A Season of Choice

A Sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

This is Memorial Day weekend. It is full of opportunities for families and friends to gather and share a meal and good times; to enjoy the plentiful sales merchants have been offering for a week or so. It is time to remember.

My uncle flew B 24s over the south pacific in WWII. My dad served in post-WWII Germany. Larry, customer of mine flew DC 3s over the Himalayas in WWII. The challenge was not just flying over the highest mountains in the world; there were the winds. At times, the throttle would be all back with the nose pointed down, and the plane would be rising. The next minute the throttle would be full on with the nose pointed up, and the plane would be falling. Col. Rogers, one of my acolyte masters was on the first team into Hiroshima. Pat Durkee, Sgt. Major USMC (Retired) was my Field Director when I was working with the Boy Scouts, my first real job after college. Bob Atkins, Sgt. Major US Army (Retired) was a mentor when I was first ordained. David Stout, USMC was my first sales manager. Mark Lemon, a high school classmate, was a swift boat captain in Viet Nam. All these are folks I know, who have in one way or another journeyed with me to this point in my life and made some contribution to who I am.

But on his Memorial Day weekend, there are two others who stand out Mike Michelli, Angie’s father, who was killed in action in Viet Nam. I did not have the honor of asking him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. 1990 his 4-year-old granddaughter cried when we found his name on the Memorial Wall. She cried when she realized she had never known, and would never know her grandfather.

The other, Jimmy Kinsey was wounded in Iraq and lost a leg below the knee. He adjusted well to the prosthetic, often playing pranks with it. Jimmy would carefully place his prosthetic by the door so that you would step on it and go sit across the room. When someone did step on he’d shout “ouch!” Not all adjustment to life went so well. Jimmy struggled and was sent to the Wounded Warriors program. There he fell; he hit his head on and iron bed post and died. His parents, related to a parishioner of mine, were not churched, asked me to preside at his funeral. It is one of the greatest honors ever extended to me. I went to meet his parents, and ended up meeting the Marine honor guard; there were five Marines, I think. I listened as they shared their stories of serving with Jimmy. At some point, one pointed to another of the group said, “He was blown up first, then me, them him and him and him.” All of those marines had been injured by an IED explosion. All of them were the same age as my daughters. I thought to myself “What are we doing for $2 a gallon gas?” Later, as I realized our IRAs and 403b likely had investments in companies that profited from the war in Iraq, or from our armed forces in harm’s way across the world, I thought, “What I am doing?” My thoughts this morning are not about the political legitimacy of war. My thoughts this morning are about choice, our choices as individuals and our choices as a society.

Elijah speaks to all Israel “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” No one spoke a word. Still he insists that they make a choice; believe and follow God or follow Baal; one way or another you have to make a choice. As has been their tendency, most of Israel tried to avoid making a choice. They preferred to hedge their bets; proclaim one god but just in case honor others. Elijah says “Nope – you got to choose.” He does go on to make a rather dramatic argument for God. Nonetheless, the people as individuals and as a society must choose. The effect of divine consuming fire is that Israel chooses to follow God. However, they have made that choice before; at Saini, and crossing into the promised land and here they are choosing again.

Luke’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion is about choice. Centurion is an outsider and official of the oppressing Roman Empire. It would be a close race between Centurions or tax collectors for the most despised. The story reveals several choices the Centurion makes:

  • He chooses to work with the Jews under his watch, in fact, he built a synagogue for them.
  • He chooses to help a sick slave / servant; revealing that his choice to see the servant /slave as more than an expendable commodity.
  • He knows about Jesus, though we don’t know how, and he chooses to invite Jesus to help (Wong).
  • He chooses to recognize the Jewish tradition that coming into a Gentile property would defile Jesus, so he does not demand or even ask him to (Hogan).
  • He chooses to believe that physical proximity is not a necessary ingredient for healing.

Finally, as Jesus notes

  • he chooses to believe,
  • he chooses faith.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians reveals

  • his choice,
  • the choices of competing teachers, and
  • the choices of the members of the church which is where he starts.

Paul’s chooses to launch into a diatribe, there is little of the customary accolades and greetings. The central question is: Do you have to follow Jewish laws and customs to be Christian? We know Paul’s position is “No.” All you have to do is accept Jesus as God’s anointed Christ. In Paul’s absence, some Jews who follow Jesus are teaching “a different gospel.” Note that ‘gospel’ here is not capitalized; it is not the collection of books in scripture we call “The Gospels.” Here ‘gospel’ is the good news about Jesus as our Lord, and provider of salvation. These other teachers are teaching a different gospel, not so much about who Jesus is, but about how you have to behave to be a true believer, which includes following the Jewish traditions and Laws. Like Elijah, Paul is saying you have to make a choice. While not as dramatic as Elijah, he is no less vehement about his beliefs. He is no less ardent in his demand that the church in Galatia choose.

Having to choose is common in the bible. Generally, they can be understood as “Will you choose life or death (Epperly).” One type of choice is simple obedience. The first bad choice was to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). A good early choice was Noah’s choice to build the Ark (Genesis 7).

Another type is which god to follow or pledge allegiance to. In scripture, the choice is God or some other deity. Today the choice is what comes first, God or some other political / economic agenda or ideal (Epperly). What will it mean to choose God in this November’s or any election (Epperly)? Who is Baal today? a political party, a sports team, a social cause, pursuit wealth or power; or simply sleeping in (Ellingsen).

Another choice is who belongs and is included. The Galatians and many early Christians struggled with who is in and who is out. We face the same struggle today. Who can be baptized, who can be confirmed, who can receive communion, who can be ordained? Who belongs is at the core of our struggle with sexuality, race, and who can immigrate. One way to see our choice about who belongs is: Will we choose to accept that God has already chosen, through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, to welcome everyone into God’s presence (West)?

Another choice is how we understand ministry. Abraham’s offers gracious hospitality to three strangers at his camp at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18). There is a Jewish notion that hospitality is the basis of all ministry. What do we choose to be the basis of our ministry?

Jesus heals the slave / servant of the centurion because of his owner’s faith. Are we willing to choose to approach Jesus, for ourselves, for our friends, for our enemies (Hogan)?

In many traditions, the season after Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time. One commentator believes it should be Extraordinary Time. Another would prefer we call it the Season of Pentecost because every day holds potential for an encounter with the Spirit (Lewis).

I am pondering this as a season of choice. We can choose the devices and desire of our own hearts. Or, we can choose the Spirit, who, in revealing the divine truth, will guide all our choices as we are learning how to choose Jesus’ teachings in our ministries and all of our daily lives (Wong).


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching . 29 5 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on 1 Kings 18:20-21[22-29] 30-39. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. 29 5 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching.” 29 5 2016. Working Preacher.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:110. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Back to Reality. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

West, Audrey. Commentary on Galatians 1:112. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wong, Ada. “God is Much Bigger, Proper 4 (C) – 2016.” 29 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

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1+1+1=1

 

A sermon for Trinity Sunday; Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Canticle 13, Song of the Three Young Men; Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

Lately, I have seen a number of Facebook postings that invite you to share if you know the answer. There is a series of curious math problems, and you are to figure out the last one. The challenge is that the operators, like a “+” sign, are either not there, or they don’t apply; but there is some pattern to discern. The other problem is I went to find an example and could not find one, not a single one. Nonetheless, I have one for us this morning. 1+1+1 = what? 3? Well, our ancient Church Fathers came to the conclusion that 1+1+1 = 1; and ever since we have been trying to figure out just exactly what they meant. Here’s the short form of the story.

Jews believed in one God. They are the only religion to do so. 33 AD Jesus, an itinerate rabbi, gets himself execute by Rome, at the behest of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They and his followers are astounded when he rose from the dead three days later. For some, it brought them to considering that there must be something to this Son of God stuff that surrounded Jesus. Forty days later he ascends into the heavens, promising his followers he would send another advocate and tells them to Go to Jerusalem and wait. They do, and ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on them, and they begin speaking in languages, there is no way they could know, telling folks from all over the world about Jesus and God. Even more, people begin the believe that there is something to this Son of God stuff.

So what you now have is a sect of Jews running around talking about God, Jesus, the Son of God, and The Spirit. They are attracting a lot of attention. The Jewish authorities, who see their power and influence slipping away, challenge these followers of the Way charging them with believing not in one God, but in three gods and therefore are not true believers. The followers begin to develop an answer to that charge. Of course multiple answers develop over time and the early Christian begin squabbling amongst ourselves about how God, Jesus, and the Spirit are really one God. The earliest answer has come be known as the Apostles’ Creed. However, the squabbling went on for more than 300 years until a Council at Nicaea crafted an answer we know as the Nicaean Creed. The squabbling continued and later the Chalcedonian and Athanasian Creeds were developed. All of the creeds are trying to explain our three in one and one in three God we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.

Truth be known all of them are right, and none of them captures the complete mystery of God’s presence amongst us. Some two millennia later the Creed wars have generally subsided, except within esoteric theological circles. Actually, my fear is that they have not so much subsided as faded into irrelevance. We say either the Nicaean Creed or the Apostles Creed every time we worship together. Think of the last time what you proclaim to believe to be foundation value of your life was any consideration in what you said, what you decided, or what you did?

In the commentaries, I read this week one asks

What does Trinity have to do with us today? How does the Holy Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives (Gunn)?

 Another notes

 that somewhere along the way the Trinity became less about describing an experience of the living God and more about accepting metaphysical doctrines and definitions of God (Lose).

Both of which point to the dangers of doctrines taking over imagination in understanding our relationship with God (Lewis).

And now we are back to the opening problem of 1+1+1 =1. Today ~ is not about getting the math right. Today ~ is not about getting some ancient, or modern, philosophical construct right. Today ~is about living in the mystery of God’s manifold presence so that it defines our relationships with each other and everyone else in all God’s creation. For the Trinity to matter, it must guide our lives; it must determine how we live, act, and speak from our faith (Lewis). For the Trinity to matter, we must imitate Jesus, and to do that we must listen to the Spirit, who, among other things, will help us see the other as the image God (Epperly). Which challenges us to balance individual necessities with social essentials unity with diversity, and sovereignty with welcoming the stranger (Epperly). For the Trinity to matter it must turn our attention outward so we may be Divine witnesses to the mystery who is right here right now.

 


 

References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gunn, Scott. “A Good Mystery, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2016.” 22 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Lewis, Karoline. Trinity Talk. 22 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Trinity C: Don’t Mention the Trinity! 22 5 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

Aimlessly Watch The Clouds, Wiggling Our Toes In The Ground

A sermon for Pentecost; Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Pentecost is as big a preaching challenge as Christmas and Easter. The readings are the same every year. There is a similar focus every year, the arrival of the Spirt. So this year, I propose that we, regardless of the angelic question, from last week, about staring into the sky. aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off and wiggle our toes into the ground.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the publisher of literature for loafers. The goal is to sustain the value of aimlessness. It turns out this is really hard; it is very focused work; it is a burden. So, Gavin took a sabbatical and moved from London to Rome. There he spent his time aimlessly looking at paintings. He noticed that there were always lots of clouds. This caught his attention because there are no clouds in Rome’s skies. This peaked his curiosity, and he just went with it. He started the Cloud Appreciation Society; it has a website, I googled it, it is there and has an intriguing look. You can join its current 40,000 members for $15. The Society’s goal is to get us to look aimlessly skyward.

In June 2006, a member saw an impenetrable shroud of dark clouds looming over town. It was so enormous, so terrible and so strange; that she took a picture of it and posted it on the website. The initial thought was “this is unique.” It turns out it wasn’t really unusual. People posted pictures of similar clouds from Norway, Ontario, Scotland, France and Massachusetts. It also turns out the cloud does not fit into any official cloud formation. The esoteric system for describing unusual clouds is to fit the clouds into the existing map of the sky or set them aside as irrelevant. Gavin named it himself; ‘asperatus’ which he got from Virgil’s description of a rough sea.

asperatus

Gavin pitched the newly named cloud formation to the Royal Meteorological Society. They referred him to World Meteorological Organization. The WMO provided a lengthy description of their archaic system of establishing new cloud types. Nothing has been added since 1953. When Gavin asked “Why?” he was told, “Because 50 or 60 years ago, we got it right.” (Mooallen)

Nothing new in 60 years? Well aimlessly looking into the sky will still provide you with awesome visions and from my practice I expect you will experience something different.

Now to our toes Maria Evans wants us to take our shoes off and feel the ground. Maria’s inspiration come from Exodus (3) when God tells Moses “Remove your shoes, this is holy ground.” In ancient societies and some modern societies, this is a sign of respect. In some ways, when barefooted you are more naked, therefore, humbler before God. Maria got to wondering

what if God’s intent with Moses was not to prove that one has to ingratiate or depersonalize oneself in the presence of the Divine, but [is] a desire on the part of God for us to feel with our own two feet what it feels like to be a little closer to God in a tactile way?

She posits that our tendency is to focus on the distance between God and Moses. It is a false distance. Moses is told to “come no closer” but he cannot get any closer his feet are already intimately touching the holy mountain. He is already as close to God as one can possibly get; the soles of his feet press against the holiness of God’s personal space. Maria ponders when do we stand back from a genuine chance

  • to press against the holiness of God?
  • to intimately encounter the holy?

Where do we hesitate to take our shoes off and feel the presence of the holy (Evans)?

To allow our minds to wander aimlessly, dropping all pretenses and wiggle toes against God’s holiness, is to risk an encounter with the Spirit. Some of those pretenses we think are scriptural. We heard the story of the Tower of Babel when God infuses many languages into human society this morning. God is not out to limit human accomplishments; God is not afraid for the divine self or heaven. God’s concern is what we, in our efforts to be like God, and unbridled by restraints on our inclinations and power, will do to one another (Gaventa and Petersen). On Pentecost, God is not undoing what was done at Babel. Everyone spoke Greek. The gift of the Spirit for native languages is to undermine Rome’s interests in creating a single people through suppression of native languages (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter’s speech quotes from Joel’s exhortation that in the last days the Spirit will be poured out on all people and that they will prophesy. We tend to believe prophecy is about seeing into the future. And prophecy does use stories of our past to reveal the presence of the Kingdom in the here and now or the future. But what prophecy really does is to tell the truth (Skinner). To speak the truth into an oppressive empire of any form is unsettling. Any encounter with the Spirit will nudge us into the world to speak the truth of God’s Kingdom, and that leaves us uneasy. So yes, we leave our shoes on, and we stay hyperactively engaged with mundane futile activities empire proclaims as necessary.

The wonder of today is that Jesus continues to keep God’s word. He said he would return from the dead after three days, and it was so. He said he would send us another advocate to walk beside us forever, and it is so.

To begin again, I propose we aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off we wiggle our toes against the holiness of God’s personal space. I further propose we trust the advocate to walk beside us as we speak the truth in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here and now. I don’t think it will take long to experience a new manifestation of God’s eternal loving presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Lectionary Acts 2:1-21. 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Evans, Maria. Speaking to the Soul: Kick off your shoes. 10 5 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Gospel John 14:8-17 (25-27). 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Spirit Focus. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lundblad, Barbara. Commentary on John 14:817, 8 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Mooallen, Jon. “An improbable tale of how a British maverick harnessed.” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-amateur-cloud-society-that-sort-of-rattled-the-scientific-community.html?_r=0&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Acts 2:121. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

The Ascension Gap

A sermon for the 7th Sunday after Easter and Ascension: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21, John 17:20-26

The TV season is coming to close; I know because all the series are showing season ending cliff hangers; they want to leave us waiting; they are baiting us for next year. Angie and I just saw Star Wars VII and we are eagerly waiting for Episode VIII, that will likely be another year. If you did not know, the Empire was destroyed, and the Jedi are reforming under the guidance of Luke Skywalker. Rylo Ren, formerly Ben, Han and Leia’s son, Luke’s nephew, betrays Luke, under the influence of Snoke, the leader of the First Order, and all the Jedi students are killed. Luke disappears. The First Order is emerging as a new imperial force. Only a small resistance force stands in their way. Rey, a scavenger, and Finn, a disaffected storm trooper who desserts the First Order, join forces for survival. By chance they run into the resistance, many of the familiar characters: Han Solo, princes Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2 etc. are there. Near the end, in a dramatic fight, Han is killed by Rylo Ren. Not long afterward, Rey, who seems to exhibit the presence of the force within her, sets out and finds the reclusive Luke at the site of original Jedi Temple, here ends the movie ~ and we are left hanging (IMBD).

Six weeks ago the disciples were surprised by the empty tomb. According to Luke, the physician, not Skywalker, a couple of angles ask them “Why do you look for living among the dead?” (24:5) Since then there have been a number of surprise appearances. Thursday, 40 days after the initial surprise, Jesus ascends to heaven. Once again a couple of angles appear and ask the disciples “Why do stand around looking up into heaven?” Jesus has told the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the arrival of the Spirit. We will celebrate that next week on Pentecost. The disciples think Jesus is talking about Israel, and the Kingdom of David, being restored, so they ask “Is this the time?” He answers

“It is not for you to know the time, that is God’s business, but you will receive the power of the Spirit, and you will be my witnesses.”

Then Jesus ascends in a cloud. The disciples are left waiting.

Today we are waiting. Waiting is not a skill Americans as a culture admire or have, and it is something we try to ignore or overcome. If we are aware of the Church calendar we know:

  • Jesus is crucified
  • Jesus is risen
  • Jesus is back talking, eating, teaching,
  • Jesus is gone again.

I’m sure the refrain takes us to the Eucharistic acclamation:

 Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will rise again.

But just as on Good Friday, when we stayed at the foot of the Cross, now I invite us to stay in the Ascension gap. We are waiting between Jesus’ ascension and the arrival of the Spirit and everything that follows.

Note that Luke is writing after the destruction of the Temple. So, his readers are waiting, with disciples, for the arrival of the Spirit, in power, and they are also waiting for some sort of divine response to the destruction of the Temple, God’s residence on earth. Jesus’ teaching that Luke is passing on is that God’s and Jesus’ presence is less about geography and more being in relationship with us. In this way, Jesus’ ascension makes space for the Spirit to come (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). Frank Couch notes that in waiting we should be cautious, and remember that God acts in God’s time, not ours. We should be wary and not assume that we have or can ever predict what God may be up to (Crouch). Wesley Allen writes that Jesus’ ascension emphasizes divine transcendence. It challenges us to deal with divine presence and revelation on the one hand and divine absence and silence on the other (Allen, Jr.). The Ascension, when Jesus says the disciples, including us, will be his witnesses, also brings us face to face with the reality that as disciples, we have some responsibility for what’s next. This time of waiting carves out space in time when we can join the disciples in pondering:

  • what it means to follow Jesus
  • what is it that we are expecting?
  • what does Jesus 2nd coming mean for us?

The disciples started by asking the wrong question. Are we asking the right questions?

How often and how do we stand and look for Jesus among the dead, or in any of the other wrong places? How often do we stare off into heaven for answers or a vision for the future? I suspect we tend to project on Jesus’ second coming the same kind of earthly values and desires the disciples were casting on Jesus as God’s Messiah, and perhaps on his ascension. As they were, we are overly concerned with the future. But it has never been about the future, or up there somewhere in some time; this entire story of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension has always been about now, about God/Jesus/Spirit being right here right now (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). How we are now, links us to today’s Gospel reading.

Today’s verses from John’s Gospel story are from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples at the last supper. We hear how Jesus prays that the disciples will be one as he and God are one. We heard about that a week or so ago. The prayer also reveals Jesus’s desire that through their witness, everyone who hears the story will be one, with each other. Luke leaves us waiting; John leaves us hanging between earth and heaven, between the past, the present, and the future. John also reminds us to be cautious about what we think we know, so we can be open to divine surprises (Lundblad).

One place to pay special attention is the misunderstanding that oneness means absolute conformity. Within divine oneness, there can be disagreements and squabbles (Hogan). The difference is how we disagree and squabble. The current political norm of attacking the person of an opponent is not an example of oneness. An open debate, where each party passionately expresses their belief and at the same time makes themselves vulnerable to be changed by the other, comes closer.

So, we are waiting, we are hanging in time and space. We are between:

  • the beginning of the primary season in February, the conventions this summer and the elections this November.
  • the ending of school in a week or so, this summer’s adventures, and the beginning of next school year, with new classes, new teachers, and perhaps a new school.

Our oldest daughter and her family are between completing their current jobs and moving half way across the county for her to begin CRNA school. The unexpected have already begun to appear, as they hang between times, waiting for the next phase of life to begin.

The Diocese is waiting; the Bishop is on sabbatical for the next eleven weeks. We hang between now and then, wondering, as does he, what God will reveal. I expect many of you are betwixt and between; hanging in time, waiting for something to end or something else to begin, or both.

I know the temptation to rush to the power of the Spirit and get the waiting over. And I trust the Spirit’s mysterious whisperings in these matters. However, this is a short sub-season of between. This is a time to stop. A time to wait. A time for:

  • discernment, (Acts 1:25-16)
  • worship, singing, (Luke 24:52)
  • and simply being in and looking deeper into the presence of God (Hoezee).

This is a time to attune to the surprising, unexpected next step God is leading us to take.

 

 


 

References

Allen, Jr., O. Wesley. Commentary on Acts 1:1-14. 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Crouch, Frank L. Commentary on Acts 1:1-11. 8 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 17:20-26. 8 5 216.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on John 17:20-26. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

IMBD. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015). n.d. 6 5 2016. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ql_1&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 8 5 2016.

Lundblad, Barbara. “Commentary on John 17:20-26.” 8 5 2016. Working Preacher.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

A New Story and an Old Story

A sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29

 

As a prolog, I’d like to thank you for your prayers and expressions of condolences as Angie, and I traveled to and from Phoenix for her brother Gene’s funeral. 3,000 miles is a long way to travel, and after the initial two-hour delay at Lonoke, the trip went well. The 6,000-foot altitude difference in our travels was almost the only other unexpected adventure. In Holbrook AZ, when I took Nugget out for his early morning walk it was 38 degrees. We’d packed for the 90-degree weather in Phoenix.

The other unexpected realization was that, on Angie’s side of our family, we are now matriarch and patriarch. This is new, and we don’t quite know how to be the elder generation when your nieces’ and nephews’ parents are dead. We cannot be their parents, and we are still discovering how to be the cradles of the older generation’s wisdom and experience.

All by itself this is no big deal. But it is not all by itself.

  • There are pending generational changes in my family; my mom has been dead many years, and my dad is 87; who knows when a change will come about.
  • There are also local changes: the population seems to be decreasing,
  • we are suffering from low oil prices with hundreds of layoffs from pipe manufacturers,
  • city and county sales taxes are down, and
  • though local schools are innovative and are doing remarkably well improving in many areas, there is still a struggle with student learning as expected.

Nationally, the stock market continues to be strong; but I heard the other day, that only a few, less than 10, companies now have a AAA credit rating. International business continues to be sluggish. We continue to have issues with violence; and there are the continuing wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemeni, all of which are contributing to the refugee crisis. And the latest unexpected concern is the Zika virus, and we live in a drained swamp. Of course, there is our presidential campaign where everyone wants to shout and insult the other, and no one wants to debate looking for new visions.

David Brooks wrote in his column last Friday about the betrayal of our current political discourse. He writes how so many Americans are falling through the cracks;

feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST.

Social statistics reveal a 30 year high in suicide rates, historic lows in social trust and the persuasive belief that the American dream is out of reach (Brooks). Brook’s concludes we may need a new story.

But this is not the first time things have not gone as planned. Paul and Timothy are headed to Asia to preach; only the Spirit won’t let them get there. The go on to Mysia, Bithynia but the Spirit constrains them. They end up in Troas where Paul has a vision about going to Macedonia, and they end up in Philippi (Acts 16:6-8). On the Sabbath, they go outside the city, the usual local place for prayer, but not exactly mainstream. There they run into a woman, which is not exactly what you would expect. It turns out Lydia is a wealthy merchant, also unexpected. By now it may not be surprising that she is a worshipper of God, perhaps a God-fearer, or a Gentile follower. She may not actively be practicing, and might have been hedging her bets by worshipping another god or so. The central happening in the story is that Paul’s words convert her, and she and her household are baptized, and they get it, because immediately on being baptized Lydia invites them to stay with her, extending to them the oldest of our Judeo-Christian traditions of hospitality.

Sometimes a learning from a story is what is not there. There is no indication Paul or his companions are trouble or frightened by their plans’ failures. They do not seem to be troubled. They do not seem to be afraid. Actually, they seem to be at peace; and not just lack of conflict or trouble, they know shalom, they have that sense of wholeness, a feeling of rightness that they are in harmony with the people and things around them. They are basking in God’s pleasure. Paul and his companions know that no matter what happens, God will not abandon them (Lose).

Shalom is not something you can seek or grasp; you can only receive it. And we can only do that as we let go of the many things we are trying to hold onto so we discover open hands that can receive God’s gift of shalom (Lose).

So when Paul and company come to an unexpected place, Philippi; they go to worship at an unexpected location, outside the city walls, down by the riverside, they meet an unexpected seeker. We don’t know if Lydia knows she is seeking or not. However, her behavior leads us to this understanding. Paul and company are able to share with her the agape, the love of God, through their actions (Leggett). They are able to share the presence of God, the pleasure of basking in God’s presence. Following the Spirit leads them into the unexpected that results in the impossible dream of taking the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the world coming true. They experience how the impossible is not only possible; they experience the impossible becoming reality (Epperly).

We all have expectations of life. Some of us may have plans, and some of those may be formalized. I don’t know anyone who has not experienced the unexpected, perhaps constrained by the Spirit, perhaps by the arbitrariness of life. Brook’s would agree that the US is in an unexpected place. He suggests that we need a new story:

maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today (Brooks).

 

St. Stephen’s is not all that different. We have expectations, some formal, some unspoken, some new, some long-standing, some may have been unknowingly expected. And now we are in an unexpected place. Perhaps it’s time for a new story. Brook’s observes that a new story is already emerging in some communities; lead by local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that are meeting previously unmet needs and expectations (Brooks). The same is true for St. Stephens; I think Friday Families is a prime example, but there may be others. Paul and his companions were constrained by the Spirit several times and even thought the story reads as if they instantly knew it, that is not necessarily so. For instance, how do they know the man in Paul’s vision is from Macedonia, which is way at the edge of their world (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner)? So it may take some time for St. Stephen’s new story to emerge and mature. However, a new story is not the only story St. Stephen’s or our country needs.

As Christians, we have a very old story. We proclaim it to be THE Story of all the cosmos. Meaning, that even as we seek to discern how we are being called anew, let us remember that we continue to live in THE Story, basking the presence of God, revealing God’s love to each other and others in how we act, trusting that as we let go of one vision, that just a Paul did, we will discover an impossible dream leading us beyond the probable right into the continuing ever growing presence of God, right here, right now.


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Easter 6 C. 1 5 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. “If Not Trump, What?” The New York Times (2016).

Ellingsen, Mark. 1 5 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 6 John 14. 1 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 1 5 2016.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on John 14:2329. 1 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Leggett, James. “Look to the Lord, Easter 6 (C) – 2016.” 1 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Companionship. 1 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Easter 6 C: Peace the World Cannot Give. 27 4 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Acts 16:915. 1 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.