Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Holy Spirit Will Not be Tamed!

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday May 20, 2018

Jesus said to his disciples, ”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Today we are celebrating the feast of Pentecost – the feast of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Like last week today is a day I would love to rearrange the readings so that the gospel reading from John came before the reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  The reading from John is from Jesus’ farewell discourse.  He is telling the disciples that he will be leaving them.  That Jesus will be leaving this fragile earth and going back to the God Head.  Taking the humanity that walked among us back to the Love that created the universe. 

But I doubt the disciples where too thrilled to be promised a future gift.  Jesus’ active ministry was too short.  It could not be time for him to leave already.  There was, and is, more work to be done to bring God’s dream of Love to all corners of this earth.  Jesus also tells them, and again tells us today, that there are many things about God that we need to know but that we can’t bear to hear right now.   That when the advocate comes she will open our eyes to things about God that are more wonderful and more awe filled than we can imagine.  To open our eyes Jesus promised that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would come to be will us. 

Just a quick note.  When I use a pronoun for the Holy Spirit I use the feminine “Her” or “She” instead of the male pronoun.  I do this for several reasons.  One is that God is not male – or female - but we can’t figure out how to express that in
Human language.  We know that, in part, because in Genesis we hear that God created humans in the likeness of God, male and female God created us.  Secondly in my interactions with the Holy Spirit she reminds me of the spirit described in the Book of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In that book the Spirit of Wisdom that existed before and at the time of creation is referred to as feminine.  Wisdom is female in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear the story of the coming of the Spirit to Jesus’ inner group of followers.  After Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension the disciples have been going fishing, and huddling in a locked room for fear that they would be next on the cross.  So in this locked room they have been both hiding and waiting.  Waiting for Jesus to appear post resurrection, which he did several times.  And waiting for the gift of the advocate. 

And when she came it was in a way that they could not miss.  The room shuddered, a strong wind blew through the room and she alighted on the disciple as we heard, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  And she blew the locked door off its hinges and drove the disciples out to the people.  Just as she drove Jesus out into the wilderness after his baptism by John she drove them out into a wilderness that they had been fearing.  She drove the disciples out into a wilderness of their society to preach the good news of the Risen Christ, the good news that the Love that was hung on the cross was not dead but was and is alive.  She drove them to preach to the Good News of repentance, salvation, and love to the ends of the world.

That is the feast that we are celebrating today.  I fear however that we try to tame this feast.  We decorate our churches in red, we encourage our parishioners to wear red to remind us of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire.  But the Holy Spirit will not be tamed! 

It is appropriate to remember the Spirit as fire – because fire is unpredictable.  Fire can be tame – like the fire we light in our candles, or fire can be wild and destructive as in wildfires or in the fire of lava spewing forth from the volcano in Hawaii.  But even when fire appears to be destructive it is also creative.  Certain plants require fire to scorch their seeds before they can germinate.  The fiery lava creates new land that in time will support a new ecosystem. 

So it is for us.  If we but let the Holy Spirit into our lives we will be driven out of our comfortable places to a place of creative disruption.  She will open our eyes to the truth that we don’t want to hear.  She will open our hearts to the Love of all of creation which is the dream of God.  If we open our being to Gods Spirit we will be changed.  And just like the disciples in our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles we will be driven into the public square to preach the Good News of God’s love to a society that more and more seems to operate out of place of fear.  Into a society that perpetuates injustice and oppression.  We will be driven to proclaim that God desires nothing more than that we Love God with our being and Love all, and I do mean all, all of our fellow travelers on this fragile earth.

We celebrate and invoke the Holy Spirit at our own peril.  For She will not be contained in our churches.  She will not be tamed like the flame of our candles.  When we open ourselves to her presence we will be changed.  We will be driven to change the world and call out the injustice and oppression that exists in our world.

Today is also the liturgical anniversary of me celebrating my first Mass as a priest.  I was ordained on the eve of Pentecost in 2015.  The end of one journey – the journey towards ordination and the beginning of another journey.  A journey that invites the Holy Spirit into my life – which is a scary thing to do!

At my ordination Dr. Susanna Singer – my advisor from seminary – preached a sermon about the Holy Spirit.  In her sermon she reminded us that it is at our own peril that we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives.

In her sermon Dr. Singer said: “I think the novelist and poet Annie Dillard got it right when she said:

    “On the whole, I do not find Christians sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

So be ready.  Get our your crash helmets.  I know from the experience the Holy Spirit of God will pursue you.   She will continually call you out of your comfortable lives to live a God centered life.  She will continually call us to help bring God’s dream of redemptive Love of all of creation to this earth.  When you open your heart to God your life will be changed, and you will be driven to help usher in the New Jerusalem.  A land where God’s love of all creation is the way of the world.


Why are you looking up?

Sermon for May 13, 2018 – Ascension Day Lessons

Jesus said to his disciples, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension rather than the seventh Sunday of Easter.  The Feast of the Ascension always falls on a Thursday – 40 days after Easter Day as the scriptures tell us.  We are a little literalistic in the setting of the feast day – in my humble opinion.  I say that because it means that many people do not celebrate this important feast.  A feast that is important enough to be part of the consecration prayer in form A that says “recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.”  An important feast that many do not celebrate unless you happen to belong to a parish that celebrates daily Eucharist  – which is rare outside of cathedrals – or if you read the daily office – a good thing to do!  So today we have decided to celebrate the feast of the Ascension.

Today is also a day I would love to rearrange the reading of the lessons.  The reading form the Acts of the Apostles should come after the Gospel Reading.  The Acts of the Apostles – the second book – could also just as easily have been called the Gospel of Luke – book 2, or perhaps in our age of movies we could call it the Gospel according to Luke – the sequel! 

Our Gospel reading comes at the very end of the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus, after his, his resurrection has been appearing to the disciples – in various settings.  Just before this reading he has traveled the road to Emmaus explaining the scriptures to two of the disciples and opening their eyes in the breaking of the bread.  He has appeared to the disciples who, at times are afraid thinking him a ghost.  Jesus keeps showing up post resurrection to try and open the eyes and the hearts of his followers.  And now he appears to them in the flesh one last time.  Jesus again opens the scriptures to them and declares that, because the scriptures have been fulfilled they are called to go out and declare repentance to all of the world – not just to the Jews, not just to the inhabitants of Israel – but to all the world.  Both Jew’s and Gentiles.  Not people just like them.  But to all the world.  To all of God’s beloved children. 

Jesus then tells the disciples that they will receive the spiritual gift that he has promised and while blessing them one final time he is ascended into heaven.  He is taken away while they are watching him.  This scripture has wonderful imagery and has spawned some wonderful – and sometimes quite whimsical art.  There is a window at St. Paul’s of Jesus ascending into heaven standing on a cloud.  One of my favorite images is carved into a boss at York Minster in England.  A boss is a key stone that holds the ribs of a vaulted stone ceiling together.  This particular boss has heads of the disciples in a circle looking up at the bottom of a pair of feet – the feet of Jesus ascending into heaven. 

Jesus has empowered his followers to bring the kingdom of God to fruition.  Jesus has fulfilled the law and the prophets – and left us with two simple commandments in their place.  That we are to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  And that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  So simple and yet so hard at times. 

After this revelation the disciples we hear spent much time in the temple blessing God.  They do not start a new church.  No they go to the thin place where they experience God – the temple.  And this is where the Acts of the Apostles picks up the story.  With Luke telling Theophilus a summary of the first book – the one we call the Gospel of Luke.  And foreshadowing the feast we will celebrate next week – the coming of the Holy Spirit to really get the disciples out of the locked room and working to forgive all nations.  Luke then restates the end of the Gospel with the ascension.  But he adds that in the final encounter the disciples asked a final question.  “Was this the time?”  Was this the time that God’s avenging army was going to come and bring the kingdom of God to fruition.  Was this the time God would throw off the Roman Empire? Even after everything Jesus had taught them.  Even after the crucifixion and resurrection they still wanted God to change the world for them.  They still don’t get that God wants nothing more than for us to work to bring that kingdom to fruition.  That he is not going to send an avenging army to do the work.  And Jesus also tells them that the final kingdom will come in God’s time.  Not our time. 

Jesus once again promises that the gift of the Holy Spirit will come once he is gone.  A radical gift.  That God will give us the presence of the Holy Spirit to empower us to bring about God’s Kingdom.  While it is tempting to go more into the Holy Spirit I will save that for next week when we remember God’s great gift to us.  The gift of the continuous presence of God in our lives.

But for now we celebrate that when Jesus was done with his earthly ministry he returned to the Godhead.  And we can be thankful that our God became incarnate and walked among us.  We can be thankful that God came not with an avenging army to cleanse the earth.  But God came as a vulnerable baby.  God came and walked with us.  God came and experienced humanity with us.  God came and experienced all of our human emotions.  God experienced love, joy, peace, sorrow, pain and even death.  God as fully human and fully divine experience the best and the worst that we humans have to offer. 

God as Jesus certainly experienced the worst of humanity.  The part of humanity that sees the other as the outcast.  The part of humanity that enslaves others.  The part of humanity that destroys creation rather than builds it up.  God certainly experienced enough of the dark side of our humanity in his death that an avenging army of angels might have been called for!

But God also experienced the best of humanity. God in Jesus experienced the love of his mother as a baby.  He experienced the love of good friends.  He experienced the joy of sharing meals together.  He experienced the best we have to offer when we accept the other as beloved.  Beloved of us and beloved of God.  And it is that best that Jesus offers as the fruition of the Kingdom of God.  It is this part of our humanity that keeps God from sending an avenging army.  It is that part that Jesus tells us to keep doing. 

We are to keep offering unasked for forgiveness to those who hurt us.  We are to keep welcoming those that we see as “the other” in our midst as beloved of children of God and as worthy of our Love just as God loves them.  We are to love, and when necessary offer forgiveness to, the refugee, the immigrants, the sick, the prisoner, the hungry all as beloved of children of God.  When we are able to do this we see God’s kingdom come to fruition here.  Now.  When we feed the hungry on this campus through River City food bank we see God’s reign on earth.  When we see the immigrant being taught at the charter high school on this campus so that they can flourish in this country we see God’s kingdom on earth.  When we worship God in this place Sunday after Sunday we see God’s Kingdom breaking into our hearts.

I find it sad that these days the messages I hear from some of our leaders are opposite to the message of Jesus.  When we malign the foreigner, the sick, the LGBTQ, the asylum seeker, women, or any of God’s beloved creation we will, if we listen, hear God’s sorrow.  Our commission from God is to call out the sin of exclusion, the sin of misogyny, the sin of various phobias as the sins that they are.  And then we are to offer God’s bountiful forgiveness to those who turn around. 

This commandment to Love God and Love each other is not easy.  It is hard.  But there is good news here too.  The Good News is we are not doing this alone.  We have a companion who helps us.  A companion who we will celebrate next week on Pentecost!