Pentecost Audio 5.24.2015
Thomas Edison once said after a fire destroyed his laboratory, "There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew." Three weeks after the fire, Edison delivered his first phonograph. For us, Pentecost is that fire. Pentecost is that destroyer that is new life. I'm reminded of the recent controlled burn that turned into a wildfire. A controlled burn is an illusion. The reports are that new life is springing up all over the place, where just a short time ago the fires raged. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be controlled. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be predicted. The fire of Holy Spirit brings growth that cannot be imagined.
The Hebrew people had an idea of the new life that comes from destruction. The Ezekiel story also points us to that. God gathers up the dry bones and breathes the spirit into them, and Israel lives again. But new life cannot be controlled, and it cannot be contained, it is a wildfire and goes where it will.
These readings before us today point us to Holy Spirit. They point us to people, not buildings and not institutions, but followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus, who know that in their lives, Love wins.
Indeed, today I think Pentecost is about breaking out of the framework, and being about God's reconciling mission in the world. Pentecost is about being a follower of Jesus and doing it together, with other people on the way. And for us, it is about doing it in this peculiar and particular way as Episcopalians at St. Andrew's.
Some of you remember I came up with a "top ten" for doing church a few years back, and seeing that David Letterman has retired, I thought I'd reprise my "top ten" list in his honor, and in honor of Pentecost, and change, and transformation.
These are not in any particular order.
Number 1 Church is where there is always something to eat, and everyone gets fed. We know our risen lord in the breaking of the bread, we know our risen lord in the sharing of a meal, we know our risen lord in the hearts and the faces of those we feed as well as in the feeding. Something mystical and amazing happens when we are made Jesus' body through the sharing of a meal. We are made whole, we are put back together, and like those dry bones in Ezekiel we are joined with God and with one another.
Number 2 Our liturgy, what we do when we are gathered together, makes sense of our lives. Because many of us live hectic and full lives, we make room for silence. Because we need a language for worship of that which is not us, we pray with words and symbol, we pray with music and song, we pray in order and in chaos. Because when the pain gets too hard to bear, we have a place to put it here, in this place. And when the joy and gratitude bubble over, there are others to catch it and share it.
Number 3 No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you. That one is not really mine, it's from Robin Williams, who was an Episcopalian. We engage in the very important skill of theological reflection. We engage the world, and we consider it through the lens of scripture, tradition, and reason. We read scripture together, we learn about its context, we talk about it, we even argue about it, and we make up our own minds as to how we live its call in our lives. You don't have to check your mind at the door. And no matter what, we gather around the table and eat together anyway.
Number 4 People love one another. That is an action, not necessarily a feeling. We treat each other, and all those who come looking for acceptance, with dignity and respect. And when we don't, we ask for forgiveness and are granted it. This is a vision of the kingdom. In God's kingdom, all are loved, all are cared for, all are forgiven. In church, we fall short but that continues to be the vision.
Number 5 Children are always welcome, old people too, and gay people and straight people for that matter, and ordinary people, and extraordinary people. God loves everyone, no exceptions, and church, this church in particular, lives that out. Again, not perfectly, there are times when we forget who we are, we forget that our number one priority is to welcome all as Christ welcomes all.
Number 6 There are some important times in people's lives that we pay attention to: birth and baptism, marriage, death, and even the times in between, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, times of sickness and suffering, times of joy and celebration, (graduation) comings and goings. We pay attention to these times because it is often at these times the time and distance between us and God, us and the others in our lives, thins. It is these times when we lift our hearts and our voices to give God praise, to ask for strength and courage, to turn to one another for support, not because we have to, but because it is what our humanity calls us to. We talk to God and with one another in the words that come into our hearts and our minds, and when we cannot find the words to say what needs to be said, we turn to our Prayer Book. We turn to the words that have been said and prayed through the years, the decades, and the centuries. There we can place our joy and our sorrow, and know that we are held in the awesome presence of our Creator God, our Father and Mother God, our loving God.
Number 7 We show up consistently, we listen, we tell the truth, and we try, hard as we might, to let go of the outcome. This one is the foundation of all ministry. We show up. That's a tough one these days. There is so much that demands our attention. There are many, many things we could be doing besides coming here to do this each Sunday morning. But we know that it's not about having the time to come, none of us really have any time, instead, it's about knowing that to be whole people, we need to stop for a few moments, stop and listen to God and to one another. We show up.
We listen, we listen to God's word, to one another, sometimes you even listen to me, I try to listen to you. We listen in the silence of this space, we listen to the cacophony of the marketplace, we listen to the music of the spheres and the music we make together. We listen.
We tell the truth. How hard is that? The truth that God loves you no matter what. The truth that God came and comes into this created world to walk with us on the way. The truth that there is pain and suffering and sometimes life just sucks, but we are not alone. The truth that in Jesus' life and suffering and death on the cross, Love wins. The truth that nothing belongs to us anyway, the truth that we are stewards of God's creation, stewards of our children, stewards of this beautiful building, and we live in gratitude for all of it.
We let go of the outcome. See number eight.
Number 8 We recognize that God is God and we are not. We are not the center of the universe, we are not the hub of the wheel, we are not the most important of God's creation. We are interdependent, we are one part of a mighty creation, we are not in control. We let go of the outcome.
Number 9 We recognize that we are transformed by God's amazing and abundant love in Jesus Christ. The relationship that God has with us changes us, the relationship we have with others changes us. We begin to look more and more like people of mercy and compassion, we begin to look more and more like people who feed each other, who feed the hungry. We begin to look more and more like people who miss the mark, ask for forgiveness, and are loved regardless.
Number 10 We go out into the world as followers of Jesus, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned, see number 9. We embody mercy and compassion, we listen to God's call in our lives, we seek to get on board with what God is already blessing. We recognize that God is the greatest healing and integrating force in an increasingly fragmented world. We understand that it is our call to be the peace makers, the light bearers, the agents of healing and reconciliation in the world.
So there's my ten reasons for church, and for this church. On this Feast of Pentecost, I ask some questions about the future of the church. How do we keep ever burning, ever reforming, ever emerging? How do we find a way to speak in a language people can understand? How do we stay nimble, that is, how do we respond to the global nature of the world in which we live, and how do we respond to the ever more instant communication that people have in their hands and at their disposal? How do we help people to see that true freedom is in relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, and with others?
I have ten answers, see above. Love wins. Amen.