The following is my final sermon at St. Francis. Thank you Father Michael, Joan, Jackie, Deacon Linda, Kim, Dominique and Jason — and all of you beautiful people. Thanks to Len and the beloved Glenmoor flock. Your prayers and love have helped to shape me, and I give thanks to God for each of you!
Sixth Sunday in Easter/St. Francis in the Field
Acts 10:44-48; Ps 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
“Abiding in God’s love”
Today is Mother’s Day, and I want to recognize
all of our mothers present today.
We tend to associate with motherhood
that nurturing, life-giving kind of love that embodies
the tenderness, mercy and unconditional love
we seek to find in God.
My own mother – beautiful Sarah Marie –
passed away 15 years ago.
It was a Sunday afternoon the day before
she was to begin treatment for lung cancer.
I was to travel back to Florida the following week
to help with her care.
I felt like I was pestering her, I had been calling so much.
But dialed her again.
“I’m just calling to say I love you!”
“I love you, too. Always remember that.”
Those were the last words we exchanged –
I’m so grateful they were words of love.
I wish that my mother had been alive to meet all of you
(she would have loved you so much)
and to see me get ordained.
But I know that, nonetheless, she shares in my joy.
In fact, one Wednesday morning,
shortly before I left for seminary
I attended the 7 a.m. service at the Cathedral.
Connie, a long-time, deeply faithful parishioner –
in her 90s and who stands less that 5 feet tall –
grabbed my arms during the peace.
She looked up into my face and said:
“This morning an angel told me your mama
is running all over heaven bragging on you!”
If you’ve ever met Connie, you know better than
to doubt what she says
when it comes to the heavenly realm.
As we celebrate our mothers today —
and as the mothers among us enjoy this day —
it’s important to keep in mind that
this can be a painful time for some.
For those who perhaps never got to know their mother.
For those who’ve lost children or
For those who never had children.
Please be careful to never assume that
a woman is childless by choice.
For me, a big piece of healing around that kind of grief,
came several years ago.
One night I had a really vivid dream.
I found myself standing in a large room, filled with cribs.
I was the only adult present in this nursery,
and quickly figured out
that I needed to pick up these children
to feed and care for them.
At one point I picked up a toddler and took him
to the big open window,
Together we looked at the vast expanse of the world and
I showed him some of things he ought to know.
In my simple, innocent, sometimes naïve faith,
I could hear God say:
“See. You are going to be a mother –
just of a different sort than you imagined.
I have many, many children who are waiting for you.”
No matter where we find ourselves in all of this –
on a day like this, we are blessed to have scripture
that calls us to abide in God.
To abide in his love.
It calls us to see what has been described
as the Maternal Face of God.
When we do this – male and female both –
we are able to treat one another
and we are able to let the Holy Spirit
mother us wherever are.
In that space of abiding in love,
all manner of wounds are healed.
Wrongs are forgiven, and we are set free.
By sending us the Holy Spirit, Jesus assures
that we are never alone.
The Spirit comforts us when we need comfort.
It prays for us and advocates for us in our time of need.
The Spirit convicts us, inspires us and empowers us.
If that isn’t a description of the very best possible
Mothering, I don’t know what is.
If we can get ourselves out of the way just a bit,
the Holy Spirit has the space to move in and
do amazing things.
This parish’s new and deepening commitment to Cuba
is a great example of what can happen
when we allow the Holy Spirit
to have her way with us.
A couple of years back, I doubt that Father Michael
anticipated he would be traveling to Cuba so often.
I’ll bet there are those among us who were thinking,
“Shouldn’t we be putting our energy elsewhere?
Shouldn’t the focus be growing the church or
Building new classrooms?”
The blossoming of this ministry has interrupted
our “business as usual” in a wonderful and holy way,
just as Peter’s eloquent speech was interrupted
when the Holy Spirit fell upon a group of Gentiles.
In that moment Peter was able to see that
there was only one indicated next step:
to baptize the foreigners with water because
God already had baptized them in the Holy Spirit.
These other practical matters –
determining whether to require circumcision
or other Jewish observances –
these would be resolved in good time.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t wait around for us
to get our administrative ducks in a row.
She does her work and trusts that we’ll catch up.
Many of you were at St. Francis,
when I served as an intern here years ago.
Some of you beautiful faithful people have
held me in prayer all these years.
I am deeply grateful for your commitment.
You have nurtured me as I have grown in the
process of becoming a priest, pastor and teacher,
here and in World Golf Village where
our small group ministry was initiated last year
with the leadership of the Wheelers,
and with participation by the Luttons and
some of our Glenmoor community.
As more are led to be involved,
that ministry will grow and flourish.
Being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit is
what keeps ministry fresh and alive.
Many of you who have heard me preach even
a handful of times know that it is not uncommon
for me to talk about the poor,
to talk about those who tend to be forgotten or
overlooked in our society.
This does not make for easy listening.
Believe me, I share in that sense of discomfort.
The gospel message has always been challenging.
Jesus’ words have always been countercultural,
whether we examine them in the context of his earthly ministry
or in the context of ours.
He calls us again and again out of our comfort zone.
That is the nature of Love.
Love places the well being of the other first,
Love is not content to let things remain the way they are.
Love is always seeking new ways to manifest itself,
to reach those who are starving for love.
John’s gospel today calls us to abide in this love.
It tells us if we do, then we will bear much fruit.
We will love our neighbors, near and far.
We will offer ourselves, expecting nothing in return.
A few months ago, I met up with a retired priest to talk about
some of what I was experiencing in my new vocation.
I told her:
“I can’t stop preaching about the poor
and the disenfranchised.
It keeps coming up.
It seems to dominate the lectionary and
when I pray and meditate on the appointed lessons,
these are the stories
that speak to my heart.”
She listened to me patiently.
Then she looked me square in the eye, and asked:
“Did it ever occur to you that this keeps coming up –
not so much so that you will preach this message
to this congregation —
maybe it keeps coming up so strongly because
that is the work God is calling you to do.”
Her question got under my skin.
I began exploring the possibility of a ministry
more closely aligned with those on the margins.
Over the last few months, in prayer and in conversation
with Bishop Howard, Father Michael and others,
my next steps have become clear.
I will be leaving St. Francis at the end of this month
to serve as urban missioner for the diocese,
focusing on at-risk areas –
working with the most vulnerable among us.
But this ministry will not be done in isolation.
It is not a ministry of one.
A key part of my work will be
to create a bridge and a support system
for people who feel called to ministry
beyond the parish walls.
This ministry is rooted, first and foremost,
in a call to serve as the real presence of Christ,
sharing his love through worship and sacrament –
sometimes in unlikely places —
and through fellowship, prayer and ministry
with the men, women and children
most at risk in our communities.
This work will take me beyond the walls of St. Francis
but I could never leave you completely.
You have played a huge role in raising me up,
in nurturing me and shaping me.
The breadth of your faith never ceases
to humble and inspire me,
and the depth of your love touches my heart.
I fully expect to work with you in some capacity
as we play our small parts in helping
to usher in the kingdom of God.
Each week, we come to this table.
We receive the elements of bread and wine,
trusting that Christ is present with us.
May we bring open minds and open hearts.
May we remain flexible and responsive to
the movement of the Holy Spirit.
May we learn to expect the unexpected.
Above all, may we receive the grace to abide in his love –
and the strength to love our neighbors, near and far.