Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 12, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 7

Easter 7, 2024
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19
Psalm 1

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Many times, when a preacher wants to use a story to make a point, the preacher starts with, “The story is often told,” and then they tell a story.  It’s probably not really a story often told, and it’s probably not really even a true story, but it hopefully gets the preacher’s point across.

So . . . the story is often told  . . . of a priest who had a cat.  And since the rectory was attached to the church, the priest’s cat often wandered around the sanctuary, sometimes disrupting the service.  So the priest asked the altar guild to tie up the cat during services, so it wouldn’t disrupt things.  This worked well for years.  The priest passed away, and a new priest came to the church.  Since the cat outlived the priest, the altar guild took over caring for the cat, and every Sunday morning they would tie up the cat before services.

Eventually, of course, the cat also died.  Shortly after that, the altar guild told the new priest they needed some money to properly do their work.  Thinking they must need new linens or something, the priest suggested they put the supplies on the account like usual.  The head of the altar guild told him they didn’t have an account with the animal shelter, and they needed to get a new cat to tie up before church.

I was reminded of this story when I was thinking about today’s first reading, from the book of Acts.  Peter stands up and announces that they must pick someone to replace Judas, so that they will once again have 12 Apostles.  And I got to thinking, why twelve?  Why not eleven?  Why not twenty?  There’s no commandment from Jesus to have 12 Apostles.  It’s not like they had three bridge games going, right?  As best I can tell, the Apostles are assuming they need to be 12 in number because they had always been 12 in number.  You know, it’s the way we’ve always done things.  Gotta get a new cat to tie up on Sunday mornings, right?  The classic church approach, from the very beginning!

And then, they use the strangest method of choosing the new member.  Since they can’t decide whom to choose, they cast lots.  Which is essentially like flipping a coin, to you and me.  But before they flip the coin, they ask God to “show us which one of these two you have chosen.”  It’s curious, to say the least, and feels a little bit like some kind of magic spell, to our modern ears.  I mean, this is not how we elect Vestry members, right?  Church governance by a roll of the dice?  

But when you consider it, it is kind of how we elect Vestry members.  We pray that God would direct our decision and voting so that we can choose the right person, and then we cast ballots instead of lots.

But here’s the thing about that scene.  It really does mirror what we do as the church—not in the specifics, of course, but in the philosophy.  The disciples decided there had to be twelve of them because there had always been twelve of them, and then they trust that God will guide them into doing the right thing.  In a similar way, we often continue to do what we have always done, trusting that God will guide us into doing the right thing.  On a surface level, there is comfort in continuity, yes.  But on a deeper level, God works through continuity.  We don’t have a habit of shaking things up just for the purpose of shaking things up.  At least not in the Episcopal Church.

In the repetition of the words of the liturgy, in the maintaining of our sacred worship space, in the weekly pattern of showing up at 8 o’clock or 10 o’clock each Sunday morning, that continuity and familiarity is fertile ground for God to guide us into the future.  If every week you came to church and found I had moved the Altar to a different place in the room, or wrote up a new liturgy on the fly, or let my cat walk around on the Altar, or—God forbid—brought in a rock band on random Sundays, you would be distracted, I’m sure.  You would feel unsettled, maybe even untethered.  It is hard to hear the voice of God when your world is all askew . . . and when you’re wondering if you might need to send that rector out of town on a rail.  God works in the familiar, is my point.  When we feel stable, and secure, and cared for, that is when we can thrive and grow.

Which naturally leads me to remind us that today is Mother’s Day.  Now I know--whether biological or adopted--every person’s relationship with their mother is different.  Some have great relationships and memories, and some have nothing but pain and anxiety when they think of their mothers.  But I think it is true that—at least in the ideal—mothers provide stability, security, and care.  Stability, security, and care.  The very things that allow us to thrive and grow.  It’s no coincidence that Christians through the centuries have used the term Mother when referring to the Church.  When we feel stable, and secure, and cared for, that is when we can thrive and grow.  

I want to draw our attention to the prayer from Jesus in today’s gospel reading.  Taken as a whole, it is called his “High Priestly Prayer,” because he is praying for his disciples, interceding for them, something like what a priest might do.  Since Jesus is our Great High Priest, this is called the High Priestly Prayer.  This prayer takes up all of Chapter 17 in John’s gospel, and the whole prayer is on behalf of his disciples, which includes you and me.  And having this prayer fall on Mother’s Day is just the most lovely coincidence.

Notice the mothering tone in these statements, and how you could imagine a mother saying these things to God about her own children:  
I have made your name known to those you gave me. They were yours, and you gave them to me.  Protect those you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 

It is striking, isn’t it?  Jesus prays for us the way a loving mother might.  And that is so very fitting.  Because in the best situation, in the ideal world, this is what a mother wants for her children.  That they would get along with one another.  That they would be protected from evil.    That they would see that everything they have is a gift from God.  That they would know that their parents consider children a gift from God.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t always work out that way, because our mothers are not Jesus.  Mothers are human, and just as broken and struggling as everyone else.  AND, just as redeemed and forgiven as everyone else.

And, I have to add, ever since humans have existed, one of the things mothers do is feed us.  I’m not big on assigning mandatory gender rolls, and I’m not doing that here.  I’m just talking biologically and historically.  Mothers feed us.  And just as Jesus prayed for us, Jesus also feeds us, and sends us out into the world.  

So, come and feast, at the Altar of God.  And, as Jesus prayed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  May we all go into the world, feeling stable and secure, cared for and nourished, as God intends for us, and as Jesus prays for us to be.


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