Limiting Love, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27); Psalm 104:25-35, 37

“Have I been with you all this time, Phillip, and still you do not know me?” This question, asked to Phillip in the Gospel today, jumps out at me, staring my doubt in the face. I would like to think that I know Jesus, that unlike the disciples I would be able to recognize Jesus. That my faith (unlike that of so many others) is unshakeable. This would paint a flattering self-portrait – but it would be one full of pride, arrogance, and denial. In reality, I know that this question is being asked of me – “Have I been with you all this time and still you do not know me?”

One of my favorite hymns lyrics is – “But we make God’s love too narrow, with false limits of our own”. I think, in part, this is the culprit for why I might not know God, in God’s fullness. I am guilty, of making God small enough to fit into the confines of my life and into the confines of my mind, instead of allowing myself to enter the breadth and depth of God.

In some ways, the Pentecost story of flaming tongues is about this very same breaking down of barriers. God will not be confined by a certain language and so becomes transcendent of it. Suddenly, the words we are using are one and the same. And this is not an erasure – it is not a homogenous system imposed by an empire on another people. Rather, it is a wide-open embrace – God meeting us, exactly where we are.

And in this way that God meets us, language seems particularly significant. We speak of our “mother tongue” not just because language is learned from our parents, but also because there is something about language and the culture it perpetuates that is soul-deep. It connects us to our mothers, and grandmothers – it connects us to our ancestors.

When I was nine years old, we moved from England, my father’s country, to Hawaii, my mother’s. My mom had tried to explain to us for years that we were kanaka maoli, indigenous people, but from an ocean away her words didn’t have meaning to me. I understood myself solely as British – I was in Brighton College, I wore a uniform, I was just like all of the other English children. Shortly after we moved to Hawaii, Leilani, my younger sister, was enrolled in a Hawaiian immersion pre-school. This became a family experience, complete with gardening every Friday, expectations of cleaning the classroom once a month, and Wednesday night language classes.

Sitting in that classroom, on the too-small chairs in the lingering heat of the afternoon sun, I first heard the language of my mother’s people. I heard it all at once, strung together in sentences, vowels cascading over each other in ways that sounded rich and full-bodied. I had only ever heard pieces before – like the drips from a kitchen faucet, and all of a sudden I was swimming in a salty open ocean, not understanding the cool blue water that enveloped me. Something in me was soothed, and at peace. Something in me was connected. Something in me felt like I had finally come home.

This is the way God speaks to us, and longs to have relationship with us. In God’s fullness, we are swimming in an open ocean, connected to something that feels like home. In the ways that are soul-deep, that connect us to who we have been, who we are, and who we will be. In this moment of Pentecost, when tongues of fire appeared over the heads of the disciples, God breaks down the barriers between what is divine and what is worldly, between what is sacred and what is profane, between what is me and what is you.

Suddenly, we can understand each other perfectly. Suddenly, I see you for who you really are, for the perfect image of God in which you are cast and there are no barriers. You are God, and so am I and we are talking to each other, sharing in this transcendence. Because we have allowed God to be big and deep and wide and broad, God is doing a new thing.

“Have I been with you all this time and still you do not know me?” I miss God because I do not expect or look for the new things that God does. I do not look for creation anew. I expect to find God in church, maybe, but forget to see the breath of the Divine in the dewy spring grass. Or, I expect to meet God during my daily moment of prayer, maybe, but forget to see Divine fingerprints in the kindness of a stranger. I miss the ways that God is always with me, because I confine God with limits of my own. I stop seeing God travelling with me, because I build walls around where God “should” be. I dictate where I think God “belongs”.

Instead of building up these walls, we are challenged by today’s Gospel lesson to be open to seeing the Beloved in new ways. Jesus asks us to open our eyes wider, and see anew where God is in our lives. In doing so, we must heed Jesus’ advice, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” I find a certain irony in having the lectionary pair together a reading about flaming tongues of fire with a reading that commands us not to be afraid. Sometimes, the new movement of God can be scary. It can be unfamiliar, and it takes us outside of who we think God to be, to open us up to who God is. As our barriers are broken down, we must hold on to the promise of God, “Peace I give to you – my peace I leave with you.” When our barriers and limitations are broken, there will be an element of the unknown. And yet, in this unknown, we will be embraced – swimming in an ocean of God, feeling as if we have finally come home.

Download the sermon for Pentecost C. 

Written by Jazzy Bostock

Jazzy Bostock is a sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising Native Hawaiian woman, in my first year at seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. Jazzy is grateful for the opportunity God has given her to be here, and for all that God is. Mahalo piha. 

 

‘Nothing but’ misses the point, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2013

May 19, 2013

Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers on Pentecost, empowering the frightened pack of disciples to become a brazen bunch of evangelists. The curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed in one amazing outburst. At Babel, people were divided. Former fishermen and other followers of Jesus became interpreters par excellence. In this Babel scene played backward, the devout Jews from Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia and the like now hear the Good News of what God has done through Jesus each in their own native language.

The gospel is spoken not in confusing babble but with a crystal clarity that leaves the hearers cut to the quick. Before this amazing day is over, 3,000 devout Jews will be baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ. The result of Pentecost was to take a diverse group of people and to bring them together into a common understanding of what God’s deeds of power meant to their lives.

Yet not everyone understood what was happening in their midst. The account of that day in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some onlookers took the excitement for a drunken mob. Certainly, it feels safe to reduce the disciples’ behavior as coming from heavy drinking. It might also be comforting to relegate Pentecost to an outbreak of religious hysteria. But the Pentecost experience was not due to alcohol and is not so easily reduce to nothing more than hysteria.

This is an ongoing tendency about lots of phenomenon for which we have no ready understanding. The physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, said in his book “Quarks, Chaos and Christianity,” some people are “nothing butters” when it comes to the world we live in. Reductionists see a thing is “nothing but” its physical explanation. They need only look at the most elemental form of a thing to explain everything.

For someone with a “nothing butter” way of making sense of the world, the compositions of Bach and Beethoven are nothing but vibrations that interact with our eardrums to create the effect we call music. The Mona Lisa is nothing but flecks of paint that we experience as differing colors. Baptism is nothing but water poured over someone’s head as a part of a ritual observance, and the Pentecost experience was nothing but religious hysteria.

Yes, Bach and Beethoven’s greatest works do reach our ears as nothing but vibrations against our eardrums, for that is how the beauty of the composers’ work is transmitted. But you can’t reduce their music to mere vibrations hitting your eardrum.

Of course, the Mona Lisa is just flecks of matter we call “paint” put on matter we call “canvas” in ways that we experience as an interplay of colors. But her enigmatic smile cannot be reduced to the physical matter that forms the art. In these works of art, the notes of music and the paint on the canvas convey so much more, that reducing them to the essential physical phenomena misses the point.

So also, the Pentecost experience of the Holy Spirit coming to Jesus’ disciples on that fiftieth day after the Passover, would have created some emotionalism akin to religious hysteria. Yet whatever caused some in the crowd that day to wonder whether the disciples had been drinking, was not all there was to the event.

We know that there was something more because of the immediate and the lasting impact of that day. The immediate effect was to begin sharing the Good News of Jesus with those who were far off as well as with those who were near to the Jewish faith. The centuries-long change is that the way of Jesus became a light to the gentiles. It is in this change, which began in these earliest days of Christianity, and which expanded through the ministry of both Peter and Paul to invite everyone into the Reign of God, that we see something more than an emotional event is taking place.

The Pentecost event defied any “it was nothing but” explanation. We can’t reduce Pentecost to “It was nothing but emotionalism,” or “It was nothing but mass hysteria,” or even “It was nothing but a long-ago event we can no longer explain.” The closest we can get is “Pentecost was nothing less than the presence of God.”

That day, the Jesus Movement was transformed not by human will, but by an act of the Holy Spirit. The main aspect of Christianity that was transformed in that first Pentecost was that the gospel moved beyond Israel and Judaism and became a unifying event. Pentecost showed that what unites us is God’s spirit and that is more important than what divides us.

Pentecost is a time to remember that God’s spirit is still present in a mighty way. That’s why our worship can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine, any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting.

Beyond this, we know that today we cannot limit who is in and who is out of the reach of the Reign of God any more than it could be limited to Israel.

For when we encounter nothing less than the presence of God, we come to know that we cannot limit who God is and how God acts, no matter how we might try. We who follow Jesus now are called to act on our love of God as much as those first disciples were called to share God’s love. We are to share the love of God freely, without limiting who God might love.

We are to take this Good News that God loves us, and share that gospel in our deeds as well as our words with everyone we meet, as we leave worship, going in peace to love and serve the Lord. We are empowered to do this by nothing less than the power and presence of the God we experience this day in our worship.

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia.

The Promise of Pentecost, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2010

[RCL] Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17

[NOTE TO READER: In paragraph 22, the Hebrew word ruach is pronounced “ROO-ark.”]

The promise of Pentecost is baptism. “The one coming after me,” the Baptist promised, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

This Pentecostal promise speaks not of some infantile christening, the dribbling of water across the crown, water wiped away with delicate embroidered cloths. Nor does this promise speak of the lighting of a candle with safe flame, or the rubbing of an oily cross on the forehead.

Rather, this Pentecostal promise threatens full immersion. Full immersion, as in inundation, the element of water encases you in its tomb. You could drown, or perhaps burn, for the Holy Spirit entombs you in explosion, and conflagration. Flames of God’s power lap inexhaustibly skyward – with your soul as fuel.

Baptism by fire is soulful, like the first baptism. “As I went down in the river to pray …” The line of pilgrims snaking upward from the shore, grasses blowing at heels. Person after person stepping tentatively into the water, with promise as soap to cleanse.

Hope to change: regeneration by element. But water is dangerous, fire is dangerous, baptism is dangerous, and the Holy Spirit is dangerous – an unshucked atom. But John the wild-Baptist promised this type of Pentecostal baptism.

“The One coming after me will baptize you with Spirit and Fire,” not water on the head, drip by dribble, but fire.

Now “you have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you.” You are “Christ’s own forever.”

In February, NASA launched the space shuttle Endeavour, in what was billed as the last nighttime liftoff. Originally, launch STS-130 was scheduled for 4:39, a.m., February 7.

They say a space shuttle launch is dangerous. Not just to the astronauts, but to spectators. Liquid hydrogen, 423 degrees below zero, is combined with liquid oxygen to inaugurate an explosive thrust of 37 million horsepower. The explosion consumes so much fuel that, were it water in a swimming pool, the pool would drain in 25 seconds.

The closest non-NASA spectators must watch from six miles away, across water. Even the raw explosive sound would kill you if you were located much closer than a football field from the launch.

On February 7, Florida was cold: forty-two degrees, and the sky was crystal. The Big Dipper and the North Star were imprinted into the nighttime sky above the launch pad. Spectators lined the shore of the Banana River. They huddled with friends for hours, in blankets to keep warm.

About one hour before the launch, a bank of low-ceiling clouds rolled in, threatening the launch. NASA actually needs to see a shuttle visually to 5,000 feet.

Undaunted by the cloudbank, NASA continued the countdown. The clouds were also tenacious, and at T-minus nine minutes, NASA scrubbed the launch.

It was rescheduled for the same time the next night, but few spectators returned. What were the chances, when the same cloudbank still hung low that second night?

About thirty minutes before launch, the cloud bank slid off to the side, a few stars appeared, and this time, the countdown passed T-minus nine.

Finally, into seconds, and then, 10-9-8-7-6 … At four, the liquid hydrogen explosively combined with the liquid oxygen, the sky lit instantly, and the shuttle, like an old man rising from an armchair, lifted.

Only it was no old man; it was, as someone remarked, “instant sunrise,” for the fireball lit the sky and clouds and horizon. The cloudbank turned orange; the water, too, and the fish in the Banana River, the frogs at water’s edge, alligators and egrets, all paused to catch incredulous breath at the extraordinary sight, and finally, the roar.

The single most beautiful element of launch is the rumbling roar speeding low across water, far slower than the speed of light.

At five seconds per mile, the sound reached the spectators at thirty seconds after liftoff, bathing them at last in extraordinary spirit.

Jesus’ followers heard sound first, before they saw the flame, the sound of spirit traveling faster than light, not slower.

Before now, they had been incarnational believers. Jesus was alive, physically, and they had thrust their fingers into his hands and their fists into his pierced side. They had believed with their bodies. However, the internal radiance of Moses and the indefatigable power of Elijah thus far, had eluded them. The illuminating essence of Divine, Jesus at Transfiguration, was absent. Perhaps essence was their hope, but it was not yet their reality.

Now, today, the prepossessing roar of Spirit as at creation, the same breath of God, ruach expressed across the deep – like oxygen fanning flame – the sound itself baptized these neophyte Christians by Holy Spirit and translation!

Translated life, for once they were lost, but now they are found, once they were dead wood, but now they are the fuel of lapping Spirit, a fire kindled deep inside.

Jesus had written them into his Last Will and Testament: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” The very peace of God as fire in them imploded, changing them forever. Estate settled.

Perhaps you received the Holy Spirit in some civilized ceremony, with droplets of water falling onto your head, and the polite sign of the cross pressed into your forehead. On that day, the church ladies smiled. They nodded to one another, and observed, “How sweet.” Neither they, nor you, realized the power transmitted by liquid drops of hydrogen and oxygen onto your head. An unshucked atom. The very Spirit of God in you is still unshucked.

You are Jesus’ heir, and you don’t even know it.

Perhaps the Pentecostals get it better than we do. They celebrate the Holy Spirit in a ritual of fiery baptism, dancing and shouting and speaking in tongues. They engage the atomic power of God’s Spirit, while we Episcopalians act like the Father has invited us to afternoon tea and crumpets. In the process, could it be that we deny the Holy Spirit?

You have received the Spirit of God, the power of peace within, and without. Perhaps it is time for you and me to shuck the atom, to unleash the power.

There are any number of ways to unleash the power.

• Advocate: The Holy Spirit prays on your behalf, interceding regularly for you, and through you, for others. God as creator jumps to answer these prayers, but do you pray boldly?
• Guide: The Holy Spirit will guide you, but the compass-power of God is located in the silence. How can you possibly hear above the internal cacophony?
• Interpreter of Scripture: The Holy Spirit will interpret Scripture for you, will open your mind like that of the disciples to see the Word of God lurking behind the black letters on the page. How will you discover God in Scripture if you never crack the book?
• Healer: The Holy Spirit heals, sometimes physically and emotionally, if you can believe it, and always spiritually. How will you be healed if you won’t forgive those who have wronged you?

There is so much more, and it is all explosive, all the conflagration of God. The promise of Pentecost, uttered by the Baptist, is not impotent, but potent. Not weak, but strong.

It is time for us to become Pentecostal believers, and tap into the explosion of God’s Spirit.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me.”

Christ in living Technicolor, and instant sunrise.

Written by the Rev. Rob Gieselmann
The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is the rector of Christ Church in Sausalito, California. Originally from the Diocese of East Tennessee (serving at St. Luke’s, Cleveland), he has also served in the Diocese of Easton (St. Paul’s Church, Chestertown). Before entering the ministry, Rob practiced law for ten years. Rob is the author of “The Episcopal Call to Love” (Apocryphile Press, 2008), and is the father of two wonderful children.

There is Pentecost, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2007

[RCL] Acts 2:1-21; or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami waves fascinate us. Their destructive force seems to come out of nowhere to wreak havoc upon man and nature. Television gives many people the chance to watch their devastation from a safe distance, so that they mean only fantastic images in the mind’s eye. A different experience falls to those subjected to any of these natural forces first hand.

Suddenly comes a new respect for the immense power residing in nature, real and dangerous – a power that before had no meaning or existence, so hidden and remote did it remain from the predictable routine of daily life.

Such an experience changes lives. In an instant the world is turned upside down by the tremendous release of energy through water, air, fire, and earth. An unrecognizable landscape and devastated communities are left in its wake.

Science helps us to understand the systems behind this release of energy. But the world continues to be caught by surprise by its many manifestations. We are continually reminded of our fragile existence within creation.

Another power, a creative power of an altogether different dimension and magnitude informs our faith. It is this power that changes lives at Pentecost.

It is the power that was received by a small, insignificant, and unsophisticated group of men and women gathered in Jerusalem waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. The horizons of their world were limited to the countryside of Galilee and Palestine until the spirit opened their hearts and minds to a greater world beyond.

Nothing could have prepared them for the magnitude of their enlightenment, as they responded to this world-shattering experience of the supernatural creative spirit of God. To stand in its path was to catch fire with divine love. In an instant their world was turned inside out by a tremendous rush of creative power released into their hearts and minds, souls and bodies, manifesting as flames about their heads.

This inrush of creative energy, that unifies more powerfully than natural powers tear apart, poured itself out among them. The eyes of their hearts were opened to a completely different category of experience, unknown to the world.

They saw a new world, through new eyes. The differences of culture and language that separated one from another crumbled before this unifying power. Suddenly each could speak and hear, with the same understanding, the stories of God’s deeds of power.

As the power of nature opens us up to the enormity of its scale and its ability to destroy, so too the power of the Spirit opens our hearts to a new relation among men, a new intimacy with God. Man-made bridges crumble before natural disasters; the Spirit built bridges beyond time and space, between slave and free, man and woman, Jew and Gentile.

It is this power, the power of the Spirit of God, that changes lives at Pentecost. This supernatural power that sustains creation, reunites what has been torn apart, reconciles the alienated.

The spirit of Pentecost rushes into the world as if out of nowhere, and breathes life into the midst of death.

This is Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s spirit upon the disciples, then and now.

Then and now, when the spirit rushes in and breaks open the old naiveté to reveal the magnitude of God’s connecting power, there is no returning to the old frame of reference. Lives are changed forever: their lives and our lives. Hearts are broken open to a dimension of relationship newly reconciled through the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son to the Father in eternity. There is no end to the horizon of God’s embrace. Disciples see things differently, know things differently, hear things differently, and are sent forth as apostles to share what they see, and know, and hear.

God opened the way and taught their hearts, and now other languages, other voices, other experiences are no longer foreign to our own. All are one in God’s love through the power of his reconciling spirit.

For God’s power has been received and has revealed the unity of creation, which exceeds beyond our capacity to comprehend, and beyond the power of nature and man to destroy.

Suddenly the systems of oppression that bind and imprison seem insignificant compared to the marvelous freedom the spirit of God breathes into man, this fragile beloved child. Now filled with the power of God, he is made capable of extending God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness to the blind world. For he is made to see through God’s eyes that a new covenant has indeed replaced the old, and a Chosen people are chosen to deliver the good news: that God calls all into this freedom of his spirit.

Year after year on this day, we remember how the first disciples, newly baptized by the spirit, became apostles and were sent forth, sent out, sent beyond the comfortable yet confining horizons of Galilee. They were sent into the noisy urban world of the diaspora, the pagan world of Rome, where for the first time, “others,” those unlike themselves, could be seen and heard not as alien, suspicious, impure, and other, but as “self,” beloved children of God.

We are reminded of the creative energy of God, which overwhelms the destructive powers of man and nature so that we too might learn to discern the spirit as it rushes through our own world, reconciling, reuniting all of creation through us, within us, for us.

The spirit leads us into a new frame of reference, in the divine dimension of love, where slaves are made children, visions and dreams speak of a reality that does not conform to a world dark and bloodied by the violence of our blindness. The spirit sent forth creates the world anew, if we can but see it.

Skeptics and cynics may sneer, disbelieving, in their attempts to recall the living back to the old dead world of isolation and suspicion, of “us” and “other,” where slaves fall back in fear, where suffering is a meaningless mist of pain, and faces are nameless, soulless shadows against an unchanging heaven.

There are times when even those alive in the spirit, become weary of the world, and like Philip, need encouragement.

How is their longing to see the Father to be satisfied? How might we see Jesus?

Peter tells the skeptics, the cynics, the amazed and perplexed that this Jesus, through his spirit, is now to be sought right in the midst of destructive forces. When the world may seem as if the sun has turned dark and the moon to blood, look there for men and women going quietly about God’s work, creating order out of chaos, offering compassion to the suffering and hope to the desperate. In ordinary and extraordinary ways, at the scene of natural disasters and the most unnatural ones, the spirit of God rushes in to heal and mend, to recreate anew.

There is Pentecost.
Whenever, in the depths of the most destructive forces of our own hearts,
We discover a more creative force compelling us toward
Reconciliation, toward kindness, toward forgiveness.
There the spirit is rushing in,
Giving us new eyes to see, new ears to hear,
New voices to speak God’s love.
There is Pentecost.

Written by the Rev. Mary H. Ogus
The Rev. Mary H. Ogus is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clinton, NC.