Sermon from May 13, 2018

Even the Sparrow Finds a Home and the Swallow a Nest
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 13, 2018   Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday,
Mother’s Day, Festival of the Home
Psalm 84; Matthew 23:37-39; John 17:13-23

The Rev. Dr. William Barber is a national leader of the NAACP.  He has recently revived the Poor People’s Campaign that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had begun when he was assassinated in 1968.  Barber has written, “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw clearly in the last years of his life, we face a real choice between chaos and community—we need a moral revolution. If that was true fifty years ago, then we must be clear today: America needs a moral revival to bring about beloved community…. The main obstacle to beloved community continues to be the fear that people in power have used for generations to divide and conquer God’s children who are, whatever our differences, all in the same boat.”

Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation.  He continues Barber’s thought, saying, “I believe that ‘moral revival’ is a natural outgrowth of realizing how connected we already are: what we do unto others or to the earth, we really do to ourselves. All created beings are included in this one Body of God…. It takes a contemplative, nondual mind to see foundational oneness—that we truly are ‘in the same boat.’”

The first call for a Mother’s Day was by the popular author Julia Ward Howe who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Howe’s vision was in keeping with those of William Barber, Richard Rohr and Martin Luther King Jr.  She had witnessed the horrors of the Civil War and called for a “Mother’s Day for Peace,” a day when women around the world would go on strike from their daily labors and convene to talk about the abolition of war.  Howe dreamed of women saying to their husbands that they would not tolerate their use of war as a way to settle disagreements.  She dreamed of mothers insisting they would not have their children recruited to hurt the children of other mothers.

Julia Ward Howe wrote in her 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation, “Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

Jesus was filled with similar motherly passion when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus had attained what Richard Rohr called “a contemplative, nondual mind [that can] see foundational oneness—that we truly are ‘in the same boat.’”  Jesus prayed in the Farewell Discourses of the Gospel of John, “I ask…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth of God’s word.  To be sanctified means to be recognized as holy, as belonging to God.  The truth that sanctifies us is that we are all one, that the entire universe is one because God is in all things and all things are in God.  All creation is holy.

The book of Proverbs says,

Like a bird that strays from its nest
is one who strays from home.  (27:8)

The truth is that there is only one nest, there is only one home, and even as diverse as we are, we all share it and cannot escape it.  And yet we can stray from our shared home by denying its truth.  We get caught up in surface differences, polarization, conflict of interests, we compete, we grab for power or resources.  Leaders of nations launch wars in order to consolidate their hold and get reelected, the tail wagging the dog.

We humans stray from our home with disastrous results on a global level.  We do not recognize earth as our nest and we foul it and drive it to the point of being uninhabitable.  We stay stuck and do not strive for Christ’s nondual level of consciousness.

Yet this is a day of hope—the last Sunday of Easter when we remember that death could not stop the love of Christ from bursting out of the tomb; Ascension Sunday when we remember that Jesus turned his Spirit over to us with its comfort, guidance and power; Mother’s Day when we can celebrate the ideal mothering that we see in God and Jesus and all who nurture life; and the Festival of the Home, when we celebrate every small holy place that has ever held us and made us feel one.

We can have hope because even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest in the house of God.  We can have hope because, as King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  We can see a force of love and life and light flowing through the universe that is on the side of resurrection and mothering and home, a force of holding together in a universe where things fall apart.

Our sun and planet came together out of the exploded debris of a former solar system.  The first living cell formed when five disparate elements came together.  Humans evolved as inherently social beings.  Even the most introverted humans depend on their communities in ways essential to their survival.

We are nest making creatures.  We are born in nests, we seek comfort in our little domestic nests and we make our neighborhoods and schools and churches into the warmest nests we can.  Things fall apart, Jesus leaves the disciples staring into the sky wondering what they will do now, families divide and become estranged, we fail to recognize the holiness and truth of our oneness and see only differences.  People we love leave our nests, and we leave the nests of people we love.  Losses and imperfections in our homes grieve us, yet the universal force never stops flowing, trying to move us to trust and form new connections and heal old ones and be one again.

This week I had a computer nightmare that resulted in my spending hours on the phone with a technical support office.  A good portion of those hours was spent waiting for the computer to do something, so I got to know the young woman named Maria who was helping me.  She could see my computer screen, and she immediately noticed a YouTube recording of the Prelude that Annemieke played this morning.  Maria said, “Oh, I love that piece by Debussy!”  I knew then that everything was going to be all right.  We had connected.  We were of the same nest.  It deepened from there.

Over the course of the afternoon Maria told me that her father had been an alcoholic and her mother a heroin addict.  Her mother left her and her four siblings to be raised by their father when Maria was still a toddler.  She said she became the black sheep and her father could not deal with her so he sent her to be raised by a relative in another city.  She ran away from there and got into troubles that she did not name.

Maria told me about her multiple bouts with cancer, and how relieved she is now to be in remission and to have two healthy young children and a job where she gets to help people.  I asked her how she had survived all those hard times, and what had helped her get to the good place where she is today, and her answer was immediate.  It was God.  It was the church.

That is what she said, but it could have been any number of other answers.  It could have been her higher power and a twelve-step meeting, it could have been the lovingkindness of the parents of a friend, it could have been the spirit of a cancer support group.  There are many ways we can find the mothering and warm, safe nest we need to flourish.

What happens when our nest falls apart or when we stray from home is that we find we are held by a greater nest.  Jesus leaves and we find that his Spirit is powerfully present in our beloved and loving community.  We feel like a motherless or homeless child, and we turn to one another and find compassion or forgiveness or acceptance—whatever we need to open the door to make us one and at home again.

Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest in the house of God.  Those of you who are struggling today, I hope you can rest in this trust.  I hope you can find what you long for in the way people here greet you and open their hearts to you after worship.

Those of you who feel blessed by the loving home you are a part of, those of you who are grateful for the mothering you have been able to give or receive, I hope you will express your thankfulness by turning and bringing others into that embrace.  That is what Jesus left us here to do.  Turn to one another and to the world and bring everyone into the nest of God’s loving and beloved community of justice, kindness and peace.

Let us pray in silence that this may be so…


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