May 10, 2020
Rev. Deanie Strength
Opening Thoughts on Scripture
SLIDE (Bird with two babies under the wing)
By the grace of God, we have walked another week into new territory on our wilderness journey. There have been moments of refreshment for our congregation. On Monday, the Presbyterian Women Coordinating Council had its first Zoom meeting with 100% attendance. And on Thursday, we broadcast an inspiring and uplifting National Day of Prayer service for the Skidaway community. I want to thank Jeff who insisted the prayer service could be carried out safely and worked with our AV team to make it happen. When the stay-at-home order first went into place, there was talk about cancelling this service, but Jeff recognized that we needed prayer in times like this more than ever.
I also want to thank Eleanor Graham, PW Moderator and elder, who has taken the initiative to work with Jim Brown to strengthen our ability to enjoy virtual community. Jeff and elder Thom Greenlaw have been helping us gather by Zoom for a virtual coffee hour for several weeks and now you will notice that as you are watching our service today, you are able to join in a “chat room” to say hi and share some encouragement. This chat room will be open now 30 minutes prior to and following each service so jump in and say “hi” – send up some virtual hearts to say you like something you see or that you are thankful for some aspect of the service.
Staying in gratitude is such an important tool to help us keep our hearts light rather than weighed down with brooding and frustration. I had my first good cry on Friday about the many losses that are being experienced far and wide, but I found gratitude in preparing this message for all of you. I imagined you in your places in the pews, giving your smiles of encouragement. I am thankful for you and I am thankful for the good promises of God that I encountered as I went looking for words to bring you hope and comfort today.
Today’s passage helps us connect to the caring spirit of God as well as the caring spirit of our mothers (both the ones in whose wombs God knit us together – Psalm 139: 13-14 – and those who God may have given us through adoption or familial ties). The passage is drawn from the Gospel of John and recalls the moment when Jesus promises the disciples the peace of mind brought by the Holy Spirit who would come to them in his absence as the “paraclete” or the “nearby called one” who will provide comfort.
(Slide of mother with baby chicks) This slide is the vision that comes to my mind when I think of the comfort and care of the Holy Spirit and hear passages like Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” And this slide reminds me of the care and love my mother has given my sister and me for almost 50 years. She sent us this photo several years ago and, since the Holy Spirit makes appearances in the Bible like a dove, I have used this image to describe for our preschoolers the care that our parents and our God seek to provide for us. I invite you to hold this image and these thoughts in your mind as we listen to God’s word in the Gospel of John 14:15-27.
A Message for Today
I hope I am not alone in having a few “mom” stories I regret. One of mine is the day I was so overwhelmed with thoughts and responsibilities that I drove about 10 minutes away from a park where my children were playing thinking they were in the backseat of the car playing with their devices. By the time I got back to them, there was a little panic on their part and mine.
Thankfully, we were able to overcome that trauma, but it really does hurt to be left behind, especially by the one you look to for care and direction. Jesus knew his followers had leaned on him and would feel fear about his absence so here he tells them about the gifts coming their way:
1) The Holy Spirit who is going to come and stay with them throughout their life span, even throughout the vast span of history, to lead them to truth and wisdom
2) Peace of mind and heart which will come as they breathe in the Spirit – or “pneuma” in Greek – and are taught in all truth and wisdom
The Holy Spirit – or paraclete – will be their counselor, advocate, helper, and friend – aspects of God that sound very “motherly” to me.
(Slide of MOTHER OWL) For the last couple of weeks on the Isle of Hope where I live, my neighbors and I have been focused this bard owl as she displays some of these “motherly” characteristics. About a month ago, she and her two owlets (SLIDE of TWO BABY OWLS) were spotted in a hollow of a tree on the bluff which has been a nesting spot in recent years. Though we can easily see them with our own eyes, the wonderful photography of resident Bill Tongue posted on our Isle of Hope Facebook page, have enabled us to enjoy close-up shots of the maturing babies.
We’ve watched them grow brave enough to come to the edge of the hollow watching for their mother to return with food for them to eat. We’ve heard their call and her response from a tree on the other side of the street. Last week their wings had fledged enough that they were ready to start working those wings and try flying themselves. They went for it, making it far enough to land on a nearby branch of another live oak and hop around freely for a couple of days. But when one thought its perch was more secure than it was, it fell two stories to the ground and got all tangled up in some Spanish moss. There it lay at the base of the tree stunned and immobile for a few minutes. (Slide of owl with funny wing)
But the mother stayed close. She flew to a nearby branch and stood guard while Mr. Tongue disentangled the bird. And she stayed close by as the baby walked itself over to a nearby live oak tree covered with vines and began working its way back up to the tree canopy, one step at a time, to resume its flight education. (Slide of owl in brush).
We can recognize ourselves in that owlet – remember first wanting to learn to fly and take on responsibility like an adult? We started by doing the little things like making and keeping appointments and getting our car registered and then moved to doing big things like starting families, starting businesses, hiring people to help us with the business, and developing skills to help people with important things.
Our experience told us we were on solid footing but then circumstances changed and we had the breath knocked out. A war or a recession or the death of a wage earner or a divorce and we felt as vulnerable as kids again wanting our mommies and daddies to take care of
things – or something to restore our security and peace of mind. Going forward despite our fears is what made us grow up to be adults. Going forward with faith in the Holy Spirit standing by our side is what enabled us to become the to be adults others can turn to for encouragement and strength in their times of need.
When the circumstances are hard, people of faith don’t put on the T-shirts that have become quite popular in the last couple of years: (SLIDE – No Adulting Today) – “NO ADULTING TODAY!” Unlike children crying in distress!”(Slide of child crying for parent), people of faith are able to face the future knowing that God will keep in perfect peace, all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on him. (Isaiah 26:3) Our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – will not leave us as orphans. Whenever we feel alone, God is ready to come to us, and breathe into us a breath that is filled with spiritual health and strength. The Greek word for “Spirit” – “pneuma” does, in fact, mean breath but God isn’t asking us to take in a “spirit” or “breath” of fear or sickness that would contain germs like “pneumonia” or “COVID-19” but to breathe in his “ spirit of power, of love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Taking in a deep breath of Christ’s power will revive us. Letting the Spirit direct us to his teachings will comfort us and give us “peace of mind.”
This week, when the chaos of this crisis causes your fear to sky- rocket, try this… (Slide of child lying in the green grass) this is the image I would like you to picture. You as this little child, lying in green pastures by still waters – it’s the one I used this year with the preschoolers to explain Psalm 23. Take a deep breath and call on the Holy Spirit to comfort you with His promises and listen… “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) …. For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. (Isaiah 54:10) … Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6)
I pray that you might know this peace this day – this week – and even forevermore. To God Be the Glory. Amen.