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					The Robin A Sermon on Mother’s Day
by the Rev. Barbrara Mraz St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church St. Paul, Minnesota May 10, 2009 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from him you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the blades are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” - John 15: 1-6 I can’t believe how attached I am to her. I check on her first thing in the morning and last thing at night, plus a dozen times a day. I am transfixed by her beauty, her focus, and her skill. Sitting at the desk in my home office provides a perfect view of the whole enterprise. One of my cats, Finley, sits there all day, staring upward, like it’s really great television. When I found a tiny turquoise blue eggshell on the ground underneath her nest, I wanted to send out birth announcements to the neighborhood. Robin’s babies had hatched. Somehow I felt honored that Robin – an obvious name if there ever was one—had chosen to build her nest in the corner of the metal awning, high over my back steps. It is protected from the wind and rain, and inaccessible to squirrels and others who might do her family harm. A brilliant choice of nest-scape. On rainy nights, I am comforted knowing that Robin and her three babies had a roof over their heads and shelter from the wind I was flattered when, eventually, Robin didn’t fly off when I opened the back door and was proud to have earned her trust. The nest itself – which seemed to appear overnight – is round, perfectly sculpted, with strand-like fragments draping down from it as gracefully as if on a wreath in a gift shop window. I imagine her own feathers cushioning the inside. The three small birds are all open beaks when Robin brings them juicy worms to deposit in their gaping mouths. She is constantly on the move gathering food, a dashing and darting single mom providing for her triplets. After being out of town for three days, I immediately dashed to the window and was astounded at how much larger the birdlets were. I could see their little heads – and yesterday saw them flapping their wings! Sigh…they grow up so fast…. After Robin feeds the kids, she sits down again on the nest, the little birds sleeping beneath her and beside her. She is watchful, but sits there in peacefulness and confidence, as fine an icon of motherhood as I’ve ever seen. In nurturing her babies, in some mysterious way I can’t explain, Robin has also nurtured me. All of us are in need or nurturing, no matter how old we are, and even if we can’t describe exactly what it is we crave.

We’re in the midst of a sequence of Gospel lessons depicting Jesus as a nurturer: last week, as the tender good shepherd; today, as the vine in which the branches are rooted. The vine is a conduit for nourishment from the soil out to the branches. A single branch may sway in the wind, but attached firmly to a larger vine, it is not swept away in the onslaught. I used to use a poem in my Women’s Studies class at Blake as an example of how mothers anchor their children while the children bask in those human moments of glory that come to all of us. A Cherokee poet named Marilou Awiatka wrote Motheroot: “Creation often needs two hearts one to root and one to flower One to sustain in times of drought And hold fast against winds of pain the fragile bloom that in the glory of its hour affirms a heart unsung, unseen.” That is what we affirm today – the mother that holds us firm yet allows us to flower. This is also how we meet Jesus in today’s lesson. He is the vine; we are the branches. It is a heavily parental image. In Jewish history. the vine became the symbol of Israel. Jesus knew his Jewish history, and this is a comparison that originates in the Hebrew Scriptures. During the period of the Macabees, the symbol of the vine was even on the coins of Israel. The historian Josephus, in describing Herod’s Temple in Jesus’ day says, ―Under the crownwork was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height, the largeness and the workmanship of which were an astonishing sight to the spectators.‖ (Antiquities of the Jews, 5.5.4). And of course, both Testaments—Hebrew and Christian—are filed with stories of vineyards and grapes and laborers. These are foundational Judaeo-Christian images. So on Thursday, I walked from my office here into the sanctuary in search of vines in our woodwork. None, I could spot, but them, suddenly there they were right before me in the last place I looked: the pulpit, at the top here, thick vines with luscious grapes, embracing the preaching space and, I choose to think, the preacher. And when these gifts come our way we don’t have to dissect them, but only smile and receive them with a grateful heart. There are countless ways in which God nurtures each and every one of us. Someone observed that ―Beauty is the way God heals his broken children.‖ So remember when there could have been a sterile, grey, monochromatic silent landscape out there, there are mountains, and green grass, and chocolate, and music pulsating through the spheres. In the novel The Color Purple, the main character, Celie says, ―I think it pisses

God off when we walk by the color purple and don’t say nothin’.‖ The world offers itself to our imagination. God also nurtures us through giving us opportunities to serve which put us in touch with our finest, most generous natures, and by showing us how much power we have to use for good. God nurtures us through the pages of Scripture. What better image of God's desire to nurture us – and of our resistance -- than these words from Jesus in Matthew: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” I think God can even nurture us through paradox and dissonance. A week ago, I was in Orlando, as the chaplain to the national conference of diocesan executives. Florida -- where salamanders creep around like house pets. I preached three mornings at Morning Prayer in a hotel ballroom. Wednesday and Thursday: no problem. Friday, a group had moved in next door to us with a very loud sound system and also music. When I got up to preach, ―Bohemian Rhapsody‖ – a lively tune – blasted out over the mike next door. But, not to be deterred, all the while casting the wall derisive looks, I delivered the sermon at twice my normal volume. People applauded the fact I had simply gotten through it. I only tell you this because the text I had chosen months earlier for that sermon was the Tower of Babble, that story I Scripture where god is angry at the Israelites and confuses speech they can’t understand each other – shouting louder and louder in their frustration. The thesis of the sermon was how hard it is to hear God – and each other -- in our culture. It was like the sermon had a soundtrack and many listeners found the was the marriage of content and context amazing if not hilarious. Don’t tell me the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a sense of humor…. Any of us – regardless of gender or age -- can ―mother.‖ All of us, every one, can nurture, as parent, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. There are no barriers to this blessed ministry. We all have or had a mother, whether we knew her or not, someone who gave birth to us. Today we celebrate this divine role and this holy act or nurturing, just as Jesus is the parent vine who holds fast to us as we branch out into the world and into our fullest lives. I know that one day – probably soon, I’m going to come home and the nest will be empty and Robin and the kids will have left. And after that, whenever I see a robin hopping around the yard or soaring from branch to branch, I’ll wonder if it’s my robin. I wish she’d give me a sign, maybe a little wing dip to let me know it’s her. But God in Jesus never leaves, and nurtures us through the Holy Spirit by guiding our eyes to the orange tulips or the vines on a pulpit or our hearts to a place of challenge or humor or peace, and will be there to guide us after we leave this earthly garden. But the thing is, mothers do leave. Eventually, they leave us; they leave this world, as we all must. Many of us here in this congregation have lost our mothers or fathers through death in the past year, and no matter how complex the circumstances and how good the death, it hurts. As someone whose parents have died and who never got the nurturing she thought she deserved, I have several adopted parents here at St. John’s. They are an inexpressible comfort to be. You may not even know you’re one of them….

So my Mother’s Day gift to all of you here is this poem by David Whyte: *David Whyte’s poem ”Farewell Letter” is available no the internet and also in his wonderful book, Everything Is Waiting for You. There will also be some copies available at the back of the church. Amen….

Farewell Letter
By David Whyte ―She wrote me a letter after her death, and I remember a kind of happy light as I sat by the rose tree on her old bench by the back door so surprised to receive it wondering what she would say looking up before I could open it and laughing to myself in silent expectation. Dear son It is time for me to leave you the words you are used to hearing, are no longer mine to give. You can only hear those words of motherly affection now from your own mouth and only for those who stand motherless before you. As for me I must forsake adulthood and be bound gladly to a new childhood. You must understand this apprenticeship demands of me an elemental innocence from everything I have ever held in my hands. I know your generous soul is well able to let me go You will in the end be happy to know my God was true and that after so many years of loving you so long I find myself in the wide, infinite mercy of being mothered myself. P.S. All of your intuitions were true. From the book Everything Is Waiting for You


				
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