Sermon: Sunday, May 11, 2008: Day of Pentecost/Mother’s Day

Texts:  Acts 2:1-21  ;  Psalm 104:24-34,35b  ;  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13  ;  John 7:37-39


In the name of our Mothering God, by whose waters we are carried from death into life. Amen.

Because it is Mother’s Day, I’ll begin with a picture of my own mom. It’s an actual photograph, somewhere, though I don’t have a copy of my own to show you. You can tell it was taken in the 1970s because it’s square, has a thin white frame around the print, and everything in the image looks like it’s being seen through an amber filter.

The picture itself is of my mother. She is a young woman, in her mid-twenties. Her hair is longer than it would ever be after I was born and she’s wearing a dress that shows off two things: her beautiful legs and her pregnant belly. She is smiling radiantly for the photographer, my dad. They are preparing for their first child.

Mom tells me that while she was carrying me in her womb she would sing to me. I know she continued to sing her pre-natal melodies to me after I was born, but I can’t for the life of me remember what they were. Little Irish ditties learned from her mother, I expect.

They say that we can hear our mothers’ voices while we are being knit together in the womb. We can hear words and tunes coming to us through the thin membrane of flesh that separates us from the world we are waiting to enter. We have no memory of this, but I imagine it’s somewhat like the game I played as a child with my friends at the swimming pool where we’d hold our breaths and shout messages at each other through the water, then surface to see if the others had understood our words.

Words, and the difficulty we have understanding each other, are central to the story told on Pentecost. On the day of that first Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to rest on the disciples and they preached the good news of God’s reign to an assembly of people from all over the known world. They were speaking to Mesopotamians, Judeans, Asians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans and Arabs (I’ve left out the ones I have trouble pronouncing). The disciples were speaking the only language they knew, but they were being understood by people who came from distant lands, who lived by different customs, who spoke different languages. How could this be?

The first time I met my sister I was about twelve and she was about seven. It took place in Bangkok, Thailand where she’d lived up until that point, at an adoption agency. In preparation for our trip to meet our new family member my mom and dad and I had learned a song in Thai so that we could sing something to Tara in a language she could understand. Music, being my family’s first tongue, was something we wanted to immediately share with my new sister.

Oddly, just as I can’t remember the songs my mother sang to me in utero, I can’t remember the words to this song anymore either. But I remember singing it, trying to build a bridge across the distance between us and this little person we’d never met before, trying to sing her into a new family. Somehow she understood what we were trying to accomplish and, as we finished our song, she opened her mouth to share the song they had taught her in English, “are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Brother John, Brother John…” It was a song whose meaning had nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with the understanding.

Today concludes a series of three Sundays hearing about children and parents, particularly children and mothers. Two weeks ago we listened to Jesus as he promised his friends that he would not leave them orphaned, and promised them the consoling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to be their advocate. Last week we remembered Rachel’s weeping for the lost children of Israel, we commemorated the deaths of children in our own community, and we heard God’s promise to restore us to our homes. Finally, this week we begin to get an understanding of how God intends to do this. God will bring all her children home again by breaking down the barriers that separate us. God will bring us all home by making the whole world our home. At Pentecost we see once again that the life and death and resurrection of their Lord was not a private event intended for our eyes only but that, in Christ, God was reclaiming the whole world as God’s chosen people.

In the gospel we heard this morning read in German and Spanish and English, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

To we who are thirsty for an end to violence against our children, in our neighborhoods, across our city and around the world – living water sounds like exactly what we need. Waters of life, waters that promise to raise us up to new life. Waters that quench our insatiable desires for acceptance and belonging and justice and peace and love. Especially love.

But water does more than quench, water dissolves. Water is the most potent solvent we know on this planet. It can carve canyons out of rock and breaks through walls and dams.

Living waters do not sit still, they are not stagnant. In Jesus’ time you wanted to drink from living waters – springs and rivers – because still waters carried disease. Living waters carry life, and wear down walls. Living waters do what we cried out for in our gathering hymn this morning, they “crumble walls that still divide us; [making] us one in Christ our Lord.”

Of course, there are other – more literal – living waters. The waters that hold us while we ride within our mothers’ wombs. These waters, carried in life lines of living blood, are alive with all the oxygen and nutrients we need to grow. And we are surrounded by other living waters, waters that protect us as we form, waters that fill our eyes and ears and mouth and lungs. We are held, we are surrounded, by living waters in our mothers’ bellies – and we are held, we are surrounded, by living waters as we make our way out in the world. We are held in God’s mothering waters, the living waters to which Jesus bids us come, the waters that – by holding all of us make us roommates in the womb – sisters and brothers – the waters that break down walls that divide us without making us all the same. We are held in God’s mothering waters – waters that make us family.

It’s a little strange on a day we traditionally associate with tongues of fire to spend this much time thinking about water. Then again, it’s 49° outside and pouring rain in the middle of May. Mother Nature is full of surprises. But in God seemingly incompatible things often occupy the same space: Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, fire and water, life and death. The people who heard God’s words burning in the mouths of the disciples that first Pentecost day were only able to understand them because they were all being held in the waters of God’s grace.

After Tara came home with us to the United States we got to introduce her to the rest of her new family. On one such occasion we took her to meet my father’s father. He was in his eighties by then, and living with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. He could no longer speak, but there was still some glimmer of understanding in his deep blue eyes – eyes as blue as the ocean. I had never known how to relate to my grandfather in his silence, but my sister – speaking no English at all – crawled up into his lap and babbling in Thai festooned him with tiny stickers all over his nursing home robes. She spoke and he listened and they understood each other. Held in God’s mothering waters, they became family.

We are living our lives in a world divided by languages and cultures and customs and wealth and privilege and class and war. We are divided by oceans of difference. But there are ways of reaching across those waves, ways of singing through those waters. We are children of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit who is our advocate – our sure defense. We are speaking words o
f freedom, singing songs of love. We are adopting each other as family.

At Pentecost, Easter’s baptismal waters overflowed their banks and poured out on the whole world, spreading like tongues of flame. God bathed us in living waters and spoke words to us so simple and so clear that we could not misunderstand them in any language, “you are mine, all of you, and I love you all.”

Happy Mother’s Day.


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