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

Vulnerable Saints

A sermon for Proper 27 & All Saints
Proper 27: Haggai 1:1-5b – 2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22, Luke 20:27-38
All Saints: Ephesians 1:11-23

 

Tuesday is election day. The responsibility to vote is relatively new. In Samuel and Chronicles, the people do have a say in approving who is appointed to be anointed King, but not who the person is. But it is not so much the story of voting as it is the story of their turning away from God. Ancient Athens and Rome had something like voting, and the selection of popes and the Holy Roman Emperor included a type of vote. But what we think of as elections first appears in 17th century Europe in limited ways (Britannica). The responsibility to vote in the United States is a long ~ ever changing story. In 1776 only males who owned land could vote; just 6 percent of the people were eligible to vote for president when George Washington was elected. In 1856 all white males gained voting rights, in 1870 voting rights could no longer be denied because of race, in 1920 women gained voting rights, in 1947 all Native Americans gained voting rights, 1952 people of Asian Ancestry gained voting rights, legislation guaranteeing voting rights was passed in 1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, and ‘67, in 1971 the age to vote was lowered to 18, and in 2000 residents of U.S. colonies become citizens, but cannot vote (KQED). If you have not already voted, I encourage you to exercise the relatively rare responsibility to vote.

There is also some biblical direction to vote. In Romans Paul writes:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed (NRSV, Romans 13:1-2).

Without getting caught up in the resisting authority bit, Paul implies God is at work in establishing governments, and we have a responsibility to follow the established rules, which includes voting. To thoughtfully and prayerfully exercise your responsibility to vote is following God’s way.

I do understand that this has not been an easy nor comfortable election season. Many people I know are not comfortable with either the Republican nor the Democratic candidate. I know several who voted for one of the many other choices; there are 8 presidential candidates on the Arkansas ballot and as many as 31 candidates on ballots scattered across all the states (Politics1). I know many people are feeling vulnerable because of the implications of threats from self-appointed poll watchers. There was an incident in Arkansas; a person was standing in the doorway telling at least one person to shut up and go home (Musa). I know folks who are uncomfortable with the thought that people will not accept the results if their candidate does not win. I know folks who are genuinely concerned about the sporadic talk of taking up arms. So yes, this is a season in which you might very well feel vulnerable. So, it just may be a good thing that our observation of All Saints Day and election day fall so close to each other. But before we get there, let’s remember that we are not the first people of God to feel vulnerable.

Haggai is a prophet in Jerusalem some 20 years after the return from exile. They have not yet rebuilt the Temple, as they were supposed to. It’s just not right. Some of the older folks remember the splendor of the Temple Solomon built, and they don’t have the money or material resources to rebuild it. Besides that, all the important things inside the Temple, like the Ark of the Covenant, the protecting Cherubim, the Tablets of the Law, the molten sea, and so much more are all gone (Wines). It is a bleak time; the people feel dejected; their homeland is still in ruins, and the Temple where the Lord’s glory had shone can never be rebuilt. It is a world that provides few reasons for hope (Lynch).

Haggai acknowledges all of this. He hears the people wonder “How will God ever be among us if this is God’s house? And then he reminds them that God chooses to be among us. Haggai assures the people God is establishing shalom; abundant life and peace for God’s people (Bratt). I know it sounds strange, but Jesus is following Haggai’s example in his encounter with the Sadducees.

The Sadducees follow the first five books of the Jewish Bible. There is nothing there about resurrection, so they do not believe in resurrection. Along comes this itinerate street preacher attracting all sorts of attention, in part by teaching about resurrection. He is making them feel vulnerable. While their ancestors got depressed when vulnerable, the Sadducees go on the attack. In fact, they form an alliance with their usual enemy the Pharisees. They present an absurd story, built on the Jewish tradition that a brother of a dead childless Jewish man marries his wife to continue the family name. Jesus counters their story by referring to Moses meeting God in the burning bush where God calls Gods’ self the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And as everyone knows God is the God of the living, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. The implication is, there is some sort of resurrection.

And yes, it is a trap. And yes, Jesus best them. However, Jesus is not out to defeat them. Jesus is seeking to calm their vulnerability by giving them the opportunity to expand their imagination and accept God who is far bigger than they have imagined before (Lewis, Resurrection).It is like Jesus’ sermon off the mount way back in chapter six.

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus comes off the mountain to the people gathered on the plain. They are vulnerable; there is lots of illnesses, troubles with unclean spirits, and just plain ole hard living (Luke 6:17). Jesus comes to the saints of the day. Then, like now saints are not perfect, nor pious, nor zealous; saints are people who know they are vulnerable. They know they need help, they know they are dependent on someone else, divine or otherwise (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). As Haggai does for the people in Jerusalem, and as Jesus does for the Sadducees, Jesus brings the presence of God to them.

All this is part of the foundation the Letter to the Ephesians stands on in its argument for our inheritance of new life in Christ where no one is vulnerable (Alfaro).

I suppose the question this morning is what do we do with our feelings of vulnerability? The first step is to admit that we are vulnerable. And all of us, one way or another are vulnerable. We can try to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable or pose a risk, or that make us sad; but, in doing this, we also dull our ability to be satisfied, or feel happy or to be joyful (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). We can try to remake resurrection life like we want it, and risk missing the promises Jesus offers for our lives not only in the future but also for today. We can spend all kinds of energy trying to imagine the unimaginable, or [pause] we can use that energy to join with all the vulnerable saints of ages past by choosing to live in the presence of the Kingdom that is right here right now (Lewis, Resurrection). And who knows, our efforts just may appear as a saintly inspiration to another vulnerable child of God.


References

Alfaro, Sammy. Working preacher Commentary on Ephesians 1:1123. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 27 Haggai 1:15b-2:9. 6 11 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Britannica. election-political-science. n.d. 4 11 2016. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/election-political-science&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 27 | Luke 20:27-38. 6 11 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

KQED. us-voting-rights-timeline. n.d. 4 11 2016. <http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Singing on All Saints Sunday. 6 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

—. Dear Working Preacher Who Says There’s No Resurrection? 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. All Saints Sunday: The Sermon I Need to Hear. 6 11 2016.

—. All Saints’ Sunday B: Look Twice. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability. 6 11 2016.

—. Commentary on Luke 20:2738. 6 11 2016.

Lynch, John J. “Study of the “Last Things” – Proper 27(C).” 6 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

Musa, Aziza. Election commissioner in Pine Bluff accused of voter intimidation. 3 11 2016. <arkansasonline.com/news/2016/oct/06/10m-grant-to-let-uams-further-alzheimer/>.

Politics1. p2016. n.d. 4 111 2016. <http://www.politics1.com/p2016.htm&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Haggai 1:15b2:. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.