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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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 15, 2016: Day of Pentecost

The following sermon was preached by Pastor Erik Christensen & Pastor Liz Muñoz at the bilingual, ecumenical worship service held by St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (ELCA) and Nuestra Señora de las Americas Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 15, 2016.


title845264485Recently I’ve begun reading the daily reflections of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest in Albuquerque, New Mexico sent out by the Center for Action and Contemplation. This last week he began a new series on the relationship between action for justice in the world and the inner contemplative life. He quotes another American monastic, Thomas Merton, who wrote,

“[Those who attempt] to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening [their] own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. [They] will communicate to [others] nothing but the contagion of [their] own obsessions, [their] aggressiveness, [their] ego-centered ambitions, [their] delusions about ends and means, [their] doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”

Writing to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul contrasts two different states of being: the spirit of adoption and the spirit of slavery. Far too often Christians try to spiritualize the concept of slavery so that it stands in for any irritating personal habit or private struggle. To do so is to erase the real experiences of those in Paul’s day and our own who are fighting a life and death struggle for existence against the powers and principalities of this world that treat human beings as commodities that can be used to enrich a very few and then thrown away.

To those who feel thrown away by this world, and to those held captive by the dream of wealth, Paul reminds us that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Rom. 8:14) Because the first step to liberation from the shackles of poverty and the false illusions of wealth takes place inside the self, when we can look at our own face in the mirror and say with a confidence we may not yet feel, “I am somebody.”

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title406527677Antes de que esta tierra tenia forma, cuando todo er un mar profundo cubierta de oscuridad el Espiritu de Dios se movía sobre la superficie de las aguas. Este aliento de Dios, ruach en Hebreo, ha estado presente desde antes del comienzo de nuestra historia.

Fuente de toda creación y sabiduría nunca se ha mantenido indiferente a su bellas criaturas.  Los salmos elogian esta presencia en nuestra historia humana “si envías tu, Espiritu, tu aliento de vida, somos creados, y así renuevas el aspecto de la tierra” (Salmo 104:30).

Los profetas como Eliseo y Elias reconocían el poder de este espíritu. Se atrevían a profetizar y hacer milagros por medio del poder de este Espiritu (2 Reyes 2:9, 13-15). Cuando Moises no pudo mas con su carga el Espiritu compare su poder con los que son escogidos por el pueblo y con otros que no han sido escogidos por ese pueblo. Porque el Espíritu Santo no conoce limites (Números 11:17, 25-29).  Como Jesus dice en Juan  este Espiritu santo es como viento sopla donde quiere, y oyes su sonido, pero no sabes de dónde viene ni adónde va (Juan 3:8).

El Espiritu de Dios se movió entre esa primera generación de discípulos y se mueve en esta generación que encontramos en la lectura de Hechos. Desde el comienzo del tiempo el poder de ese Espiritu se mueve se siente en cada vision y hecho compassion y amor. Es un poder tan suave para sanar el alma herida y tan fuerte como para agitar y encender el corazón mujeres y hombres, jóvenes y viejos en todos los rincones del mundo para actuar en nombre de la paz y justicia de Dios.

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title845264485To be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4) and given a spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15) makes us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” (v.17a) which sounds amazing — until we hear that word, “if.”  “If, in fact, we suffer with him, so that we may also be glorified with him.” (v. 17b)

“If” is conditional — if A then B. We feel set up. Are we only heirs if we suffer? Is suffering the condition for inheritance?

No. Suffering is the inheritance. Suffering is the consequence of being adopted by God and becoming “joint heirs” with Christ, which is another way of saying “sisters and brothers with Christ and, therefore, to one another.”

Suffering is the inheritance of love, as any parent will tell you. To love a child as they encounter all the hate and fear and misunderstanding that fills this world is a lesson in protracted suffering. God knows this suffering well, as God has both created us and adopted us (which, by the way, I love as a theological affirmation that God not only creates/births us, but then subsequently chooses/adopts us all over again. What do you think it would do for the state of interfaith dialogue if we replaced the phrase “chosen people” with the phrase “adopted people.” Would we hear it differently?).

To be adopted by God is to inherit what Jesus inherited as he came into the world — a family filled with suffering, a family that cries out for liberation from all the slaveries of this world. But a family! Which is what we are to one another whether we know it or not. Which is what we all are. Not the family which we were born into, which may have been wonderful, or may have been horrible, and was probably a bit of both. But God’s family, created by love and chosen for love, so that none of us might suffer alone.

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title406527677Seguimos este camino, aunque sea difícil a veces parece imposible, porque es aliento Divino esta la promesa de verdad y vida. Seguimos ese camino porque no es verdad que este mundo y sus habitantes están condenados a morir y perderse en el vacío.

We follow the way, difficult, at times seemingly impossible, because that breath of God is where truth and life are found. We follow the way because it is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost in the void.

No es verdad  que la violencia y el odio tendrán la última palabra, y que la inhumanidad, la pobreza, la guerra y la destrucción han venido a quedarse para siempre.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that inhumanity, poverty, war and destruction have come to stay forever.*

No es cierto que tenemos que esperar a los que están especialmente dotados que sean los profetas de la iglesia antes de que podamos hacer nada.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted to be the prophets of the church before we can do anything.*

Y por eso me atrevo a profetizar: nuestros sueños para la liberación de la humanidad, nuestros sueños de justicia, de dignidad humana, de la paz son para esta época y esta historia. Y nosotros y nosotras somos los que somos llamados por el Espiritu para encarnar el rugido de la justicia, la fiebre del amor, el susurro de la paz y la compasión, que lleva las palabras de esperanza y alegría a un mundo quebrantado y angustiado.

And so I dare to prophesy: our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace are meant for this time and this place in history.  We are the ones that are called by the Spirit to embody the rush of justice, the roar of love,the whisper of peace and compassion, that carries the words of hope and joy to a broken and grieving world,

Así que me atrevo a pedir que se atreven a compartir su sueño, visión y la profecía conmigo de los días de gracia del Señor para toda la creación.

So I dare to ask you to dare to dream, vision and prophesy day of the Lord’s favor will mean for all of creation.

Yo profetizo/I prophesy that…(Church responds)

Y todo el que invoque el nombre del Señor será salvo.

Y todo el que invoque el nombre del Señor será salvo

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Amen.


1.  Prayer adapted from prayer written by Alan Boesak found in Holy Ground: Liturgies and Worship Resources for an Engaged Spirituality, pg 65
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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 17, 2015: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 1:15-17,21-26  +  Psalm 1  +  1 John 5:9-13  +  John 17:6-19

In the name of Jesus — who has ascended into heaven, and yet is with us still.

The scriptures we hear this morning sketch out the circumference of an unusual circle, a bubble in time, an interim time of watching and waiting for the victory of the resurrection to come to completion in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The texts come from different authors, each of whom is reflecting on the meaning of the crucifixion from a different vantage point, after the fact, offering their own testimony to the growing communities of believers spreading across the known world during the time of the Roman Empire.

First we heard from the Acts of the Apostles, a scene set after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, but before Pentecost. In the sweep of the story that begins with the gospel of Luke and continues through the book of Acts, this passage feels awkward as it interrupts the drama of the crucifixion and resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and then his ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, creating the church and flinging the apostles out into the world. This scene, of the apostles gathered together for prayer and discernment, feels totally anticlimactic. If we were making a movie and trying to get it in under two hours, the editors would surely leave this scene on the cutting room floor. Who needs this fragment of the story, where those who were called to follow Jesus — who have heard him teach, who have seen him heal, who have grown from twelve to seventy and been sent out in pairs to work miracles in the world, who followed him to Jerusalem, who witnessed his death, who encountered him on the road to Emmaus, who touched the body of their resurrected Lord, who saw him ascend into heaven — now sit in the upper room in Jerusalem praying and waiting?

Well, I think we need it. Very specifically, I think we here at St. Luke’s need these stories, each tracing the perimeter of a moment between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is the moment in which we are living.

We, too, have been on quite a journey together, each of us following our own calling into this community — some raised here, some transplanted from other congregations, some following friends or spouses, some following a question in their soul that would not be quiet until it found an answer — we have listened to and learned from one another, we have hurt and been healed by one another, we have grown from twelve to seventy and then more, we have experienced our power to affect and influence the world when we witness together in public to what we have tasted and seen of God in Christ Jesus, we have had our own moment of shock as we realized that our story would not move from glory to glory without its own encounter with the cross, we have felt the crushing weight of endings that feel like death, we have walked side by side wondering what all our ministry meant and if it was all over — only to discover God still present with us when we gather at God’s table, we have been convinced of the victory of the resurrection and have proclaimed Christ risen indeed (alleluia!) … and now we feel a bit like the believers who watched Jesus ascend into heaven, who’d heard the promises of God’s ongoing presence through the power of the Spirit, but had little more to do than wait.

We’ve been waiting. A lot. Ever since we voted back in January to list our property for sale, we’ve been waiting to find out what would happen next. Waiting while a small group selected a broker. Waiting to hear if there would be any interest in the building. Waiting to find out if prospective buyers might keep the building a house of worship, or might keep the structure and repurpose it to meet the needs of underserved communities in our neighborhood — low-income families, or seniors looking for affordable elder care, or if something entirely new might come into being at this site. Waiting to hear where we might go in the interim. Waiting to hear who will come with us. It’s a lot of waiting, and it’s not easy. We can understand why impatient editors might want to skip this scene for the sake of advancing the plot, but that wouldn’t be true to how we experience real life, in which moments of high drama are accompanied by long periods of waiting.

The early church was expert at waiting, and much of the literature of the New Testament is explicitly addressed to the experience of waiting.  The author of First John, a letter commonly dated near the end of the first century, declares “Children, it is the last hour!” (1 John 2:18) approximately seventy years after Jesus’ ascension. During that long period of waiting, the writer encourages the people to love one another as God has first loved us. As we’ve read through this letter over the past few weeks we’ve heard the call to love fearlessly (4:18) and been reminded that we love God best by loving one another as God’s children (5:1). Now as the letter draws to a close, the writer proclaims that the world as we know it is being conquered in a way we would never have imagined and can barely believe, through faith in a crucified messiah.

“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water only but with the water and the blood.” (5:6) Water and the blood stand in here as substitutes for baptism and crucifixion, the writer reminding us that the same Jesus who rose from the waters of the Jordan River and was announced as God’s own beloved was the same one who willingly laid down his life in an encounter with empire as a sign of God’s unyielding solidarity with creation’s suffering. “Not with water only, but with water and the blood” is First John’s way of reminding us during this period of waiting that God does not remake the world in the ways that the world would see and label as success, but instead remakes the world through acts of humility, self-giving, and abiding love.

“And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (5:11-12) This isn’t about believing the right things, or saying the right words, or having the right answers. This is the writer’s own testimony, the thing on he would stake his own life, and which he offers to us as a gift: the only life worth having, the only life that will last, is the life that comes when we stop trying to conquer and colonize one another, and learn to love one another as fearlessly as we have been loved.

This is Jesus’ own prayer, offered on the night before his death, as we hear it once again this morning. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11) As he looks toward his own crucifixion, Jesus is already seeing past the ascension to a time when the community of faith will be gathered in his name, and he prays for their unity. “Let them be one as we are one.”

The unity for which Jesus prayed isn’t a given. It takes work, so it takes time. It sometimes looks fairly mundane next to the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. In the book of Acts, the work of unity looks oddly like one of our annual congregational meetings, as the assembly realizes that there is a leadership gap that needs to be filled and so sets out to select a replacement for the apostle who’d betrayed them and was now dead.

The list of qualifications for leadership seems to have been pretty straight-forward: you had to have been a witness to the story of Jesus from the time of his baptism by John to the time of his ascension and, apparently, you had to be a man … which confirms what Jesus himself said before he offered his prayer in Gethsemene, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, [it] will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12-13a)

Photo credit: Jason Creps Photography

Photo credit: Jason Creps Photography

In our own period of waiting, it can feel frustrating to have witnessed so much growth and vitality, so much resurrection as a community, only to find ourselves waiting once again for the Holy Spirit to set us on fire and send us out. The lesson this day offers to us, however, is that there is still work to be done during times of waiting. We are to continue to gather for prayer and discernment; we are to attend to the question of leadership, realizing that there are always others in our midst who have the gifts required for the present moment; and we are to commit ourselves to practices of love for one another, costly love that sets aside power for the sake of unity, and prepares us so that we are still together when the Holy Spirit at last blows through us again.

Amen.

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