Friday, June 27, 2014

Harder Than It Has to Be

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

At the start of Chapter 10, Jesus turned around to the disciples who had been following him... watching him heal people, give sight to the blind, kick out demons and make the powerful look foolish... and invited them to no longer just WATCH him do ministry, but now to JOIN him in doing ministry!  GO!  Get on it!  Go out into the world!  Ministry happens out there... go, go, GO, out the front door!  Jesus tells them where to go, who to see, what to do when people are nice and welcome them into their towns and homes and what to do when people aren’t very nice and they aren’t welcomed.  

Jesus goes on to tell them that this new message he has for the world... the message that God wants this world... our world... transformed into the Kingdom of God... into a place of self sacrificial love, inclusion and the kind of justice where everyone has enough... enough food, shelter, work, purpose and dignity... that message will not be easily swallowed by everyone out there in the "real" world and that some people won’t want to hear it... especially the people who are currently on top of the heap and got there at the expense of others.  That kind of new message, it turns out, is so hard to hear by some that it can even divide families.  

We hear that call to GO these days in church a lot more often than we have in the past.  We hear that the mission field isn’t just something overseas, looked after by specialized missionaries, but that the mission field is right there out our front door and WE are called to be the missionaries!  We can’t just sit back and wait for people to happen on our church and decide to come inside even though we know it’s a really nice place inside!  That’s all very, very true.  Just like Jesus told the disciples back then, we DO need to take God’s infinite love and that abundant life that it brings, out to wherever people are, even to pretty un-churchy looking places.  We ARE called to be Christ in our neighborhoods and just like the disciples at Pentecost spoke in new ways that others could really understand, we DO need to find new ways to speak, with and without words, so that people who haven’t been able to hear about God’s love in the ways in which we’re most comfortable will be able to hear it in a way that they can understand. BUT... there’s always a but isn’t there?  Here at the very end of Chapter 10, Jesus adds in these few verses, I think with the hope that as we think about going out into the world and doing God’s mission and as we get up our courage to GO and DO, and as we create visions and missions, plot and plan, scheme and fret, that we wouldn’t forget that often... often... it doesn’t always have to be as complicated as we might think... often it’s as simple as a cold cup of water.  

You probably don’t do this like I do, but I think and plot and scheme and plan and imagine and worry... a LOT... and let me tell you, I can think and plot and scheme and imagine and worry up a giant, enormous amount of stuff.  I can do that so much and so well that I sometimes miss what’s right in front of my face.  This past Wednesday, we were moving into our new house in Hope.  The Dish Network guy came by to set up our TV and he worked hard in the sun and got us all up and running and we now have BBC America back (which is a HUGE deal in our family) and while he was working I was worried about how we were going to get everything done before Kelly had to go back to work.  I was planning the schedule for cleaning our old place and how I could get the washer and dryer hooked up and this and that and that and this and then the Dish guy said, “Could I have a cold glass of water?”  I was so wrapped up in my planning and organizing that I missed the simple, but basic needs of someone right under my nose.  

I think we often unintentionally do the same thing in the church.  We get excited about what we’re doing... about the project we’ve taken on.  We get so carried away with planning what we should say, or how a particular task should be done and we assume that something as important as the work of the church or telling the world about the Kingdom of God and God’s unlimited, unconditional love has to be done by creating the greatest, most intricate, well planned program, study or worship experience possible.  We fret about details because we care so much about this important work and we worry about the complicated and deep theological proofs and arguments we might need.  We work long hours to find the right books, order the right things, cook the right dishes, locate the right quotes and plan the best programs.  We do all of that, worry about all of that, get upset when it’s not going just so... all because the Gospel and the Kingdom of God and Jesus and the work we do in the church is SO important and we want to give it our best... but sometimes... often in fact, I’m beginning to think... it turns out that what is most needed, what will make the biggest difference, what will send the clearest message of God’s love is sometimes something we might overlook because it’s very, very simple.  

It is very easy for us as Christians to make all of this harder than it has to be and certainly harder than Jesus intended it to be.  We worry and fret about visiting someone who is sick or grieving the death of someone they loved because we don’t know what to say.  What we forget is that when we simply stop by and sit with them, the thing that speaks the loudest is that in our presence with them, never even having to say a word, Christ is present with them.  We think we need to know every piece of scripture by chapter and verse when in reality the thing that might very well better communicate God’s love to that person more than any bit of scripture or theology is something simple like a warm meal, a slice of pie and a smile.  

We ARE called as disciples to go beyond where we are comfortable, to people we don’t know, who aren’t like us, to learn what they hunger for and to help them satisfy that hunger even when what they need is different than what feeds us.  We ARE called to teach and baptize and do nothing less than change the world and that sometimes does take intricate and complicated study and planning... but sometimes... perhaps more often than we might think, it doesn’t always HAVE to be that complicated.  Sometimes these days as I catch myself falling into that trap myself of plotting and planning and worrying and fretting about bringing the Kingdom of God into our world... I think just maybe I can hear Jesus whispering to me saying, “Erik, is all of that what they really need, or does my little one just need a simple, cold cup of water”.  Amen. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Interesting Kettle of ΙΧΘΥΣ

Something exciting is happening at Prince of Peace, and the church council and I need to bring you all up to speed. To do that, I have to tell something of a long and complicated back story, so bear with me. It's a good story, and an incredibly exciting one, if a little bit scary. But the best part is that at the end, EVERYONE at PoP gets to help choose the next chapter. Here goes….

When I got to Augusta I found a group of Episcopalian clergy who invited me to a weekly text study.  The Episcopal church and the ELCA are in full communion with one another, meaning that in all the important theological things we are in agreement.  So, about 15 years ago the two denominations decided that we would both be open to shared ministry with one another.  Until recently that has been more theory than practice with the exception being that clergy from one denomination might serve a church from the other denomination.   

Soon, my new colleagues began to talk about their congregations.  They talked about how none of the five Episcopal churches in the area could afford full time clergy and how each church had a few kids but none had that critical mass you need to support a vibrant youth program.  They talked about how their congregations were aging, how expensive it was just to heat their buildings and how they lamented not being able to do as much community outreach as they knew our area needed.  They told me how their Bishop had asked them to start talking about partnering and maybe merging so they could together focus on ministry rather than always just working for survival.  They told me how sad it was for their people to think of giving up historic buildings, how frightening it was for them to consider sharing control of a church with others they didn't know but also how the possibilities that opened up if they didn't have to live on the edge financially were really exciting.  They told me they had concluded that if they merged with one another they knew they would need to settle together in a neutral location and not in one of their existing buildings but they didn't know where that might be.  Most of it sounded very familiar.  Not just familiar to Prince of Peace's situation but also to the situation of most of mainline Christianity in our country today.  

They asked me if I would come to one of their K-5 meetings (short for the Kennebec Valley 5 Episcopal Congregations) as a neutral observer and I did.  At the same time, we decided to put on a joint Ascension Day service.  The Episcopalians asked me if Prince of Peace would be willing to host it because we would be seen as "neutral ground" by their members.  I was happy to do that and as you know we worshiped together and found out that not only do we have similar styles of worship, we all like food and fellowship as well!   

Then, on the Saturday after Ascension Day, while we were in our Healthy Congregations Workshop, all five of the Episcopal church vestries met (they call church council a vestry) for one of their regular meetings with their bishop.  I am told that coming together at Prince of Peace for Ascension Day is thought to have created a breakthrough for the K-5 and at this meeting they decided to do something different.  For one Sunday a month for the next five months they would move their individual worship services from their own churches and combine them in one location.  Each month they would meet in a different church on the third Sunday and worship together.  After they had gone through the rotation, they would meet again and see where everyone was and how it had felt to be together.

Here's the part where it gets personal to us, really interesting, a tiny bit frightening but also sort of exciting… all their clergy and all their vestries also unanimously decided at that meeting that they would invite Prince of Peace to be a part of both their ongoing discussions about doing ministry together, including the possibility of us merging with them, and to join them in this worship rotation plan. 

When they told me about this invitation, I emailed our church council's executive committee and our head Deacon to ask them to think and pray about this and for us to talk more in person on Sunday.  So on Sunday, after we had reflected on our Healthy Congregations Workshop, I asked those gathered from our council, our deacons and the others who were there from our congregation what they thought.  It wasn't anything official, but finding out how folks felt was the first step in deciding how to respond to this invitation.  The consensus was that talking was a good idea, but perhaps moving our worship from our sanctuary to another church one Sunday a month for the next five months was not something we were ready to do.  I thought that was very understandable, after all, the five Episcopal congregations had been working up to this idea for a year and we had been thinking about it for only five minutes!  Nancy Merrill from our deacons and Tom Benn from council agreed to go with me to the next K-5 meeting which was on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 to explore this invitation a little more.

At that meeting I suggested to the K-5 an idea our worship committee had agreed to earlier that day; that instead of Prince of Peace taking part in a joint worship that moved every third Sunday to a different location, that they consider all coming to Prince of Peace for all the joint services.  Each month a different congregation would plan and lead the worship but they would all happen at Prince of Peace.  They really liked that idea!  The only hang up was that a couple of their congregations had already started planning special worship services for when everyone came to visit their churches.  For example, Christ Church in Gardiner was planning an outdoor, public worship on the village green with a special guest preacher and St. Matthews in Hallowell was planning a special service since the third Sunday of September fell on St. Matthew's Feast Day this year.  

It was a truly remarkable meeting.  All five Episcopal congregations really worked hard to include us.  They were so very understanding that we hadn't had time to get our minds around not having worship in our space and all of us wanted to honor the special plans that some were already making because they were excited to play the role of host for the others.  We were momentarily stuck, but only because each of us wanted the best for the other.  In the end, the idea we all worked out is the following:
  • The five Episcopal congregations will move their worship on the third Sunday of each month for the next five months to a single location. Worship will begin on those third Sundays at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The location will be selected in turn by each of the five congregations and could be either at their own church or at Prince of Peace.  It would be their choice.  As of the meeting, St. Mark's and St. Andrew's indicated they would like to try to take their "turn" at PoP.  
  • Prince of Peace will continue to have worship in our sanctuary on every third Sunday as usual.  If one of the Episcopal congregations wants to take their turn at PoP, they will be invited to plan and lead worship that day. 
  • On the third Sundays, members of PoP will be invited to either worship at PoP or travel to the location where the joint worship is happening as they wish.  (The first will be at Christ Church in Gardiner on July 20, 2014)
  • On the days that the joint worship is hosted at Prince of Peace, worship would begin at 9:30 a.m.   
At our council meeting this past Sunday, it was unanimously agreed that we should immediately get this information out to our entire congregation.  Everyone in attendance at that meeting was very supportive of this creative idea.  Everyone also knew there were many "nuts and bolts" that would need to be worked out and everyone agreed that merging, if that happened, would only work if it was used as a tool to do greater ministry in our community.  Merging for survival alone would not be a faithful thing to do.  To get this information out to the entire congregation we are doing the following:

  • This message is being sent by email, the postal service to those who don't get email and is being made available as a hard copy at church.
  • On July 13 I will use the sermon time to introduce this to the congregation from the pulpit and I hope you will make every effort to attend.
  • Following worship on July 13 we will gather for further questions and conversation as a congregation in the fellowship hall.  
  • On July 27th I will again host another opportunity following worship for further questions and conversation.  

I believe the Holy Spirit is working powerfully in this.  That fact does not take away all the very understandable and completely legitimate concerns and fears that will arise as we consider this.  It also doesn't change the need for our congregation to continue to do the healing work it has started.  This is huge.  The growing "most likely" scenario that seems to be developing from the meeting in which we were included is that three or perhaps four of the Episcopal congregations are likely to agree to move to the Prince of Peace location.  In that vision, it would mean officially closing their three congregations as well as ours and forming a new Lutheran/Episcopal congregation.  That newly formed congregation could potentially worship about 200 people every Sunday.  It could be staffed by one full time Lutheran pastor and one full time Episcopal priest.  That would not change "whose" we are, but it would fundamentally change "who" we are in many ways.  

That vision opens up many exciting possibilities for service, youth and family ministry, worship and outreach but it also means working intentionally to discover who we have become together and what specific mission God is calling us to as this new expression of the Body of Christ.  It is both exciting and a bit frightening at the same time and therefore is obviously not something to be done in a hurry.  At the same time it seems unwise to ignore what seems to be the workings of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  Therefore it is important to remember that at this point we are only agreeing to conversation, prayer to discern God's will and moving the start time of our worship on those Sundays where we host everyone to 9:30a.m.  It is also important to keep in mind that the vision is constantly evolving and things will most certainly continue to change as our conversations and experiences together develop.  I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit might give us courage to walk this path and see where it might lead.  Please add this to your daily prayers and talk about this out in the open.  Plan to attend the July 13 and/or July 27 events and please think about and ask any and all questions you might have, being clear with both the things that excite you and the things that concern you.

I am very excited to turn the page with you and discover what happens in the next chapter of this story!  

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Erik

Saturday, June 21, 2014

All In!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 

We need to start today by getting oriented.  We’re in the middle of chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel.  Up until the end of chapter nine, Jesus has been the one who has been working on the mission.  His mission isn't small.  It’s to change the world from a place where a few gain immense power and wealth on the backs of many less powerful people, a place where there is hunger, disease, oppression and injustice, a place where might makes right and the poor are only remembered when the rich need something unpleasant done for them.  His mission is to change that world... our world... into the Kingdom of God.  A place where everyone has enough... not too much and not too little, but enough... enough food, shelter, worth, dignity and purpose that with enough, they would begin to live the abundant life God created all of creation to live.  

So, up until the end of chapter nine, Jesus has been doing it all... healings, casting out demons and confronting the people in power.  The disciples were around but they were more like Jesus’s groupies.  But then, at the beginning of chapter ten, Jesus turns to the disciples and invites them not to just follow and watch what he’s been doing... he invites them to DO what he’s been doing.  He invites them to join him in changing the world!  He gives them the authority to heal the sick, cure the lame and kick demons in the... we’ll say shins and that brings us to today’s Gospel reading.  

Today’s Gospel is where Jesus tells the disciples that what they are about to do is going to be really, really, REALLY HARD!  It’s going to be that hard because change is hard.  Change... even change that leads to something better, is painful and it demands sacrifice and because change requires pain and sacrifice its very hard to get change, even change for the better, to happen.  Because getting change to happen is that hard, you can’t do it half way.  The only way the disciples then (and us disciples now) can possibly change the world with Jesus is to go “All In” putting this mission above everything and everyone else in our lives.  

Change is HARD!  It’s a six letter word that works more like a four letter word.  People don’t like change mostly because when something changes, things usually get way harder and way more painful before they ever even begin to get better.  I learned this lesson the hard way in the 8th grade.  I missed most of my 8th grade year in school because I was lying on a heating pad on the couch watching World War II movies on TV... that and going to doctors to see why my right side was hurting so much.  The doctors couldn’t figure it out.  They were frustrated.  So frustrated that my doctor told me he was ordering one last test and WHEN it came back negative he was sending me to a psychiatrist!  When the radiologist read the test, he took me right to the urology department and I was scheduled for surgery.  I was not making it up.  My kidney was blocked by a birth defect so it felt like I had a kidney stone for almost a year.  It sounds bad, but I was excited that my life would change for the better once they fixed this thing!  

What I didn’t realize was that change is HARD and it always involves pain and sacrifice.  My experience with surgery was from watching TV where people came out of surgery sleepy but better.  I came out of surgery screaming... in a million times more pain than I had ever experienced before.  EVENTUALLY the foot long incision healed.  Eventually, the rib they removed stopped burning.  Eventually I got back to school, could go on vacation with my family, play sports and do all the stuff I hadn’t done for almost a year.  EVENTUALLY... but that change from blocked kidney to free-flowing kidney involved a LOT of pain.  

My kidney surgery was incredibly painful but it pales in comparison to the pain Jesus knew would come when he and the disciples worked and pushed for the whole world to change!  That is what Jesus meant when he said he came not to bring peace, but a sword.  He meant that he had come to change the world and he wanted the disciples to be fully aware that the process of changing the world would be as painful as being sliced open by a sword.  

Even though it meant changing the world for the better and even though it meant changing the world so it worked the way God wanted it to work, it was STILL going to require all the disciples to put everything and everyone else in their lives on a back burner AND it was going to cause sword cutting level pain.  So, why on earth would disciples then, or disciples now do that?  Why would you upset your life and the lives of the people around you?  Why would you sacrifice the things and the systems and the ways that make you comfortable?  Why would you give up the contentment you feel when you're in control?  Why would we take on extra, intense pain and give up all the things we find comforting?  

The only answer I have for you for all of those questions is Jesus.  Jesus is the reason a disciple would take on extra pain.  Jesus is the reason you’d give up what you find comfortable, familiar and in your control.  Jesus is who you would put in front of family and friends and Jesus is why you would join in God's mission to change the world.  But it’s not at all a blind or uninformed trust because Jesus has proven that in him, there is sight on the other side of blindness, hearing on the other side of being deaf, inclusion on the other side of being cast out.  Jesus has proven that in him there is health on the other side of disease, justice on the other side of injustice and Jesus has proven that in him there is life on the other side of death.

The disciples then, and us disciples now, have been invited by Jesus to come up out of the crowd... out of just a passive life... up onto the stage... not just to watch but to join with Jesus in actively changing the world.  He has promised that it will be hard.  We’ve been promised that it will hurt worse before it starts hurting less.  We’ve been promised that we will need to sacrifice what is comfortable, in our control and known for what is uncomfortable, beyond our control and unknown.  But we’ve also been promised that on the other side of this change is life... the REAL life, the abundant life that God created us to live.  

That REAL life God's abundant life simply can't be found in the life of what the world knows, what we’ve built, what we find comfortable.  If we hold on to the life we can build for ourselves, then we will lose the life God created us to really, really live.  But, if we brave the sword, work through the pain and endure the sacrifice for Jesus’s sake we will join with him and together, as the Body of Christ, bring into being in this world the kind of life God created us to live not only for ourselves but for all of creation.  So, are you ready to come up on stage?  Are you ready to not just watch the show, but join Jesus in doing God's mission in this world?  Are you ready to be more than a groupie?  Are you ready to be a disciple in spite of the cost and allow yourself to be transformed, your community to be transformed, the church to be changed ALL so that the world might be changed so that all of creation can share in God's promise of abundant life?  Are you ready to go “All In”?  Amen.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Egg Yolks, Apple Pie and Heresy!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 28th Chapter

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some
doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday.  Right now around the world pastors are using terrible food and beverage metaphors or being incredibly boring in a terrible attempt to explain the unexplainable.  Some are even now saying, God is like water because water is steam, water and ice... or that God is like an egg because an egg has a shell, a yolk and the white stuff... or like an apple pie because it has crust, apples and that sticky, sweet jelly goo.  The trouble with using food to explain God is that first off, none of these metaphors even begin to adequately describe God, second, they are all technically ancient heresies but WORST of all by far is that they make everyone hungry and thirsty right in the middle of church!  Other pastors have decided not to commit an ancient heresy but are instead committing the sin of being incredibly boring.  They are describing the history of the Trinity.  How excitement filled the room when the Council at Nicaea in the year 325 agreed to take a bathroom break after discussing the finer points of the third article on the qualities of the ZZZzzzZZZZ.

For me, the best thing we can do with Trinity Sunday is to simply be honest and say the doctrine of the Trinity is our completely inadequate human attempt to fully describe the fully un-describeable.  I personally like that way best for a couple of reasons.  First, I actually like that I can’t figure God out all the way.  If I could figure God out, then God would not be incredible enough to take care of my incredible problems.  I need an indescribably large and powerful God because there have been, and I suspect there will be again, times in my life where my problems seem to me to be indescribably large and powerful.   The second reason I like the “I don’t know” approach is that’s exactly where the disciples were at in this lesson.  It says some disciples believed and some doubted, but in the Greek, which is the language the New Testament was originally written in, it says that they all believed AND they all doubted... ALL at the same time.  

I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot like me!  I believe and I doubt all at the same time.  I totally trust that God will care for me and then still worry if things will be OK.  I don’t give my problems to God and then stop there.  I give my problems to God and then snatch ‘em back so I can worry about them more.  In other words I believe and doubt all at the same time, just like the disciples did!  Now, that kind of believing and doubting at the same time might not seem very faithful or saintly.  But that is exactly the same kind of imperfect faith that those saints named Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the rest of them all had with Jesus standing right there in front of them!  There faith was imperfect.  My faith too is imperfect and what we understand about God is imperfect but, ... and here’s the interesting part, Jesus asked those imperfect disciples and Jesus asks us imperfect disciples to go out and do the mission anyway.  

Right there on that hill, Jesus sees the disciples believing and doubting all at the same time and simply goes ahead and gives them the mission anyway!  Go out and baptize people!  In other words, show them with water and the Word that they are loved by God without limit and without condition.  Then teach them what Jesus commanded.  In other words, teach them to live in Jesus’s backwards way of living, where we are blessed up front by God without any conditions and without any take-backs for any reason and then we’re given the opportunity to respond to God’s love for us by loving our neighbor the same way God first loved us... up front and without conditions even if that neighbor has always been, and probably always will be, a total jerk!  Our mission is to receive God’s unconditional love up front and then use that love to change the world for our neighbors for the better, believing and doubting and tripping and stumbling every step of the way. 

DOING God’s love in the world is what believing is really all about.  We’ve been mistakenly convinced, that “believing” means figuring something out with our heads, but back in Jesus’s day, believing wasn’t a head thing.  Back in Jesus’s day believing meant simply trying to live your life the way Jesus lived his life.  Back then it meant trying to transform our character to be more like Jesus’s character... more grace filled, more peace filled, more generous, forgiving, loving, compassionate and more self giving.    

We’ve become persuaded that we have to get our beliefs right in our heads BEFORE we can be allowed to bring God’s love out into the world.  But the truth is, God knows none of us will ever have it all locked down in our heads any more than the disciples did!  What God is trying to help us understand is that belief doesn’t start in our heads... it starts in our feet and our hands... DOING our faith... sometimes well and sometimes not so well and our faith grows from there.

God is asking you and me to start exactly where we are today.  Use the brain, hands and feet and whatever else we’ve got, just as it is today, and simply try today to be a little more like Christ to our neighbor than we were yesterday.  Wearing the cloths we’ve got on, working the same job, driving the same car, using the same words, simply go out and do something... even the smallest of somethings... for someone else who's feeling lost, last, lonely or left out... then, tomorrow, do another little thing and together, Jesus tells us, all those little things will change the world.  

We will never be able to wrap our minds around God with the doctrine of the Trinity or anything else for that matter.  But the doctrine of the Trinity and this lesson do give us some important clues about God.  God, it seems, is about making unbreakable relationships with all of us, regardless of how we believe or what we do in this world.  You and I and all of creation are bound up in God’s love as tightly as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are bound together.  Nothing can undo that love.  Nothing can unbind that love.  Nothing we feel, nothing we think and nothing we could ever do can unbind us from God’s love for us.

Every week that’s important to remember.  This week in our community it is especially important to remember!  NOTHING can separate us from God’s love.  God in Christ is, and will always be, with each and every one of us forever... in our faith and in our doubts, in our brightest of times and in our most horribly dark and hopeless times, when we win the fights with our personal demons and even when we don't...  God’s infinite and unconditional love, Christ’s eternal life giving presence and the life changing power of the Holy Spirit is with us always... right to the end of the age.  Amen.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why No Pentecost Candy?

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
John 20: 19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Three questions to start us out this morning.  What is your favorite Christmas candy?  What is your favorite Easter candy?  Now the really hard one... what is your favorite Pentecost candy?  Why is there no Pentecost candy?  If there was a Pentecost candy what would it be?  
Pentecost, believe it or not, is the second holiest day of the Christian calendar... second only to Easter and more important than Christmas and yet it doesn’t even have it’s own candy!  My non-church going friends post pictures of their families opening Christmas presents and searching for Easter eggs but none of them post pictures of their Pentecost celebrations.  It is the last holy day of Christianity that still runs free.  The last Holy Day that has eluded capture by the market... the one Holy Day that the world hasn’t yet been able to tame.  The Holy Spirit, it seems, refuses to be captured, domesticated or tamed and I think that is both frightening and incredibly exciting!  
It's exciting because Pentecost is about the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes like the sound of a violent wind and divided tongues as of fire and right there we get the first indication of how wild this Holy Day really is.  Even the words we use to describe it are elusive and not really clear.  It’s like wind and like fire but it certainly isn’t like a quiet campfire or a cool evening breeze.  Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit coming out of nowhere and overtaking our lives like a blazing, fully involved inferno fed by a violent wind and that's why it's a bit frightening too.
When the first Pentecost happened the disciples were living in fear.  They were holed up inside a house and the doors were securely locked.  They were focused completely on their own survival... they knew that what had happened to Jesus could very well happen to them.  They were paralyzed with fear, remembering what used to be and wasn't any more but unable to even think of what might be.  They were hanging on with white knuckles to the edge of a cliff... hanging on between life and death, unable to move and hardly able to breathe.  Then, on Pentecost the Holy Spirit blew into their lives!  It blew in like the sound of a powerful wind!  It blew so hard and so strong that it blew the disciples right out of that room with it’s four comfortable and familiar walls... it blew them out beyond their locked doors and blew them out into the world.  
The text then says that divided tongues appeared on them like fire and when you look at the artwork out there about Pentecost it has little tongues of fire resting on their heads, but it seems to me that the Holy Spirit worked less like cute little flames hovering above their heads and more like fire lit under a different part of their anatomy!  It MOVED them and it MOVED them with a purpose!  It moved them OUTSIDE!  OUTSIDE the building, OUTSIDE their traditions, OUTSIDE their culture, OUTSIDE of what was comfortable.  With an urgency that comes only when your tuckus is set on fire, they moved and included people they had never known before.  People who spoke in different ways, people who thought differently, people with different histories... people from “away” who had never been a part of their world before.  
The Holy Spirit blew and with a fire lit under their backsides, the disciples were transformed from a group of fearful individuals into the Church!  The Holy Spirit made them into a vibrant, living, growing, thriving church, NOT behind locked doors or inside comfortable walls or with just the people they knew... The Church was created OUT THERE on the streets, OUT THERE in the world, OUT THERE with different people from different places and different ways and different cultures!  On that first Pentecost the disciples were transformed from FEAR to HOPE, from SCARCITY to ABUNDANCE and from DEATH to REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BEING ALIVE!
Today we’ve celebrated three wonderful Baptisms and by doing that at Pentecost we are reminded that these Baptisms... and our Baptisms too... aren’t meant to be fire insurance.  We aren’t Baptized FROM fire... You and I and all of God’s children are Baptized INTO fire... INTO the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We aren’t Baptized FROM something scary... We are Baptized FOR something amazing!  In the waters of the Baptism, God first claims us with God’s infinite and unchangeable love for us AND THEN in those same Baptismal waters the Holy Spirit lights that fire under each one of us and sends us out to do nothing less than change the world.  

As I look at our congregation and as I look at the possibilities in our community on this Pentecost Sunday I see the Holy Spirit active and alive among us!  There are beginning to be visions of a new future being seen here and there are people daring to dream dreams!  I see that untamed, wild and unpredictable Holy Spirit lighting a fire... getting us moving... and I see that Holy Spirit blowing through this place like a violent wind... blowing us OUTSIDE these walls and into world.   Where will the violent wind of the Holy Spirit take us?  Honestly?  I have no idea!  BUT, I guarantee that wherever it is, there will be more light and more life than there will ever be hiding behind locked doors, living in fear and worrying about survival.  It's time to run wild with the Holy Spirit again.  It's time to go outside.  It's time to set aside fear and embrace hope.  It's time to live!  Amen.