Pentecost

Pentecost!

Happy Pentecost! Pentecost is one of the three most important festivals in the church year: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Christmas celebrates the incarnation of God in this world in the person of Jesus Christ. Easter celebrates his resurrection from the dead. And Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, empowering them to go out into the world and be the Church. We tend to think about the first two as being about Jesus and this one being about the Spirit. Though, the reality is that the Holy Spirit is moving through all three of them.

For instance, at Christmas, while we are all focused on the the cute baby in the manager, it is the Holy Spirit working to make it all possible. At the annunciation, when Mary objected to the impossibility of this pregnancy, the Angel Gabriel said that it was the Holy Spirit that was going to make the incarnation possible. The Holy Spirit makes Christmas happen. With God, all things are possible, because the Holy Spirit makes things possible.

At Easter, we are rightly focused on Christ being raised from the dead, but it was the Holy Spirit bringing Christ up from the dead. We heard in our first lesson today that powerful vision from Ezekiel of resurrection, a lesson we normally hear at the Easter Vigil, the first service of Easter, the first service of the Resurrection, but it is also rightly read today because it is a reading about the Spirit. In this vision that Ezekiel experienced, it says that the bones were raised, but they had no life, until the breath came into them. In Hebrew, the word breath is ruach, which is also the word for Spirit. It was the Spirit that brought about the resurrection. The Spirit is the Breath of God working in the world, bringing life where there was no life. As true for the vision of Ezekiel as it was for Jesus’ at the first Easter: It is the Holy Spirit bringing about resurrection.

And then, of course, today, we all know that today is all about the Spirit, as the Holy Spirit comes down like a rushing wind, and lights on the disciples like fire, empowering them as we heard about in the reading from Acts. And this amazing thing happens: Everyone begins to understand the message, despite all of their linguistic and cultural differences. The Holy Spirit is working to make sure people understand each other across their differences. The Holy Spirit doesn’t erase their differences, the Holy Spirit builds bridges across their differences so that the Good News can be heard and understood. The Holy Spirit brings this vision, not of unity through erasing difference, but of a unity across those differences. Each person staying the way that God made him or her, but the Holy Spirit working to bring understanding across the divide.  

That same Spirit that brought Jesus into the world, that same Spirit that brought Jesus up from the dead, is the same Spirit now pouring out onto the disciples, sending them out into the world to bring the Good News of God’s love to a broken world. So, all three of these festivals are linked to the Holy Spirit; they are all festivals of the Spirit. But they are all also Festivals of the Body of Christ. For while we celebrate God being born in a body at Christmas, and we celebrate that body being raised on the third day at Easter, on Pentecost, the disciples are sent out in to the world to be the Body of Christ. Christ’s body born at Christmas, raised at Easter, is now sent into the world through us. All of which is made possible... by the Holy Spirit.

A few weeks ago, we had a baptism here at St. Mary’s. And as we blessed the water, we said those words that we always say: “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water…” And we retell the story of salvation through the lens of water, talking about the Spirit moving over the waters at the beginning of creation. And we talk about the children of Israel moving through waters out of their slavery and again moving through waters into the Promised Land. And we talk about Jesus’ own baptism in the River Jordan. We offer our gratitude to God for the baptismal waters, in which we are buried with Christ in his death, by which we share in his resurrection, and through which we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Reborn by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost teaches us that the same Spirit that came down upon Jesus at his baptism and declares Jesus as God’s beloved Son, comes upon us and declares us to be God’s beloved children as well.                        

Reborn. Given new birth. New life. In the Spirit. The German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann compares this new spiritual birth with our original physical birth. He says of when a child is born: “Life begins, the senses awaken. The child opens its eyes and sees the light. It begins to breath, and feels the air. It cries, and hears the sounds. It lies beside its mother and feels the warmth of her skin.” The same is true when we are reborn by the power of the Spirit. He says, “Our senses are born again too. The enlightened eyes ... wake to the awareness of God. The beating heart experiences God’s love. The experience of God’s Spirit is like breathing the air: ‘God is continually breathing ... upon the soul, and the soul is breathing unto God.” God’s Spirit is life’s vibrating, vitalizing field of energy: we are in God and God is in us.”

The experience of a newborn reminds us though, that this initial awakening is not the end. The senses continue to grow. We continue to grow in life AND in faith. Even as sense of sight awakens at birth, it takes months to develop, as the child learns to distinguish shapes and colors and get depth perception and see far distances. The awakening of our spiritual senses are the same, they develop and grow over time as we grow in our faith. As we train our spiritual eyes to be aware of God’s presence with us, as we train our spiritual hearts to know God’s loving heart, as we train our spiritual lungs to breath in God’s spirit, that ruach, that Breath of God that brings life to this world, even in places of utter death like a Valley of Dry Bones.                                          

As we celebrate today the coming of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, we also celebrate the Spirit coming into lives every day, awakening our spiritual senses to feel and to know God’s loving presence with us, and empowering us to go into the world, bringing the Good News of God’s love found in Jesus Christ, helping bring up resurrection, new life, to all of dry bones we come upon, transforming the world by helping get our heartbeat to align with God’s. Amen. 

May 15, 2016 - Pentecost Sunday - The Language of Love

Genesis 11:1-9

Acts 2:1-21

John 14:8-17, (25-27)

I have always been drawn to today’s Gospel reading and wondered why we didn’t hear more about it.  WE can do great works than Jesus?  What is this? I’ve always wanted to hear a sermon on these words.  And since I always say yes to the opportunity to give a sermon before I look at the readings, it feels as though I got a divine nudging saying, Figure it out for yourself! 

And so I did!

The twentieth century philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s most popular essay is entitled The Hedgehog and the Fox.   In it, he famously invokes the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, who said, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  On this, I can say that I am most definitely the hedgehog.  I do know many things (we all do)—facts about the world and psychology and even the Bible, how to drive a car and play the flute, how to get a college degree and letters after my name—but there’s one big thing I know, and all these other things pale in significance to it. All my sermons are about it.  It’s all that sacred scriptures say if we dare to understand below their surface level.

We are so like that ancient people of Babel.  We think we can use language to build a tower and “make a name for ourselves”.  That irascible Yahweh of the early Hebrew Scriptures was right in trying to show the people that what they were doing was dangerous—that acting out of fear will only scatter them and create confusion as to their true identity. And yet we still do it—we try to create names for ourselves. We try to become nice or successful or a professor or an electrician, and then we define ourselves by those labels, becoming hypnotized by the language used to describe us and creating a false self based on it.  We forget about our deep inner life and the realms beneath the surface.   We become more and more scattered and we misunderstand even those who seemingly speak the same language that we do. The world is fractured and divided and feels hopeless.

Centuries after the Tower of Babel, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, we began to understand that there is another language, not of words alone but of breath and fire and love.  A new rush of understanding entered the world that transcended thought and language and set our hearts on fire. We began to see a new creation, a new way of being in the world—the way of love.  Pentecost clearly demonstrates that when we enter into the divine life of love that we can begin to really understand each other—whether or not we speak the same language.  We discover that there is another language below the surface of our lives that we are all fluent in.  We can begin to understand the language of longing, of connection, of oneness.

The Gospel of John gives us a way to enter into this place of oneness, to understand this new language. Brad was very right last week when he cautioned us about the Gospel of John and how taking it out of the historical context of the small early Christian community it was written for has resulted in thousands of years of anti-Semitism and justified violence beyond imagination.  The language of John, like all languages can be dangerous when taken on its surface level only.  It can be a language of Babel. And I would like to add a further caveat to the reading and hearing of this Gospel.  When read in its entirety is it clearly not just a collection of stories of what Jesus did and said.  It is instead a road map into the mystical heart of God and Love, into mystical union with Jesus. 

The gospel of John presents a paradigm for understanding our oneness with the Father—that utterly transcendent aspect of God who is beyond our language and our understanding and can only know through the person of Jesus. When we seek to embody and express our oneness with the creator, we are better able to let the trappings of false self fall away and come from a place of divine love. When we operate with divine love as our center, we become aware that we all speak the same language and are able to perform even greater acts of love than Jesus himself! What greater act of love is there than to be totally present with someone, laying aside our expectations, preconceptions and certainties to enter into the dangerous realms of love, perhaps being changed forever? The language of love leads us to a spaciousness of being that includes all things with compassion and understanding.  It is a place of paradox where nothing can disturb your peace and happiness and perfect joy and yet you are able to enter into the pain of the world without being consumed by it.

The ability to express divine love pulls us out of our individual agendas and calls us to share the oneness of our being with each other. My years as a therapist and now spiritual director have shown me so clearly the importance and impact of listening to each other with divine love. To listen not only with my ears, but with my spirit, to hear not only the language of words, but the language of the souls longing to live in a connected state of oneness with each other. When we listen on the level of love we find that we can become new people.  James Carse says, “A creative listener is not someone who simply allows me to say what I already want to say, but someone whose listening actually makes it possible for me to say what I never could have said, and thus to be a new kind of person, one I have never been before and could not have been before this deep listening.” 

This last week, we put my 102 year old mother-in-law into hospice and brought her to our house to die.  I’m sure many, if not most of you, have been in a similar situation. Standing on the brink of eternity—standing still in the face of death, letting its inevitability sink in, accepting each moment as possibly the last one, in awe of the mystery of life and death.  Jesus calls us to live this way always. He calls us to live and pray in His name—from a place beyond the false self, from the heart of love to the heart of the beloved.

So what is the one big thing that I know?  That we are surrounded in each moment by infinities of love, by eternities of peace and yet we most often choose to enclose ourselves in the languages of Babel with their expectations, preconceptions, criticisms and separation. It is a tremendous and awesome thing to choose the language of fire and breath and love, which is a language beyond words and which reaches into the realms of boundless freedom.

 

This Grace That Scorches Us

A Blessing for Pentecost Day[1]

Here’s one thing

you must understand

about this blessing:

it is not

for you alone.

 

It is stubborn

about this;

do not even try

to lay hold of it

if you are by yourself,

thinking you can carry it

on your own.

 

To bear this blessing,

you must first take yourself

to a place where everyone

does not look like you

or think like you,

a place where they do not

believe precisely as you believe,

where their thoughts

and ideas and gestures

are not exact echoes

of your own.

 

Bring your sorrow. Bring your grief.

Bring your fear. Bring your weariness,

your pain, your disgust at how broken

the world is, how fractured,

how fragmented

by its fighting, its wars,

its hungers, its penchant for power,

its ceaseless repetition

of the history it refuses

to rise above.

 

I will not tell you

this blessing will fix all that.

 

But in the place

where you have gathered,

wait.

Watch.

Listen.

Lay aside your inability

to be surprised,

your resistance to what you

do not understand.

 

See then whether this blessing

turns to flame on your tongue,

sets you to speaking

what you cannot fathom

 

or opens your ear

to a language

beyond your imagining

that comes as a knowing

in your bones

a clarity

in your heart

that tells you

 

this is the reason

we were made,

for this ache

that finally opens us,

 

for this struggle, this grace

that scorches us

toward one another

and into

the blazing day.

[1] Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015.