportunities for you to speak with Jesus in your own way.
- Again today Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, whom he calls the Spirit of Truth. This is the Spirit who reveals to me the truth of who I am – a child of God within whom God lives. I hold within myself a spark of the Divine! I sit quietly with this thought in the presence of God.
- How does this knowledge make me feel about myself? How does it affect my relationships – because within everyone is that same spark of the Divine. How does it affect my relationship with God? I talk to Jesus about these things.