5.27.2009

Pentecost




Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Are we ever really alone? Were we built to be alone? Even in our loneliest moments, is there some present with us?

In Genesis 1: 26 - 27, even God seems to be creating with company, "Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness..." Our likeness? Who is he creating with? He goes on to create man and woman "in his image." Huh. It is important to note that these texts have been studied and translated and unpacked so many times, this isn't just an error in pronoun. God is referring to other presences with him at creation.

Even God is not alone.

It seems like a lot of our conversation around our connections to God involve being in relationship.

It is Pentecost, a day some refer to as the birthday of the Christian Church. It is the day on which Christian churches recognize and celebrate receiving the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a Jewish festival, held fifty days after the Passover as a celebration of Moses receiving the Law from God on Mount Sinai. As the story is told in Acts, a group of faithful Jews from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem for morning prayer on Pentecost when they were overcome by the presence of the spirit, and each of them was able to speak in tongues that each could understand in spite of their geographic and politic diversity. This community of Christian Jews recognized this experience of the spirit as a sign, and over time, Christians began to celebrate Pentecost as another chapter in the history of God and the people, a time when the spirit descended.

The early church at the time of this visitation of the spirit was in difficult straights. The end times that they believed messiah would initiate had not come. Christians were being sought out and persecuted. There was tension between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews, and everyone was still trying to sort out how a daily growing crop of Gentiles who followed a martyred Jew fit into the mix.

We wonder - is it possible that through the spirit, we are never intended to face life alone.

This week we get to see some different insights in to how The Spirit is present with people and how The Spirit works in the world.

First off we read one of the more dramatic scenes in our Holy Scriptures--Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones being regenereated in to life. We get to read a wonderful conversation between Ezekiel and God where God gives Ezekiel the chance to do some impressive work. He gets to call the dry bones of Israel back together and once they are back together he calls on The Breath / The Spirit to come and fill the bones and give them life. Notice, in this description of Israel being revived, none of this is done alone and it is the Spirit / Breath that is necessary to make it all happen.

The Psalmist also sings a similar sentiment as he speaks about the wonders and works and powers of God, he points specifically (in verse 30) toward God sending The Spirit that Creates and Renews. Again, God is in relationship with humans and the world to make it all work together.

In the passage from John we find Jesus explaining to his followers that after he left he would be sending an Advocate. He explains a lot of the mechanics of what the Advocate would do for the followers. It / He would testify on behalf of God the Father, it / He would prove the world wrong where it was wrong, it / He would guide the people in truth and would speak to the people on behalf of the Father and the Son. It sounds like quite an intimate relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Advocate.

And then in Acts we see in the classic Christian Pentecost text--the story of the flames of fire coming down and the people speaking in other languages, etc. From the very beginning of this story it is important to note that none of these folks are alone. The Spirit shows up to them when they are together.


-Are there times when you believe you are alone? When that time is past, do you think differently about your "aloneness?"
-Do you believe that you have ever been truly alone?
-How are you aware of the "Breath" of God in your life?


WE DIDNT START THE FIRE BY BILLY JOEL

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye"

Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser aand Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy hn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, "Rock Around the Clock"

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"

Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U-2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, "Stranger in a Strange Land"
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodsto/ck/, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

"Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...

5.14.2009

Sixth Sunday after Easter

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

What's love got to do with it?

It's hard to live In this world and not be Of it. We find that we have been taught a lot about self-worth, a lot about self-sufficiency, a lot about self-empowerment; and that has gotten us (both Matt and Laura and American Society) a lot of Stuff. Really - Stuff. But it seems that for the past 10 years or so, we've (Laura and Matt) have grown more disenchanted by the worth of our "self" and more concerned for what we ever learned about loving our neighbor. Because in spite of what we have picked up living "in" this world, it seems that We are all Interconnected.

And as we work on shaping the more junior lives in our world, those named Brook, Emma and Paige, we find it tough to find good models for putting love of neighbor instead of self first. To start with, it's not how the preadolescent mind is wired. We are pretty sure the child development experts are with us on that. But surely there is a window or a rite of passage that can turn our minds away from our self and our ability and our security and our with and good looks and toward the rest of humanity...better yet, the rest of creation.

This week, our lectionary passages are pretty tightly focused on the theme of Love and Faith. And the Love in question is really an outward facing, universal, brotherly-sisterly love. No holds barred love. Love just because you are love. Not exactly "of" this world.

The Psalm is a love song to God...for he has done marvelous things. There is so much joy. And this joy seems to be rooted (in this selection) in the reality that God will judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity. It must have been sung by people very assured that God loved them and that they loved God. How sure are we of that on a minute by minute basis? It's fascinating to read this Psalm and then choose just about any chapter in Lamentations and feel how quickly circumstances can change.

In the passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus is speaking with the disciples. He's linking his love for them to the love he has received from the Father. Jesus has experienced a model for the love that he is about to ask his disciples to have for one another. He invites the disciples to abide - to live - in his love, and then says that if they keep his commandments, they will indeed abide in his love. There is a condition. What does it mean, then, to Love? We don't get a lot of detail here, except that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for another. Ah, to Love, we set ourSelves aside?

In Acts, Peter is with a crowd overcome by the Holy Spirit. This is a mixed crowd, and the Jews are amazed that the Gentiles are having the same experience with the Holy Spirit. And so, the question is asked, how can they withhold baptism from these Gentiles if they have also experienced the Holy Spirit. Now read in the midst of the other selected readings for the week, we're sort of kind of pattern. Jesus chose his disciples and commanded them to love. God has loved his chosen people Israel and as a result, they await his righteous judgment. There is a selection that is taking place, and when you are selected, you are compelled to obedience in some way - love or righteousness or faith.

Finally, in the first letter of John, we get this notion that if we love Jesus (or God, you can really read this a couple of different ways), we cannot help but love other children of God. And somehow, this love should compel us to obey God's commandments. Ah, there is this notion of obedience again. Somehow, love begets obedience. Or somehow, we are swept up in this love relationship that naturally compels us to love and serve and embrace and include.

Wow. Not exactly a self-empowering investment of energy. But energy, without a doubt.

What makes it easy for you to love another?
What kind of love do you have for the person sitting closest to you right now?
How do you know that God loves you?


Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...

Imagine there's no countries,
It isnt hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

You may say Im a dreamer,
but Im not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

(Imagine all the people sharing all the world)

Imagine no possesions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say Im a dreamer,
but Im not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

Imagine, by John Lennon

5.07.2009

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Acts 8.26-40
Psalm 22.25-31
1 John 4.7-21
John 15.1-8

Love is (at least) a two player activity.

Of course, it does not necessarily require two humans, but the action of Love does require a Lover and a ....Lovee. One does not just Love alone in a vacuum. There is always a person, place, or thing that is Loved.

In the lectionary selections this week we have one narrative example of Love in action and a couple of expositions on how and why we should Love.

In Psalm 22 we see this played out quite well. The Psalms are often songs of Love and devotion to God, and it is no different here. The psalmist speaks about how the world is a better and safer and more hopeful place because he Loves the Lord (as evidenced by his respect and praise).

In Acts, we see the narrative example. Now there are lots of things going on in this passage. An angel talks to Philip several times...an Ethiopian had come from Egypt to worship in Jerusalem....Philip engages in international relations and engages the Ethopian....they read some of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah together...Philip tells his new friend about Jesus...the Ethiopian ends up almost demanding to be baptized....and Philip ends up being teleported elsewhere immediatly after the baptism takes place. Now all of this is fascinating and really interesting, but the engine that pushes the whole story forward is the fact that Philip was in relationship...he Loved this Ethiopian man by engaging with him. If he had not been willing to talk with him and share some of his story with this man, the Ethopian would not have understood Isaiah and would not have been baptized. Love is a two player activity.

In 1 John we see a fairly detailed, quite rational argument for why followers of Jesus should Love one another. It is almost as if we need to put Heather at the flip chart with a marker to diagram this whole thing out--love each other because God loved us...if you love you are from God...if you are not you do not...because God loved us we should love one another....etc. Even though it is a little complicated and a bit circular in its logic, this passage points to a recurring theme--an individual cannot Love alone. Love is a two player activity.

And then in the gospel of John Jesus really brings the message home with the description of how the Loving relationship works and what it looks like through the metaphor of a vine and it's branches. Jesus (in this instance also through the pen of John) make a quite rational argument. Since John was the latest gospel it seems we are seeing a little bit of the influence of Greek philosophy / thought even in this illustration. Thinking of Love in this way again shows that there is no way to Love on one's own...one is always connected to someone or something else in the process of Loving. And without someone or something else, one cannot Love.

We come to understand Love by being in relationship with others.

Who / what has most taught you how to Love?
What relationship(s) are the ones that keep you most alive / sustained?
How can you reach out in Love to help someone else learn more about Love?



"All You Need Is Love"
Beatles

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game -
It's easy.
Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time -
It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where
You're meant to be -
It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
All you need is love. (All together now).
All you need is love. (Everybody).
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
Love is all you need.
Love is all you need...