Pentecost

It’s Pentecost, the holy day of the Church year most likely to inspire priests to tie red balloons to the end of pews in churches around the world.  Our own Father Salmon did that once, I think it was back in the late 1980’s, in Riverton.  He did it once because the kids managed to unmoor several balloons, which then made their home forty feet up on the church ceiling before slowly losing their helium and floating down.  Fr. Haynes tells the story of a priest with a very shiny bald head, and the time during that priest’s sermon an old balloon slowly dropped behind him until it was level with his head, two shiny orbs competing for the people’s attention.  Then there’s another story I heard about a preacher describing the sound the Holy Spirit made during that first Pentecost, when a kid slowly let the air out of Pentecostal balloon; that was not the mighty wind he was going for.  For these and for many other reasons, this is a balloon-free zone.

Anyway, as much as we make of the sound of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven on Pentecost, it always occurred to me that the sound was just a by-product of movement.  The Holy Spirit was moving that day, moving swiftly and powerfully.  Jesus had moved up ten days earlier, and now the Holy Spirit moved down.  And if Jesus was no longer there to move things along, God wasn’t going to just leave it up to mere mortals to get the mission of salvation on the move.

Jesus was moving.  “Jesus moved the Holy Spirit to come down from heaven, in order to move his disciples.  His resurrection had already brought them out of doubt, fear, abandonment, denial, guilt, and despair, and into the greatest joy.  But amazed rejoicing is not the mission Jesus set out for his church; it’s merely the spark that ignites the flame.

“Jesus moved the disciples to become apostles.  In English, he moved the followers to become the sent.  On Pentecost, the followers of Jesus are sent out into the world to share the grace and love he gave us.  And as our sacred story teaches us time and again, God doesn’t set us up in order to let us down.  God doesn’t bring us so far just to abandon us.  God gives us what we need; God’s grace provides for us, and it is sufficient.  The First Mover cannot be stopped.

Whether we know it or not, God empowers us to do great things, to reach beyond ourselves and the boundaries the world sets up.  Luke’s story of Pentecost shows this through the transcendence of national, ethnic, and language boundaries, the wind of the Spirit toppling them like a house of cards.  We experience the same Spirit in a multitude of ways.  Usually more subtle ways, but no less powerful.  Conversations that seem mundane to us can elevate others from despair to hope.”[1]

All the time, I hear about our parishioners changing lives and giving hope, whether through HomeFront or a prayer shawl or at the laundry, or simply through small acts of charity, visiting the sick, even casual phone calls.  Our parish choir obvious is a channel of the Holy Spirit.  Vasu heeding a call to ordination can only come from Holy Spirit.  Here we care for the living and the dead in ways that cannot be just self-motivated, it’s too active, too loving.  God must be moving us.

My friend Fr. Rob Droste is fond of say that we need to look for where Jesus is working and then join Him in that work.  He reminds every congregation he visits that Jesus never stops moving; Jesus is always working on someone’s heart, whether they know it or not.  If we are attentive, if we’re open to the possibility of seeing where Jesus is working, the Holy Spirit will surely push us in the right direction, a steady wind at our back, sending us, moving us, just like those first apostles, on Jesus’ mission of salvation.

If Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit, then it’s also a celebration (or warning) of God breaking every barrier, erasing every boundary, and giving those who put their trust in Him a spirit of victory in all things.  That’s certainly a balloon-worthy event, but what would happen if we lived like all of that was true all the time?


[1] Fr. Bret Hays

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Sunday after the Ascension

So we’re into June, so I know that I’ll be uncomfortable for the better part of the next three months.  Monday was Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, or as I like to call it, dispersal season.  There’s a feeling that you’re free to move about a bit in the summer: schools are out, maybe work slows down, the expectation is that you’ll take time off, if you can – not everybody has that luxury.  But we’re on the verge of dispersal season – it’s not quite yet.

 

We’re also, coincidentally, in that weird time between the Ascension of Our Lord and Pentecost.  Thursday was the feast of the Ascension, and the Mass that day has one of the starkest moments in the liturgies of the Church.  Right after the Gospel, the Gospel telling us that Jesus has ascended to His Father in Heaven, the celebrant extinguishes the Paschal Candle as a symbol that Jesus, at least bodily, has left.  He’s out, Audi 5000, see ya when I see ya.  That same light we lit so laboriously at the beginning of the Easter Vigil to symbolize that Christ is not only alive but with us, with us to be our light, was snuffed out in a matter of moments, and that huge pillar of a candle even hid from us.  And then we wait a good ten days for Pentecost to come.

 

We mark this in real time so that we can participate in some way in what the Apostles dealt with when it first happened.

 

“You might well imagine the disciples, moments after Jesus receded from view, lowering their gaze to each other, exchanging confused glances, and wondering, “What do we do now?”  I imagine that in that moment, the question of which of them would be greatest was never further from their minds, for no one wanted to be responsible for answering that question.”[1]

 

Who would take charge?  The obvious answer is Peter, but it’s only obvious to us now that we’ve lived with it for 2000 years.  John was smarter, and besides, Jesus seemed to just like him more than the rest of them.  Thomas was bolder, less of a scaredy cat than Peter.  But Peter was the spokesman of the group, not to mention the rock that Jesus said He would build the Church upon, and so Peter is was.

 

Peter had two real jobs to do between the Ascension and Pentecost.  The first one was to fill the spot left by Judas, who was no longer available for the job.  This, to me, is one of the most telling stories in the whole Bible.  Two men were nominated to become an Apostle, Barsabbas and Matthias.  They all prayed about it, of course, but then they did a curious thing: they cast lots to determine who it would be.  They quite literally gambled on it – rolled the dice, drew straws.  They practiced what’s called cleromancy, determining the will of God by way of a game of chance.  What makes that all the more interesting is that episode is the last time they did anything like that – Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, is what made casting lots obsolete.  With the Holy Spirit, we can discern the will of God sans dice or straws.

 

Peter’s second job was to keep them all together, to stop them from dispersing all willy nilly.  Jesus had commanded them to wait in Jerusalem, but then He took off, and there must have been among the Apostles a mixture of joy and despair and wonder and anxiety, not to mention a sense of mission – let’s get this thing going!  Let’s change the world!

 

It was dispersal season – but not quite yet.  They still needed the gift of the Holy Spirit to come; they needed to be together, together to remind themselves that Jesus had not abandoned them when He ascended, but rather was going to be in them in His Spirit; and they needed to remember one of His final prayers, that they all may be one, a united body, just as the Father and the Son are one.

 

It was only after all this was accomplished that they could go out into the world to spread the good news of God in Christ, to fulfill the command at the Ascension to baptize all nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  I think that’s our lesson for today: as much as I like to push myself (and you) to get out there and change the world for Jesus, sometimes we need to wait, to gather together as a body, to listen to the Holy Spirit, and be prepared by the Lord for His mission in the world.  In our times, just as it was in theirs, dispersal season will come soon enough.

[1] Fr Bret Hays

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Easter 6

So about ten days ago or so I watched a little bit of the commencement ceremonies at VTS, my seminary, and though the speeches were good and everyone seemed to know where to sit (always a challenge), the setting for commencement was in the seminary chapel, or should I say the new seminary chapel.  I liked the old chapel just fine, but it burn to almost nothing several years ago.  The new chapel is a bit…disappointing.  From the outside it looks likes the anchor store of a really nice outlet mall, like it could have a Nike swoosh on the tower.  The inside looks like it was designed by Swedish monks in the 1970’s using Playmobile furniture.  Lots of blonde wood and blocky chairs, nothing in particular to focus your eyes on.  The main stained glass window is a circular oculus type thing with a bunch of blobby colors that I think, at least, is supposed to remind us of the Holy Spirit, but really reminds us not to smoke a metric ton of pot before designing stained glass windows.

 

That said, the Holy Spirit is tough to nail down.  Surely we’ll talk about the Holy Spirit again next week, on the feast of Pentecost, but the Church gives us two weeks of gospel readings full of the Holy Spirit, presumably so we can talk about Him more than just once.

 

The setting is once again the Last Supper.  It had been a long night, full of teaching and praying.  Judas was already off to do his thing, and Jesus had begun to wrap up that part of the evening and make His way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knew that His disciples didn’t grasp all that He had told them, all that they had seen and heard over the last three years, and He also knew that they knew that, that they were worried about how they would function without Him.  “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you,” Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

 

Now, the RSV translates what Jesus said as “Counselor” “but in the Greek of John 14:25 the word Jesus uses is parakletos, or “Paraclete” as we sometimes transliterate it.  Writers must pay attention because Microsoft Word will keep trying to auto-correct that into “Parakeet” and although avian imagery can be used for the Spirit . . . that’s not the bird we’re looking for!  Literally this is the one “called alongside” of someone else.”  An advocate when on trial, a comforter in perplexity.

 

“We’ve all heard various iterations of how to understand this, one of which is an attorney who stands next to her client in a court of law.  But in this context the meaning does feel—as alluded to elsewhere in this set of sermon starters—a bit more like a tutor or a prompter on the wings of a stage while a play is going on.  The Paraclete stands next to us or near us so that we can be reminded of Jesus’ words and teachings as the Spirit whispers those things into our hearts, prompting us to remember what we might otherwise forget.  It’s a dark and difficult world, after all, fraught with sorrow and uncertainty (even as was true in that very room on the night when Jesus spoke these words).  The sorrow of it all can make us lose our place, forget what we know.  So how good to have a Spirit come alongside us to remind us of the dearest things Jesus said and taught.”[1]

 

Without the Paraclete, without the Holy Spirit, there is no peace of mind, no peace in our soul.  That’s why Jesus tells His disciples about the coming Holy Spirit before He says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  The world gives with the expectation of taking something in return, favor for favor, but Jesus needed His disciples (and us) to know that God doesn’t work that way.  The peace Jesus gives is ours forever, we need just remember that we have it.  How do we remember?  Oh yeah, the Holy Spirit!  He will teach us all things, and bring to our remembrance all that Jesus has said to us.

 

No matter how you picture the Holy Spirit, as a dove or as a breeze or as a bunch of blobby colors in a window, it’s really more important that you listen for Him than visualize Him.  The Spirit is in us, alongside us, guiding us toward peace.

[1] Scott Hoezee, This Week: https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/easter-6c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

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Easter 5

So we’ve got a few things going on this weekend.  Between the flower sale, street fair, HomeFront, first holy communion, and church school recognition, perhaps we’re over-scheduled.  But it’s a glorious weekend, really, full of things that bring us together, things which benefit others, and things that forward the mission of our church.

 

One of the things I love about first holy communion is the class we do the night before.  The kids get to ask questions (and they always have questions I have to dig deep to answer), practice receiving communion (which means they taste the lovely fortified golden sherry we use for the first time, which is always entertaining), and they get to see and handle all the stuff, the chalice and paten and vestments and the like, all the stuff that makes up physical side of our very physical and ceremonial faith.

 

One of the best things to see and examine is always the priest’s host.  You know what the priest’s host is, it’s the big one that gets used no matter what at each Mass, the one that gets raised over the celebrant’s head at the elevation.  (As an aside, at the elevation, that’s less the priest offering up the bread or the wine to God as it is the priest proving to the people that he’s actually doing what he’s supposed to be doing.  There are no tricks in Christianity, and we prove it by holding things over our head so you can see it.  Speaking of tricks, the Mass inadvertently helped spawn some tricky words.  When we say in English, This is my Body, in the Latin we say Hoc est corpus meum, which sounds a bit like… hocus pocus.)

 

Anyway, here’s what a priest’s host looks like.  Host can be a tricky word, because it doesn’t seem to relate to the thing itself at all.  Again, we have a Latin problem.  Host comes from the Latin hostia, which means victim, or more specifically, sacrificial victim.  Jesus, who became a sacrificial victim on our behalf, told us that when we take bread in remembrance of Him, He would make that bread to be His Body, and so this indeed is a hostia.  You’ll see that baked right in are the words panis vitae, Latin for Bread of Life.  The kids always catch on to what panis sounds like, which is Panera, Panera Bread, which essentially just means bread bread.  Good luck going to Panera from now on and not thinking about that.

 

Speaking of bread… bread is essentially how we get to today’s Gospel lesson from John.  John tells us that “When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”  That sounds like Jesus had gone out, but that’s not the case.  The setting is the Last Supper.  Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples, predicted His betrayal, and then dipped a piece of bread in a dish (which could have contained olive oil or water) and handed it to Judas, who then went out, went out to set up his betrayal of Jesus.  This does not sound like a very glorious situation, but Jesus immediately said “Now is the Son of man glorified…”

 

When we think of someone being glorified, we think of them doing something glorious and everybody clapping or something.  Rarely in the history of mankind has someone been glorified by letting someone else leave to betray them to death.  But somehow Jesus was glorified.

 

By definition, the word glory means “very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent.”[1]  Common consent is important there: we, as a group, glorify someone based on who that person is or what they have done.

 

But that’s not what happened here.  We didn’t glorify Jesus, God did.  And God glorified Jesus not for sitting there doing nothing, which is what it looked like, but for continuing to consent to the will of God, for allowing His betrayal, for willingly becoming a hostia, a saving victim.

 

Jesus was glorified right then, bestowed with honor and praise by His Father, and a couple thousand years later we get to join in glorifying Him, adding our consent, no more enthusiastically than when we take Him in, when we receive Him in His Body and Blood.

 

That is, in our very physical faith, how we glorify God and how we ourselves are glorified.  May those who receive the Sacrament for the first time today continue always in the will of God, and may we, with them, abound in the glory of God.

 

 

[1] John Foley, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/5EasterC051919/reflections_foley.html

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Easter 4

So I’m wondering how many of you have had an interaction with a friend or family member or significant other that goes like this: “Honey (Bro, Friend), what’s wrong?”  And they replied, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!”

If you have to ask…

That’s ugly, right?  You know you’re in trouble when If you have to ask comes out.

It reminds me of the gospel story we just heard: “if the people celebrating Hanukkah that year in Jerusalem had to ask Jesus if he would plainly fess up to being the Messiah, then Jesus was not going to answer.  They either already knew Jesus was the Christ or they did not and if they did not, it was because they were refusing to make the logical connections between Jesus’ work and his unity with God the Father.  So their query was one-part a trick question, one-part a prelude to exactly what does follow just beyond the fringe of this lection; namely, an attempt to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

“So Jesus’ reply to their question really did amount to his saying, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!”  They had no ear for a tune.  They had no ability to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Jesus could make any claim for himself that he wanted but they were not going to believe him, listen to him, or most certainly follow him.  Their ears were not attuned to hear his message, their eyes were not sharp enough to see the Father who stood behind Jesus every miracle.”[1]

But they knew well enough to ask the question. That should count for something, right?  But Jesus didn’t think so, and so we have to wonder why.

I think the short answer is this: God had spoken to His people for generations, telling them, especially through the prophets, what kind of savior He was to send, telling them what the Christ would look like.  Think about how Isaiah described the Christ: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Surely the religious leaders in Jesus’ time had heard that Scripture read aloud thousands of times.  Surely they had it memorized, set to music, inscribed on the walls, and had their children recite it back to them.

But somehow they missed it.  I don’t blame them.  Being in a long line of religious leaders who don’t always see what’s right in front of them, I miss stuff like this all the time, mainly because when God is trying to give me something over here – something wonderful, something edifying, something actually good, instead I’m looking for something over here – ooh, look, something shiny!  Many in Jesus’ time were looking over here, looking for a war against the Romans, looking for a leader sent from God who would break the yoke of Roman oppression.  But God had been over here the whole time, just where He said He would be, of course, but we missed it.

What’s wrong with this picture?  If you have to ask, then I’m not going to tell you.  Not really.  I’m not that arch.  I think we look for Jesus all the time, which is a good thing, of course, but sometimes we look for Him where we want Him to be.  We try to make Jesus be who we want Him to be: surely Jesus is a warrior or a pacifist or a capitalist or a socialist or whatever or whatever.  I like Jesus more when He agrees with everything I believe, don’t you?

But that’s the classic mistake.  That’s looking over here for what we want versus looking over here where God said He would be.  Maybe that’s the challenge of the day: when we look for Jesus and think we’ve found Him, does He say If you have to ask….


[1] Scott Hoezee, This Week

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Easter 2

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were…”  Where, oh where, were the disciples?

They were in the Cenacle, the Upper Room, of course.  The disciples were there a lot; it was a useful and convenient place to be.

The word cenacle, from the Latin cenaculum, just means dining room.  We call it the Upper Room because it’s on the second story of a rather large building on Mount Zion, right outside of the Old City section of Jerusalem, and, well, because both Mark and Luke referred to it as the Upper Room.

The Upper Room still exists, and as you might imagine, it’s a popular stop for pilgrims to the Holy Land.  Now, when I imagined the Upper Room, I imagined a dining room, maybe a big dining room, maybe the size of our Chapel.  I wish I could tell you how big it actually is, but even though I googled every way I could think of asking “How Big Is The Upper Room”, I never got any dimensions.  I did get lots of pictures, however, and it’s a BIG dining room.  It’s at least a third again bigger than our parish hall, and Luke recorded that there was once at least 120 people gathered in there, so it’s much bigger than most of us, including Da Vinci, ever imagined.

Today, it looks a bit like an Italian restaurant that was converted to a mosque, because that’s essentially what happened.  Roman crusaders re-did the place in the 12th century, and then when Saladin took Jerusalem, at some point his followers turned it into a mosque.  The place itself remains disputed territory.

Jesus chose this particular room, by the way.  He had made arrangements with the owner of the building to have a place for what became the Last Supper.  This is the room in which Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, in which He taught and prayed for hours, in which He instituted the Eucharist.  It was the last room He chose for Himself.

And so the disciples, it seems, grew attached to that particular room.  It was in that room that they locked themselves away after the Crucifixion; where they saw Jesus after the Resurrection, once without Thomas and once with; where Matthias was chosen as an Apostle; and it was in that room that the Holy Spirit descended upon them on the Day of Pentecost.

I like to think of this place as our Upper Room.  This is where the action is at for us, the place where we gather, where we feel safe, where the Spirit of the Lord descends upon us.  The actions of Jesus with His Apostles are the actions we re-member here, that we participate in here.  The Upper Room in Jerusalem, then, is not just a place, but a type of a place, and so the descendants of those Apostles have rooms of their own.

Surely they were quite attached to that room, but eventually they would have to leave.  But because of what happened in that Upper Room, they would leave its safety and familiarity to go out to change the world.  They would go out not faithless, but believing.  Every time we have to leave our Upper Room, I pray that we leave with that same faith, ready to change the world.

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Easter

Happy Easter, everybody!  This church is my favorite place in the world, and it’s always a delight to see all of you delight in it, to worship with you in the beauty of this place and in the holiness of beauty.  My thoughts this week have been with those who will not be worshiping in their favorite places this morning, especially the parishioners of Notre Dame in Paris, of Mount Pleasant Baptist, St. Mary Baptist, and Greater Union Baptist in Louisiana.  Church buildings are more than just stone and wood and glass; they contain our story written in stone and wood and glass.  Victor Hugo called this “the freedom of architecture,” the freedom to write our thoughts in stone, to build our story around us.  The story contained in our stone and wood and glass is that of how Jesus passed from life to death to life again, breaking the power of death, making us free to live.  Everything in here, and everyone in here, tells the story of freedom; the freedom to love, the freedom to hope, the freedom to live without fear.

But the story of Easter did not begin with freedom of any kind.  The one who came to free us Himself lived in a locked-down land, ruled over by way of fear and greed.  Having walked through Holy Week, we know the story of Jesus’ last days: the final prayers with His disciples, the teaching of love and humility; His arrest and trial, the scourging and crucifixion, His death and burial.

What came next is the story we heard today from St. Luke.  His disciples were enslaved by fear, but they hadn’t scattered – they huddled together in that same Upper Room where they had their last supper with Jesus.  The men were too scared to leave the room (except Thomas, who it appears did whatever he wanted to); but the rest of them were scared of being arrested and tried, scourged and crucified, and so it fell to Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women to go to Jesus’ tomb to care for His body.  This tradition continues: both the tradition of women taking care of the dead and the tradition of women doing what needs to be done when the men are too scared.

But when the women arrived at the tomb, they did not find it as they expected.  Up until their arrival, their main problem was how they were going to get into the tomb to begin with.  You see, the tomb was sealed with a large stone.  These stones were either disk-shaped or cork shaped, and either way, they averaged 3 to 6 feet in diameter and weighed anywhere from 1000 to 6000 pounds.  Moving it was going to be a legitimate problem, except for one thing: Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women had not realized that that morning, while they were preparing their spices and making their way to the tomb, that the world had changed.

The world had changed, irreversibly and irreparably.  Up until that morning, the dead stayed dead.  That fact was both devastating and somehow comforting.  This we know: the dead are dead, and so we gather our spices and say our prayers and we make our way in the world.

But the world changed that morning, and Mary and Mary and Joanna and the other women were the first people in history to know it.  But being the first, they had to deal with it.  They had to deal with the big bright frightening angels, with the news that the Man they saw beaten and killed was somehow risen from the dead.  They had to deal with the fact that the impossible was now possible, and even more, that now that the impossible has happened, the impossible was the new natural order of things.   They were the first to have to deal with freedom; the freedom to love, the freedom to hope, the freedom to live without fear.

How they dealt with it is written all around us in stone and wood and glass.  Their story is our story, because we all must deal with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, a fact that is both comforting and somehow devastating, because it means that with God, the impossible is the natural order of things.  It means that, in Jesus, nothing can stop us from living lives filled with hope, filled with love, filled with unspeakable joy.

Maybe this church is my favorite place because in being here with all of you, our stories are now written in this place, written alongside Mary’s and Mary’s and Joanna’s and all who have witnessed the freedom that can only be found in the risen life of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pray for those who, for whatever reason, are not in their favorite places this morning, and I pray that you have a blessed and happy Easter.

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