Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, May 8, 2016 St John the Baptist, Ivy, John 17: 20 -26 “Mothering God”

Good morning! I am Mary Thorpe, Director of Transition Ministry for the Diocese of Virginia, and I am delighted to be here with you on this Mother’s Day as, together, we begin our journey of transition to your next vicar. I bring you the greetings and love of your bishops and diocesan staff, who pray for you and with you in this new chapter of your lives together.

I suspect that for many of you, this feels strange, not having Kathleen at the front. But here we are on this last Sunday before Pentecost, continuing being God’s people in this place, and that’s a good thing.

We are in the midst of some readings that are a little confusing. Just 7 weeks ago, we had Easter. Christ had died, was buried, rose again, came back to talk the the apostles – a final pep talk  – and now we are here in this reading, which contains Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples BEFORE he dies! He is at the Last Supper, and the last thing he does in John’s version of the story is to pray: first for himself, and them for those whom he leaves behind to carry on his work. And now, at the end of this prayer, he says this:
“…you, Father, are in me and I am in you… may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It is a prayer. It is a benediction. It is a reminder to the disciples that God is with them as they continue to do the work of revealing God’s abiding love. God continues to nurture them, to guide them, to “have their backs,” as the saying goes. God continues to give them strength through God’s love.

The disciples may not fully realize everything that is about to happen, but they know as they have known nothing else before, that they are loved and supported at that moment and until the day when Jesus finally brings them together with the Father.

…not just like a father, but like a mother.

It IS Mother’s Day, after all. We do know that this secular holiday that honors the love our mothers have shown us aligns with God’s love. Our mothers aren’t God – although when I was seven, I thought my mother had the all-seeing eyes of God and the power to smite if I misbehaved – but at their best, our mothers give us a glimpse of the enduring power of God’s loving presence.

Dame Julian of Norwich- Statue at Norwich Cathedral
This is the vision the 14th century mystic Dame Julian of Norwich wrote about:  “Mothering God, you gave me birth. Mothering Christ, you took my form. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One.”

Her imagery is not new: Jesus himself lamented in Matthew’s Gospel “Jerusalem, often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” 

Even in the Old Testament, God speaks to Israel in the Book of Isaiah in a maternal voice: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” And when, in the Old Testament, the wisdom of God is spoken of, God’s wisdom is a “she:” “does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?”

So we’ve got this notion threaded throughout Holy Scripture, that God has a feminine nature as well as a masculine one, and that feminine nature is lifted up as virtuous, prophetic, wise, enduringly loving, emotional, strong….rather like some of the mothers in this room.

Now you all know about women who meet that description – certainly I would count Kathleen S as one of those women, and I know that you grieve the loss of her as your vicar.

But here’s the good news: God’s feminine nature, that nurturing, loving, strong nature, continues to be present with you, even in a time of change, in a time when you wonder what is coming next.  God remains with you. That is what Jesus is talking about in poetic language in the Gospel today. Hear what he says: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus is not only with you, he is saying that he is IN you and you are IN him…like a baby nestled in his mother’s womb, you are that close together.

And that will be the greatest of comforts, this loving connection, womb-close. As you begin this journey of search for your next vicar, Jesus will never be apart from you. He will send his Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and strengthen you. He will not leave you, just as mothers never leave you, even when their physical presence is no more and you have only memories.

And as the Lord is with you, in our own smaller way, my colleagues and I will also be with you, guiding you along the way in a process that will help you discern what gifts you most need in this next chapter of St. John the Baptist’s story.  We will work with your leadership in many different ways so that you can seek and find that vicar whom God already knows will serve you…we will pray and listen for God’s voice even as we seek input from you all.

My prayer for you in this time of transition is that you do not feel lost or abandoned. Your vicar may have received another call – God does have plans for us clergy that sometimes require that we leave one beloved group of souls and go to serve another – but your call, to be the people of God in this time and place, remains. You are strong, you are creative, and you are blessed by this place and by each other.

Know that the mothering God is with you always, that there is a plan to follow in the days ahead, and that in God’s good time, you will pass from the state of being pregnant with possibilities to being delivered of a new priest who will serve you with love and faithfulness.

A last word or two? These words may be the most fitting, once again from Julian of Norwich: "May God’s love wrap and enfold you , embrace you and guide you, and bring you comfort"….just as a loving mother does.


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