Revelations 21:10, 22-22:5
There is a show on TV right now called Heroes, and in last week's episode, one of the characters, Sylar, discovers that he is about to do something terrible, something that will result in the obliteration of half of New York City. Although he's already caused the deaths of a number of other people, the sheer magnitude and wastefulness of killing millions horrifies him and causes him to question his very existence. In his anguish, he seeks out his mother, with the hopes that she will reassure him that he is actually a good person, capable of doing good and avoiding the horrendous evil that he is about to commit. Sylar tracks down his mother hoping that once she affirms the goodness within him, he will be able to turn away from the dark path he seems doomed to follow. They meet, and there is a touching moment between mother and son as he seeks her approval.
Well, it may be just a TV cliche, but it does seem to be that in times of extreme stress, it's their mothers that people turn to for guidance. This seems to be particularly the case when we're faced with a situation that makes us question who we are. Of course, very few people are asked to decide the fate of millions of people, but there are occasions in our life when it seems as if the decision we need to make will affect the very moral balance of the universe. And at those times, when we are caught with having to decide whether we are people who have the potential to contribute to goodness in the world, or to evil, at those times when we question whether we are really sinners or saints, we turn to the people who brought us into the world, who have known us from day one - our mothers. We look to them, hoping that they will tell us that yes, we are really good, decent people, who have the potential to do good things and bring life, not death, to the world.
Of course, I must acknowledge that not everyone relates to their mother that way or can trust their mothers to tell them that. Some of us no longer have our mothers with us, and ache to hear their voices telling us how good we are. Some of us have mothers who are abusive, pointing out every character flaw that they see, real or imagined. And some mothers, well all mothers, actually, are just plain human, and can't always be there for us in the way we need. Their own insecurities and fears overwhelm them and they can't say the things to us that we need to hear. Sylar's mother, in the end, rejected him, focussing solely on his potential for evil, with the result that he felt he had no option but to commit the horror he had been trying to avoid. She was human, trapped in her own frailties, and unable to affirm her son as he needed. It was tragic and led to devastation, and in the real world, not uncommon.
Which leads me to ask - if we can't depend on our mothers, since it turns out that they are only human, who can we turn to when we need affirmation that we are capable of doing good in the world?
The first disciples of Jesus wondered the same thing. Well, they weren't looking for their mothers, but they were seeking reassurance and affirmation of their potential to do good as they faced the new task ahead of them. Specifically, they were being asked to be perfect followers of Christ - to love others as he had loved them, and to follow the commandments set before them by God. "Love me," and "Keep my word," were the two simple, but by no means easy, things Jesus asked them to do. And he was asking them to do these things on their own, without him by their side to help them. So, naturally, they were feeling overwhelmed. They knew how easy it would be to fall into sin, witness Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and so they needed help to stay on the right path. The Gospels don't say as much, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were asking Jesus things like, "Are you sure we can do this? Are you sure we're really the ones to carry on your words of love? How do you know we can be as good as you think?" Like the rest of us, they must have been full of self-doubt, wondering if they could really live up to the image Jesus seemed to have of them.
And, like a good mother, Jesus reassured them. He told them that he was going to ask God to send the Holy Spirit, who would "teach [them] everything, and remind [them] of all that [Jesus] had said to [them.]" The Holy Spirit, like a mother caring for her children, would teach them, guide them, love them, forgive them, and most importantly, remind them of their potential as children of God and disciples of Christ. That reminder is what would keep them close to Christ, it would hold up before them that they were brothers and sisters of Christ, and meant to share in his inheritance of God's love and forgiveness.
You see, we turn to our mothers to help us when we are seeking our way because, as their children, we know that some of what they are is in us, too. Parents and children, over the years, come to reflect each other, families have certain characteristics that identify them. So when we look at our family - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers - we hope to see good in them, so that we can be reassured of that good in ourselves.
And so when the winds of Pentecost blew, the Holy Spirit descended on them and nurtured those early followers just as Jesus had promised. The Holy Spirit reminded the first disciples that they were children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ, they knew, then, that they shared some of the characteristics of God and Jesus. The disciples were reassured that they could love the world, that they did have the courage to reach out to others, that they could forgive sins, just as the rest of their family could. The self-doubting, insecure group of followers became the leaders of the early Church, fearlessly preaching God's forgiveness in the marketplaces, touching and healing those who were untouchable, believing themselves to be capable of bringing God's love to the world. Whatever their past, and some of them had one heck of a past, the presence of the Holy Spirit meant that their previous status as sinners and betrayers of Christ would not be able to stop them from doing great good.
That same Holy Spirit is here for us, too. When our mothers fail us, as they will do, no matter how hard they try, we can count on the Holy Spirit to step in and offer us the affirmation that they weren't able to. When we question what good we can do in the world, when we wonder if we should even bother trying to love our enemies, or put in the effort of trying to avoid sin, when we begin to believe that maybe we are just so hopelessly evil we might as well give in, as Sylar did, then the Holy Spirit comes forward. The mothering Spirit says to us, "I created you to be good, just as I created your brother, Jesus Christ. I have made my home in you, I live in your heart, and for that reason, you are capable of great good. Because of me, you have it within you to love your enemies, to avoid sin, to keep God's commandments, to follow your brother. I have known you since you were in the womb, and I know that, with my help, you will do good and not evil all the days of your life."
God created us to be people of love, people who could share ourselves and everything we have with the world without reservation. Jesus is the perfect example of that. But years of living have exposed us to our failings and to that devil's voice that tells us that we will never amount to anything, that we are doomed to evil from the beginning, that we might as well give up trying. But the Holy Spirit, our heavenly mother, if you will, looks at us as her children, seeing everything we do as wonderful, seeing every good path that lays before us, and reminds us of that. The Holy Spirit affirms what Christ has already told us, that Holiness has come to live within us, and so we are able to follow Christ, loving all and doing good. So on this day and all days, may God's mothering Spirit be with you and all who mother, reminding you that you are loved and loving, capable of great good, and a child of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.