Wednesday, May 26, 2010

sunday's sermon--Acts 2

Please forgive the formatting--I am too tired to fix it.

Happy Pentecost!
Two baptisms on Saturday/tonight, a passel of confirmations this morning—God is good! All the time! All the time, God is good!
but it wasn’t always easy
for a long time, people weren’t together like this
we Christians didn’t used to be able to gather without bloodshed
for a long time, peoples across the world didn’t understand each other
there’s people walking around all over the world who don’t understand each other’s languages now
do you know Russian? Gaelic? Chinese?
Me neither–I wouldn’t understand if someone came up to me right now
people walking around all over the world don’t understand English–hard to believe, I know...
and it was the same 2000 years ago
when that story from Acts took place
the people who were there didn’t speak Russian or Gaelic or Chinese
but they also didn’t necessarily speak the same language as each other
–they could get by on a little Greek or Latin
but these weren’t their native tongues
so they went about their business
going to school, running businesses, raising children
having no idea what another person was saying
having no idea how that other person thought
see, language isn’t just about words
we communicate with our bodies, with our actions, with our beliefs
language is about culture, about what we value
and it is so difficult to understand what someone else means
even if you do speak the same language

Sister let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

When I was a youth minister, we held a semi-regular Parents and Teens event
if there were ever two groups who didn’t understand what the other was saying, it’s these
the idea was to talk about the same questions but in separate groups
adults in one room, teens in another
and then come back together to share their thoughts
we asked
what are you afraid of that’s coming up soon? What do you wish your parent or teen knew about your life? How do you talk to your parent/teen?
what did we hear?
They don’t get it, why don’t you just ask us, how can I trust you?
From both groups
I’ve seen teens at their worst
I’ve seen them angry and sulking, I’ve seen them broken
I’ve been them, not so long ago
in the middle of a fight, in the middle of heart-wrenching sorrow
where is the Holy Spirit? Who can understand this pain?
We went into those parents and teens events not understanding the other
not hearing what she had to say, not speaking the same language
and if there are ever groups of people who feel alone and isolated
because no one understands, it’s teens and parents
but this is almost a small problem in our world now
our history is one of violence and misunderstanding
The writer of Acts says
the Spirit is like the sound of a “rush of violent wind”
Our God is like a violent wind
and we have taken that violence to heart
few of us in this room speak Arabic or even fluent Mexican Spanish
How can we peacefully resolve the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan
or the controversy over Mexican immigration
when we can’t communicate with one other?
we don’t understand, we don’t speak the same language
few of us in this room would look on
while a young woman was beaten in front of us
or would we?
Three years ago, a young Iraqi woman named Dua Khalil
was beaten to death by members of her family
and members of a crowd of onlookers
several men looked on
and captured the moment on their phones
the police in the area just watched
this was an “honor killing”
the men in Dua’s family thought
she had brought dishonor on them
and so they killed her brutally
and this kind of thing happens all the time, around the world
even here in the US
women are beaten and abused the world over
because they are seen as
as artist and critic Joss Whedon writes
“weak, manipulative, morally unfinished, and expendable”
how alone was Dua? Who could give her help?
Whose hand was stretched out to offer her life?
Who was speaking to her in a language she could understand?
Where was the Holy Spirit in that moment?
In the middle of this beating,
in the middle of heart-wrenching sorrow,
where was the Holy Spirit?
Who can understand the language of this pain?
We can.
Who among us has never felt alone?
Who among us has never felt rejected?
Who among us has never inflicted pain?
WE can understand this language, WE can reach out and understand the other
This is what (you/our students) are confirming today:

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear,
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

the Apostles, the book of Acts says, were “all together in one place”
All together–
not moping or sulking in their own houses
or refusing to have anything to do with each other
out of pride for their homeland or tradition
no, the apostles were “all together in one place”
celebrating? Worshiping?
Mourning the loss of Jesus who’d ascended? Hanging out?
They were together when the Holy Spirit came to them
and they heard the word of God in their own languages...
They were alone no longer–there was another person who understood
There was another person who knew where they were coming from
There was another person who knew their sorrow and their pain
and who had a word of comfort
and after the mountain-top experience of the tongues of fire and all
Peter told them the Good News of Christ
in their own languages, they heard of the Apostles’ passion and connectedness
and they say 3,000 people were baptized that day
3,000 people heard the Word of God
and were moved to commit themselves to God
and each other in baptism
who can understand the language of our pain? God can
God’s Holy Spirit was there that day
the Spirit moved in those Apostles and in that crowd
the Spirit touched each person in the midst of their pain
in that moment of heart-wrenching sorrow or of overwhelming joy
or of apathy or of exhaustion or of disconnectedness or of doubt or of love
the Spirit touched each person and drew them together
“they were all together in one place”
that connection is what we’re about
that commitment, that understanding, that belonging
we are not alone
there is a moment of clarity, a moment of connection
when you understand another person’s point
another’s frustration or joy
there are people in the world who are refusing to be weak, manipulated, or expendable
There are women who will stand up when Dua Khalil could not
They are about connection, understanding, persistence, the surprise of the Spirit
Where the Dua’s of the world are asking “why?”
Other women are saying, “take my hand”
And those conversations between parents and teens yielded fruit
Those folk were having some great conversations together
half of the parents in those conversations we started
called or emailed the church office to say
they’d had some of their best conversations ever
with their teens
They’re listening to one another
recognizing that they do speak different languages
and that they’re in this together
I wonder if (you/our confirmands) have had the same experience?
Of speaking different languages than your folks
and of trying to learn that other language?
If not, give it a try
—it’s hard to believe, but your parents aren’t that dumb
—nor are your teenagers, parents
“we’re all together in one place”
you are not alone, someone understands, someone hurts with you
and we are not meant to be alone
we are meant to share this love, this connection we have with the world
when Jesus said “Go make disciples” it was not a suggestion
but a commission
and it was not for the sake of numbers but for the sake of relationship
we will not survive without each other
here is your challenge: find someone this week who you don’t understand
someone you don’t think you could ever understand
or someone you don’t think could ever understand you
find someone who speaks a different language
verbal, physical, cultural
and get to know them
learn their language, learn how to talk to them, learn why they
speak/act/exist the way they do
show this person that they are not alone simply by knowing them
show this person the Holy Spirit
written in every word you speak and in every line of your face
and (last night I told) little _________ and _________, you are not alone–
today you join the great cloud of witnesses, the Body of Christ
when you feel that water on your skin, remember that you have been reborn
remember that you have a higher purpose
remember that you are loved

I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

Monday, May 03, 2010

book thoughts

I suspect I will not make it to my goal of reading 50 books in 2010. However, I've read several recently:

3 and 4 The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through by Stephen R. Donaldson

Handsome one-volume edition given to me by Loving Husband, these books were my favorites in high school. I pored over them in multiple readings, certain that they held the spiritual truths that would help me understand God, Christianity, my faith, and why the world was so bizarrely crappy and beautiful. They did help. And upon an adult reading, they're still good. Not as life-changing as before, but well worth the read.

5 Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Interesting look inside not just Dr Who but a writer's process. Collected emails from a year of writing the TV show.

6 The Hunger Games and 7 Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Amazing. Absolutely fantastic. If you like things that are awesome, why haven't you read them yet?

In the future, North America has been destroyed and rebuilt as the Capitol and the Districts. The Districts (only twelve, now that District 13 was annihilated for insurrection)live hardscrabble, unstable lives under the thumb of the Capitol, constantly on the verge of complete starvation. Every year, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games for which each District must supply two Tributes--a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18--and in which they must kill one another. The winner and last one standing will live a life of luxury.

Very well written from page one on. Engaging, complex, and a propos for our world of greed and environmental challenge.

8 The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones

A new translation and commentary on the Didache, a very early church "how to" document from one of the earliest Christian house-churches. The commentary is not particularly inspired, though it constantly points me back to the included text which is itself fascinating.

The Didache is probably contemporaneous with Paul's writings but seems to have no knowledge of him. It includes a brief order for the Eucharist which includes no references to the Last Supper or Jesus' death and resurrection.

What to make of this little document? Ought we take it's insights to heart because of its age? Or is it just a small off-shoot of Christianity which was left behind for a better way?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

last Sunday's sermon--John 10:22-30

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
So what?
I mean, for us now, more than 2000 years later, if we’re really honest with ourselves, a lot of the time it’s just a story. A really great story—fun and challenging—but ancient history all the same. We long for the stories to be as real as the person sitting next to us and at the same time are glad they’re not, because what would we do if faced with the real Jesus or the real resurrection?

We’ve been talking about this on campus—I’m a new campus minister at UC, I meet with students for meals and pastoral conversations, and I’ve started a small discipleship group where we talk over one another’s stories and theologies. Recently, we considered the question of what difference Jesus death and resurrection really makes. The conversation went something like this:
ONE, incarnation is so important—Matthew and Luke focus a lot of energy on Jesus’ birth stories, particularly that it’s miraculous; John’s prologue includes, “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God…” “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” and even the name that we give the Messiah from our Jewish brothers and sisters is emmanuel, God is with us. Clearly the simple fact of God becoming human is of exceeding importance—it implies a weight and power to this physical existence, that what we do matters.
TWO, next, Jesus as teacher is so important—and I don’t mean “just” a teacher, I mean as the son of God, as The Teacher, as the teacher whose teaching came directly from God, as the teacher who lived everything he taught.
THREE If these are true, if Jesus’ life and teachings are so overwhelmingly powerful and memorable, then is his death necessary to validate his ministry? Is his death, as we tell the story, necessary for our salvation? And is his rising to life again necessary to make us pay attention? To show us the grace we receive freely? Hasn’t that all already been done in the mere presence of Jesus among us? So, Jesus has risen—so what?
My students have been pondering this question in all seriousness. Not in a sarcastic, “what difference does it make?” kind of way but “no, really, how does this make a difference?” One student described the struggle he was having as a cherry on top of a milkshake: is the cherry integral to the experience of the milkshake, or is it a lovely garnish but unnecessary to a well-made shake?

And it’s the pivotal question for Christianity—what difference does Jesus make? Not just the death and resurrection, but his whole person. Are we different now than before as a group of people? Are we different now as individuals than before we knew Jesus? Theologian Shane Claiborne puts it this way in his book Irresistible Revolution:
“If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you, ‘Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son and that Jesus rose from the dead.’ But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle in a little Jesus along the way.” (117)

So here’s your million-dollar question. Or maybe your milkshake question. In your life, what difference has Jesus made? If I walked down into the congregation and picked you out to share, what story would you tell us about how you treated someone differently, about how you took the right path not the easy one, about how you chose love over appearances? What is your story of resurrection?

Do you remember a few years ago, a man walked into an Amish school room and shot several of the girls before shooting himself? And how the families of those girls reacted? Grief, yes, but also with grace. They contacted the man’s wife and took care of her. They forgave the man and took care of his wife. That, that is not normal. That is because of Jesus.

Nearer to home, the other day, I was meeting a friend in Clifton and parked on the street near the IGA. There are often two or three folks on the street near that IGA with signs saying they’re homeless, asking for change. I don’t know about you, but I often tense up when I see them. I was faced with a decision—to give or not to give, right? And to acknowledge or not to acknowledge their presence. And as I approached them, I decided to create a third option. I approached them, asked how each was, shook their hands, wondered aloud if there was anything I could do for them, listened. Each exchange took only a little longer than it might have. And it became about people rather than an ethical dilemma. They’re still in poverty and I still don’t know what to do about that, but we parted with a smile of recognition. That…was not normal. That was because of Jesus.

Now, I share this story not to pat myself on the back but to tell you that these resurrection moments happen all the time. At any moment, we can make a decision to react differently than expected, to live for that moment as though everything Jesus said and did and was is 100% true. In that moment, when you share part of your life, part of your story with someone else, you become an evangelist. And it is a beautiful and thing. When you allow Jesus to change what you do, the question changes from “so what?” to “so that…?” Do you get it? Think about that story of resurrection in your life—fills you with, what? Joy? Excitement? Gratitude? And doesn’t it kind of push you a little—“tell someone,” it says, “find out if someone else has the same story,” it says, “go try something else,” it says. I should note that, in addition to being a campus missioner, I am also on the Evangelism Commission for the Diocese, and this is precisely what we’re encouraging folk to do. Share your story.

Notice that it’s all about the story. That story of Jesus back in the day, the story woven in our Scriptures, the stories we tell one another about our lives and fears and hopes. These stories aren’t just pretty and they aren’t just history—they matter, they are everything. And the resurrection is the only real ending, because without it, the story just stops and we have no motivation to follow in Jesus’ steps. Without the resurrection, we aren’t even a milkshake.

So the “Jesus is alive, so what?” question is really replaced with “Jesus is alive so that…what?” Jesus is alive so that we no longer live in fear of the end. Jesus is alive so that death is not the end. Jesus is alive so that the story continues. Jesus’ story is a gift—life, death, and resurrection—Jesus said and did and was so that we would love him and show that love. That story is THE STORY. What difference does Jesus death and resurrection make? It means that death is not the end of the story.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!