Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Sunday is the Day of Pentecost. On this day, Christians remember how the Holy Spirit came upon a diverse group of folks gathered together (Acts 2:1-21). Images of Pentecost are dominated by fire and wind. Acts 2 tells us that these are apt images and symbols: "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..." These elements, wind and fire, are appropriate images for the Day of Pentecost...
...But in our gospel reading this week, John 7: 37-39, Jesus offers us another element: water. "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive..."
...And still, we are offered another element to consider for this Day of Pentecost: earth. Psalm 104: 24-35 speaks of how God's presence and God's glory fills the earth and "When you send forth your spirit, they (the things of the earth) are created; and you renew the face of the ground."
God's Spirit is everywhere: it fills all of the earth, even into our own hearts. It blows like the wind, flows like water, and dances with power like the wind. It is no mistake that these various passages in the Bible describe the Holy Spirit in these different ways. Earth, water, wind, fire are the four basic elements here on earth...they make up everything we can experience through our senses, just like the Holy Spirit can be understood as the way in which we can experience God in our lives.
It's great to have the traditional images of wind and fire representing the Day of Pentecost, but let's be honest: too much fire and you'll get burned, too much wind and your get blown away or parched. Including earth and water as metaphors for the Holy Spirit helps me to have a more holistic understanding of the Holy Spirit. It reminds me that God is not only present in the fiery passion in my heart or in the wind that moves me, but in the water that nourishes me and flows out of me and in the ground I stand on.
Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward light,
wake my spirit, clear my sight.
Holy Spirit, Love divine,
glow within this heart of mine;
kindle every high desire;
perish self in thy pure fire.
Holy Spirit, Power divine,
fill and nerve this will of mine;
grant that I may strongly live,
bravely bear, and nobly strive.
Holy Spirit, Right divine,
King within my conscience reign;
be my Lord, and I shall be
firmly bound, forever free
*Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, The United Methodist Hymnal, #465
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Our gospel passage this week, John 17: 1-11, Jesus prays for those he is about to leave on this earth. He prays for protection "so that they may be one, as we are one." Earlier in John 16, Jesus promises the disciples that there will be a another advocate, that the Holy Spirit will come to defend and protect them and his followers. Here, he names the purpose of this protection: so that we may be one with each other as God and Jesus Christ are one. Our prayer during the time in which we receive Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church asks God "by your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. Jesus prays for us to be protected, so that we can become one with each other, and do ministry in the world. This is how people know the love of Jesus: that someone loved them and showed them God's love. This is how God's love spreads like wildfire, and I can guess that this is how you got "burned up" in it.
One of my favorite authors/theologians/Christians/people is Barbara Brown Taylor. Hers is a faith that drew her to pastoral ministry in the Episcopal Church, away from pastoral ministry as she wrestled with God, to the classroom to teach, as she found herself through God again by writing books, speaking, and preaching around the world. I had the pleasure of meeting her as she taught at Candler School of Theology, the seminary I graduated from. In one of the sermons that she has preached, she talks about the role ministry has in the Church. In a world, a Church, of argument, division, and certainty, ministry plays a vital role as we seek unity with God and each other. This may seem obvious, that churches do ministry, but the role of practicing your faith, of actively living out the love that God has shown you, is not so obvious:
"Practice offers us a way through the belief wars that are tearing God's kin-dom apart. Since Christian faith was born during a time of great uncertainty when human ideas about who God was and what it meant to be in covenant with God were in at least as much flux as they are now, Christian tradition has long offered its followers ways to act even when we don't know what to think. Ancient practices of communion, confession, charity, and prayer have kept the gospel alive during long periods of intellectual and institutional upheaval in the church. When Christians cannot agree on the historical Jesus, they can still feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink. When they cannot agree on how to read the Bible, they can still welcome strangers and visit those in need. Too often, I think, we insist on deciding what we think before we will decide how we act, when it's entirely possible that faith was meant to work the other way around. Trust the practice, and the practice will teach you what you need to know. Lay hands on the sick, clothing the naked, pray for the enemy, and come near. Do these things, and eventually you may discover what to think about them. Do not do them, and what you think doesn't really matter. Reason can only act on the experience it has available to it after all. The practice of faith is how we gain the experience to say a single sentence about faith that's true. This offers us a way of living life, and not simply a way of thinking about it."
Our kin-dom---our being one together through the God who loved us first, in who's name we do ministry. Our kin-dom is at risk, friends. There is so much division in this world, in this Church. Our kin-dom with each other is being torn apart. Being one with God and each other is not about believing the right things or saying the right words, it is about ministry. It is about loving-action. What we do has more power over what we say, or what we believe. For instance, telling someone that God loves them is great, but sitting on the phone or the couch or the bench with them as they share their heart may actually have the power to be the very presence of God with them. And this can unite us.
I'll close with some of the most famous words that John Wesley ever said (he preached these words in a time of great division and argument, like there ever wasn't a time like that): "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?" (Sermon 39, Catholic Spirit)
Make us one, Lord, make us one;
Holy Spirit make us one.
Let your love flow so the world will know we are one in you.
*"Make Us One," The Faith We Sing, 2224.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Growing up, I always had to share things with my twin brother, Charlie. We shared a room, toys, games, and attention. He was always by my side, and I mean that quite literally. Apart from school, we were always together...at home, at the dentist, the doctor...everywhere!
Nowadays, he is always by my side, in a figurative sense. I know that I can always call on him. We talk almost every day on the phone, and at least through text messages. We share things with each other, like what is going on in our life, an article that interests us, or an experience that we may laugh or think about together. We don't share a room or toys any more, but we do share life together.
In John 15:14-21, Jesus tells the disciples, as he is saying goodbye to them and giving them his final words, that another advocate is coming alongside them. This is the Holy Spirit, the presence of God with us. The Greek word for this is paraclete. This word means "one who has been called to our side," one who has been called to defend us and stand up for us. This is different than a warm and comforting Spirit, although certainly God is with us in a personal way like that as well. In this way, as the advocate or paraclete, we can be sure that God is actively on our side, defending and being with us.
The advocate is not simply a personal feeling of God with you, although it is that. The Holy Spirit is a force on the move...think of a lawyer defending their client, a detective searching for the truth in mysteries. And Jesus says in this passage, that God is sending another advocate. Of course, the first one is Jesus himself. In the same way, Jesus is not only a calming presence with you, but a force on the move. Think of him sharing meals with outcasts and sinners, flipping tables in the Temple, healing, preaching, teaching...Jesus was and is also a force on the move.
Another word play for you, that may help clarify the meaning of this passage. What confuses me is what Jesus means by saying "in you.." What does it mean when Jesus says "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you"? A quick look at the Greek meaning of this phrase reveals that it can also mean "among you." I will be among you." This also takes some of the emphasis away from the personalized "warm and fuzzy" Holy Spirit and the individualized perception of the Holy Spirit being" you." God is with us.
The title of this upcoming sermon on Sunday is "Becoming One with Each Other." This title is an attempt to reflect the corporate sense of God being with us. When we receive Holy Communion together, as I bless the elements of bread and wine, I will pray that God makes us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, "one with each other." Just as we receive Communion together, God is among us, together.
Of all the Spirit's gifts to me,
I pray that I may never cease
to take and treasure most these
three: love, joy, and peace.
The Spirit shows me love's the root
of every gift sent from above,
of every flower, of every fruit,
that God is love
The Spirit shows if I possess a
love no evil can destroy,
however great is my distress,
then this is joy
Though what's ahead is mystery,
and life itself is ours on lease,
each day the Spirit says to me
"Go forth in peace!"
We go in peace but made aware that,
in a needy world like this, our clearest
purpose is to share love, joy, and peace.
*United Methodist Hymnal, 336
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Every time we come to receive Holy Communion together here at GMUMC, we hear some familiar words. We United Methodists call these words the "Great Thanksgiving." Part of the liturgy sounds like this:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
This is called the "epiclesis," or the invoking of the Holy Spirit. The pastor is asking God to be present in our action of receiving the bread and wine, in the bread and wine itself, and to be transformed by this action.
The next sermon series is called "Becoming," becoming one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. I believe that worshiping God can truly transform us into these kinds of people. When we worship together, through singing songs, receiving Holy Communion, engaging with Scripture, serving others, we can become these things.
John 14: 1-14 may sound familiar to those of us who have attended a Christian funeral. Go ahead and take a look at this passage...Some of Jesus' most famous words of hope and comfort are spoken, here: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
This chapter, John 14, is part of Jesus' final words and actions with his disciples. He had just washed their feet, and commanded them to love one another. In an act of complete servitude and humility, he bends over with a wash cloth and basin of water, and wipes his friends' feet clean. Here is the good news: becoming one in Christ is not something we do. It is not our work! It is not our burden! It is God’s work. It is something that God in Christ does for us. Christ has reached out to touch us, wipe us clean, and be with us. I don't know about you, but I can trust a person who would do this for me. I can depend on someone like this.
We have received the invitation to be One with Christ, to trust him, and lean on him.
There is a word is Sanskrit "saranam" that is roughly translated to refuge, safe place, protection, or place of rest in English.
Jesus, Savior, Lord, lo, to thee I fly;
Saranam, Saranam, Saranam;
thou the Rock, my refuge that’s higher than I:
Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.
In thy tent give me a dwelling place,
and beneath thy wings may I find sheltering grace;
O lift on me the sunshine of thy face:
Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.
*United Methodist Hymnal, 523.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
When I think about Jesus and Holy Communion, my mind immediately goes to the scriptures in the Bible that describe the institution of the meal (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; and Luke 22:7-23). The words are very familiar to me: "He took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And after the supper was over he took a glass of wine, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you. Drink this in remembrance of me.”
But what about the stories of Jesus and the disciples feeding the multitudes? Jesus took some food, gave thanks to God, and everyone, thousands of people, ate that day. And Sunday's gospel text, Luke 24: 13-35, is as much about Holy Communion as any text in the New Testament. Read it for yourself!
I love the way my denomination, the United Methodist Church, approaches Communion. We believe that it is available to anyone who earnestly seeks Jesus. There is no prerequisite, no boxes to check off, no feeling that Jesus is not for you. Our liturgy also takes the shape of this encounter the disciples had with Jesus on the road to Emmaus: "Traveling the road to Emmaus, the disciples are joined by the risen Christ. Jesus interprets the Scriptures to them and then eats with them. It is in the breaking, blessing, and sharing of bread that the disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus."
So we may encounter Jesus, just like his disciples did. The risen Jesus, who died for you, did so that you may have this relationship with him.
Jesus told his disciples to "do this" in remembrance of him. He was not only referring to breaking and giving the bread and cup in this way, but also the "taking and blessing or giving thanks to God for what the church has received and continues to receive from God in creation, redemption, and sanctification." Communion invites us to a life of gratitude to God.
These quotes have been taken from E. Byron Anderson in "The Meaning of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church." Here is one more that talks more about the meaning of Holy Communion:
"In taking and blessing (thanksgiving), we prepare the table and ourselves to share the gift God provides to us in Jesus Christ. On the one hand, this is as simple as setting the table as we would for any meal. On the other hand, this preparation involves the preparation of our hearts and minds, so that we may know that Christ is present with us in our sharing of the bread and cup with one another. In breaking and giving (communion) we are confronted with the practical necessity of breaking the bread in order to share it with one another. We are reminded that, as Jesus broke the bread in anticipation of the breaking of his body for the world, Jesus continues to offer his broken body to us for our healing and the healing of the world (E. Byron Anderson, The Meaning of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2014, pages 10-12).
The holy meal of Communion thanks God for Jesus, and thanks Jesus for what he did to save us. It recognizes the present need to turn to God in a broken world, for hope, healing, and nourishment. And it also anticipates the future, the time when Jesus would come again and all will be made right, where we will forever be with God.
Unseal the volume of thy grace,
apply the gospel word;
open our eyes to see thy face,
our hearts to know the Lord.
*O Thou Who This Mysterious Bread," United Methodist Hymnal, 613