6-30-14 - Hidden from the Wise

Summertime – and the living is easy… or should be. I intend Water Daily to be a little shorter and hopefully sweeter. I’ve even shortened the chunk of Gospel we are going to consider this week – there are two sections, the first of which requires a lot of unpacking. So let’s just go with the second, especially as it contains Jesus’ beautiful invitation to “come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Perfect for a holiday week, right?

In the section we are skipping, Jesus inveighs against the faithlessness of his critics, chiefly the Pharisees and their ilk. He is also ticked off at the fickleness of the crowds and lack of faith he encounters among his own people relative to that shown by Gentiles. He’s in a mood.

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Sometimes our knowledge can get in the way of our understanding, our expectations cloud our ability to see the surprising, familiarity obscure the fullness of revelation. People talk about those who have a “simple faith,” an ability to say “yes” to the story of God’s revelation in Christ, and to participate in that. Blessed are the simple-hearted – for they are often better able to get on with living by the Spirit.

And yet the Gospel is also received by those of us who think too much. it's just that we sometimes make it harder for ourselves. In the final analysis, analysis is not going to yield full understanding, any more than playing with the food on our plate is going to get us fed. The Good News is a gift to be taken and received, ingested, allowed to play in our minds, hearts and spirits.

Is the life of faith simple or complex for you?
How do you most fully connect with God – through your mind or your emotions or both?
If your analytical self gets in your way spiritually, you might try on a prayer practice of inviting Jesus to make his presence known, and just be with him, letting your feelings become known.
And if you find you shy away from theological thinking, you might try a bible study and let your mind play.

Thanks be to God, even the most “wise and intelligent” among us are also invited to be “infants” in Christ, to put all our weight on the One who made us, loves us and renews us.

6-27-14 - Summer Spirituality

Having pretty much exhausted the themes I could dredge up in our very short Gospel reading this week, I would like to change the subject. (Yes, there are other readings appointed for Sunday; for a variety of reasons, I don’t wish to explore them here.) Today, I invite us to consider how the gifts of summertime can help us refresh our connection to God.

The long days and warm weather which most Water Daily readers are enjoying in the western hemisphere offer occasions for spiritual connection, on our own and in groups. I don’t know about you, but my spirit is fed and expanded by being outdoors, feeling a breeze, watching the sunlight play on leaves, admiring the strength and beauty of trees and flowers, observing the antics of animals large and small. The form of praise called exaltation rises in me more readily, and gratitude becomes a more dominant theme in my prayer.

Summer often offers more time for spiritual activities as well. Whether we sit outside or enjoy a long walk after dinner (or before breakfast…), we can talk to God, and listen, because we’re not rushing as much. Long dinners with friends or lounging on a beach or boat allow time and space for conversations to get spiritual. Here are a few spiritual practices we might try on this season:

Mindfulness walks – take a walk in the woods or in a meadow or anywhere that you find beautiful. Pause before you start to breathe deeply and to attend to each of your senses, ending with the eyes. What do you hear? What do you feel on your skin? What do you smell and even taste? Finally, what do you see? Take your time to tune each of these senses, and as you walk try to notice and appreciate without engaging your thoughts – and when you find your mind is busy, come back to the "now" by noticing with your senses again.

Gratitude journal – if this is not already your practice, you might try it for a season. Choose a time each day to sit, preferably outside, and note what you are thankful for. Write it down if you can. Do any of those things prompt you to want to go deeper in prayer? Sometimes noting what we’re grateful for reveals to us something we yearn for – talk to God about that. And give thanks!

Love feasts – I love summer eating, and since I’ve finally expanded my appreciation of vegetables and fruits, I find making food and eating it, alone or with others, an increasingly delightful adventure. Food makes real the overwhelming abundance and variety of God’s creation, and variety and abundance seem particularly vivid in the summer. I suggest inviting the Holy Spirit to fill you as you plan a menu, acquire the ingredients (especially if it can involve a farmer’s market), grill if you like that. I love to sauté on my grill’s extra burner, even chopping the vegetables outside; my deck becomes a kitchen and dining room all in one. Praise the Creator with each phase of preparation; invite Jesus to join you as you eat – he was no stranger to dinner tables or kitchens. Savor the taste and distinctiveness of each food and the gifts of each guest – and know that God is in the midst of it.

There are many more spiritual practices particularly wonderful to embrace during the summer, but those three are enough for today. As we move into the vacation season, I pray you will have many opportunities to draw near to God and experience the presence of the Spirit in this season of growth.

6-26-14 - Sent

I didn’t think I could squeeze one more word out of this this week’s Gospel passage, but I might just manage one: Sent. It is implied in what Jesus says about people welcoming those who come in his name as prophets and righteous folks, that they are sent, as he was sent. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

What does it mean to be sent? Messengers are sent, ambassadors are sent, representatives are sent, teams are sent out on the field, troops sent to war, ambulances sent to accident sites… To be sent means to be deployed for a specific purpose. Most often in life our being sent bears some relation to our skills or connections.

Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim Good News of God’s activity in the world, to announce freedom to the poor and those in captivity, to heal the sick and raise the dead. Those are still pretty much the reasons he sends his followers out today. Do you feel sent to any particular place or people? Where do your skills and connections and passions point you?

For some time, I have been feeling sent to establish spiritual community among young professionals in the rapidly growing city where I live. Perhaps it is because people reached out to me when I was a young adult in New York; perhaps because I know so many people in that age group have a spiritual thirst and little or no experience or access to spiritual connection. I am finally moving forward on that sending, led by the Spirit.

That's the thing with God - the One who sends also leads us and equips us. Unlike a courier who goes out and reports back, apostles of Jesus Christ get to carry his presence and power with us as we go. It takes off some of the pressure, if we can only allow the Spirit to do the work and stop taking it on ourselves.

When have you felt sent by God, short or long-term?
What inner urges are you discerning – or trying to push down? 

Where would you like to be sent?
Where are you afraid to be sent?

Being sent starts, like everything in the Christian life, with relationship. We strengthen our relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit so that we can better understand God's prompts. They come through our own desires, sometimes, or through discerning a need or a lack. Sometimes God makes it really clear through dreams and “coincidences” that cannot finally be denied. We can check with others if a calling seems really odd or risky – and if we go forward, it will only be fruitful if we are aware of going with God, not for God.

And wherever we are sent by God, when we get there, we find God there too. Funny how that works.

6-25-14 - Cups of Water

“…And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

People often take Jesus’ remark about bringing cups of water to “these little ones” as a prompt to do outreach. While Jesus is big on caring for people in need, that’s not his meaning here. He is saying that those who do ministry with us, “in the name of a disciple,” are to be blessed.

When my church does its monthly meal at the Men’s Shelter in Stamford, I bring my guitar and sing a few songs while the crew is readying the meal in the kitchen. The gentlemen waiting for dinner are generally very appreciative; “dinner and a show!,” some have remarked. But I like it best when someone there can play. I hand over the guitar and let him entertain the group.

People need to be invited to participate when we’re out doing “good works.” We can offer ministry to, or we can offer ministry with – and “with” is much more inclusive and empowering. Just think which you would prefer if you were in need. Inviting other people to join us as we go about ministries of help and transformation is one of the most powerful ways to share the Gospel with others. It makes the Good News visible as people see a community of Christ-followers in action – that witness is often as vivid and appealing as the work being done.

Many churches today find they connect better with people by giving them opportunities to serve than by trying to entice them to worship. That puts the onus on us to be open to relationships as we go about serving meals and delivering clothes and visiting those in prison, to get out from behind the counters and talk to the people we are serving, find out what their gifts are. I dream of a church where the well-fed and the hungry worship and serve together in one diverse community. I know such congregations exist.

What forms of helping or outreach or volunteering are you involved in? Is there room for inviting recipients of that help to participate in helping others? Can you think of ways to form community with the givers and the receivers until we are all aware of being both?

In what ways do you sense God inviting you to work with God in bringing light and life to someone? Have you had a conversation with Jesus about that? Want to bring that up in prayer today?

It makes sense to do ministry with the ones for whom we offer our time and resources, because God has invited us to do ministry with him. We don’t work “for” God either – we work with God, at the direction and power of the Spirit moving through us. If we give someone else the opportunity to offer a gift to someone in need, we have given them a chance to live more deeply.

From God’s perspective, we are all “these little ones,” and we are all in need of the water of life.

6-24-14 - Prophets

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.”

I’ve puzzled over these words – what sort of axiom is this? Then I realized Jesus was telling his followers before they went out “on mission” that they were the prophets, they were the righteous whom others would be welcoming, or not. By giving people the opportunity to welcome them, they were giving those people a chance to be greatly rewarded.

If we don’t think we’re offering a gift when we share our stories and our prayers with other people, of course we’re going to fear rejection. Many churchgoers are so afraid of “bothering” people who don’t go to church; it doesn’t seem to occur to them that they are withholding from others something that is so precious to them they’re willing to make significant sacrifices for it. That’s all that is asked of us, that we not hide under a bushel the light we feel comes into our life through Christ, that we not keep to ourselves the healing, restoring, transforming love of God we share in our communities.

When we speak God’s message of love and forgiveness and justice, we are acting as prophets – and we give people the opportunity to receive us as prophets, and thus to receive a prophet’s reward themselves (whatever that is...).

Prophets are simply those who convey messages for God. Who has functioned as a prophet for you, reminding you of your belovedness, or calling you to amend your thinking or behavior in some way? Who invited you to consider a relationship with Christ – maybe in words, and maybe just by living with a kind of hope and light and peace that you found compelling? They gave you that gift of welcoming a prophet, and so receiving a prophet’s reward.

For whom may you have functioned as a prophet? In prayer today you might ask God whether God has a message to share through you with someone in particular or a group in general. The message may be given through a conversation or writing a poem or article or blog, or by something you post on Facebook… there are all kinds of ways.

Let’s give people the opportunity to receive a reward by giving them the chance to share in a gift we have been given, without trying to pressure or persuade. That’s not bothering someone; it’s honoring their spirit by sharing your own.

6-23-14 - Triple Welcome

Last week I wrote about religious violence… now I would seriously like to commit some toward the crafters of the Sunday lectionary. Grrr. Yesterday’s Gospel was 315 words of dense, challenging, provocative, hard-to-find-the-Good-News-in teaching from Jesus. And next week’s? 82 words in 2 sentences, four clauses, saying not all that much. Come on!

Okay, end of rant. Let's dive down and welcome the gifts of this very brief passage… which is all about welcoming. After Jesus gives his followers hard instructions about going out to proclaim the Good News and heal the sick, he softens a bit, saying, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Welcoming was a big theme in Jesus’ sending talk, because his followers were to go out to villages and towns taking nothing along, no extra tunics, no clean underwear, no toothbrush, no money. They were to rely on the hospitality of those who welcomed them – and if they were not welcomed some place, they were to move on, save their breath.

This is important for us to hear. So often people express anxiety about discussing faith with others; they assume that conversation will not be welcomed. Well, so what? Some will, some won’t. Move on, Jesus says, because you will find someone who does welcome that conversation, and will welcome you, and will be grateful that you had the courage to engage them in a matter close to the heart.

Our culture makes little room for the spiritual, though it is starting to work its way in from the margins into corporate retreats and yoga weekends (maybe because Christians have left such a vacuum?). When we introduce spirituality and faith into a conversation, whether with a friend or stranger, we are making space for a holy connection. And we rely on the hospitality of the other person to welcome us into that space. If the other person doesn’t want to, no problem. Try again with someone else. Be open to the conversation if someone else introduces it. Let’s invite people to see our connection to God.

Do you anticipate rejection when you contemplate talking about God with someone, or do you anticipate welcome? Either way, we can be surprised…

Can you think of a person with whom you might want to start that conversation? What do you think his or her reaction would be if you raised a spiritual subject?

Here’s the thing: we don’t have to go out cold-calling people. We can respond to the Spirit’s prompts about who might be open. We can ask God in prayer, even over a period of weeks or years, “Shall I talk to that person about my faith? What’s the right approach? When do you think I should do it?” I think that’s a prayer that God will answer… maybe with a sign of some kind, or by our getting a feeling of “wait” or “go,” or there being an opening to talk. That very prayer will open our spirits and prepare us.

Jesus implies that someone will welcome us as we go about the mission of God to restore all things and all people to wholeness. And when they do welcome us, as we go in Christ’s name, they are welcoming Him, and in welcoming Him, they are welcoming our Father in heaven. It’s like a CEO showing up on a sales call, or the chief of surgery administering a shot. We get to be the advance folks; God does the work.

6-20-14 - Family Values

I am often amused when “family values” are equated with a 1950s American two-parent nuclear unit, as though that were a perfect reflection of Christian virtue. After all Jesus dissed his own mother publicly when she showed up with his brothers to quiet him down and bring him home. Jesus also said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus clearly redefined family; he said it wasn’t our blood kin, it was those who followed him – and he said loving God comes first, no matter what.

As a pastor frequently frustrated as the claims of nuclear family trump involvement in church family activities, I read those words with a certain grumpiness. Sigh! It’s been a hard week in Water Daily Land, trying to interpret one hard teaching about priorities after another. Making a priority of following Jesus is more counter-cultural all the time. Our culture says family comes first, no matter what. And we are much more formed by our culture than by what Jesus taught.

You may be familiar with the Jesus Doll, a rag doll with brown hair and a beard, a tunic, coat and sandals. He's soft and squishable and great for kids. We let them bring Jesus the doll home for a week. They are encouraged to take Jesus everywhere they go, and to write in the journal that goes with him. Where did Jesus go this week? Gymnastics class? The swimming pool? Walking the dog? Kids love it. Mothers find it more wearing.

“Oh my God,” one said, “It’s unbelievably stressful having Jesus! I was afraid the dog would eat his sandals, or him. I was afraid we’d leave him somewhere!” Another, unable to get Jesus back to us for about three weeks, wrote an apologetic email. She’d been sick, the kids had been sick, her husband had been away on business, some other things happened… she concluded, “It just wasn’t a good week to have the Son of God at our house!”

News flash: it’s never a good week to have the Son of God around! Life is a whole lot easier with the priorities the world presents us: “Take what you want, when you want it, with whom you want it.” Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have already decided that is not your choice. Maybe you’ve entered the relationship into which Jesus invites you, or you are curious and exploring it. Maybe you’ve already discovered what Christians have known for 2000 years, that life is infinitely richer – though no less painful – when we are aware of having the Son of God around our house.

Jesus did not come to make us feel better about our lives – Jesus came to draw us closer in the one relationship we will have for eternity, in intimacy with God. Starting that relationship here and now makes our lives more purposeful – and often more stressful. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” Jesus said at the end of this teaching.

What are some of the ways Jesus’ claims have caused you to “lose your life,” or at least to give up some patterns that felt easy but were not life-giving?

What are some of the ways you are resisting putting God in first place in your life? 
Who or what would have to be moved to second or third? 
Can you offer that to God in prayer, inviting the Spirit in?

The gift – which we can only discover by doing it – is that when we move our God-life into first place, we engage our other priorities more fully, because we don’t try to own them. We appreciate them as gifts, and can stop ranking them. Maybe that’s what Jesus means by “finding our life…”

6-19-14 - A Sword

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

I wonder if Jesus knew how much carnage would be wrought in his name because of these words attributed to the Prince of Peace. Would he have said them? Did he say them? By the time Matthew was writing his account of Jesus’ life, these words would have passed through quite a few reporters. Maybe they got skewed? Oh, how I wish they had never been written down.

I mentioned that I am reading an account of the historic and ongoing clashes between Muslims and Christians along the Tenth Parallel. There have been crusades and counter-crusades, attacks and massacres and reprisals and counter-reprisals, often going back centuries, between these two faiths, both of which uphold an imperative to win converts. Rivers of blood have flowed as corrupt politicians hungry for oil money and other resources have joined with zealots to cloak their murderous agendas in religious language. And both of these religions, which claim to preach peace, have enough violent rhetoric in their scriptures and traditions to fuel endless bloodshed. The issues and conflicts are perpetuated, as we see in the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls and countless other crises.

And Jesus isn’t even talking about conflict between enemies but in families. He goes on to say, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

I don’t think Jesus was saying he came to bring conflict, but that conflict would be an inevitable consequence of his mission, of following him. Jesus came to stand up to the evils of this world, injustice and oppression and corruption and complacency. That doesn’t make for a peaceful life. Paradoxically, those whose mission is peace often provoke conflict and die violently.

Notice, Jesus did not say, “I have come not to bring peace, but violence.” He said "not peace but a sword." Look at some of the other ways the word “sword” is used in the New Testament: The sword of the Spirit is one of the defensive weapons we take up against the devil. In Hebrews we read that the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, “…dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow …” That is surgically sharp!

Jesus is saying there is evil in the world, and His followers need to be ready to distinguish the Kingdom of Light from the kingdom of darkness. The sword that Jesus refers to can be a sword of distinction, which distinguishes good and evil, what will bless us and make us effective as disciples, from what will harm us and make us complacent and weak. Jesus does divide families sometimes. He demands our fidelity over all other claims. The priorities of this world – family, wealth, convenience, distraction – do not make us effective disciples. Jesus is just calling it. We can be fuzzy, or we can be clear. Jesus came not to bring peace but reality and radical freedom to move in God’s Spirit.

Have you ever had to make a choice to disassociate from people or practices that were destructive for you?
Do you face such dilemmas in your life now?
Might we ask for the Spirit's help to marry “mission clarity” with our calling to be peacemakers?

Jesus paid the ultimate price for his mission, at least in worldly terms. In eternal terms – he was just getting started.

6-18-14 - Denial

We are often judged by the company we keep. Are we willing to let the world know we hang out with Jesus?

Jesus lays it on the line in this week's passage. After telling his disciples to go forward boldly, proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, he says, “‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.’”

I don’t like it when Jesus raises the stakes like that. Where’s the mercy? It seems, from things he is recorded as having said in the gospels, that Jesus felt little mercy toward religious insiders who refused to accept the good news of God-With-Us that had been revealed to them. He more often showed mercy to outsiders or underdogs than to his own peers. From our vantage point, it is unsurprising that people in need would more readily accept Jesus’ revelation of his messiahship than the “insiders” who were so sure they knew what God would look like. But Jesus cuts the insiders no slack.

Jesus is not in a “slack-cutting” mode in this training talk. Perhaps he knew time was short; that those who said “Lord, Lord” really had to stand by their allegiance to him, and not go quiet when the association proved inconvenient or dangerous. And maybe he wouldn't be any easier on us.

I am reading a book by Eliza Griswold on the clashes between Christianity and Islam along the “Tenth Parallel.” She investigated Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia she met an indigenous Orang Asli, who is a convert to Christianity (many Orang Asli are trying hard to hold on to their traditional beliefs and practices under threat of extinction, but some do convert). Christians and other religious minorities suffer harsh persecution in Malaysia, which has a vigorously conservative and oppressive Muslim majority.

This pastor said to her, “’Americans don’t care what’s happening in other places, do they?’ - a sentiment she encountered among persecuted Christians elsewhere too. "He pondered aloud if need kept people closer to God and God closer to them. ‘I wonder, is there a place for God’s word in the lives of people who have everything?’”

I am part of a denomination that is often muted in its proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord; to some, even saying “Jesus” smacks of fundamentalism. Some Episcopalians are openly hostile to the word evangelism, as though there were only one (obnoxious) way to share faith. Others are happy to be affiliated with Jesus – in church on Sundays – but very reluctant to let that be known in the circles they travel the rest of the week.

Are we willing to be public about our affiliation with Jesus, the Christ? Or does it make us uncomfortable?
Is Jesus – and proclaiming wholeness and peace in his name – important enough to us?
This is as good a time as any to probe those questions and wrestle with the answers, and pray about them.

I need to sit under the judgment of Jesus’ words as well as the promise they contain. 

What is the place for God’s word in the lives of people who have everything?

6-17-14 - Splitting Hairs

“Have no fear of them,” Jesus says, as he tells his followers of the enemies they may encounter going about God’s mission. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

So, God knows the number of hairs on our head and values us even more than precious sparrows. That does not mean God promises us physical protection (read Psalm 79 sometime…). I believe it means simply that we are of infinite value to God, whose love for us is not diminished by our physical death. Oh, that helps, right?

People who have encountered death, in what are called near-death experiences, frequently testify that they no longer fear death. And it is the fear of death that so often holds us back in fully living the life we’re given. It is a hard balance to strike as followers of the One who promised eternal life: to live fully in this life, loving its gifts and pursuing God’s mission in the world, the world for which Christ died, while holding this life lightly, knowing it is not our final destination.

I don’t think Jesus is minimizing the trauma of physical death. He is inviting his followers to weigh that against the greater trauma of spiritual death, of apathy or even allegiance to the enemy who seeks to degrade and destroy the creatures of God. If fear of death, or fear of losing income or time or reputation, keep us from giving our hearts to God, we place ourselves in spiritual peril.

Following Jesus does not mean that nothing else in our lives matters; it means we gradually allow ourselves to put Him first, above all, above every other thing and person who claims our love. It’s not either-or; it’s both-and… and in the order of priority. God comes first.

And if God comes first, it lowers the stakes for everything else. We can be more confident taking risks when we value our God-Life more than our physical life. Not caring so much about our physical existence – while still investing in it; I did say it was a balancing act – sets us free to discover who we most fully are, how exquisitely and uniquely we are made. Rather than seeing Jesus’ words as warning, might we take them as invitation to greater freedom?

Today let's examine what holds us back from making God our number one priority, if God is not.
What fears impede our proclaiming to those we know our allegiance to God in Christ?
If we can name our fears, we can invite the Holy Spirit to transform them into freedom. “Perfect love casts out fear,” is a promise we are given in scripture. Wherever we feel fear, we might invite God to sow love… envision the place of your fear and God planting a seed of love in that spot.

Then we can sit with the sparrows and watch our fear wither like a weed and the love grow strong and beautiful, knowing that God is keeping an eye on us... and counting our hair (which will be easier with some than with others...)

6-16-14 - No Picnic

A lunar calendar determines the date for Easter each year, and therefore Pentecost and Trinity Sundays.  Due to these vagaries, we jump back into “ordinary time” and the readings in Matthew in the middle of a sentence, as it were. The middle of a discourse, anyway – Jesus instructing his disciples about the resistance they will face as they go forth spreading the Good News.

Here is the context for this week’s passage: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’”

He goes on to tell them that they are to take nothing with them, no luggage or extra clothes; that they are to rely on the hospitality of those who welcome them and have nothing to do with those who do not. He talks about persecution, saying, “‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He tells them to expect the kind of resistance he himself has faced:
“If they have called the master of the house [the devil], how much more will they malign those of his household!”

Would you have gone on this mission? It can be hard for us to imagine facing persecution for talking about our faith in Jesus as Lord – partly because many of us rarely do so, and because we’re more apt to encounter indifference or ridicule than persecution. We don’t have to look far in the world, though, to see Christians dying, attacked for their religious identity in addition to ethnic ties. Would facing danger for speaking of Christ embolden us – or send us into hiding?

Some preachers build huge congregations and rake in tons of money promising prosperity and good fortune for putting Jesus first – often associated with the size of one’s donation. I sometimes wonder if they’re right; their churches sure seem blessed. Then I remember Jesus never promised anything but an odd kind of joy amidst adversity and love in this life, and an eternity of relationship in the next. And he promised his presence with us, throughout, no matter what.

That is where I suggest we rest this week, as we read through a challenging passage, by opening ourselves to Jesus’ presence. That is where all ministry in his name begins – being filled with His Spirit.

Today, let’s take a few minutes to sit quietly, offering thanks for the gifts of the week past, repentance for our failures to demonstrate love, and naming those things that worry us about the week to come. And then let’s pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (the ancient formulation is “Maranatha!”). And wait. See how Jesus draws near, or what comes up in you as you sit in stillness.

The prosperity preachers are right about one thing: cultivating an expectation of blessing yields blessing. God’s blessing, God’s “yes,” comes in many forms, not only material wealth. As we are open to it, look for it, name it, we will experience it more often, and proclaim what we’ve experienced. And then, whether we’re in the midst of wolves or sleepy sheep, we can proclaim our good news, “The Life of God has come near to you!”

6-13-14 - Always With You

Famous last words: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Followed by, “Bye…!”

Reminds me of a Carolyn Arends song, “Life is Long,” that begins:
I'm gonna love you for forever, that's what he used to say
Then you found out that forever ended last Tuesday…

The difference is that Jesus meant it – and he had the resources to back it up. Having just told his disciples to go out and spread the Good News to the whole world, Jesus wasn’t about to leave them alone in that task. Nor has he left us alone. But sometimes it can be hard to feel his presence. Here are a few ways I know of to draw on that promise of forever, one moment at a time:

Prayer – when we allow our minds to quiet and invite the Spirit to fill us, it is the Spirit of Christ who comes to us. The visually inclined can ask Jesus to show up in our imagination in some place and form that resonates for us, where we can talk and listen to him - and just hang out.

Praise – when we release our spirits in praise, while singing or admiring beauty or enjoying an intimate meal, we often feel a presence in us and around us…. That is Christ, joining our praises.

Eucharist – we say those words and embody those actions in order to remember Him, because he said to… and remember means more than "recall." It also means to reconstitute the members of a body. We receive the life of Christ in those signs of his body and blood – and He has promised to be there with us.

In the Hungry and Forgotten – Jesus said when we feed and clothe and visit and tend to those in need, we do it for him. Doing ministry among people with obvious needs – and many assets, don’t forget – is a wonderful way to be with Jesus. Ask him in advance to show himself to you.

Ministries of Power – Jesus told his followers that when the Spirit came, they would do even greater works than they’d seen him do. When we pray for healing or reconciliation or exercise spiritual power in Jesus’ name, we are invoking his presence in us.

What are the ways you sense the presence of Jesus?
Are there times you feel abandoned by him anyway? I do! Those are normal, especially when a lot of things are going wrong. God invites us to pray through them and pipe up and say, “What happened to, ‘I will be with you always?’ Not feeling it…”

Always is a long time. Moment by moment, we can experience Christ with us, and expand our capacity.

I’ll close with some of my own lyrics, from a song I wrote a few years ago for Eastertide, called “Was That You?” It explores the garden and Emmaus and the fish. The last verse brings the question to us:

So where did you last see him, where he wasn’t supposed to be?
He told us he’d be with the poor, the lost, the last, the least …
He said that we would know him in Word and bread and wine;
He promised to be with us, now – and to the end of time.

Is that you breathing peace to me when it's storming in my head?
Is that you releasing power in me, the power that raised the dead?
Is that you, loving me more than I could ever understand?
Don’t know why it always takes a while for me to open up my eyes and see:
That it’s you, always next to me, Jesus, you, right here, next to me.

6-12-14 - The Great Co-Mission

Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Christians reply, “Okay, boss – we’re ready! We have our orders - here we go to save some souls!” And here the church has gone, for over 2,000 years, carrying the Good News to the ends of the earth, until those at the “ends of the earth” (from our Western perspective, anyway…) have carried it back to reawaken discipleship in us - or to introduce us to Jesus for the first time. We are about the Great Commission.

When we understand God’s mission as orders to follow, we lose sight of perhaps the most important word: “Co.” Co-mission means mission with. Jesus never intended his followers to take the hand-off from him and run with it on our own. He promised His Spirit would be in us, confirming the power of our words in signs and wonders. Perhaps, when the Great Commission has run off the rails, it’s been when the “co” got dropped and it became just mission. Our mission. My mission.

Co-mission means we are always partners in God’s mission, rather than us recruiting God as a a silent partner to bless our missions. When we are partners in God’s mission, we can be sure that we’re in God’s will and that good fruit is promised. God is always creating new life, restoring wholeness – so we can be sure God always has a mission for us to join into. God seems, in fact, to rely on our joining in… or that thing doesn’t get accomplished. It’s like an electrical current needing a conductor to carry it – we’re the wire, folks, literally wired in to what God has already purposed.

So how do we know when it’s God’s mission? I think it will tend to resemble Christ’s missions. Look around you: Where do you see energy and passion that result in people being blessed, healed, fed, reconciled? There’s God’s mission. Where do you see hunger, fear, injustice or oppression? God may be inviting you to join God there. Where you see needs, frustration, wheels spinning? Maybe that’s a place where mission is being undertaken without God, like a wire with no current coming through.

God’s mission is not about meeting needs, though needs are often met as we go about God’s mission. God’s mission is about bringing life to things that are dead or on their way there. God’s mission is about freedom and peace. We’re about God’s mission when we feel our sails full of Holy Spirit wind; when we don’t know the route but know we’re going somewhere blessed. As I write this, I wonder why so much of what I spend my time and energy on does not feel like God’s mission at all, but rather my attempt to help prop up old conveyor belts for human mission initiatives, my own included.

When do you feel you are “co-missioning” with God rather than “missioning” on your own? 

When do you feel your passion and energy rising in ministry? Start noticing what gets your attention, and when in conversation you become more focused and enthusiastic.

You might ask God to wire you in to a mission, large or small – and to give you a clue that’s what’s happening by letting you see some fruit.

If God is always on the move, and if God needs us to carry the current of what God wants to accomplish… think how often God may want us just to show up and say, “Here I am. Use me.”
That’s the Greatest Co-mission of all.

6-11-14 - Making Disciples

It’s a muscular charge, the way Matthew renders Jesus’ last earthly instruction to his followers: 
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Authority…. Go and make… Obey… Commanded…. This is not language of invitation and inspiration – or love. And it has fostered some of the worst of Christian behavior in world history. It’s not so hard to justify crusades and conquistadors when you take your marching orders from this verse – and this verse has had more influence than many in the bible. We even call it The Great Commission.

We can chalk some of this up to Matthew’s style – I often find his version of stories and sayings more legalistic than the other Gospels. Writing forty or so years after the events he records, in the face of persecution and unrest and competing factions in the Christian movement, he may have felt it important to stress Jesus’ authority and command. Answering those who wanted to reserve Jesus’ blessing to Jewish believers, he may have wanted to remind them that these gifts were for all nations, that spreading the Good News is part of the church’s DNA. In a time when alternate readings of Christian revelation were already sprouting, the apostles called people back to the teachings and commandments of Christ.

How do we take these words and live into them, aware of the harm and the good they’ve often caused? How might we rediscover the joy of sharing Good News in Jesus’ name, not holding back the blessing we have received?

Let’s ponder what it means to “make disciples.” I don’t think it means to force a discipline on another, or to manipulate allegiance. A disciple, one who takes on the discipline of a master or teacher, needs to choose that or they will lack the motivation to follow through. Those who chose to follow Jesus in his earthly ministry caught his passion and wanted to be a part of what he was doing. That’s how people still become his disciples. If we want to share in this mission of God, we will rediscover and share our own passion for the love of God and the Way of Jesus. Otherwise, we’re just going to church.

When someone has caught the passion for loving God, we invite her to be baptized (note the passive verb form... baptism is something we receive more than "do") , to mark this new commitment. We invoke the Holy Spirit to fill and equip her. And yes, we teach him all that Jesus has commanded, in all its counter-intuitive glory – to love enemies, value the poor more than our own, seek peace over being right, to name a few. And we train him to walk in the Spirit, so that choosing to obey Jesus’ commands gradually becomes a desire, not just a duty.

Making disciples starts with us. Do you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord? Why or why not? If you’re not, and you want to be, you can pray, “Okay, Jesus, I want to follow you… show me how.” And ask someone you consider to be a disciple already to walk alongside you.

Is there someone you know whom you might mentor in the faith, helping them discover discipleship? You can start by praying for God to bless that desire and give you openings.

Making disciples is a little more complex than “just add water” – but it’s God’s work. We get to help.

6-10-14 - Some Doubted

The gospel reading set for Sunday is Matthew’s version of Jesus’ last encounter with his disciples: 
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

Some doubted? After running into the resurrected Jesus for several weeks, some still weren’t sure? But it can be very hard to overcome our belief in the impossible, even when it’s staring us in the face. An empty tomb and forty days were not enough for some, and still aren’t.

A healthy faith grows like a tree, its roots reaching deep into the soil of God-Life, accessing nutrients and building a stable base. It has a strong trunk able to support its growth. It reaches out branches toward God and toward other people, as in an attitude of praise and offering, which allow for the formation of fruit and leaves and shade. You’ll notice, though, that no two trees grow alike. They develop according to their situation, the nutrients available, sunlight and shade – and the winds. Some trunks are sinewy and gnarled, made stronger because of adversity. Some branches extend in long arcs, others divide and reach toward the light, others break of their own weight and crash to earth.

Doubt can work like a strong wind on our trees of faith, its pressure causing us to grow stronger. Doubt is a natural part of a living faith. It’s how we respond to it that makes the difference. If we acknowledge doubt when it surfaces and bring it into our relationship with God, it can add texture and depth to our faith. If we allow doubts to inspire us lean harder on God, even to test, to say, “I don’t understand; show me,” they can actually deepen our faith.

But if we stay shielded from doubt by a black-and-white certainty, we can be like trees that grow tall and uniform – and easily toppled in a crisis. And if our doubts cause us to turn away from God, we miss out on the joys of seeing that relationship grow.

For instance, lately the human authorship of much of the Bible seems so glaring to me, I’m having trouble discerning the divine inspiration in some parts. So, my prayer is, “God, show me what you want your people to get out of this passage that makes you look vengeful and petty. Show me what’s under the words.” No matter how that prayer is answered, I’m wrestling within my relationship with God in prayer, and that can only strengthen my faith and my understanding. (Writing this every day helps too!)

How often do you engage doubts about God, about Jesus, about the power of God in the world or your life? What tends to trigger it? How do you tend to respond? Today, can you bring one of those trouble areas into prayer? See what you discern in response.

As followers of the Risen Christ, we do not sign on to a set of doctrines. We enter into relationship with the multi-faceted triune God. There is room in God for our faith, our doubts, our love, our fears, and a whole lot more. Our faith is strengthened as we allow God to water our roots every day, as we allow life to prune our branches, as we withstand the winds and rain – and as we nurture ourselves to bear abundant fruit. 

So we will be “…like trees planted by streams of water; bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)

6-9-14 - Trinity Sunday

Why three? Why not two, or four, or one – which would have been so much easier to explain. Of course, the Christian understanding of God is as One, yet also Three. Three persons within the One Godhead. But, why three?

The shortest answer I know is, because Jesus said so. He spoke of his Father in heaven, he spoke of himself as Son of God, and he referred in personal terms to the Holy Spirit, who would be given when he was no longer bodily present. And there were stories, like the voice heard at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. Early church preachers and thinkers, trying to interpret collected teachings and stories, had to wrestle with these references. When you think about it, seeing God as triune was pretty unavoidable, given how much Jesus refers to these three distinct persons as God.

Unavoidable doesn’t mean simple. It took centuries to sort out and articulate Christian doctrine about God, and some of the process was torturous. So is any time we try to talk about the Unity and the Trinity of God (read the Athanasian Creed sometime…) And on the one Sunday each year when we highlight not an event but a doctrine, preachers twist themselves into pretzels trying to clarify a spiritual mystery. 

Sun, ray, beam… Orange, peel, juice… Mother, wife, sister… Water, ice, steam….
Or the one I stumbled onto in Water Daily a few weeks ago: sea, water-fall and spray. I rather like that one.

A good formula for the Trinity does not allocate different functions to Father, Son and Spirit, but affirms their sharing in the full life of God. It conveys distinction between persons and the unity of the whole – and so affirms the principles of differentiation and wholeness that are so important for human health and thriving. It communicates the core Christian belief that God is One and also more than One; that God is so big, as it were, God could not be contained as just One but exists in eternal relationship of persons.

This ongoing, active, relational life of God is what we are invited to join. So the Christian life is not just assenting to a belief, but actively joining a relationship already in full swirl, and somehow richer when you and I join in. Some liken it to a dance, in which we are swept up, folded in, made whole.

What difference does understanding God as Trinity make to us? It gives us different ways to connect with God. Some relate to God as Spirit, unseen but powerful and present. Some connect better to God the Father, holy and transcendent, unknowable and yet perfect love. And some find their connection to the Son who left his heavenly home to enter our world as a human being, so that God would be knowable to us.

Who do you find you most connect with in prayer? Have you ever consciously tried to address another Person of the Trinity just to see how you might experience God differently? You might try it today...

I will leave us with a great formulation written by my friend Willy Welch in a song for children:

God is One person, and he’s also Three.
God is a person, and He’s a family.
One, he is the Father; Two, he is the Son;
Three, he is the Spirit, and they’re never done.

6-6-14 - The River

There are many images associated with the Holy Spirit in the Bible… breath, wind, fire, dove, comforter, advocate, to name a few. And Jesus added one more: water. Earlier in his ministry, while at a festival in Jerusalem, he said (in John 7:37-39, the Gospel passage appointed for Sunday...),

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

John goes on to explain, “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

In this image, the Spirit comes from inside the believer’s heart, not from the outside in. And the way the Spirit emanates is like rivers. I love this way to envision the Spirit’s activity in us, as a river of living, cleansing water flowing around us and through us, bringing renewal to the stagnant places, healing to the wounded places, dislodging and carrying away the debris of sin and hurt in us. Jesus said his Living Water would well up within us like a spring… this is how the Spirit lives in us.

When we pray for something, we can ask God to release the River of Life that’s already within us, and let it flow to wherever it is most needed, whether that is within us or beyond us. When we confess our sins or stuck areas, we are removing debris that keeps the river from flowing at full strength. When we dredge up old hurts and resentments and let them go, we’re clearing the river bank.

Allowing that Holy Spirit river to flow in us with less and less impediment is the goal of the spiritual life. The spiritual practices that nourish us help keep it flowing – prayer, scripture, worship, giving, hospitality, healing. When it flows easily in us, the gifts of the Spirit are abundant in us, and so we become a source of peace and strength for others.

Can you imagine that river flowing in you?
What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like?
Where does it get dammed or slowed? What’s in the way? Can you dislodge the obstacles? Ask God to?
What debris might be gathering at the banks that need to be dislodged and borne away?
And when do you feel the River flowing with the most power and exhilarating life?

Someone asked me this week if the people in my church were thirsty for God, thirsty for Jesus, thirsty for the Spirit. That is a question for them. I am thirsty for more of God. And I know that Jesus invited us to bring our thirst to him, and he would give us the water of life. That offer still stands.

The river is in us. Let if flow! Happy Pentecost!

6-5-14 - Upon All Flesh

“Flesh” is one of those words that mean one thing in churchy settings and another in the wider world. “Out there” it means bodily substance, plant or animal. In Bible World it refers to humanity. This is that Peter means when, trying to interpret the furor at Pentecost, he locates this event as the fulfillment of a prophecy: “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.’”

The Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible: hovering at creation, inspiring artisans, speaking through prophets. References increase in the New Testament, especially in Luke’s accounts: prophetic utterances, Jesus’ conception, baptism and subsequent ministry. Jesus is often said to be “full of the Spirit” when miracles are recounted. The Spirit was not limited to Jesus, but Jesus, the Son of God in flesh, was perhaps the first human with the capacity to hold and wield the Spirit’s power full-strength. That’s why he could do such works that we think of as miracles, because faith and Spirit were undiluted in him.

It came to me in musing upon these things that the chief goal of Jesus’ ministry with his followers was to help increase their capacity for holding and wielding the Spirit’s power, so that God’s life would be less diluted in them too. Far more than teaching them to “do,” He was equipping them to receive and live out the Life of God. If God wants this Life to be abundant in the world, God needs vessels with the breadth and depth to contain such love, such power.

What changes at Pentecost is that the presence of God is poured out to human containers, ready or not. Jesus demonstrated that humankind could carry such divine power. Now it was up to those who were willing to have their capacity increased. And that could be any kind of person:

“…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.”

What a prophecy of radical equality Joel offers! So Paul can say with confidence some years after this event, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Anyone with the willingness to receive the life of God can be filled with the Spirit. Even people we’re not fond of. Even us.

Who are some people in whom you discern the Spirit of God? Anyone on that list surprise you?
What sort of people do you think would not be eligible? Do you feel worthy yourself?
Are you interested in being filled with more God-Life?
How might you allow your capacity for faith and filling to be expanded? What’s in the way?

If Jesus was truly more about increasing his followers’ receptivity to the Spirit than about “training them for ministry,” what does that suggest about where the church can best put its energies? How might we better increase our collective capacity for living in the Spirit, as the Spirit lives in us? I don't think there is a person created by God whose capacity for the Spirit cannot be expanded.

Pentecost was only the beginning. We can live the rest of the story every day.

6-4-14 - Beaujolais Nouveau?

After the wind and the tongues as of fire (it doesn’t say they were actual flames…) and the speaking in other languages, everyone in Jerusalem knew something was up with these Jesus people: 
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

How right they were. The apostles may not have been high on spirits – as Peter says, “Please! It’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!” – but they were filled with the Spirit of God, whom Jesus had earlier likened to new wine. When asked why his disciples didn’t observe all the formal rituals, he said people don’t pour new wine into old wineskins, “If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:17)

New wine is an apt metaphor for being filled with the Spirit. It tends to be more potent than wine that has aged longer and, being younger in the fermentation process, is more expansive; hence the risk of ruin to older, more brittle wine skins. It is less predictable, less controllable than older wines. I believe many churches’ discomfort with the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with their desire for control. Perhaps the wine of the Church has aged a little too long, become too smooth – good to the taste, and unlikely to trouble anyone.

We could use a dose of Holy Spirit fermentation. We could stand to have the Holy Spirit renewed in us, pushing what has become brittle in us and in our churches to expand and make room for the life of God. Otherwise we crack and break, the new wine goes running out, and we feel empty.

Every day we can ask for a deeper filling of the Holy Spirit. It can happen quite naturally as we say, “Come, Holy Spirit,” or “Come, Lord Jesus,” or as we pray in tongues or sing in praise or move our bodies in a posture of worship. And if there are certain spiritual gifts you crave – like healing, or faith, or more compassion, or boldness, ask for those gifts. The Spirit knows what gifts s/he wants us to have; it never hurts to ask for what we want to do the ministries we feel God is calling us to offer.

And if you feel the Spirit filling you to a degree that makes you uncomfortable, you can say so… I don’t think that happens often, though. Mostly we are filled to the capacity we have, until we are able to receive more.

We don’t have to worry about losing control, or beware the language of new birth. In reading an obituary of actress Ann B. Davis, who played the housekeeper on the The Brady Bunch, I was interested to learn that she was a charismatic Episcopalian:

For many years after “The Brady Bunch” wound up, Davis led a quiet religious life, affiliating herself with a group led by [retired Episcopal Bishop William] Frey. “I was born again,” she told the AP in 1993. “It happens to Episcopalians. Sometimes it doesn't hit you till you're 47 years old.”

It can "hit us" at any age, in any denomination, especially if we’re open to it. And it happens more as we invite the Spirit to make that dimension of God’s life real in us.

6-3-14 - Phrygia and Pamphylia

It always amuses me that the reading from Acts about Pentecost – which details how a bunch of Galilean fisherman were suddenly able to speak languages they had never learned – sounds itself like another language, containing as it does a vast number of unpronounceable names:

"Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.'"

We can almost understand what it must have been like to hear these words coming out of the mouths of Jesus’ followers. (I find Phrygia and Pamphylia the most sonorous... Hey, those would make good cat names!)

I wonder if the apostles were speaking those languages, or if the hearers were suddenly able to understand Aramaic as though it was their own tongue. Was the miracle in the speaking or the hearing? Who knows. The effect was the same. People heard the Good News about “God’s deeds of power” in their own language and could choose for themselves if they wanted to follow the Way of Jesus. Luke tells us that 3,000 were baptized that day. And we’re off!

In what language do the people around you need to hear the Good News articulated? Perhaps we first need to answer this: to whom do you feel called to share the Good News of God’s love? Friends and family are often the last ones we feel comfortable sharing our spiritual selves with. It might be acquaintances or clients or co-workers, or people hanging out in a park. It could be your kids’ friends who populate your kitchen, or that person at the dry cleaners who looks so sad all the time. It might even be someone at church who understands the rituals and maybe not the love they're meant to express.

Whoever it is we talk with about “God’s deeds of power” has a language in which they are most comfortable. I’m pretty sure that “church talk” and Christian jargon are an increasingly foreign tongue to many who lack context to comprehend even words like “hymn” and “scripture” and “gospel,” not to mention cultural idioms like “Good Samaritan” or “walking on water.” What universal terms convey love and grace and acceptance and healing from shame and addiction and dis-ease, mental and physical? What languages do you hear around you?

A spiritual exercise for today: Get settled and centered in God’s presence, however you best do that.
Ask, “Is there someone you want me to tell about your power and love?” Wait and see what names or faces come up. If one does, ask, “What language do I need to speak to reach that person?” It’ll come.

We may not have a miracle of Pentecostal proportions, but Jesus did promise that his followers would have the words they need to share the Good News. The words that are given to you will emerge from your own stories of how you have experienced God’s deeds of power and love.

If you don’t feel you have… there’s another prayer.
And if you know you have – don’t you know someone who would like to hear that story?

6-2-14 - Earth, Wind and Fire

Normally, Water Daily reflects upon the Gospel reading appointed for the following Sunday. But the principal text for Pentecost - this week - is from Acts. So we will focus on that story, and address a Gospel passage on Friday.

Pentecost is one of the Big Three festivals of the Christian calendar, along with Christmas and Easter. Some call it the birthday of the Church, and some the only day in the year when we focus on the Holy Spirit. I call it the day the promised power, peace and presence of God came to dwell in God’s people, initiating the whole Christian project in which we continue today, participating in God’s mission.

Jesus’ followers stayed together during the forty days of his resurrection presence; they watched him ascend into heaven, and then returned to the city, where he told them to wait for gift promised by the Father, to be "clothed with power from on high." I doubt they knew what that meant, but they continued to wait and to worship, and to stay out of sight of the authorities. Pentecost was a major Jewish feast fifty days after Passover, and they were together in the upper room celebrating it when things got weird:

“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.”

It might be that this “big entrance” on the part of the Holy Spirit has caused some to expect strange manifestations when the Spirit shows up. And there can be phenomena like speaking in tongues, or prophesying, or weeping, or laughing hysterically, or feeling tremendous heat. We read about these in the New Testament and hear about them in churches even today. Often, though, the Spirit comes quietly, filling us, rendering us silent in awe and wonder and gratitude. Perhaps how the Spirit comes has a lot to do with what God’s purpose is in a given situation.

And it seems God had a big purpose for that festival day in Jerusalem. Did God want the disciples to wait for this outpouring of the Spirit until the holiday, when the city would be full of pilgrims from other lands? When their sudden, inexplicable ability to speak to visitors in their own languages would create the maximum stir? I guess that can go on our list of questions for God. The stir was caused. Jesus’ followers were released into a boldness and effectiveness they had never shown before. And a reform movement in the Jewish tradition, that might have been suppressed or died out of its own accord, became a phenomenon which forever changed the world.

Has it changed us? The Spirit is God’s promised gift to all who follow Christ. Our liturgies affirm that we receive the Spirit in baptism, in confirmation – indeed, at every celebration of the eucharist. Sometimes we need that gift to be released in us. If you would like to be more centered on Christ, more discerning of God’s leading, more effective in ministry, to name a few blessings, pray for the Spirit – already in you – to be released in you today. Sometimes that works better when someone else prays it for us. But let’s start where we start, or continue where we continue if this is a common for you.

It is the simplest prayer, and the most profound, and the only one we need: “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Then wait and notice. You might have sensations or images, or maybe you’ll feel nothing then and notice later. It’s God’s timing… and our willingness to receive. Come, Holy Spirit.