Dare we risk the ride?

A sermon for Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

Preface: This was preached last week, immediately which we started our move. Boxes are just now unpacked enough to blog my thoughts.

A long time ago I saw a movie, I don’t remember the title, I don’t remember the characters’ names or who stars in it, I do vividly recall the parts about the challenges in a small country church. [1] James is the pastor. David is the … well, we would say sexton. James takes care of the people. David takes care f the building. David’s job is challenging, the building is old and in need of some significant maintenance. James’s job isn’t any easier; no, the people are not that old, it is just that there are two wealthy families in the community, who are always trying to outdo each other, so much so that their impulse to help, a mildly disguised effort to impress, mostly results in ~ not much. Each family has developed a cadre of supporting families. And there are a couple of independent cadres determined to not have a thing to do with either family, but they tend to split into fractions of their own. This complex web of cadres of families in the county makes James’s job even harder.

David’s job is also made harder by the still he is secretly running in the basement. One day, when David has fallen asleep at the fishing hole, the still explodes, setting the church on fire. The fire brigade is slow arriving; the alert system donated by one family cadre doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter, when the hoses, donated by the rival family, are connected they leak so bad no water gets to the nozzles. The smaller rivals start blaming the two big family cadres, those two, start blaming each other. The arguments grow at the same rate as the intensity of the fire. James had enough; he shouts: “Oh, please just everybody shut up, and let this church die in peace!” then he turns and walks down the road. Everybody else stands in stunned silence.

The next day David is trying to apologize to James. It is an awkward conversation at best. David really does love the church, her people, and building. James can see that, and he wants to help David discern what to do but is so overwhelmed by his own grief that he can’t respond. All he sees is a bitterly divided community, and a church literally splintered. There may be a county left, at least the lines on the map; there is certainly no community left, that went up with the smoke of the church fire. Once again James turns to walk down that country road.

2000 years ago, the Jews, God’s people were scattered all over the world. There were ten or fifteen different forms of Judaism (Bratt). Many believed God has withdrawn the presence of the Spirit (Nelson). Most of the diaspora Jews, from 17 countries within the Roman Empire, spoke Greek (Keener and Walton), meaning they could speak with each other. So, each hearing the disciples speak of the gospel and Peter speak of prophecy in their own language is not simply a miracle of language. It is reminiscent of the theophany at Mount Sinai, and Israel receiving the 10 commandments and the making of a community (Gaventa and Petersen; Wall). Pentecost was about the miracle of the remaking of a community, re-forged across many differences that was made possible through the transforming work of the Spirit (Day). The outpouring of the purifying, empowering Spirit is not a unique event from a time long ago. God’s presence continues to be among those who seek God/Jesus/Spirit (Wall). We have witnessed the power of God’s presence. In 1906, on Azusa Street, a revival forged a community across all kinds of community boundaries, black men laid hands on white women and black women laid hands on white men to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearts were transformed, lives tuned to the eternal presence of divine love of all (Day). Those lives continue today in the many Pentecostal churches across the nation and the world.

Just as the destruction of that country church signified the mess that community was in, the incivility, disregard for life, and the destruction of God’s people of all origins and faiths signify the mess we are in. We know our communities, our international, national, state, county, city, school, business, civic, church, and social communities are in a host of messes a long time in the making. This political moment is enabled by the complete loss of mutual understanding, and civility, it is powered by a total loss of community (Day). We know we need a transformation. We know we need the power of the Spirit.

James knew the power of the Spirit. He always had. The difference is at this moment he is so overwhelmed he is vulnerable enough to sense the Spirit’s presence. Before he gets around the first bend he is met by a long procession of trucks loaded with supplies and cars loaded with people. The real surprise is that the families are all intermingled. All signs of the previous cadres are gone. The church family, in fact, the whole county family is gathering to rebuild the church. Well, the church building. The Spirit started rebuilding the Church in the searing fire that exposed divisions that needed spiritual cauterizing. As David directs the caravan into the church parking lot, you can see James watch in amazement, and you can see his insight; David was wrong, the still was not the cause of the fire, oh it exploded, but there was a little Spiritual help. James watches the Spirit continue to work as once divided families begin working as a single divine community.

Like James, we know the power of the Spirit. The question is will we be willing to be vulnerable, are we willing to experience holy disorientation, as the disciples, and gathered Jews from all over did those millennia ago, as white and black worshipers at Azusa Street did some 112 years ago, as James’ community did (Day). Will we risk the disorientation of the Spirit, will we risk shaking everything up and breaking down all the barriers we use to separate humankind, will we dare ride the unpredictable winds of the Spirit (Epperly). and follow her to a reorientation and the presence of divine love for all. The Spirit is right here, right now. Dare we risk the ride?


References

Bratt, Doug. Pentecost B Acts 2:2-21. 20 5 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Acts 2:1-21. 20 5 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Charles, Hoffacker. “This Sacred Discontinuity, Day of Pentecost (B).” 20 5 2018. Sermons that Work.

Day, Keri L. “We need a Pentecost.” 9 5 2018. christiancentury.org. <https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 5 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&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.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nelson, Thomas. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

The Living Church. Entirely Yours. 20 5 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

[1] A parishioner knew the movie, “An Angel in My Pocket” starring Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke, 1969

Renewing Our Commission

A sermon for Pentecost; Acts 2:1-21 , Psalm 104:25-35, 37, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23

 

In this morning’s Gospel from John, we hear Jesus commission the disciples, and us, to continue to do the work God sent Jesus to do (Harrelson John 20-19-23). In Acts, we hear about the community of disciples prophesying to the festival crowd in Jerusalem. We don’t know what they said, but we get that it was radical truth telling. The prophecy was spoken in such a way that the crowd can hear the native dialect of the speakers and they can also hear in their native language so that they could understand. Hearing both the speaker’s dialect and understanding in the listeners’ language reveals how God works with us as we are (Wall). John shares that Jesus is present with all the scars of his life, death, and resurrection; we hear that they are a critical part of the disciples recognizing who he is (Gaventa and Petersen John 20-19-23). The disciples’ prophecies are spoken with the disciples’ life scars visible to all.

,

The coming of the Spirit in Acts and John reveals that God/Spirit does not save us from any of the tragedies, the troubles, the failures, or the hardships of life or the world. God/Spirit does journey with us through them (Lose). Sometimes the Spirit’s presence is an inspiration; sometimes the Spirit’s presence is just company, in a time when it is so good to know you are not alone. Still, our journey, whether through land or through time, is a dangerous adventure. We can be reluctant to call upon Spirit because deep down we know just how she is dangerous she is (Taylor; Lewis; Deon). To invite the Spirit into our life means that we must be open and vulnerable; we must be open to the transforming power of God

  • that drove Jesus into wilderness
  • that will compel us to go out into the world
  • that opens our eyes to what we would rather ignore, and
  • move us from behind our checkbooks to beside one made in God’s image who is struggling (Deon).

The many languages spoken in Acts becomes a way that God confirms the diversity of all creation and those gathered and that undermines Roman interests in creating a single people through subjugation (Gaventa and Petersen Acts 2:1-21). Today the Spirit does the same; it pits us against principalities and powers of the world. It is clear the Spirit turns things upside down (Cruz John 29:19-23). But what does that really mean to us?

Well, it might be something like the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus tosses aside all social and sacred customs and engages the woman as she is. He speaks dangerous truths to her, about her husbands. He answers her questions about faith: is he greater than Jacob, by offering an entirely new vision of relationship with God that is in spirit and truth (Cruz John 20:19-23). And what does this look like today?

On May 11 a Michigan Congressman, at a town hall meeting, spoke about climate change. He said

 I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time.

He goes on to say

if there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.” (Collins).

Today’s readings don’t support his belief or thinking. God/Spirit does not take care of things. But, God/Sprit walks with us as we engage the troubles of the world. If we go back to the beginning, back to Genesis 1:26, we read:

… let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

Dominion is not to dominate, it is to participate with God in the continuing work of creation; nurturing creation even as we cultivate its resources, bringing the world to its full created potential (Fretheim). So, what do we do? How can we participate in continuing creation and nurturing the world’s resources?

We could consider beginning by forgiving and or retaining our part in the world’s sin of not nurturing creation as we were created to do. That is connected to not hiding our transgressions, which we all have. The AC is running this morning. One unit’s fan was left running for the last couple of weeks. I missed that, even though I knew the fan was running, I just did not stop and take the time to find out why. When I did, it was completely by accident, and it meant simply flipping a switch from ‘on’ to ‘auto.’ Nurturing creation means witnessing to God’s identity in Jesus, which is in each of us.

Remember all that God is in me, and I am in you, and you are in me, stuff from John (that drives us nuts); here is where all that makes a difference. Remember the faithful Congressman? Treating the congressman with respect, because God/Jesus is in him and he is in God/Jesus, we could consider revealing the bible verses we just looked at and invite him to come and see; not evidence, but our calling to be a part of the continuing creation and the nurturing of the world’s potential. This means being prophetic, speaking the difficult truth in face of seemingly closed ears and hardened hearts.

There are other challenges that come from climate change. One of the things we might consider doing is to make sure that our local, state, and national leaders take care of those whose lives are displaced by necessary changes around climate change. One example is coal miners and families. This includes acknowledging it will be a long hard slog because it is not just a job, but a culture, a way life that their families have known for generations, that is at risk.

Another thing we could do is to explore our retirement or investments portfolios hold stocks who companies are acting responsibly. This past week at Exxon’s annual meeting, a resolution, led by the New York State Pension Fund, the Church of England investment fund, New York City Retirement Systems, and dozens of others, sponsored a resolution in favor of more open and detailed analyses of the risks posed to its business by policies aimed at stemming climate change, including the goals of the Paris climate agreement. In spite of the board’s objection, the resolution passed by 62.3% in favor. This is a growing trend (Cardwell).

We can act at home, we can run our AC systems a little less and turn the heat in our house down a little bit. Did you know there are solar powered chargers for tablets and cell phones?  And yes, if you are like me I charge mine at night and I know there is no solar at night. However, there are batteries that hold more than a phone’s or tablet’s battery; and they can be charge in the sunlight and charge the phones and tablets at night. A little more inconvenient, but nurtures creation. We can choose to drive more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. We can make sure our use of anything that involves a natural resource can be examined for its impact on nurturing creation’s potential.

The same God/Jesus/Spirit that guides global or national prophecy and actions can apply to local troubles. Some families and schools face educational challenges. We can go to the least well preforming class and read to a class room of Kindergarteners to 3rd graders. Every trouble we face at any level can be approached by seeking God/Jesus/Spirit’s guiding presence. It will not be easy. It will change us far more than it will change anyone else. It will expose our scars and likely leave us with new ones. But, it will put us in relationship with some unknown, unexpected neighbor who just may be seeking to hear that God cares, and our voice just may be the voice the reflects the image of God they need.

Pentecost is not red hat day. It is not the birthday of the church. Pentecost is the renewal of our commissioning to continue Jesus’ prophetic mission to point to the presence of the Kingdom right here, right now by nurturing continuing creation.

References

Cardwell, Diane. “Exxon Mobil Shareholders Demand Accounting of Climate Change Policy Risks.” 31 5 2017. NYtimes.com. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/31/business/energy-environment/exxon-shareholders-climate-change.html&gt;.

Collins, Eliza. “GOP congressman on climate change: God will ‘take care of it’ if it’s real.” 1 6 2017. USA Today. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/06/01/tim-walberg-climate-change-trump-paris-agreement/102389286/&gt;.

Cruz, Samuel. “Commentary on John 20:1923.” 4 6 2017. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Deon. “Saying Yes, Pentecost (A).” 4 6 2017. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 6 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

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. Pentecost John 20:19-23 . 4 6 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 6 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Spirit Work. 1 6 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost A: With, not From. 4 6 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Taylor, Barbara Brown. “quoted by Leiws in Spirit Works.” 4 6 2017.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

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>.