An Important Little Celebration

I have mixed feelings about the events of the first Pentecost. It’s one of those things that I wish I had directly witnessed. What must it have been like to experience that much power in one place. On the other hand, I am also extremely grateful that I have not ever seen such things! Whatever my feelings, it’s clear that something pretty amazing happened to those early followers of Jesus on the first Pentecost after the resurrection.  A mighty wind rushed through, flames danced on their heads, and unexpected language poured from their lips. It was another step in transforming an offshoot of Judaism into a religion in its own right. Now we refer to this day as recorded in Acts as the “birthday of the Church.” It’s important to pay attention to this day for many, many reasons.

fire-birds-695766_1280The primary reason to celebrate Pentecost is that it can remind us of who and what the Holy Spirit is. Over the centuries, many Christians have forgotten the power of the Holy Spirit. We have lulled ourselves into believing we have tamed her. We mythologize the rushing, violent wind, the flames, and languages so that we can tell a simple story rather than believe that the Spirit can (and might) literally blow through a place. Our liturgy is often filled with phrases such as, “Come Holy, Spirit, come.” And we think the Spirit will come gently like a soft spring breeze or playfully like a sweet kitten. We have no reason to think these things; there was a violent, rushing wind in the Acts story along with tongues of fire and foreign languages. This Spirit has more in common with a lion roaming the Serengeti than the cat curled up in your lap.

The Spirit is not something we can tame. We seem to have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have and maybe that’s why worship can often be perceived as boring. What would happen if we started to leave room for the mighty winds, burning-but-not-consuming fires, and fresh, unexpected words? The Holy Spirit transformed a group of disciples into church. Maybe that same Spirit will transform us into something new and surprising if we start believing that she can. We could then stop talking about the Church dying and start talking more about what the Church might be being transformed into.

Another reason to celebrate Pentecost is that we are reminded that the Church is not ours; it’s God’s. The more we try to make it human, the more flawed it becomes. No other human institution has existed for 2000 years. Clearly, then, there is something special about Church as an institution. The Church at its core is holy. This means that we are holy and maybe even more so when we gather in community for worship. However, the holiness of Church does not mean that everything we say and do and require as part of Church is holy. If we take time to breathe and look at what Christ truly taught, the holiness of Church becomes more evident. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Do unto others as you wish done unto you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”   To love, to be loving, and to be loved are holy acts. Perhaps the Spirit will rekindle the fire of holiness within each church this Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is untamable and unpredictable and we would do well to remind ourselves of this. That being said, I am making a commitment this Pentecost. In the moments when I feel despair, frustration or exhaustion, I will look carefully for the fiery flames of passion in the people around me. Before I reach the end of my tolerance with the world around me I will take time to feel the rushing winds that open new possibilities. Maybe most importantly, when I feel certain that my way is the right way I will take time to listen for words that may unexpectedly transform my life.butterfly-142734_1920

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

RCL – Year B – Pentecost – May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Sanctification Poem

I am on vacation this week so I am sharing a poem from my book, Barefoot Theology. It looks prettier in the book since WordPress does not like to maintain spacing, but you get the general idea here. Just picture this poem spreading across the page like waves on the beach.

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Sanctification

Shore
Wind
tears
back
hair
rips
into
clothes

I stand open

Pull away
Submerge
Autumn
Clothes fall

I plunge and swim

Enveloped
Sustained

Naked strokes
against the tide
fight wave
after wave

Exhaustion

Surrender

Floating under
stars above
wind driving waves
I give thanks
I am home
in Grace

Come
Holy Spirit
Come

sun rises
I swim again

courage
submission
no struggle

only Love
more fully myself
in the fullness of Christ

RCL – Year B –  Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2015
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

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Being Church

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This week my Facebook feed has filled up with articles about church. How to be a vital church, how to attract Millennials (back?) to church, how to welcome children in church, how to create intergenerational church, and a few other topics I’m not remembering at the moment. Maybe it’s the coming of Pentecost that is causing so many to reflect on what it means to be Church.

Reading through these articles and then reading this week’s lectionary texts, I’m struck by the idea that we might just be focusing on the wrong things. In the reading from Acts Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” For me this raises the question about who Church is for. Over the 20 centuries since Jesus, we have set up all kinds of rules and systems to determine who is in and who is not. If all receive the Holy Spirit equally, should not all who come seeking be welcomed with the same generosity? It’s not that baptism should be taken lightly, but we would do well to remember that God knows our hearts, our minds, our spirits before we are washed with the waters of baptism.

In the same way Jesus said, “love one another as I love you.” He was speaking to his disciples, of course. Yet, these words are so much bigger than group of twelve who first heard them. Love one another. Accept Jesus’ invitation to friendship and befriend one another. Then there are no members and non-members; there are only friends. This kind of friendship is risky and demanding, though. It isn’t like the BFF notions of today that often seem lighthearted, almost frivolous. Jesus spoke of a friendship so deep that friends would give their lives for one another. This is powerful and spiritual in the sense of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit working together, strengthening relationships and community.

It’s time for churches to stop focusing on doing Church better. It’s time to focus on being Church. Let’s stop worrying about how many people are in the pews and focus on spreading the Good News of the Gospel:  In Christ there is abundant life for all people.

A while back I heard an article on NPR about the Millennial generation.  After a series of interviews, the article concluded that Millennials are searching for meaning and purpose. They don’t seem to be finding this in work, relationships, or leisure activities. So many churches have tried to attract this generation of folks with glitz and glamour. It doesn’t work well. The Church has an answer to the questions of meaning and purpose and belonging that cannot be found elsewhere. We have a message of value, of love, of belonging, of the abundance of God’s love and grace. If we live this message authentically and keep our doors, our hearts open, and our minds open the Church will flourish. Yes, it may be very different from the church many of us remember from childhood. However, if different means welcoming all who come seeking and creating friendship with and through Christ, then count me in.

O sing to God a new song, for God has done marvelous things.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday of Eastertide – May 10, 2015
Acts 10: 44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5: 1-6
John 15:9-17

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Called to Love

apples-494765_1920It’s only been a week since my mother’s death. My world is off-balance and out of focus in ways I did not expect. Combine this with the events in the world this week, and I’m overwhelmed. I grieve for my mother who lived with a lot of fear and judgement. I pray for the courage to live more fully than she did. With these thoughts, I read the texts for this week…

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. These words from 1 John will be read in thousands of churches this week, but I wonder how often they will be heard. The racism that permeates our society and triggers the kind of pent-up rage that leads to riots seems to know nothing of love. Let me make it clear that I am not blaming anyone who participated in the riots in Baltimore. The responsibility for what happened lies with all of us who participate in a system that allows black people to be murdered by white police officers and then denies justice to the victims. The responsibility lies with all of us who do not speak out against the injustice of our criminal justice system. The responsibility lies with all of us who do not embody transformative love in the overwhelming din of racism and hatred.

It is clear to me that this call to love in the face of all that is not love is closely linked to Jesus’ vine and branches imagery. However, I’m struggling to find the words that adequately describe the connection I see. I’ve always thought this passage was about some kind of litmus test for Christian faith. If you failed, you were cut off. The image that comes to mind is being voted off the island Survivor style. When I read these words this week, I realized that I was completely wrong in my understanding of this passage.

It isn’t about judgement or about being good enough. It’s a simple statement of fact. If we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us, then amazing things happen. All those things within us that do not bear fruit are cut away. And the fruit we bear becomes all that much more flavorful. Jesus wasn’t describing an external process or suggesting community faith policing. Rather he was describing the spiritual process of pruning and growing that happens as a natural response to living in the Spirit. Whenever we pour our energy into words and actions that are not loving, we are not being fruitful and are in danger of withering away.

Even though it is rather cliché to say it, I will; life is short and all life is a precious gift fromautumn-616270_1920 God. We can choose to bring more love into the world or we can choose hatred or ambivalence. However, if we are followers of Christ, we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. Jesus is the vine. If we are truly the branches, then it is time for us to be bearing fruit that silences racism, hatred, poverty, hunger, violence and all the other ills that thrive in our society. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What fruit will you be known by?

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2015
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

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Litany for Marriage Equity

Since the Supreme Court is about to take up Marriage Equity, many churches are raising the issue for prayer during worship. I’ve written this litany, a kind of conversation with Psalm 23, for use in worship this Sunday. Feel free to use it or adapt it to fit your congregation.

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Voice One:  God is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

Voice Two:  God who guides all people,
provide your wisdom in the Supreme Court this week.
No one should want for justice

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  God makes me lie down in green pastures;
and leads me beside still waters;

Voice Two:  All pastures are not equal and not all waters are clean.
The ability to marry is a right belonging to all people.
Let now be the time when this becomes law.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  God restores my soul
and leads me in right paths
for the sake of God’s name.

Voice Two:  Too long, your people have been divided.
May the fears that separate LGBTQ people from others
give way to loving inclusion in the name of the One who is Love Incarnate.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

Voice 2:  Even in your presence, many fear that change will not come
and injustice will remain the law.
Grant courage to those with power to transform fearful hatred
into beautiful liberty for all those who call on you.
Comfort the fearful ones among us
that they, too, will find welcome in your green pastures.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Voice Two:  You have prepared the way for Marriage Equity
even though there are many who refuse to come to the table.
May the Supreme Court open the table to all,
that marriage may be available to all
and the cup of liberty may overflow.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of God
my whole life long.

sheep-506253_1920Voice Two: It is time for goodness and mercy to be the way for all.
May this be the time when all who call your name
are welcomed in your house and equal standing
in the eyes of the law.

You are the Good Shepherd, guide us to the day
when the reign of hateful discrimination
comes to an end, and your people speak of love and equity
for all your children.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers. Amen.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2015
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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Wholly Holy

2015-04-11 15.25.27I spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes too much time thinking. I like to analyze and understand as much about the world and the people in it as I possibly can. Most of the time this is an asset. Being able to reason things through can often get me to a place that is more compassionate than judgmental or more patient than impulsive. Sometimes, though, I can think myself right out of something amazing.

This week I read the Luke text and started pondering what Jesus meant when he said, “Peace be with you.” Peace is one of those elusive qualities that slide away the more we try to contain or define it. Whatever we might think about what peace is or is not, it’s clear that it meant something to Jesus and those who heard it. It’s what he said when his disciples were terrified at seeing what they thought was a ghost. And what they heard and saw calmed them enough that they were able to listened to him.

In pondering this, I did what I often do. I looked things up and did some reading. It turns out that the word for peace in Greek can mean “wholeness” in addition to calm or a kind of farewell blessing. This blessing of wholeness appeals to me quite a bit.

In all the turmoil we face in the world, especially during this week of anniversaries – the one year anniversary of kidnapping of the girls by Boko Haram, the second of the Boston Marathon Bombing, the twentieth of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the sixty-second Holocaust Day of Remembrance, and the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination – a little sense of wholeness would go a long way. These anniversaries mark tragedies of the past and point toward the violence that flows rather freely through the world today. Where in the midst of this do we find peace? Who speaks words that calm and center us and remind us of our wholeness in the midst of fear or chaos?

And this is where I step out of my head and into the mystery. When I notice that spring is erupting all around me and the sun rises and sets every day, when I witness unexpected kindness, when I take time to simply breathe… I remember that the One who spoke those words of stillness to disciples on the beach is still speaking loud enough to be heard even amidst the din of daily living.

Peace, wholeness, is deeper than words, but it is not impossible. I’d like to think that if we all paid more attention to the words and spoke them more authentically, lived them more actively, some of the suffering and destruction would have less power.

Peace be with you. Go, and be whole.2015-04-11 15.30.08

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2015
Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

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Post Resurrection Thoughts

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Easter is all about resurrection and new life. On the surface it’s easy to preach. But dig a little deeper into what resurrection means and it isn’t all that easy. To make it worse, I find myself distracted by thoughts of the Second Coming. I mean, really, who thinks about the Second Coming while everyone is still celebrating the resurrection?

I read the texts for Sunday and my thoughts about Jesus’ return intensify. In Acts, we hear about an early Christian community who shared their resources to the extent that all needs were met. Then 1 John pushes that community to examine  its own sin so that they do not deceive themselves. Add to this John’s description of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ and I can only further wonder about the Second Coming that those early churches thought was imminent.

What if the Second Coming depends on us? I mean what if it depends on the Church Universal actually becoming the body of Christ? What if Jesus isn’t going to return and God is waiting for all of us who claim to be Christians to actually embody Christ in this world right now?

Think about it. We keep waiting for some great rescue from God even though we keep screwing up. We’ve already been given the way to eternal life. God transformed crucifixion into resurrection. We’ve already been given adequate guidance in how to live. Yet, we keep waiting for some far off, unknown divine intervention to fix all that we have broken. God intervened in a radical way once. I don’t think it’s going to happen again.

What would happen if we created communities that really cared for one another? What would happen if we acknowledged how far we fall short of being the body of Christ? I don’t mean in a superficial kind of way. Rather, we do this in a self-examining communal way, a way that invites change?

What if self-deception gets in the way of bringing Christ into the world? We are experts at deceiving ourselves both individually and communally. If we can let go of our sins in the way that Jesus does, forgiveness would have the power to transform the church. There would be no more hiding and worrying about who’s in or who’s not. We’d all be free to get on with embodying love.

What if that peace that Jesus offered Thomas and the others, is really the key to Christ coming into the world now? The peace that Jesus spoke of is the kind of peace that lasts through all things. It’s the peace that comes from trusting that we are forgiven, we are loved, we are God’s own. Nothing can change that. Why do we keep acting like it’s a temporary or conditional thing?

I know there are more questions here than answers. But this idea that we, the Church Universal, can be, may be, the Second Coming of Christ is one that I can’t let go of. If this is true, and we all commit to embodying love over all other things, the church can truly become Christ embodied in the world today. No one gets left out. There are worse theological ideas out there.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday of Easter – April 12, 2015
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

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