“Don’t be Troubled” Colchester Federated Church, May 10, 2020, (John 14:1-14) Fifth Sunday of Easter (**Virtual Worship)
Robins are my favorite. And this time of the year and seeing them everywhere makes me happy. This week I was delighted to discover that a Mama Robin has made a nest in the large rhododendron that sits right in front of a window on the back porch here at the parsonage. When discovering the nest and gently peering out the window the Papa Robin was not happy with me and started chirping away. While the Mama Robin was way at a distance on the fence chirping even louder, yelling both at him and me it seems.
Now keep in mind that these interactions are happening without me even leaving the house. We’ve had nice days and sometimes I bring my laptop out on the porch to write. While keeping my distance as best I could the other day (again from inside my house out on the porch) Mama Robin caught my eye and it looked like she was going to charge the glass window to shoo me away. We had the funniest interaction where I flung my hands up and said, “Please don’t, I don’t mean you harm.” She settled back in the nest, fluffing her feathers, still eyeing me wearily—though my presence on the porch has been mostly tolerated since then. Though if I’m somehow maimed in the future and this turns into Hitchcock’s The Birds or something, we have suspects and this is now on record.
It’s funny that this happened right before Mother’s Day, discovering that robins are raising their little ones right outside my window. Some mothers (certainly my mother) can have that fiercely protective side, that side that comes up should anyone try to mess with their children. Funny enough my parents have a robin’s nest at their house right now in their backyard and are dealing with their own protective Mama Robin trying to keep them away from that nest as much as possible. That instinct is often present in the animal kingdom—that instinct to protect those we love from those who might harm them, particularly protecting members of our own families.
Jesus seemed to have that protective instinct when it came to his followers too. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem he used an image of a bird protecting her young to describe himself. Mama Robin is not alone here in guarding her nest. Jesus said in the Gospel according to Luke, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” There’s something to this idea of a mother bird protecting her young under her wings, even Jesus used it to talk about how he wanted to gather up the people of Jerusalem to hear his message of love.
Or remember that Jesus’ mother Mary and his siblings once came to see him in the Gospel according to Mark and stood outside where he was staying, sending word to Jesus. Members of the crowd conveyed the message that his family was looking for him. And Jesus said, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, ‘Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother’” Now we don’t hear Mary’s reaction, though it’s worth noting that Jesus expanded on the idea of family. Family wasn’t just blood relatives to him. It wasn’t just members of his family of origin that he wanted to gather together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. For Jesus there was such a thing as one’s chosen family—the people we surround ourselves with, the people with whom we share our lives whether we are related or we grow up in the same household or not.
When we hear this morning’s story about Jesus telling his followers to not be troubled, to trust in God and to trust in him, and that in God’s house there’s room to spare for everybody—keep in mind that this is showing the level of care and protection that Jesus was providing for those who became his chosen family. He tells them, “When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.” Jesus isn’t just thinking about preparing a place for Mary and his siblings (the people with whom he spent the earliest years of his life), he’s thinking about all of his followers and the promise of eternal life. He reminds the disciples that he himself is the way, the truth, and the life, that Jesus himself will be with them forever.
There’s all sorts of debate about terms that we use in the Christian Church. Some would argue that we can refer to ourselves as a “faith community” or “God’s beloved people” or “the Body of Christ” and so on. Though we must be cautious about using language that involves “family” when we’re talking about a Christian congregation. Because what if one’s relationship with one’s family has been strained or complicated? Worse, what if their relationship with family has been toxic or abusive and they’ve needed to put up healthy boundaries? And then (the thinking goes) that person comes into a church where people use language like “we’re a church family” and that may be the last thing in the world that they want to hear. Because family doesn’t mean love and belonging to everyone, it could mean something negative and painful. Because that’s been their lived experience and it’s just how that person happens to feel.
At Colchester Federated Church you—the congregation—use the term “church family” often. And it’s good to understand how some may not love that term, and it’s also good to contemplate how that term fits who we are. Because maybe when we say that we’re a church family, we’re getting to how Jesus expanded on the idea of family when he looked around and said “Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother” (and we can add, father.) Maybe it’s good to acknowledge that we can have chosen family, we may have members of our church family that we miss seeing in person during this pandemic we’re facing.
As today is Mother’s Day, we may feel so happy to celebrate our mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to those who are celebrating today. Or we may find that this day is a rough day for all sorts of reasons, including complicated relationships, mothers who’ve died, even struggles with infertility and wanting to be a mother. Though if we had a rough time growing up in our family of origin, the idea of family may not need to be only negative. Because maybe on some level (especially as we grow and mature and have more choices we can make) we get to choose the people with whom we spend our days. We get to choose the church family to whom we belong. Maybe that ends up being the church we’re born into, and maybe it doesn’t. Jesus is there to remind us that God has that fiercely protective motherly love for us, that God’s house has room to spare for us, that Jesus himself goes to prepare a place for us because we are part of his family too. Thanks be to God. Amen.