Mary is the Mother of all the living. Yet through baptism God calls us to be mothers as well. Everybody gets to be Mary. We are all full of grace. All highly favored. All called to be God-bearers, bringing to birth justice and joy in the world. Whether we have been mothers or not, whatever our gender, whatever complicated relationship we have or had with our mother. And like Mary—at our falling asleep, at our death—God promises to bring us to the glory of our eternal home.
Mary, often called Theotokos – God-bearer, or Mother of God – birthed Jesus, yes, yet even more so, her yes to God was but the beginning of the birth pangs of God’s new creation. In Mary’s womb was, as the old Latin hymn puts it, “heaven and earth in little space. “ What wondrous births might be waiting to come to be through us if we, like Mary, are both humble and courageous enough to say yes to what God wants to do in our lives?
Here’s the ironic thing. Christianity is a materialistic religion. We value the stuff of creation, the stuff of bodies, the stuff of earth. And many of our possessions hold deep memories and connections. Yet, in our day and time, it can seemly nearly impossible to go against the grain and not define ourselves by what we have, what we make, what we do. Jesus warns about being rich in possessions but not rich toward God. Sounds spiritual, but what does “rich toward God” even mean? Maybe simply asking the question is a good start.
We all struggle with shame wrongfully imposed on us by others...for who we are, what we look
like, who we love, our work, our lifestyle. We pick at the specks in each others eyes while the
logs of racism, wealth inequality, environmental degradation, and xenophobia remain firmly
lodged in place. Yet...our infinitely compassionate God hears our cries, receives our
brokenness, and provides us with something greater than we ever could have imagined.
The never ending to-do list, the ever depressing headlines, the countless real and imaginary things we spend our time worrying about or in fear of, it is all distraction from God’s eternal grace that cuts through, and returns us to who we are and whose we are, God’s own beloved child. With that grace as our vision and our wisdom, we will experience true liberation from all of the things distracting us and we prophets will become prophets of grace, inviting others to experience freedom from distraction by our words and deeds that prophesy to God’s radically free grace poured out for all people and creation. Sometimes it means stopping what we’re distracted with for long enough to sit at our prophet’s feet and be reminded and returned to that grace that frees us and stirs us to action. Amen.
Maybe we’re the ones in the ditch ourselves, paralyzed by anxiety about the future, or broken by abuse and unhealthy relationships, or beaten up by disease and illness. God comes to us in our ditches of despair, stoops to our side to tend to our wounds and wash us with the baptismal waters of grace. God feeds us with a meal that brings healing; and entrusts us to each other’s care. “Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. Anyone. Everyone. For all bear the fresh face of God who is Good.
In today’s reading, Jesus sends seventy people out ahead of him on a mission. Similar to the previous commissioning of the twelve disciples, he gives them specific instructions, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Greet no one on the road.” One translation says, Travel light. As modern-day disciples committed to God’s work in the word we begin to imagine what it looks like to travel light. What do we leave behind and what do we carry?
When we live outwardly in response to the truth that we have already been set free by Christ’s death and resurrection, we can welcome the stranger without fear, we can celebrate the diversity of love that our LGBTQ siblings express, we can live more gracefully upon this earth without the fear of scarcity convincing us to hoard our resources, and most of all, in the face of death, because of Christ we can still sing our song. That is the true freedom of a Christian.
You’re part of the movement now. The mantle is passed to you. So pray, march, sing. Swing low, sweet chariot. Swing low and pick up all who struggle to be loved and accepted. Swing low and pick up all hated by their families. Swing low and pick up immigrant children separated from their parents. Swing low and pick up those homeless or hopeless. And swing low and pick up even those gripped by fear and hate.
“Take a chill pill. Calm down. Relax.” Easier said than done. We seem hard-wired to freak out when anxiety or fear take over. It’s the “fight or flight” response, we’ve been told. Like animals reacting to threats to their safety, it’s natural for us to respond quickly, too. Calm is something we so fiercely desire, but often eludes us. Inner peace. The sense that everything is and will be okay. The assurance that God is with us. Elijah experiences this calm after the storm…the wild man in the gospel reading is restored to his right mind (what does that even mean?) What is this “holy chill?” And how might we be restored and made ready to on with our lives and our various callings?
Yet on St. John’s Day we recall the words of the canticle sung by John’s father, Zechariah. In God’s tender mercy and compassion, the dawn from high breaks upon us. This sun tilts toward us, shines on us. And not just us, all people—migrants and protestors, perpetrators and marchers, bigots and victims.
We pray, we yearn, we trust that this tilt is none other than the arc of justice, the mantle of divine grace, the sun of righteousness that is the sweet spot—the source of life itself.
So what are God’s pronouns? Our God who is and was is and is to come is all of them, AND more than we can even imagine: He who creates and orders life, she who nourishes and sustains, and they who flows and moves through us and all of creation to proclaim the good news of salvation for all. We are a people of endless potential, who serve a triune God of endless potential.
Holy Trinity is a Pentecost community. Our differences make life interesting and reveal that God loves diversity and is the very source of infinite variety. The Holy Spirit is the energy that unites us and challenges us to not only bang our diversity drum and say what a great church we are because we try to welcome everyone. Rather, we are empowered to move beyond mere acceptance of others to transformation. As we listen and learn from those most different from us—racially, ethnically, religiously, economically, politically—we become more. We discover new ways of thinking, serving, loving. We become transformed by this Spirit of God, this Advocate, the One that abides in us forever.
We pause for a moment on this feast day to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s ascension to be seated at the right hand of God. Jesus does not abandon us but empowers us through the Holy Spirit to be his body in the world. We are invited look for new beginnings, not dwell on the ending. Stop looking up to heaven to find the Holy One and start looking out. For Christ is among us now in bread and wine, and in this community, and in the love and light we share with others.
Fear, sadness, and anger may overcome us, but today we are also reminded that it is the Holy Spirit, the advocate, as Jesus says in our Gospel today, that God has sent to us to teach us and remind us of the peace that Jesus leaves with us, the peace Jesus gives to us, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Instead, like Lydia, Pastor Betty, and countless other powerful, persistent, prevailing women, let our hearts be opened by the Lord to this peace that surpasses all human understanding. Nevertheless the advocate, she persisted, and she prevailed.
If you were about to die, what would you tell the people you love? What hope or dream would you share? What advice would you offer? Jesus didn’t have a hospice team caring for him or a book outlining the four most important things to do or say before he died. And yet we hear his goodbye blessing in today’s gospel text. “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
In the same breath that we hear this command of Jesus to love one another, we also hear the story of Peter, who wasn’t so sure about who was included in this love. Could God really work among the people who were outside of the purity codes? Could the Holy Spirit really reside among those people who didn’t get it? Could God work among those people who were on the outside? Who were unclean?
If we are going to follow this message of Christ, this new commandment, that we love one another, then we recognize that the love of God has no boundaries. That means the Holy Spirit can be found in prisons and brokenness, in greedy rich people, in the meetings of conservatives and liberals, in immigration marches, in back alleys, on streets, and right here, among all of us gathered tonight.
Can you name your top five favorite Easter hymns or songs? Can you even name five? I bet if I asked you to do the same with Christmas carols, you’d come up a long list. How many Easter albums do you know by well-known recording artists? Yet it seems everyone makes a Christmas album. Doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Jewish, agnostic or church-going. Barbara Streisand, Karen Carpenter, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble—they all sing of “Jesus, Lord at thy birth,” and “Son of God, love’s pure light.” And yet Easter is the principle Christian feast. It’s the real deal. It may surprise you to learn the two Easter songs featured in this sermon.