To start off the new year of 2019, and in recognition that I need this so badly right now, I’ve worked on a simple novena with the Holy Spirit. I welcome anyone who would like to join me for the next nine days and I’d love to hear about your experience!
What is a Novena? The short answer is that a novena is a nine day stretch of special prayer emphasis. This is an ancient Christian practice which is connected to many things including a traditional count of nine days between Christ’s Ascension and the day of Pentecost in the lives of the Apostles, and even a pre-Christian period of mourning and prayer in Roman culture. There’s nothing magical about a novena, or the number nine, and it surely cannot put any obligation on God. It is prayer, and as such God hears us and loves us. Prayer changes us by helping us stay focused and in tune with God, and this novena practice is simply a method of prayer.
With this novena we’ll look into some scriptures, a new passage each day, but we aren’t doing scholarly theological work. We’ll look into these holy words for inspiration and encouragement. We’ll see how these scriptures illuminate the work of God’s Spirit to bind us together into a whole, with one another and with the Divine.
Here’s the plan, in two easy pieces, 1) Morning & 2) The Rest of the Day:
MORNING: (or morning’ish if you get busy) Begin each day by reading its passage and the very short reflection, and then use the following prayer, changing it to reflect your own faith and experiences if you’d like, to begin a time of prayer. The whole morning exercise might be ten minutes long.
“Holy Spirit, here I am. I would draw nearer to you,
nearer to my God and nearer to my Savior Christ.
I would be more fully present with my family, friends and neighbors.
Help me be the person you would make of me.
Through Christ. Amen.”
DAY-NIGHT: Throughout the rest of the day, let the passage and your prayers go with you. Reflect on them when you can. If anything comes to your mind or heart, you can journal those notes to keep them. If you’d like, feel free to read the passage again and pray as often as you like. As you go to bed, give a few minutes of prayer to reconnect with God in gratitude for the day and hope for tomorrow.
Easy peazy, right? I’ll be doing this for the next nine days, January 1-9, and I invite you along for the ride. Again, I’d love to hear about your experience with this novena practice. Be well, beloved, and Happy New Year!
Spirit of Life – Galatians 5:22-26 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
We begin with this beautiful metaphor of the way that opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God can change us. The best things are grown from our hearts and minds when we allow the Spirit to change our hearts and minds. Can I imagine God transforming me to show and to share more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in an often hurting world?
Spirit of Community – Ephesians 2:13-22 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
In Christ our racial and national divisions are made inconsequential. God’s Spirit would grow us together, removing barriers and binding us to one another. Am I open to less hostility in my life, open to more peace between myself and all my neighbors, and open to being together with people not like me?
Spirit of Service – Romans 12:1-8 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Has the Spirit called me to ministry? To service? Have I felt at times that I have a gift? This is all for the building up of our community of faith. Have I worked to move my ego aside and desired to be put to service for others around me?
Spirit of Diversity & Unity – 1 Corinthians 12:4-12 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
The Spirit seems to be a powerful player among us, enabling us for ministry and communal service. We aren’t all made to be alike, but in diversity we are made to be one whole. Have I appreciated all the people around me who are not gifted as I am or talented in the things I enjoy and have pursued? Have I told them?
Spirit of Hope – John 14:25-27 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus spoke these words to the apostles about the coming of The Spirit. Have I sought The Spirit’s presence for wisdom, truth and peace? Am I more focused these days on things which blind my wisdom, hide the truth and steal my peace?
Spirit of Strength – Romans 8:24-27 “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Does it help to know that The Spirit is praying with us, even when we can’t hear those prayers? Does it help to know that our weakness is not a sign of or cause of God’s absence, but our weakness is actually an open door for God’s Spirit and presence in our lives and struggles?
Spirit of Renewal – Titus 3:3-5 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
I have to admit that I often feel like I am still quite stuck in life dominated by thoughts and habits very foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating… So, can I pray with an extra depth, “O Spirit of God, renew me!”
Spirit of Freedom – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
In a time when organized religion is not always associated with freedom, but sometimes with oppression and captivity, can I revel in the freedom of the Spirit? Can I gift that freedom to others around me, loving them and serving them with a whole heart?
Spirit of Presence – Acts 2:1-4 & 14-18 “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability… But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Have I had any dreams or visions in this novena time? Have I heard God? Have I felt the Spirit? Have I grown in my desire to know God’s Spirit? It’s not always like we think it should be, and the apostles were even considered drunk when the Spirit was poured out on the world and they spoke in all those languages. Maybe I’m expecting one thing and God is doing something else?
After the Novena:
Is there an insight you want to carry forward? Write it down, pray over it and share it with others in your faith community. And I’d love to hear about your experience! All to God’s glory and the benefit of the earth. Amen.
With Unite the Right protestors gathering in DC and many more planning to counter protest their messaging, all of us locally are bracing for the insanity, the hate and the possible violence. I’m working today, so I can’t be there to stand against the hate. But in these last few days running up to another rearing of white supremacy’s ugly head I did rework one of my images about our beautiful diversity. ->
The gravitational pull to meet hate with hate and ignorance with ridicule and disgust is strong and difficult to ignore. I appreciated so much this week when our Bishop in DC called us to love, to respond with what is best in humanity and not with violence or more hatred. I have made time this week to listen to the voices that matter, voices which lead me to love, to peace, to something positive.
I can’t be there at Lafayette Square to be seen today, but I still have a responsibility to be heard. We all must be heard. White supremacy is wrong, sinful, ignorant and destructive. Racism is a killing white sin in our society which must be confronted and defeated. These militant white supremacist clowns dressed up with their Confederate patches, racist flags and guns, and their narrative of hate and division, must be rejected with courage, dignity and love at every opportunity. (By the way, DC has said “no guns” to the white supremacists at this protest. Wouldn’t it be nice if what works to keep the President’s house safe would be applied to keep us all safe? hmmmm) We must always fight for liberty, equality and justice… but let us not have fighting in the streets. We need to make sure we elect the women and men who will help us bring the needed change. #midterms We need to have the courage to speak up against division and hate. We have to be heard.
Let’s change the narrative every time someone says we’re losing American culture or white culture or some other racist code phrase. America has never been a culture, but a joining of cultures. America has never been perfect, but a tension filled meeting of diverse people who can very often make beautiful things from our sharing. We have never been red white and blue, but every wonderful shade of human.
This is my sermon of June 24 2018 shared at St John’s Norwood Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland. We do revisit my recent trip to the MVA a bit, but in light of God’s promise and presence in the middle of trouble. =)
“Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Jesus Christ. Blessed be Abba God, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Source of all mercies and the God of all consoling, who comforts us in all our troubles…” These words were part of the greeting from the Apostle Paul to the Church of Corinth, opening his letter to them, the one we call 2 Corinthians.
In that letter to the Christians in Corinth Paul digs deeply into trouble and being troubled. He speaks of despair, of hope, of opposition and of faith, both the troubles and the faith of those Christians when facing hard times, and his own as an apostle, teacher and prophetic voice for Christ. Paul believes that we have in us from God a deep and strong vein of treasure to be accessed, a wealth of blessing completing us in our spiritual lives and also strengthening us in our daily lives. In chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians he’ll speak of that deep treasure and the troubled storms of life very poetically, “But this treasure we possess is in earthen vessels, to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; we are full of doubts, but we never despair; we are persecuted, but never abandoned; we are struck down, but never destroyed. Continually we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed.”
Paul knew something about the storms of life. In his letters he often speaks of the trials of being beaten, ship-wrecked, rejected and neglected. He knew all about the storms of life. Our Gospel passage today is about a storm, an unexpected storm that stirred up an otherwise routine and placid trip across the Sea of Galilee. Now, this is a Pilgrim Church, so may I see a show of hands of everyone who has taken a boat out on the Sea of Galilee? I was also there, with a group of pilgrims from this parish, just a couple of months ago… but my boat ride was as calm and serene as expected. No surprise winds or sudden storms came upon us, but just the lap of the waters against the sides of our boat overseen by that platinum sky and the pounding midday heat.
We’ve not all been on the Sea of Galilee, but we all know what its like when storms brew up in life, right? I went been through a storm recently, church… I had to go last week to the MVA… the Maryland Motor Vehicle Association. Sometimes our storms in life are less sudden and more directly linked to our procrastination, and I’m not going to lie about it. My car’s registration had expired a couple of weeks before, and I had spend the previous week and several hundred dollars getting various fines and parking tickets cleared up, but I was at the MVA believing that I was all done and ready to get things squared away. Come on… who can ever anticipate what will happen once you get to the MVA, right? I arrived, waited in a long line to share with a very pleasant woman why I was there, just to be told that I had some things to clear up with EZPass. I had spoken with them the previous week and paid about $50 to get that account cleared up, as my transponder hadn’t had funds for a some toll runs, but apparently there was more to do… a storm began brew for my quick run to the MVA. Thankfully EZPass is housed at the MVA, so I just had to go hop in another line and wait a bit to speak to another every pleasant person there. She pulled up my registration and said I had fines of around $650 to clear up before they would release my registration to be renewed. How does that happen? I had not had funds for about $30 in tolls, but they add gigantic “civil penalties” to those tolls, which added up in my case to over $650. Didn’t sound very “civil” to me. My storm was in full swing. I did not have $650+ to spend on these fines, and I had a real problem with their legitimacy and right to so outrageously fine me.
What do we do in these kinds of storms? When sudden storms pop up in our lives, people seem to be arrayed against us, and seems so unjust, that even if I didn’t keep my account current with EZPass, they had said the week before I was fine, and now I see these incredible fines before me… what do I do? Have you ever been in a storm like this? Have you ever just raged along with the storm? Fight fire with fire and all that? Certainly, I felt the storm pulling me into its embrace and tempting me to lash about and blow a lot of hot air of my own.
But thank God, I didn’t. I took a deep breath and composed myself. I didn’t have $650, or even a clue what to do next, but I wasn’t going to rage with the storm or give up or give in, and I would certainly not attack this person before me who neither let my account run out of money (that was me) or was responsible for imposing the fines on my overdrawn account. I took a moment of silence to breath deep and settle myself, and in that moment of quiet I heard her voice again, this time asking me a question, “Have you ever had a one-time waiver?” A one-time waiver? I’ve never heard of this thing, but wow does it sound promising! “No, I don’t believe I have ever had that waiver” I answered. If you don’t know this thing either, ONCE IN YOUR LIFE the folks at EZPass will waive the giant civil penalties by changing every $50 fine into $3! I got away from that little window spending about $70 total instead of nearly $700, and was out of the MVA in about 30 minutes with a renewed registration and an updated Driver’s License. Storm defeated, but not because I out-raged it or fought it to a stand-still or because I had any power at all in the storm except power over myself. I believe that if I had raged and fought and filled the stormy day at the MVA with my own ragings, I probably wouldn’t have heard that important question she asked me, or at least wouldn’t have been able to hear it as the gift and blessing that it was.
So In our Gospel reading today we find our friends, the friends of Jesus, in a boat and in a storm, and they are freaking out. The storm is raging and so are they! They wake Jesus up exclaiming, “You don’t care if we die!” They feel neglected, ignored and they feel acutely the injustice of this storm in their lives. They don’t deserve this storm, they’re serving Jesus! And Jesus isn’t doing anything they can see, so he doesn’t care. And you know how we keep hearing in scripture over and over “Do not be afraid” when God speaks or angels arrive unexpectedly we hear “Do not be afraid.” Well not this time! This time Jesus doesn’t say don’t be afraid, he basically asks, “What’s wrong with you?” Don’t you have any faith? He questions their raging along with the storm. Yes, they were scared. True, they did not have the power of Jesus to dispel the storm. But they had given up the only control they had in that storm, which was their ability to still themselves.
Not all storms in life are going to finish us off, as not all storms are just, not all are deserved, but all of them are opportunities to be faithful to the people that God has called and created us to be. Sometimes we can see God working in those storms, and sometimes we can’t see God in the midst of the trouble. But we know that God has loved us and called us and given us hope to be calm in those storms, true and just in those storms and gracious in the middle of turmoil. We have God’s promise to be with us. In a storm tossed world, we are so greatly needed, church. For we not only ride out the storms for our sakes, but for the sake of those within our reach.
In no way would I ever want to downplay some of the real struggles we face in life with an overly simple comparison to a trip to the MVA: those disciples in the boat sound as though they really thought they were going to die. But I do know that I need the occasional reminder that God’s grace, God’s love and God’s presence are not lost in the troubles of a day, the storms of this life. In these storms God’s grace, love and presence are the truly lasting things to which we cling and claim the power to remain ourselves. Perhaps some of the storms we have most feared will actually become moments of faith, gratitude and potential, when we remember who God has made and enabled us to be. “…this treasure we possess is in earthen vessels, to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; we are full of doubts, but we never despair; we are persecuted, but never abandoned; we are struck down, but never destroyed. Continually we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed.”
When the wind kicks up in the coming week, and the storms of life begin to move around us, unjust and unwanted, may we remember that we are still God’s beloved people. When the fear begins to creep in and our hearts race and our minds reel, and when we don’t immediately see the God in whom we have hoped, may we remember that God is still with us. When we are tempted to rage along with the unexpected twists and turns of the day, may we remember to still ourselves, to remain faithful, just and kind.
As we began with Paul’s greeting to Corinth, we’ll end with his farewell to that church and to us all, “And now, sisters and brothers, I must say goodbye. Mend your ways. Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones send you greetings. The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the friendship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen.
The audio of my sermon should be posted soon at St John’s: https://stjohnsnorwood.org/sermons/
I had to go to the MVA yesterday. Yes, the dreaded Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland. It might be the DMV where you live or some other innocuous sounding jumble of letters, but it means the same thing: a little death. My vehicle registration had expired on June 1, and yesterday was June 13, but it had taken me that long to track down all the flags and little things to tidy up before I could renew, to the tune of several hundred dollars. I thought it was all done, and I thought I’d be in and out of there.
I arrived to find that EZPass, the nefarious organization which runs a local crime syndicate called “Tollway” had more outstanding fines for me to pay than their enforcer had told me on the phone last week. I had been told that the $50 I paid last week would get me in the clear, but their mob muscle at the MVA detailed another $650 or so I’d have to pay before I could ever drive legally again on Maryland turf. I posted the Gif here of a collapsing baby on Facebook from a place of inner pain and hopeless I thought could only be visualized by the falling innocence and dejection of an infant who would surely also flop right off the couch and land on their face. #carpetburn Really, this was all too much to take in… so much worse than their only having Diet Pepsi available as the low calorie soda option in the vending machine.
I was upset. I was stunned. I did not have $650 to clear my good name and my Nissan’s registration. Of course, I could have yelled and stamped my feet. I really, really, really wanted to yell and stamp my feet and basically wig the fruit right out of my grits and bacon. But let’s be real for a minute… everything and I mean everything my faith is supposed to be about is about not doing that kind of thing. I am supposed to be forgiving, patient, kind, joyful in distress and expectant of good things, among other things, all of which sound great in sermons and hymns and are really difficult at the MVA. I don’t know what exactly the woman with EZPAss saw in my face, the hopelessness, the patience, or just a face not screaming obscenities at her from a mess of my own making, but she next says these amazing and unexpected words: Have you ever had a one-time waiver?
A one-time waiver? I’ve suddenly got that feeling like Katniss when the salve dropped in on a chiming parachute to heal Pita: hope.
I have not had this thing, tell me more. She goes on to detail that she has the power to give me this waiver and bids me wait a moment while she checks and receives instructions from a small robot overlord on her desk she reverently called “My System.” She smiles and explains that all my many $50+ fines adding up to almost $650 can all be magically changed to $3 fines, but only once in my life. There can be only one. I had not had this done for me ever, so she could do it now, and all my fines and fees and great debt were shrunk to a total of $70.
I like to rant about the MVA. It’s fun to rant on the MVA. But once I cleared things with EZPass, I was out of there in barely more than thirty minutes updating the address on my license and renewing my registration. So as much as ranting might be fun and even funny, I have to be grateful. I have to be thankful. I’m so thankful that EZPass is housed at the MVA and I didn’t have to travel across the state to find them. And I’m glad I didn’t go nuts, because I’m supposed to be nice. I’m grateful for the ease with which things were settled, and for keeping my fruit together. Amen.
Sermon, Pentecost Sunday
May 20, 2018 St John’s Episcopal Church
Good morning, beloved of God, and welcome to Pentecost Sunday. May the God whose Spirit is with us give us visions and dreams, and may that Spirit be unfettered in our hearts and minds, so that the whole world would hear our songs of joy, plans of peace and purpose of love. Amen.
We begin this morning lighting ten candles for the students who lost their lives in Santa Fe this past week. Ten points of light which represent our prayers for the healing of their families and the many injured by this latest school shooting in our land.
3. For the Human Family, Book of Common Prayer, pg. 815
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
What a week and a weekend. This past week saw dozens of Palestinians gunned down in Gaza with hundreds more injured, and we pray for peace, reconciliation and a lessening of fear in Palestine and Israel. Then we began the weekend here in our own country on Friday with news of the school shooting in Santa Fe, TX, where 10 children lost their lives and at least ten more were injured in our epidemic of gun violence. CNN reports that this is the 22nd school shooting with casualties of this year, just 20 weeks into 2018. We can do the math, America; we are averaging more than one school shooting a week for the year. Then we had an amazing royal wedding, and for Episcopalians especially, and all who claim Christ, an exciting moment when our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached the Gospel of God’s love to literally the world. He gave witness on the world’s stage to God’s powerful love to remake us and remake all the world. What a rollercoaster of a week and weekend!
Maybe then we can relate a little with the disciples and crowds who are with Jesus in Acts 2 who have seen him murdered, seen him raised to life, spent time with him, seen him ascend into the sky, and now on the day of Pentecost, at the end of the Passover season, they experience an awe-inspiring event of God’s Spirit being poured out in flames and languages! Our heads would be spinning as well! Could we fault the onlookers for asking, “What in the world does all this mean?”
So, let’s take up that question, “What does all this mean?” Jesus had promised the coming of the Spirit, whom he called The Advocate or Helper in John’s Gospel, but that’s really just mechanics, right? That’s what happened, but what is happening? The Spirit, as Jesus promised in John’s Gospel, sounded more like an inner voice, enhanced memory, confidence and power. But the reality of God’s Spirit poured out in tongues of flame and roaring wind is moving and spectacular! The crowds hear this noise and gather around, they are called in, and they are amazed because they hear their own languages; God’s message made so personal and accessible for the people looking on, and they ask, “What in the world does all this mean?”
Let’s read that text again and a little further to begin hearing Peter’s answer to the question: Acts 2:2-24…
2 On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. 3 Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. 4 The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.
5 Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6 And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. 7 They were excited and amazed, and said:
“Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? 8 Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? 9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11 Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.”
12 Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?” 13 Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”
14 Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:
“Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say! 15 You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,
17 “When the last days come, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. 18 In those days I will give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy.
19 I will work miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will turn dark, and the moon will be as red as blood before the great and wonderful day of the Lord appears. 21 Then the Lord will save everyone who asks for his help.”
22 “Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this. 23 God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross. 24 But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.”
Peter quotes a moving passage from the prophet Joel to illustrate that what has been witnessed is God’s Spirit poured out on the world, given to all; it’s God’s presence and the power of life over death, the power of Christ! Peter goes on preaching about Jesus and we see at the end of this chapter the beginning of the church, the teaching and baptisms that began a movement of worship, prayer and community that has weathered the storms of every age and generation down to us, today. “What does all this mean?” It means that God is speaking, to all people from all places. It means that God does not want to be contained, selfishly claimed or limited to a single people, language, place or kind. This Pentecostal scene is God calling everyone to the Table of Love where grace triumphs over guilt, life over death and community over division. The Day of Pentecost was a miraculous moment, in great part, for it’s inclusion and diversity. God demonstrated an amazing accessibility at Pentecost. The gift of tongues in Acts 2 are known languages… God is calling all people!
The coming of the Spirit fits into a scriptural pattern we see in the Gospels, as Jesus receives the Spirit descending as a dove at his baptism and the same great voice from that event speaks again at his Transfiguration on the mountaintop. I’m coming to think of this scene at Pentecost as another incarnation event, only this time the whole world is caught up in the arrival, the advent of what God is doing! It combines the two events from the Gospels… the Spirit comes visibly, now settling on the disciples, and this time humans speak out for God. Those people themselves, and we today, are caught up in an ongoing incarnation of God in this realm of earth as God’s Spirit is unleased and forever loosed upon us. We cannot be awakened to God’s Spirit without being changed by that Spirit, Pentecost-ed, welcomed, called, included.
I didn’t grow up in an American Pentecostal church tradition. Maybe some of us here today did. They are known for spiritual gifts and excitement, especially speaking in tongues. The Pentecostal tradition is a restoration movement which was actually started to restore something they felt was lost to the church, a miraculous and powerful feeling and experience such as the Day of Pentecost there in Acts chapter 2. I don’t judge my Pentecostal brothers and sisters, even as I admit that haven’t experienced Christian life as they claim, and I admit to having honest theological and textual questions about some of their doctrines… but one thing I would do, I would challenge their monopoly on the words Pentecost and Pentecostal.
As I read Acts 2:
1. When we bridge gaps between people, when we speak so that God is heard, we are Pentecostal.
2. When no one is left excluded from the table by prejudice and neglect, or human barriers of language, culture or tradition, we are Pentecostal.
3. When we proclaim the power of love that defeats death and robs the grave of it’s victory, we are Pentecostal.
4. When we recognize that God’s Spirit is with us, all of us, the entirety of the world, and we allow that Spirit to lead us into life by God’s will and purpose, dreaming and visioning what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ourselves forgiven and ourselves forgiving, and the daily needs of the body and soul justly and mercifully shared out in plenty for all, then we are a Pentecostal people.
It’s a difficult juxtaposition when tongues of flame announce God’s love and presence in one context, and they represent our mourning a societal addiction to gun violence and murder in another context. And yet, the question, “What does this all mean?” is just as poignant. The answer is hopeful and powerful in each context, “Look to God. Look to God’s powerful love to change us and help us dream and vision a better world and to give us the courage to act and help make it a reality.”
I hear this diversity, inclusion and welcome ringing clearly in a favorite passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians when he wrote these words: Colossians 3:10-15…
10 Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. 11 It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
12 God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13 Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14 Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.
15 Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.
I would leave you with a Pentecost message, today: Let all people hear the love of God and may we all be the voice of that love! Let there be no more barriers to our grace and openness to the varied and beautiful creation of this world whom God loves so very much. Let us not be blind to opportunities to speak of God’s love for the world around us, especially for those who would be most surprised by that love and by our sincere care for them.
As we move into a new week, having mourned so much among the joys of the last week, we will turn again in prayer, believing and hoping as a Pentecost people… praying from the Book of Common a Prayer, pg. 815…
4. For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.
I have waited and reflected a bit since my pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine before writing something about the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. Recent violence in Gaza and the conflicting destructive messaging all around in my social media circles has compelled me to go ahead and get this written out. I want to be clear and I want to be irenic (peace-making) in what I say. I was deeply grieved and affected by what I saw in Palestine. I was moved by the daily plight of Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate checkpoints and walls in their daily lives. I was moved by the stories of families and communities who were displaced and dispossessed in the late 40’s when Zionist armed forces removed them from their homes and lands and set them adrift. And what I personally saw was just in the West Bank, we aren’t even talking about the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip.
As I process what I saw and what I have come to hope for, let me be clear about a few things. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist, I support it as much as I support the existence a Palestinian State. I would support even more a single state which granted full human rights and civil liberties to all the people within it’s borders regardless of race or religion. Sounds down right American, right? This is my left hand most days now, pictured to the right, with my wedding band inscribed in Hebrew and my bracelet bearing the Palestinian flag and the word love. I choose not to hate either people, or to ignore the needs of either people. My desire is for a peaceful, secure home for all the people of that land. I am glad that the State of Israel was created as a solution to the global and historical problem of anti Semitism and existential threat to the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. I am aware of and terribly empathetic to the needs of the that time which moved the international community to sanction and support the creation of the State of Israel. I have no ill will toward Jewish people or Israeli citizens.
Now let me be as clear on the Palestinian people. They are a dispossessed and disenfranchised people, expelled from their homes, some into exile in other countries and some into lives as exiles near or on their own lands. As a group they were forced into this situation by immigrating Jewish families and Zionist forces, at gunpoint, and their plight has been one of the great injustices of our age. Even as the international community has leveraged it’s great moral weight and power to end Apartheid in South Africa, it ironically has ignored the similar plight of the Palestinians and their systematic and nearly complete disenfranchisement under an invading and expanding power.
The State of Israel has not been a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but along with it’s achievements and progress as a nation and a military power it has systematically destroyed a people, occupied and dehumanized them, and never extended them full citizenship in their own land or anything near equal representation. When speaking of the Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands Henry Seigman (past National Director of the American Jewish Congress) only a decade ago warned us that, “As a result of that ‘achievement,’ one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” <— source The Palestinian people have been repeatedly removed from their homes and lands to make room for immigrating Jewish families, and with the newest settlement under construction just last year, they are still being displaced and dispossessed, today. That great injustice, met so often with war from without and terrorism from within, has been the foundation of all the death and hopelessness we see, today.
That is what we call a 40,000 foot view, from up in the clouds. Down on earth today we have Israeli settlements, Hamas, the PLO, checkpoints and walls of separation, Zionism, the War of 1967, the Oslo Accords, armed occupation and terrorism. We have a human rights mess of titanic proportions including the most recent demonstrations for the Right of Return in the Gaza Strip and the brutal, lethal military responses of the IDF. There is such an enormous difference in Israel and Palestine today between the Israeli cities and the cities of Palestine, an enormous gap in wealth, stability and hope. You can wine and dine in Haifa, Israel, and struggle to find basic affordable medical care in Nablus, Palestine, on the same day. And yet in both areas we find human beings, families, neighbors, communities seeking a future and deserving one. We must take a longer view to find a way to peace. Solutions are not found in one-sided histories or focus on any one day’s violence.
If you choose to unconditionally support the State of Israel continuing as it has, then you point to Hamas and speak of a sovereign state defending it’s borders. If you choose to unconditionally support the Palestinians, then you ignore the indiscriminate terrorism of Palestinian factions and speak of the State of Israel only as an oppressor and only as an occupier. I am asking that we change this narrative to speak unconditionally of human dignity and equity, and about the needs of the future. The security of the Israeli people is bound to the security of the Palestinian people. Justice and peace for both sides must be founded in an equity of belonging, an equity of civil rights, and an equity of human dignity. We citizens of the United States learned (and are still learning) this lesson in our own country as we deal with the deep and painful legacy and resurgent reality of racism and oppression in our own nation as we are still learning to live together. We eventually joined the international community and helped end Apartheid in South Africa… not by killing the white South Africans, but by demanding equity and taking economic and political steps to stop the oppression. We must do the same for the Palestinians. This is not about killing Jews or destroying the State of Israel, but about ending the oppression upon which it currently has anchored itself. This is about saving the both Palestinian people and the State of Israel, for their future security and peace are inextricably bound.
As we recognize that the State of Israel was established to protect the human dignity of the Jews, we must also as honestly recognize the great human injustice done to the Palestinian people in that establishment. That injustice is the foundation for the narrative of hate, violence, terrorism and displacement which we have witnessed for the past seventy years and this very day. A new foundation must be laid for the future because anything built on that kind of injustice will forever be plagued by the violence, confusion and loss of human dignity we have witnessed. As we work to help change this narrative we must also deal with our culpability as a nation. Our money has financed and backed the Israeli military for decades. We have ignored the injustices done to the Palestinian people. We have rationalized and sided with oppression, and that must change.
Pray for peace. Mourn the dead. Speak for the future. Help change this narrative of violence and conflict to one of restoration and reconciliation. I’d like share some amazing voices I have recently heard met, and from whom I am learning about a future of hope…
Rev. Naim Ateek who recently spoke in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church and said, “The God we believe in loves justice and all people equally.” I agree. He’s an Anglican Priest, a Palestinian, an author, a theologian and no enemy to any human being. His books can found on Amazon right here!
Sabeel is the foundation for peace and dialogue which was established by Rev. Naim Ateek.
FOSNA is the Friends of Sabeel North America and offers ways to be involved with Sabeel and a peaceful way forward in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing Jewish voice for our time! They are a great resource for our peace studies.
I wish I knew an easy, concrete answer to making peace in the Middle East happen today or tomorrow. I don’t think that such an easy answer exists, but I do fully believe that a secure, peaceful and joyful future for both Israel and Palestine does exist. We have to change our thinking and telling of the narrative, and speak and act for that peace. We have to give each other the grace to grapple with these emotionally charged issues and events, and stay committed to arriving on the other side together. We must at all costs avoid the voices of one-sided extremism who call us to violence and to hatred.
On a personal note… I love my many Jewish friends. I love and appreciate our shared religious roots and I abhor the anti Semitism and history of racial discrimination that Jewish people have faced around the world, and sadly often at the hands of my sisters and brothers in Christ. You matter to me. The safety and security of people in the State of Israel matter to me. I also love my Muslim friends, a group which has grown in recent years and months to include Palestinian friends of both Muslim and Christian faiths. Your lives matter to me and the future joy and security of the Palestinian people matter to me. Never think that I fall on one side or the other, but only ever strive to be on the side of human dignity, something that each and every one of us possesses in equal measure by God’s grace. Renouncing oppression, disenfranchisement and violence is our way forward, a way to peace that will never be purchased with rockets, bullets, bombs or walls. The sooner we can help our respective faith communities, social groups and governmental leaders change the narrative, the sooner we can take real steps toward the future that we all need and deserve.