Many Dwelling Places Under The Wings of God
+May the words of my mouths and meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in Your sight O God, our great Mother Hen. Amen.
In this week’s Gospel text, Jesus is preparing for his departure from his friends right before his crucifixion. But for us, on this side of Easter, we read this text as we start to approach Ascension Day, the day that the church celebrates Jesus’ ascent into heaven and prepares for the Holy Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost. In either context, Jesus is speaking words of comfort to his friends and flock. Jesus is trying to say that “everything will be alright” not in a pollyanna way, but in a real way.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places...I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Do not let your hearts be troubled. That’s the Spirit speaking to us this morning, soothing our worried minds and troubled hearts. Like a hen gathers up her chicks, God gathers up the disciples and promises to be with them, no matter which way they go. Jesus asks the disciples and us to trust that the Father’s house has many dwelling places for all of us, many mansions as one translation puts it. God’s got this and God’s got all of us in those almighty hands of love.
But if you look at that Gospel passage, this reassurance from God doesn’t reassure the disciples. Philip, still antsy and anxious, presses Jesus on his departure and wants more reassurance that everything will be okay once they’re on their own. Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...
Jesus has been with these people all this time and their hearts are still troubled and they look for safety, like when chicks are spooked and they run to their mother hen. And Jesus embraces them, calms them and builds up their confidence, assuring them “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” This is a touching scene where we can see the power of that movement between fear and faith, between fear and loving reassurance from God. The baby chicks are scared and mother hen, like a good parent, Jesus gathers them up, protects them and then sends them out again.
I want us to consider what’s happening here. The disciples, these strapping young men in their prime of their lives, are afraid. But instead of covering it up with bravado or humor, they are allowing themselves to talk about their fears with God. They aren’t afraid to tell God they aren’t okay. And Jesus responds.
Instead of allowing their fears to remain unaddressed, instead of being isolated from Jesus and one another in their doubts, they reach out. They reach out to Jesus instead of letting their doubts get the best of them, sure that Jesus will respond in love and liberation. When they feel fear, they reach out to God. And Jesus, as a good parental figure, comforts, soothes, and encourages.
And the same is true to us today. Here we are, in a pandemic, on Mother’s Day in 2020, still looking for comfort, still looking for reassurance and still looking for encouragement. And Jesus, in his timelessness, is able to comfort, reassure and encourage us now. We just have to reach out and ask. This is why we pray Evening Prayer together each week, why we gather for worship on Sundays. This is our opportunity to find solace under the wings of our Mother Hen, who has many dwelling places for us.
I experienced a bit of this movement from fear to faith this week. Like many others, I have my faithful moments in this pandemic and my fearful moments, and they can change on a dime. With a new story, with an announcement, with a phone call, your world can change. For me, it was an innocent Facebook post from a high school teacher looking for updates from his students over the years.
As I saw all the responses, I saw many people who I haven’t talked to or seen in 11-15 years. My heart began to pound as memories of these people I knew came flooding back. And my pandemic-battered heart couldn’t handle it. And then I saw a post from a friend from my close posse that undid me. She said that she and my other best friends were still talking twice per week, meeting up with each other twice per year. And the pit in my stomach told me that I was feeling the pain of abandonment. Sure, I hadn’t reached out in 11 years, but neither did they, even though they kept in touch. My heart was troubled and I was afraid. And I needed my Mother Hen.
I knew, from enough experience, that you have three choices when you start to venture into unpleasant emotions: (1) you can avoid it and pretend it’s not there, (2) you can self-pity and sulk or (3) you can reach out. I’m pretty good at the first two. I took a deep breath. I was all ready to self-pity for the evening and then bury it, but a small nudge came from deep within. The nudge compelled me to message my friend and ask to talk. She was free and, before I knew it, I heard her voice on the other end of the line and I burst into tears. I missed her. And the pandemic had already battered my heart and I didn’t realize how badly needed that reconnection with long lost loved ones. We talked for over an hour and my heart and mind were filled with thankfulness. The self-pity and fear took a back seat. That connection made room in my heart for people I forgot, and strengthened it for whatever comes next.
My point is that when you’re feeling low, reach out. God is always moving toward connection. Mother Hen Jesus is always gathering up his chicks in one way or another, and making room for them in the Father’s house. God does not abandon us and does not want us to abandon each other. The Holy Spirit is that still, small voice that reminds you to reconnect with God and each other. Whether it’s prayer, a friend, a therapist, a family member, do not let yourself be alone in this.
And, funny enough, this accords with the CDC guidelines for managing ourselves in this pandemic. The CDC says in their “coping during COVID-19” page these five steps to cope with stress: (1) Pause and breathe, (2) Take breaks, (3) Make time for yourself, and, in accordance with this sermon, (4) reach out and stay connected and (5) Seek help if overwhelmed or unsafe. These are perfectly reasonable steps for Christians, we just add God to the “reach out and stay connected” step. Reach out and stay connected with each other and God, even when your heart is troubled and when you are afraid, especially when our hearts are afraid.
Don’t just sit there in self-pity or fear. Breathe, take a moment for yourself. Reach out for connect, help or just plain laughs with someone. This is the work of God in these difficult times. Our clergy, vestry and pastoral care teams have been doing this work, calling people and connecting. It’s holy work that has blossomed new friendships and calmed troubled hearts. It’s the Spirit-filled work we must keep doing. We reconnect with God and each other every time we meet, whether it’s worship, on Sundays, on Wednesdays for noonday healing service, on Tuesdays through Thursdays for Evening Prayer at 4 PM. Call or Zoom into those, it does wonders for a troubled heart. And I think it’s part of why -- when I was truly tested this week -- I was able to push through. I’ve had a lot of really great connections with yall and with God recently, and so this was a blip when it could’ve been a blunder.
Let me tell you of another story I found in which you can see the divine beauty of a human-to-human connection. A National Geographic article describes how essential human connection is right now. Katy Johnson lives and works in a grocery store in New York. As a head cashier, Katy “knows she’s taking a risk coming to work six days a week during the pandemic. But the stream of new customers means job security. Listening to her customers share their woes about applying for unemployment, Johnson is increasingly grateful for a paycheck.” But, “it’s not just groceries that are essential during this pandemic, she says. Every morning, an elderly man comes into the store. After his wife passed away earlier this year, he started visiting daily to pick out a fresh-baked donut from the case and joke with the baker behind the counter. ‘Oh these damn donuts,’ he’d say. When the lockdown began, the store stopped making donuts. One day, the baker asked the widower for his favorite kind. From then on, she’s whipped up a single donut for him each morning. Johnson could tell it made his day… ‘People need a connection to other people...we’re able to offer that.’”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. Reach out to your almighty Mother Hen, hide under the shadow of her wings, and don’t forget to reach out to others as well.
During our coffee hour today, I invite you to discuss how you have or would like to reach out to others during this time. What are some good stories of connection in your life?