Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost (Mother's Day - May 11)

Holy Spirit, still me. Let my mind be inquiring, searching. Save me from mental rust. Deliver me from spiritual decay. Keep me alive and alert. Open me to your truth. O Lord, teach me so that I may live in your Spirit. Amen.
(adapted from The Sacrament of the Word by D. Coggan)

"Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts!” so begins the Mother's Day proclamation, first uttered in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, rallying mothers to stand up and speak for peace in our world. We have forgotten that piece of our history of Mother’s Day with its humble beginnings after the civil war to promote peace, it was revived in 1908 and finally in 1914 recognized by president Woodrow Wilson as a way for American citizens to honor those mothers whose sons had died in war. Mother’s Day has continued to evolve, and has become a day for others in the family to honor their moms with gifts, with relaxation, with love.

Today is also Pentecost, 50 days after Easter when the Holy Spirit blew into town, settling upon the disciples and the church was born. I was reminded that today’s celebration of Pentecost, invites us to see God in another way — to think of God in terms other than as a noun. Pentecost is about God as verb. God as doing, being, acting. The Spirit of God is God breathing in us, God animating us, God pulling us together as a Church. God loving and healing and reconciling. God sanctifying the everyday, God comforting the grieving, God seeking out the lost. The Spirit of God is the manifestation of God as a verb — God not only is but does.

That Spirit is still alive today, still animating us to go and do. I was reminded of one mother who recently did what the Spirit of God led her to do. “I want to love the world, but I need to make sure that it happens one person at a time that I encounter.” These words are from the Rev. Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest in Nashville, TN. Inspired by her own mother who rebuilt their lives after their father’s sudden death by a drunk driver had ended his ministry as an Episcopal priest in TN, she has reached out in love with that Spirit of God that called her forth to go and do.

Becca founded Magdalene House in Nashville, a non-for-profit recovery community for women with a criminal history of prostitution and drug abuse, and Thistle Farms, a for-profit cottage industry launched to help support Magdalene House and its residents. With all of that ministry and her ministry as a college chaplain at Vanderbilt, she felt a call to go with some from Magdalene House and share the message of love and hope that has been part of the Magdalene House with women in Rwanda.

Becca writes: “Rwanda was amazing! The women we met fell in love with the message and community of Magdalene. We read letters the women from Nashville sent and in response, the women who are part of the sisters of Rwanda started sharing their experiences of surviving incest, violence, addiction and prostitution…the stories that are hauntingly similar. Rwanda is full of people walking around with ghosts while new life is strapped to the backs of women. Hearty crops are blooming next to people so poor they can't feed their children. It was so much to take in sometimes my legs would shake or my head would throb. Sometimes it's just a fishing pole people need. They already know how to fish. The faith we saw was inspiring and a little intimidating. The singing and dancing were beautiful. The landscape is hilly with mists that come in like sweet blankets. It is strange to think of a million people dying on that land.” (from her blog)

Becca Stevens is a mother of three and many of those sisters in Rwanda are also moms, but mothers who lived through the worst of violence, the worst of what we can do to each other, still trying to live, giving love to their children, learning how to make ends meet, and survive it all. In the midst of such a meeting is the Spirit of God, who breathes into us, the love, the hope, the longing for the richness of life that God gives. And that same Spirit that calls us to do, to reach out in love, one person at a time. A Spirit that called sisters in one part of this planet to visit others, to reach out in love and hope.

This morning, the Spirit has called us to welcome into this fellowship, into this Body of Christ, Bianca Davila and Nichole Tabor, who will be baptized this morning and sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. It is that Spirit that dwells with us from our Baptism that empowers us through the gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophecy, miracles, tongues, and interpretation – that is given by the one Spirit for the well-being of the common good. The same Spirit poured upon each one of us allows us to do the ministry that God gives to us to do with the gifts we have. Bianca and Nicole will in time join us in sharing their gifts with the world.

Like those tongues of flame that once rested on the disciples, God gives us that fire, that spirit to go, to speak out, to touch, to love, to do. I think of a story from the Desert Fathers who knew so intimately in their walk with God about what it means to be a soul burning with the Presence of God. Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” The old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

The Spirit of God is blowing through this world and some have caught hold of that flame which is active, for God is doing things, enabling disciples to be “fire-givers” in the name of Jesus like the Rev. Becca Stevens, or the Desert Fathers or the mothers whom we honor and cherish this day. "Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, everyone who has heart!” May we lift up our Spirits to do what God is doing in our world and try to become that flame that touches others in Jesus’ name. For Today we celebrate our mothers and we celebrate the Holy Spirit that has ignited and empowered the Church to be Jesus Christ in the world; for we are all called to arise and play our part. Amen.

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