Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 4, 2017: Day of Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2:1-21  +  Psalm 104:24-34,35b  +  1 Cor. 12:3b-13  +  John 20:19-23

You can imagine that it must have already been a somewhat terrifying moment. All the believers were together, numbering about a hundred and twenty (which, as a point of comparison, is about how many people we have here at St. Luke’s if everyone from both services were to show up at once), when some kind of divine event took place. “There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” is how it’s described, and it was audible not only to the crowd of believers gathered inside the house but to those outside their gathering place as well.

Rather than move away from the sound, a crowd begins to gather around the place where Jesus’ followers had been staying. This gathering crowd was already diverse, as the scripture reminds us that “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” In other words, the Galilean disciples of Jesus were now surrounded by a mob of immigrants.

What was going on in this house church to attract and hold the attention of these foreigners? Following that first sound, the holy storm that blew through the house, came a second sound — the sound of all these Galileans suddenly speaking in tongues. Not in that holy and mysterious language of the Spirit that the apostle Paul called glossolalia, but in the actual languages native to the group of immigrants that had gathered in Jerusalem from across the known world, so that each of them heard these followers of Jesus telling the story of God’s acts of power in their own mother tongue.

Finally, in case all this wasn’t already odd enough, Peter stands up to address the growing crowd of native-born Judeans and foreign-born immigrants living in Jerusalem with words that are not entirely comforting, by quoting the Israelite prophet Joel — who himself spoke in the voice of God:

“In those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:18b-21)

Everything about the scene is chaotic. The sudden rush of the Spirit is described in terms that make it sound as though a tornado broke loose in a house. A growing crowd of multinationals. A bizarre miracle of translation. A ancient prophesy of ecological horror. A promise of universal salvation.

Nothing in our waking lives could prepare us for such an event. If it were to happen here, now, that we all fell out in a mass act of Pentecostal testimony so disruptive it summoned all our neighbors to gather outside our door, it’s hard to imagine that the natural next step would be for one of us to get up and begin speaking about the end of the world as the prelude to a promise of salvation. The only relevant experience we have, or at least I have, for making sense of this story is the experience of dreaming.

In a dream we are prepared for images to come at us in ways that defy logic and order, for settings to shift suddenly, for the laws of physics to be disregarded. Yet somehow, within the world of the dream, these impossible things can be observed and even understood. Their stories can be remembered and brought back to the waking world as a kind of message from our subconscious, speaking to us with a symbolic language crafted from our daily lived experience.

What then might this bizarre scene, which some have come to describe as the “birth of the church,” reveal when handled like a dream?

The first thing we notice is that the story begins with two actions: one on the part of the people and one emanating from the heavens. The people assemble and the Spirit comes. Not that the one forces the other, that the people can summon the Spirit simply by coming together, but that the Spirit acts once the people have left their private homes and joined together in public.

The second thing we notice is that the Spirit immediately acts to disrupt the homogeneity of Jesus’ followers. Rather than acting on the crowd, equipping the immigrants to understand what the disciples were saying, the Spirit acts on the church, equipping it to share its story in ways none of those followers of Jesus had been raised to do. They were making new sounds, speaking new languages, telling the story of God’s power in a way that made that very power obvious to anyone listening.

The third thing we might notice is that Peter relates this miracle of communication and comprehension to a prophesy of destruction — as if to say that the new community coming into being will feel to some like the end of the world.

That feels particularly important to say this morning, as we are waking up to the details of yet another attack on the people of London, which killed six and wounded nearly fifty. In a week in which multiple attacks were carried out in Afghanistan that left a hundred people dead and another five hundred badly wounded. In a news cycle dominated globally by despair for the environment, and locally by disappointment and outrage at the city’s failure of nerve to reform our system of law enforcement.

In the dream logic of Pentecost, these signs of destruction in the heavens and on earth are the beginning of the end. But it is not the earth that is coming to an end, or human life upon the earth. It is our way of being, our destructive patterns of relating to one another, that are finally coming to an end.

I know it doesn’t feel like it. I know it seems like things are getting worse. In reality, however, it seems to me that part of what is happening is that ancient wounds, intergenerational traumas, barely-buried prejudices, cultural addictions to unsustainable consumption, are boiling over — being exposed to the light.

Pentecost is the culminating moment of the season of Easter. It is the moment when the power of Christ’s resurrection and ascension ripples out beyond the boundaries of any single life, or even any single community of believers, or nation of people. Pentecost is the memory of God’s promise to never again to destroy the world with water — it is the “fire next time.” (2 Pet. 3:7)

 

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“Fire Dreaming” by Australian artist Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

 

 

But what is destroyed in this fire is the pretense that any of us are better than any other, that any of us are more deserving than any other, that any people are more chosen than any other, that any nation is more favored than any other. What is burned away in this fire are the lines that divide us — and without those lines the world as it is cannot go on.

So this fire ends the world as we know it, and in its place something new is already growing up among us. That something new is God’s dream for the world. We are its dreamers. When we gather the Spirit gathers with us, giving us new sounds and new songs, new words to describe God’s power at work in us, and for us, and through us.

May the sound of our gathering draw others to us. May the Spirit at work in us change the way we think and speak. May God’s dream for the world become our dream as well. May the whole world be made new.

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Messages

LSEA Awarded “Community of the Cross” Award by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

The following remarks were offered by the Rev. Erik Christensen on behalf of the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA) on the occassion of being awarded the “Community of the Cross” award by the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) at their commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2017.


Thank you, President Nieman, and thank you to the faculty of LSTC for bestowing the “Community of the Cross” award on the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance in recognition of our efforts to live out the call of the gospel for the sake of our neighbors, to witness publicly to God’s liberating power and proclaim the repentance and forgiveness that is our mutual inheritance in Christ Jesus. (Luke 24:47-48)

It is an honor to receive this award, particularly on a day when we are celebrating the commencement of a next chapter in the ministries that will be led by those graduating today — ministries of Word and Sacrament, Word and Service; ministries of scholarship and education, of justice and advocacy; baptismal vocations, all, and all needed in our world, which is so terribly wounded and divided.

I would like to share just a few words about how the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance came into being, in the hope that this story might somehow serve today’s graduates.

Like many Chicago neighborhoods, Logan Square is a community divided along deeply entrenched lines. It is divided by race and class, by income and ethnicity. It is divided between those who have lived there for generations and whose families are being pushed out, and those who have recently arrived and are trying to make a new home for themselves. It is divided by language and immigration status, and by the prejudices and presumptions people make about one another on the basis of their skin tones and names and accents.

Sadly, it is also divided by religious identity, and nowhere is that division seen more clearly than in the great chasms between the various congregations who all name themselves Christians.

When the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance was being formed just over seven years ago, it was not because our congregations had a desire to worship together. In fact, I think we all suspect that if the initial invitation had been to come together for worship, we might never have gathered at all. Of all the things that divide the body of Christ (and, for that matter, the ELCA), our habit of mistaking comfort for culture and preference for praxis has got to be one of the most embarrassing. So worship, which we might assume — or at least hope — would serve as the starting point for our ecumenical witness, is often times in reality its greatest barrier.

Instead, what drew us together was our commonly held vision for the neighborhood we shared, for the people of our separate congregations who were living side-by-side, and our conviction that faith in Jesus Christ calls us to leave our sanctuaries and join the struggles taking place in our streets — not as a demonstration of self-righteousness, but as an act of solidarity, an acknowledgement of our shared humanity, and an outpouring of love which (to quote the Rev. Dr. Cornel West) when made public, looks like justice.

So, over the years, whether our work has been directed toward the scandal of the $480 million dollars of federal housing funds the city of Chicago is sitting on as it flips public housing land into market rate developments; or the loopholes in Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance that allow the police to co-operate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in detaining and deporting members of our communities; or calling for a new police contract that makes it possible for us to hold the Chicago Police Department accountable for its deeds and misdeeds as we labor for civilian oversight over those charged with protecting and serving Black and Brown lives to the same standard and with the same care White people take for granted; this work is rooted in love — love for one another made possible by the love we have first known from God through Christ Jesus.

And here’s the thing that gives me such hope. As we have done this work together, it has been our experience that the lesser issues of comfort and preference have largely resolved themselves, and the more important issues of culture and praxis have become for us opportunities to know each other in new and important ways, so that now we are glad to worship together and, in fact we look forward to it, because we have gotten a foretaste of the feast to come and we therefore cannot wait to join each other at the banquet.

May the ministries inaugurated on this day prove as great a blessing to each of you as our joint ministry has been to each of us. May you find common cause with the people of those other dwelling places where God’s people gather. May your labor for justice come from the place of love. We’ll be watching for you at the banquet.

Thank you.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 14, 2017: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 7:55-60  +  Psalm 31:1-5,15-16  +  1 Peter 2:2-10  +  John 14:1-14

14444841_10207054154008081_1208522860883102604_oEarlier this week at our monthly staff meeting we acknowledged that it was the last meeting that Luke, who has been our Diaconal Intern for the last nine months, would be attending. So we took some time to reflect back to Luke the gifts we see in him, and to share some words of thanks for his ministry with us. Then we indulged ourselves with a long lunch at the Chicago Diner up on Milwaukee Ave. Luke’s internship ends three week from now, on Pentecost Sunday, and he will continue to be connected to St. Luke’s as a member, so there’s no need to rush to say your own goodbyes — but it got me thinking about the importance of saying our goodbyes well.

13415460_10208747706786711_4355805716510276263_oLater this morning we’ll be saying goodbye to Ray Pickett and Liz Muñoz, who are leaving Chicago and heading west to Berkeley, California at the end of the month. After we’ve had the chance to share the Lord’s Supper once again, we’ll gather with them in a circle of song to bless them on their journey. As we were preparing for that sending earlier in the week, I remembered of all the many times we gathered in the old church building in the center aisle and laid hands on members of our community who were preparing to leave us. How important it can be to have a chance to offer one another words and signs that call to mind who we have been to each other, what it has meant, and how we will carry that forward.

That’s what Jesus is doing as he speaks to his friends and followers in this morning’s gospel text. This passage comes from a section of the gospel of John known as the Farewell Discourse, and comes immediately following Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet which we remembered in our worship on Maundy Thursday just over a month ago now. So, to hear these words rightly, we need to allow ourselves to return to that place of vulnerability as the disciples gathered with Jesus for a last supper before his death. We need to remember how afraid they were, the tension in the room as Jesus spoke about his betrayal by one of their own and forecasted Peter’s own impending denials. It was the moment when everything they’d experienced together seemed on the verge of falling apart, when all their hopes and dreams for the future seemed lost. In those last hours together, Jesus spoke to them about a way of being, a manner of life, in which they would remain together forever, no matter what else might happen.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:3-4)

In the church’s wisdom, we read portions of the Farewell Discourse during the season of Easter, after the story of the resurrection has been told. We’re nearly forty days into the fifty day season of Easter, so the Alleluia’s joyous return has lost just a little of its sparkling edge and we’ve had a few weeks to wonder what we mean when we declare together that “Christ is risen indeed!” By placing this reading a month after Easter, the lectionary anticipates some of the struggles we face, living as we do after the resurrection. We read these words of farewell after we have lived through the drama of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter and Easter morning the way one might go back and re-read a parting letter from a parent or a grandparent years later, listening for how their last words might make sense of our lives now that we have had a little more time to grow into ourselves.

That’s what I hear in Jesus’ final words to the disciples. Reassurance that they will be alright, that they have what they need, that they know the way. Thomas doubts this, on behalf of us all, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Philip asks for one more sign for reassurance, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” In his responses to each of them, Jesus does nothing more than point them toward their memories of all that they have already seen. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” means nothing unless you have already walked with Jesus, as Thomas has, and as we have. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” makes no sense unless spoken to people who have seen Jesus, as Philip has, as we have.

As the community grapples with their terror on the eve of Jesus’ death, he instructs them to remember — remember who he is, remember where they have been, remember what they have seen, remember what he said and did. Later, as they face new terrors, as Stephen did on the day of his martyrdom, as the psalmist imagines in Psalm 31 where it is written, “My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors” (Ps. 31:15) they look back. In these moments we can imagine that the early church searched its memory for some word of Jesus’s that might hold them with integrity as they stood in times of trial. In those moments, the living memory of their Lord found new expression in their own acts of faithfulness. Stephen offers a testimony so powerful and so challenging to the powers of the world as it is that they have him stoned to death, but even as he dies he prays for their redemption, reflecting the imprint of Jesus’ death on his own life.

We, who look back in time to the witness of Christ’s death and resurrection, look at the future with new eyes. That moment has become, for us, the cornerstone to a new construction of reality so that now we become signs of a dawning future; of a chosen race, which is the human race; a holy vocation for each and every person; a new nation beyond borders; God’s own people, all of us. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” (1 Pet. 2:9-10) This is the power of the resurrection. We, the church, become what we remember.

tumblr_m6yrn48fnZ1rnc3y3o1_1280Joy Harjo, a Native-American poet of the Muscogee Nation who turned 65 this past week, offers us this poem, titled “Remember”

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the stars’ stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

I think this is what we mean when we say goodbye to one another. Remember me. Remember us. Remember what this has been. Remember the reality in which you and me, then and now and yet to come, are all part of an indivisible whole, a reality deeper than right and wrong, a reality that reconciles sin and debt and trespass with forgiveness and rebirth. Remember birth. Remember death. Remember the birth beyond death. Remember who you come from and you will know the way, you will know the truth, you will know the life. You will know where you are going.

Remember.

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