Tag: Holy Spirit

Who Shall Go?

Isaiah 6:1-8img_20180529_120549549
John 3:1-17

A hundred years ago, it was easy to get a job no matter what your education level. Indeed, having a high school diploma was something fancy. I have one framed in my basement from about 1920. It is huge! 18 inches by 24 inches, all gilded up and painted, and stamped. I bet our high school graduates did NOT get a diploma like this. I think they got a nice one – but they didn’t get their name in three-inch-tall calligraphy.

But eventually, a high school diploma didn’t cut it for the average job seeker. In my generation, to get an entry level job, you usually have to have a college degree. What college degree is in doesn’t really matter- English majors and math majors both pour coffee the same way- but if three people apply for a job and two have high school degrees and one has a college degree… the college person is getting the job.

I’ve heard it rumored that a master’s degree is going to be the next bench mark for my daughter’s generation.

What’s going on?

Having those diplomas are short-hands. Easy answers for employers who don’t know you personally, and don’t have time to know you personally. They look at their big stack of resumes and cut out the ones with the fewest diplomas first, and then the second fewest, and so forth, until there is a short enough list to manage.

Why?

Some may say “This is how we’re getting the smartest workers.”

Yet, I know people who didn’t graduate from high school, barely read, and yet – run massive, successful, businesses. And, the doctor student who graduates the first in her class is still called the same thing as the student who graduates dead last: Doctor. And some schools practically pass every teen; and some make it hard and competive – even though they are both public high schools.

Intelligence and a diploma aren’t actually tied together, when we think about it.

But a diploma is shorthand for knowledge.

In today’s story, picture Nicodemus as a heavily doctor’d up man. Nicodemus knows a lot. A lot of a lot. He can read and write, he can teach; in fact, he teaches the teachers. He knows his scripture forward and back, and is famous enough to be called the leader of the teachers in this area. Number one. Their representative. Their smartest guy. His wall is full of diplomas from all the prestigious schools.

When he comes to Jesus, he chooses to go under the cover of darkness. Maybe he’s ashamed.

Maybe he doesn’t want anyone to lose their confidence in him – he, who has all the answers – who now is going to someone without a formal education. It would be like the surgeon general asking a cashier about how to do brain surgery.

Maybe Nicodemus comes secretly wishing for knowledge, more insight, into Jesus.

We don’t know his reasons. We do know he comes in the dark, symbolizing in John’s book ignorance, and Nicodemus leaves again still in the dark… still befuddled and not understanding.

I’m not really sure if Nicodemus is complementing Jesus by telling him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…” or if he is insulting Jesus.

As a complement, it means Nicodemus is willing to concede Jesus is godly, and an equal or greater — for the greatest teacher is calling Jesus teacher, Rabbi. And Nicodemus is setting the stage to ask Jesus how it is he must be from God, however… he has no formal education, no temple background, and is a homeless wanderer. You’re doing miracles, but – you were born in a barn. Really! What’s up?

This leads us into thinking maybe Nicodemus is being patronizing instead of complementing. Into Nicodemus talking down to Jesus, without even realizing it maybe. In today’s lingo, Nicodemus is rabbi-splaining. Explaining something in a manner that belittles the other person.

Jesus – let me tell you just who you are: you’re working signs, so you must be coming from God. I think Nicodemus would go on from here to quote lots of scripture to Jesus to explain just how Jesus must be coming from God.

Nicodemus is listening to himself laud himself on his own knowledge, and thinks everyone ought to listen to him and to how he knows better.

It’s an awful habit anyone who gets to be a specialist may begin to do.

With a shiny new high school degree, every teenager knows SO much more than their younger siblings. They can’t be right on anything of importance. Leave it to the graduated ADULTS to understand.

With that new college degree, every young adult knows just how naive, silly, and uneducated those with ‘only’ a college degree are. It’s insulting to compete against them for the same entry-level jobs!

We get big for our britches real fast.

We all do.

And then, we think we know best and don’t listen to what others know, or experience, or have to say.

Nurse: “I think this patient needs a different medication,”

Specialists: “No – no. I read about this condition in a medical book at med school – where I graduated with honors – and I know best.”

The nurse is ignored because of the perceived differences in rank. Just imagine how much the patient is ignored by this specialist!

Nicodemus the Specialists begins to tell Jesus just who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.

So Jesus begins to talk about who Jesus is – giving us these images of God our Parent sending Jesus our Brother to bring the kindom, all about us, which we can live into now through the Holy Spirit.

This was not the conversation Nicodemus was intending.

To Nicodemus’ credit, he stops trying to explain things to Jesus and asks for clarification. THAT is the amazing part to me. So many people refuse to ever become the student! They’d rather fight tooth and nail to remain the specialists, the teacher, the one in charge.

I think this is why at the end of John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again – this time in twilight, symbolizing he is coming out of the ignorant dark – to bring an offering to Jesus’ tomb. He’s willing to learn. Willing to teach and to be taught.

And so Jesus teaches him.

Jesus elaborates – explaining how those in the kindom are born of both water and Spirit. You and I are born of both baptism and the Holy Spirit. Or born of flesh, and then reborn with the Spirit in them. Both human and divine. Both a normal human, and yet a reflection of the living God.

And Jesus speaks of the Spirit, the Wind, like the wind outside. We don’t know where it started or where it will end. It goes where it will. It is mysterious. We don’t see the wind, but we see the effects of the wind. We see tree leaves rustle and we see deadly tornadoes. We feel the soft kiss of morning breezes and we feel the bitter wailing winds of winter. The Holy Spirit is the same – alighting, awakening, the great and the weak alike. Appearing in strange places, in strange people – unpredictable. We can’t see it. We can’t touch it. But we see what the Spirit does.

Nicodemus is flabbergasted.

Jesus childes him – why are you flabbergasted? I thought you were the teacher of teachers! I thought you were coming to teach me a thing or two!

As we mentioned, Nicodemus leaves in the dark. But the little light Jesus has lit in him grows and grows until Nicodemus begins to understand. Begins to accept there is more to this world than what is in our books. More in this world than what our science can explain. More to our faith than what can be contained inside a book — even a holy book like those of the Bible.

It takes being teachable to see it.

That’s really what a diploma represents. It isn’t intelligence – it is a symbol of teach-ability. It is a sign that this person with a diploma, by hook or by crook, knows how to learn.

Intelligence is hard to measure, for geniuses think uniquely.

But we can measure a person who is able to learn by giving them things to learn, and then testing how much they retain.

Really, what jobs are seeking are employees who are willing and able to learn new things.

Our first reading was Isaiah’s call story. It is a wild vision where Isaiah stands in the temple of God. God is so awesome, so terrifying, so massive and uncomprehendible that the hem of God’s robe fully fills the temple. Flying snakes that breathe fire – seraph – attend to God.

And Isaiah is scared to be here. He KNOWS he is a sinner! He KNOWS whatever he says is going to be the wrong thing. And he begins to apologize. He’s not here to argue why he isn’t a sinner, or explain to God just who God is.

Isaiah just says “Woe is me! I’m not holy enough to be here!”

So a coal is brought to his mouth, to burn him, and cleanse him. The seraph tells Isaiah that his sin is now gone.

Meanwhile, God asks the seraph around him, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

The very first words out of Isaiah’s cleansed mouth are: “Here I am! Send me!”

I picture the surprise in the temple, in the world, in heaven. God was asking the angels about God which ANGEL should go… and instead, this little human volunteers. After our reading today, God tells the little human how badly the human’s mission is going to go. And tells him about how everyone around the human will have dull eyes and plugged up ears – and will get even more dazed out after hearing the prophet. No one wants to hear or understand the message from God. No one is teachable.

But Isaiah’s mission is to teach anyways.

To be a prophet anyways.

And his prophecies are some of our most treasured words.

In them we hear the coming of the Messiah, and the full reign of God on earth as God reigns in heaven. In Isaiah’s prophecies we hear things that have happened in the past, and things that will happen in the future.

Because this man was humble, and teachable.

We’re asked to be the same. Asked to never hold ourselves so highly that we forget to listen to one another. Asked to be teachable, willing and open to the prodding of the Spirit within us. We’re asked to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called. Nicodemus wasn’t asked to be a first disciple, although he well knew his scripture. That teenage fisherman Peter was called among the first. Scholars are pretty certain he couldn’t read or write.

We’re asked to be teachable. Willing and ready to go when God calls us – knowing God will equip us for the mission. And also willing and ready to volunteer – knowing that we are called to live in love.

What are we called to? Where should we volunteer to go?

The Spirit within you is ready to help you discern the will of God, if you’re open to it.

Amen.

Advertisements

Teeched in the Head – Pentecost

John 15:26-27:16:4b-15 Farmer.png
Acts 2:1-21

Jesus promises his disciples the Advocate, someone to argue in our favor and speak council to us. It will be a Spirit of Truth that comes from God and will testify, speak, words on Jesus’ behalf. This Spirit will guide us into Truth.

But when the Advocate came, after Jesus was gone, it sure didn’t look like Truth. The Holy Spirit took over the early Christians and they began to testify in many languages, babbling like at Babel, but instead of meaningless confusion, they speak meaningful stories of miracles and forgiveness and new life.

Some of the crowd sneers, “They’re drunk!” Drunk, and speaking nonsense.

As we heard, Peter counters, “They’re not drunk! Rather, ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that 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.”

But did you know, prophecy and senselessness come from the same Greek root meaning. Mantis is a seer, a prophet who foretells the future in ancient Greek; and mania is senselessness, madness.

In the ancient world, great oracles tended to have a temple where they put their head over a volcanic crack in the ground, or drank chemically tainted spring water, or consumed oleander, or one way or another got high. And then, in their drugged state, they spoke of the visions they saw.

In the Bible, John the Baptist is either a maniac or a mantis. He is in the desert, eating honey and bugs, dressed in camel hair. He is also foretelling the future, speaking of God’s coming, and calling people to return to their faith.

Unorthodox. Not normal. Offensive. Crazy. Insightful. Humanizing. Challenging. Touched by God.

Teeched, is what we said back home. Someone is teeched in the head by God. Touched in the head by God. And we meant they were not normal. Mentally ill, mentally different, or somehow unorthodox.

It was a bit derogatory, just like the people in the crowd speaking about the apostles “they’re filled on new wine.” “She’s teeched in the head.” Dismissive. Those people don’t matter. They’re insane. They need counselors and medication and maybe an asylum.

I carried that negative attitude about mental health and abilities with me out of my home village.

And when I became depressed, I refused to get help. I’m not teeched. I don’t need medication or counseloring. What good does it do anyway? It’s just talking. I can talk. Besides, nothing is wrong with me anyways.

I poured myself into my job. And my classes. The harder I worked the less time I had to think about my own worries and sadness and anger.

The more anxious I got, the more it felt like I was choking when I went to eat. So I stopped eating.

Soon I was working full time, going to school full time, getting straight A’s, and losing weight and looking great. What could be wrong?

The thing about depression is it shows up in many different ways. Sometimes, it is sadness and sleepiness and weight gain. Other times, it is hyper activity and sleeplessness and weight loss.

I kept saying I was fine.

My employer knew better. A faithful Christian, and motherly, she took me aside and told me she knew how much was going on in my life, and she’d witnessed me working more and more hours, eating less and less, and my grades doing great… “And I think you need someone to talk to.”

NO! No! I’m not teeched! I’m perfectly normal and orthodox and ignore me!

So she rephrased it, “Until you talk with someone, I don’t want you working because you’re using it to avoid thinking about your troubles.”

So I went to go talk with someone. And sure enough – she said I was depressed; and needed medication, and meeting and talking. I was angry. I was … ashamed.

Ashamed. Embarrassed.

There’s such a stigma around mental health! Whether we are born with mental health concerns, like those we took an offering for at Hope Homes today, or whether we acquire them over time, like I had, either way… our society dismisses and disapproves of psychologists, counselors, and anyone who has mental health concerns.

If someone takes a “mental health day” we consider them weak.

If someone needs counseloring or medication, we consider them unfit for some jobs, and to own some items.

The stigma has us trying to hide such people away from society… and when there is no money to do so, we kick them onto the streets for short, hard lives.

Most homeless people have mental health concerns. And, poor, unable to get the medication to help them, they self medicate with street drugs and alcohol.

But it’s not just homeless people.

It’s also farmers.

Out of all professions, farmers have the highest suicide rates. We work long hours. Often lonely. And the margin between profit and loss is so slim… that every little movement made in Washington DC, every rain storm and frost and sunny day, every deportation and disruption of migrant workers’ lives, changes if it is a win year or a lose year. A 12 year low for crops is predicted for this year due to international sanctions and bans; the crazy weather; and changes in the Farm Bill. One of these changes is revising or removing crop insurance.

And farmers are killing themselves. Dairy farmers. Crop farmers. Small time farms that struggle against factory business farms are getting so deeply in debt that death looks like the only way out.

And in rural areas, there are few social workers, few counselors, few psychologists, and a great stigma against being ‘teeched in the head.’

… I know. I didn’t want help. I would have rather worked myself to death… and if a certain day the pressure was just too much… just find a way to relieve it. And end my life.

Religion was the bastion, the home, of original mental health help before there were counselors or psychologists. And many counselors and psychologists are deeply spiritual, but keep it from their practicing life unless the client invites such to not offend the person visiting them.

And almost every pastor sees a counselor or psychologist.

Our physical health is important. If we break an arm, we go and get it set.

If we are spiritually hurting, we reach out to a pastor or fellow Christian and ask for prayer.

Why do we deny ourselves mental help for when our minds, our emotions, need assistance?

Just stigma. Just not wanting to be seen as drunk on new wine or teeched in the head.

Well, it’s a bit too late. Just as your body and your soul needs tending, so does your mind. And we’ve all got the Holy Spirit within us. We’re all teeched. All Touched by God.

We’re all already the drunk ones, already the ones the world thinks are not normal, already dancing to the beat of a different drum.

Whether we call that mantis, and prophesy, or mania, and senselessness, is a matter of perspective.

A matter of whether we will embrace our mental abilities, and care for our mental health… or whether we will ignore it, deride those who seek help, and separate ourselves further into isolation.

This is a stigma the world places on us. Not the Bible. In the Bible, it is a very good thing to be touched by God and teeched in the head.

Amen.

Whose Baptism?

Acts 8:26-40

thekla2
This fresco represents the calling of Thekla, which led her to renounce her engagement and her life as a married woman. Thekla appears at a window (far left), listening to Paul as he preaches with his raised right hand on an open codex. Behind Paul, stands Theokleia, Thekla’s mother, with her right hand raised in admonition (her eyes and right hand have been scratched out, an indication that someone considered her a heretic). Thekla was not permitted to appear in public, but she heard Paul’s sermon from the window of a neighbor’s house and was spellbound by his words. In spite of her mother’s admonition, she renounced her engagement, followed Paul, and spread the word of God. “Stylistic comparisons suggest a date for these paintings in the late 5th or early 6th century A.D., in particular in the Justinianic period” [Austrian Archaeological Institute (www.oeai.at/index.php/st-pauls-grotto.html)].
 “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian treasurer asks Philip this as they ride along in the treasurer’s royal cart and carriage. “Look, here is water!”

And Philip responds by leaping off the wagon, and baptizing the new believer.

No special water.

No special time.

No special place.

An ancient story, not in our Bible but still from 180 AD, is the story of “Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Thekla, like the Treasurer in our Gospel today, is a noble. She listens to Paul’s preaching, and she decides to become a follower of Christ. She breaks off her engagement with another nobleman and says: ‘I’m staying a virgin and following Paul about and the Christ!’ This goes over just as well as you think it will. The town flogs and tosses Paul out, but decide to burn her at the stake if she won’t give up Christ.

And she won’t.

What begins is a series of miracles — rain saves her from the fire, smoke covers her like clothing so she doesn’t have to be naked, and Thekla walks boldly back to Paul. She now says – Don’t just let me come with you, listening, but let me cut my hair and pass myself off as a man, so I can preach this good news too! Just give me a baptism!

And Paul says no. She’s a woman, and women clearly don’t preach. So he won’t baptize her.

But Thekla doesn’t go home.

In the very next town, Thekla again is told to give up Christianity and marry a guy. And again she refuses. And again the town takes her clothes away to shame her and tries to kill her. Again miracles occur. When it looks like things are over and Thekla is in the middle of the city arena where the pond is full of hungry seals and the land with every angry beast, Thekla knees and prays.

“In the name of Jesus Christ do I baptize MYSELF” and she throws herself into the pond of hungry creatures.

No special time.

No special place.

No special water.

Then there are more miracles. Lightening strikes and fire and lots of chaos. Every animal and every human that tries to harm Thekla finds they cannot. In the end, the town is scared of her and asks, “Who are you?!”

She answers, “I am the handmaid of the living God; and what I have about me-it is that I have believed on that his Son in whom God is well pleased; for whose sake not one of the beasts hath touched me. For he alone is the goal (or way) of salvation and the substance of life immortal; for unto them that are tossed about he is a refuge, unto the oppressed relief, unto the despairing shelter, and in a word, whosoever believeth not on him, shall not live, but die everlastingly.”

The governor orders clothes given to the woman and her permitted to leave.

But Thekla says no. She’s put on the garments of salvation, and those are what she’ll leave with.

A whole lot of the town converted to Christianity that day.

Thekla then traveled, preaching, testifying, healing, and teaching the Word of God.

When she ran into Paul, he was amazed to see what a following she had, and he asked what was going on – and did she still want baptized? She answered, “He that hath worked together with thee in the Gospel, hath worked with me also unto my baptizing.”

In other words… The same person who converted you, Paul, to Christianity and brought you to understand the scriptures is who baptized me.

That same person is who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer. Philip just was there, enabling the receiving of the gift.

That same person baptized each of us.

The water doesn’t matter.

The time doesn’t matter.

The place doesn’t matter.

Baptism is a gift from God to us, and we respond back to God. And as a community, we welcome our new sibling and begin to walk with them through all of their lives.

It is why little ones can be and are baptized.

Baptisms are from God.

No human can prevent them because we humans, we’re participating in and witnessing a sacred moment between an individual and the Holy Divine.

No one here heard the conversation Rebecca and God had today. But it happened. It is in her soul. There in the desert near Ethiopia, or in the crowded coliseum arena of a city, no one HEARD the conversation that man or woman had.

But Philip and a whole ancient city witnessed the holy moments.

Today you are Rebecca’s witnesses. You need to tell her the story of her baptism. Just like you need to tell the story to Alden, and every one of our children — age 0 to 100.

And we need to remember our own baptisms, and the stories we’ve been told about them.

At that moment, you and God connected in a brand new way. At that moment, you joined in Christ’s birth, and life, death, and resurrection. At that moment, you gained a family that will never, ever fit in one place for a family reunion. (Well… no reunion here on Earth.) At that moment, some human baptized you in the name of Christ – but it was God who reached out, touched you, washed you, sealed you with the Spirit, and gave you a new life in Christ.

So who’s baptism is it? In our scriptures, we hear of people arguing about whether someone has received the baptism of Paul’s, or the baptism of John’s. You may today hear today people refer to the Methodist baptism, or the Catholic baptism, or the United Church of Christ baptism…

But there is only one baptism. One God. One Creator, sustainer, and redeemer in who gifts us this sacred ritual.

We all share the baptism of Christ.

Amen.

A Different Spirit

In honor of the baptism of Caleb.283

Numbers 13:26-33-14:11; 14:22-24
Matthew 28:18-20

The Israelites have traveled and traveled and traveled from Egypt and at long last, have reached the Promised Land… but they find it is already occupied. So they send in 10 spies to check out who is living in this area.

In our reading, the spies come back with the report that the people already living there are the children of Nephillim — angels or giants. They’re so big and strong that the Israelites feel like grasshoppers around them. Tiny little bugs! When they hear the report, everyone in the camp begins to fret and worry.

But Caleb stands up and says: hey! We should trust God’s promises. God says this is where we’re supposed to go, let’s go!

But no one wants to listen to Caleb.

Moses and God have a talk about what to do. God is upset – why do the Israelites keep not trusting me? Didn’t I do miracles in Egypt to get the people free from Pharaoh? Didn’t I do miracles at the Red Sea, and miracles in the desert with manna, and water, and birds to eat? This situation looks hopeless, but I AM GOD! I DO MIRACLES! WHY CAN’T THE PEOPLE GET THIS?!

God decides to order the Israelites to wander around in the desert for 40 years. And in those 40 years, everyone who is complaining and regretting leaving Egypt will pass away from old age. A new generation will return to the Promised Land and maybe they will believe God this time. But Caleb will live a long life and enter the land because he has a different spirit, a spirit that trusts God wholeheartedly.

Jesus, too, tells us to live with a different spirit in us. The Holy Spirit. A Spirit that comes upon us with our baptisms and keeps faith in hopeless situations, keeps trust in God through hardships and trials, and strives to live a life of love for God, and for others.

We’re called to live our lives in ways that make believers of all nations. Caleb lived this way. And our Caleb is called to live this way. No one is able to do it alone. It takes the whole body of Christ.

So you, who have the different spirit, the Holy Spirit, be the guide to disciple Christ’s newest follower – our little Caleb. Be his parents’ support, his sister’s assurance, his own encouragement. Live your life in a way that leads him towards the promised land. And remind him of this day – the day we affirmed he is baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and he is a part of Saint Michael’s UCC, and a part of the Body of Christ universal.

Amen.

Bring Out the Treasure

Romans 8:26-39lk19_11
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In today’s readings, I hear people asking, “What is the Kingdom like, Jesus? Tell us!”

And he thinks about this… and decides to take the old treasure of their daily lives, and the old treasure of their sacred scripture, and polish it up to be the new treasure for their present and futures.

Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is like a weed someone purposefully planted. It is the smallest of seeds, but nothing can kill that weed off. You’ve heard in the Torah of the cedars of Lebanon and how the birds make their nests in the temple? I tell you birds bless weeds with their nests.

All you who have considered yourself a weed? God blesses you. All you who feel excluded from fine places and fine company? God seeks you out. The kingdom belongs not to the elite, but to everyone.

And the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. You’ve heard in the Torah how it is morally impure, morally questionable. Like mold. Like sinners. The kingdom is like yeast a woman takes and mixes it all through her flour. And the flour is leavened. It rises.

All you who the world says are sinners, outcasts, and impure – God needs you. You are what is going to bring life, bring growth, to all the world. The kingdom of God is made of sinners.

And the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. Which someone accidentally finds. They never were looking at all! With joy, that someone goes and sells everything they have – their house, their home, their wealth, their ties – to buy that field where the treasure is hidden.

All you who accidentally find God, in a time of trial or in a time of peace, at home or at war, a relationship with God is worth changing all your plans over. You never meant to become Christian, never meant to be one of those faith types… but now that you’ve had a taste, it’s okay to risk more. With joy, God won’t let you down.

And the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. An educated business person, who knows just what they are seeking. They have a system, they have a plan, and they work diligently. Upon finding a pearl of great value, that merchant sells everything and buys the pearl.

All you who purposefully find God, studying texts and attending church – a relationship with God is worth all your work and troubles. You, too, can risk all you have built up to build a relationship with God and will not be let down.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that is thrown into the sea and catches up fish of every kind. Good fish. Bad fish. Fish who just need a little tender loving care and fish who refuse to be gathered in by Love even when every chance is given. And only at the end of the age are they separated. Until then, they’re all welcomed in and gathered.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is thrown wide to everyone and anyone. Those who have led good lives and those who have led bad lives. Those who repent and those who refuse. Only after all are gathered in will the righteous -those who wish to live in love with each other and with God- and the evil -those who wish to live at odds with God and hate each other- be separated. Then there will be peace.

So do you understand?

If so, then you are commissioned to bring out the new treasure out of these old words.

Do you get what the kingdom of God is like?

If so, you should be able to take your own old treasure, polish it up, and bring it out anew.

If so, you should be able to think of your own parables to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like for you.

A parable doesn’t perfectly fit. It is LIKE something. So an orange is not an apple, but it is LIKE an apple. It is a fruit, it is round, it grows on a tree. But they are not the same.

The kingdom of heaven isn’t a net or merchant or weed. But it is LIKE these things in some way. Or like how these things relate to other things.

So, how would you explain what heaven is like to others now-a-days?

Maybe…

The kingdom of heaven is like a line with no order. This is how Meredith (Vosburg) Bazzoli of Chicago explains what the kingdom is like for her. She witnessed a line all out of order, with this family mingling into that one, and people just milling about with no line. They were all Hispanic, and standing near a church with a sign that said, “los pasaportes.” Passport help was being given out here. No one grumbled as people moved in and out of the group; no police kept the line carefully in a row. There was no rope, no tickets, no different reward for those who came early or those who came late. Everyone got the same help. And they waited with joy. She writes, “The kingdom of God is like this, a line with no rules, a line that offends the righteous, those who’ve been in line for a while doing the right thing.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/09/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-line-with-no-order/))

Or maybe the kingdom is like a squeaky hamster wheel. Author Addie Zierman thinks so. Before you get upset – she doesn’t mean futile – as in going no where. That is the limits of parables! They’re not literal, and not perfect. They’re examples to try to get at something unspoken.

So go with Zierman and me with a moment… Have you, or any of your kids or grandkids had a hamster? The wheel squeaks, and squeaks, and squeaks as they run on it all the time. Dinner time the squeak begins. Bed time it continues. Midnight potty and guess what you hear — two in the morning and you roll over and you hear… squeak! Squeak! Squeak! She writes, “The hamster wheel squeak, squeak, squeaks, and it occurs to me that the Kingdom of God has been at work all this time — that when I am asleep, when I am distracted, when I am unaware, it is still turning, turning, turning — God at work, always, in the world he created… That we wake into a Kingdom that is always already happening.” God, and God’s in breaking into our world, never stops. Whether waking or sleeping, God is aware and present. ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/15/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-squeaky-hamster-wheel/))

Organists Gayl Wright says the kingdom of God, for her, is like an unexpected polka. One Sunday while she was playing the new church organ, her finger slipped on the buttons during the prayers. She thought she had the organ set back to a proper classical piano… but instead, when she pressed the first chord, the piano began to play a polka beat and rattle off drums with each press of a key. She writes, “In our church services we pray the same prayers and sing the same responses every week. If we are not careful in that routine, we might just go through the motions not even thinking about what we are saying. Sometimes we need a wake up call, like a blast of the unfamiliar.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/29/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-surprise-during-church/))

And, sometimes, we need the unexpected polka to remind us God’s love is not based on perfection. If only perfect people make it to heaven, heaven is an empty place.

For Paul, the kingdom of heaven is a deep sigh. A holy, sacred sigh – the kind that we do when we don’t even know how to begin to pray. The kind we do when our dearest loves have deep pains and we wish we could alleviate them. The deep sigh we have, internally, when we ache head to toe and there is not enough time. Or too much time. That deep sigh when we know we need God, but have no idea in what way. The Spirit prays.

And when we are sleeping, the Spirit prays. And when we are distracted, the Spirit prays. And when we are spoken against, charged with crimes we did or didn’t commit, condemned, know hardship, peril, distress, persecution, poverty, war, sickness – when anything and when everything tries to break our faith in God…

That deep sigh and whisper inside of us keeps praying. The Spirit keeps us tightly. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The kingdom is an internal and eternal sigh, breath, whisper, connecting us with God forever.

So bring out the treasure of your hearts, of your sacred stories, of your experiences – polish it up – and present it anew to one another! Tell each other – where do you see the kingdom of heaven? What is it like for you?

Amen.

All the Lord’s People are Prophets!

pentecostNumbers 11:24-30
Acts 2:1-21

Let me set the scene for you in Numbers: the people are complaining. Give us meat to eat, Moses! We had meat in Egypt. Give us leaks or cucumbers or anything other than this manna! Day in and day out – all we have is manna. Moses!

So Moses and God talk about this. And God says it is too much for Moses to be the only one leading the people. Gather up seventy men, God says, and I will gift them the Spirit. Then they can help lead.

So Moses obeys God, gathers up the seventy, and they go outside of the tent village where God descends upon them like mist, or a cloud, and they speak wonders.

Speaking the word of God has a lot of power. Scripture tells us that it was God’s Words that created everything from Light to you and me. It’s no wonder that people told Moses that Eldad and Medad were acting as prophets. Moses’ friends probably thought these two were trying to take control of the camp. And if they weren’t, at the least, they weren’t part of the 70 chosen to be prophets and so God may be furious at their speaking God’s Words.

Moses’ right hand says — stop them!

But Moses isn’t worried, or upset, or slighted, or jealous. He’s thrilled that others are speaking Gods words, spreading God’s message and says he’d be glad if everyone did this: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the Spirit on them!”

Indeed, if you recall, later in the letter to Corinthians we hear that it is only by the Holy Spirit we are able to say “Jesus is Lord.”

Moses knows anyone that is working for God, even if they don’t have official permission to do so, or aren’t pastors, or maybe even aren’t of the same faith… as long as they are doing God’s work and speaking the Spirit of Truth – let them be!

In the days of Joel, the prophet foretells the end of the world. A scary end times full of blood and fire and smoke. He calls these the Last Days.

In the days after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, there were people prophesying without official authority. Without official permission. Without clearance. Once again.

We hear how the early Christians are gathered together when violence strikes. This microburst of wind bellows through the house and tongues made of fire appear above the heads of everyone there — every person — and every person suddenly spoke other languages.

Just like at Babel, languages are spread out.

Just like at Babel, confusion reigns.

People come running to the house – what was that roar from heaven? What is this that everyone is speaking all these languages eloquently and they are NOT from our home counties? How are we to understand this?

Like with Moses, some said — stop them! They’re drunk and out of their minds.

Like with Moses, a leader stands up: this time it is Peter. And Peter, like Moses, says don’t stop the Spirit! Interpret what is happening through the prophet Joel — in the last days, God will pour out the Spirit on sons and daughters, young men and young women, old men and old women, babies and toddlers and preteens and teenagers and the married and unmarried and those who are free and those who are repressed; those who are upstanding citizens and those with criminal pasts — everyone will speak of God and God’s wonders.

As Joel said — there will be signs from heaven. And signs have happened. The Lord’s Great and Glorious day is here: the reign of God, Heaven itself, has come close. All who call upon God are welcome in.

In our days, now, there were people prophesying without official authority. Without official permission. Without clearance. Out of the mouth of babes are words praising the wonders of God. Out of the dreams of the elderly are visions of heaven and God’s good work. Out of the work of the middle aged are glimpses of the Kin-dom of God. What is to be done?

Stop them?

Absolutely not!

Wherever the Spirit moves, inspiring people to praise God and spread goodness, love, mercy and forgiveness — it should be permitted to flow freely. ((I also don’t think we could stop the Spirit if we tried.))

God’s Holy Spirit comes upon us at all ages and all times infusing us with the power to have faith, keep hope, and do good to one another. It is outside all establishments, cannot be ordered about, cannot be silenced — as Christ told us, we do not know where the wind comes from or where it goes. The Spirit moves, enlivens, and we move and are enlivened with it.

What does that mean? It means in our days, now, the Spirit is testing our church and our lives. Showing us how we need to be more open, more inclusive, and speak words of love and welcome to people we’d rather not… but the Spirit gives us that language and Jesus tells us to go. Go and speak of God’s wonders wherever you find yourself in whatever languages you are gifted to whomever you meet.

The official authority, official permission, official clearance to be a prophet, a witness of God, a pastoral presence, has been given to you. You here today received this when you were baptized with water and with the fire of the Spirit.

Therefore, we are all God’s prophets. All God’s witnesses; because we are all God’s children.

Never Orphaned

Acts 17:22-31hands-old-young
John 14:15-21

 

Orphan. This is one of those categories of people the Bible has a lot to say. Over and over again God tells us to care for the orphaned and the widows. To care for the fatherless and the stranger. To care for the outcast and the afflicted. A sign of God’s people is their love and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In these ancient cultures where our scripture comes from, men are the people who can own property and bring in income. So… a widow… or a child without a father…. where are they going to get food? Water? Shelter? Who is going to protect them from being victims of violence?

God says again and again – you are. You are their protection.

Jesus reminds us that it isn’t just widows and orphans God wants us to care for – but ALL. So he shows us again how to care for strangers, care for outcasts, care for the physically and mentally sick. Whomever is at risk, we are their guardians.

So who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

I tell you, I visited an orphanage.

I know – you tell me they are all closed. There are no more ran in the US and we only use the foster care system. But I tell you otherwise: I walked in and signed my name to the Visitor’s Sheet. Eyes poked out of doorways to see who this new person was with curiously and then disappeared back into their rooms. I got my badge that marked me as something even more different. That badge saying I’m permitted to be there, but not OF there. Permitted to enter, but also permitted to LEAVE. And I walked the halls of these orphans. Some laid in their beds calling for their mommies. Some had photos of their missing parents on their walls. Some asked me if I’d seen their loved ones, or knew who they themselves were.

Here, in this Alzheimer’s Unit, are the people who need others to give them food, and water, shelter. To protect them from violence. To be parental figures.

I found my orphan and she didn’t know who I was. But my orphan and I, we sat and talked anyways. Bit by bit, she told me a few memories of her parents, a sister… or a brother…

I sat and I thought it’s strange to think that nearly all of us will be orphans before we pass away. Eventually, nearly all of us, will bury first one parent, then a second, maybe even a third. We actually pray we pass away before our children, so it’s not a strange thing to be orphans… but yet… it doesn’t mean its any easier.

My orphan lost her parents decades ago, but the hurt was still so deep and fresh. And she still thought of them with mixed emotions. Relief – that they are no longer in pain. Relief – she’ll see them again. Sorrow – she doesn’t see them now. Sorrow she can’t ask them for advice, can’t introduce them to her great-grandchildren, can’t just share a cup of coffee. Simultaneously she recalled to me great bitterness and anger with her parents and great love and longing for her parents. No one has simple relationships with others when we’re honest.

The same is true in our scripture on feeling like an orphan today. This isn’t a simple relationship Jesus is describing. He is giving his farewell speech to his disciples. He’s telling them he’s going to a reunion with his father and they’re not welcome… yet. Telling them they know the way… but it isn’t on a map. And they are realizing Jesus is speaking about his death, and going to Heaven, and waiting for us there.

They are realizing they are about to be orphans.

Anger. They can’t go back home. They gave up their homes to follow Jesus. Fear. Who is going to protect them when Jesus is gone? Worry. Who are they going to turn to for advice? How are they going to keep following Jesus’ Way when Jesus isn’t there to lead them? Sorrow. There won’t be walks together and sitting down to dinner. Fear. How can they trust themselves to be the leader, the parent, the wise on when they know they know so little? Feeling so not ready.

And Jesus reassures them in these words. You do know the Way. What is more, the Spirit of Truth, which you have known through me, will be given to you to abide in you. This Holy Spirit will help guide you on the Way. We will meet again.

You will not be orphans. You will not be without someone caring for you. You have someone watching out for you, someone being your advocate – your helper and companion and champion – you have someone leading you, listening to you, loving you.

Want evidence? Lead, listen, and love another – and you will find you, too, are led, listened to, and loved.

So, again, who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember to lead, to listen to, and to love in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

Those who are aging are one of our brothers and sisters we need to give special protection to.

Another is those with physical or mental disabilities. Remember in Jesus’ time he cared not just for the widows and orphans… but also those with trouble walking, or speaking, or seeing. And those who suffered from mental illness and internal distress.

Today, our orphans are not in orphanages. They are in nursing homes, and at friends’ and families’ homes. And our orphans are in foster care and state custody. Our orphans are often homeless because there is so, so little help for those with mental demons.

Sadly, many police are like you and I, and not trained how to handle responding to someone in mental distress. So they see this ‘crazy erratic’ person, and choose to respond in ways that cause MORE distress and so more erratic behavior. Many, many mentally ill people are killed by responding officers because neither the cop nor the person know how to relate to each other – fear takes over – fear what the other will do – and one or the other goes from fear into attack mode.

Growing up, there was one of these guys living under a bridge near my hometown. Everyone knew him. He screamed at telephone poles most of the day. Where was his family? Did they know he was doing this? Had they passed away, had he run away and they lost track of him? Had he been more than what they could handle and care for?

… I’m his family, you know. So are you. Where were we?

Standing on the opposite street corner watching him and blaming his absent family. Judging them. When in actuality, Jesus commissions us – gives us the commandment – to love and care for those at risk and orphaned.

That man with mental illness is my brother. Your son. Our family.

And yes, he needed more help than any one set of parents, any one person, could give. But that is why we are more than one. We are the Body of Christ. Our parent in heaven, our risen Messiah, and our abiding Holy Spirit give us when we work together all that we need to care for all the orphans among us.

Paul argues to the Athenians in part that God isn’t like their statues. God doesn’t need us to feed God, bathe God, and bring God gold and silver because God provides US with everything and God isn’t IN a statue. Rather, God is in us and we are in God. We are God’s children, offspring.

In the same way, Jesus says he is in God, and we are in Jesus, and therefore with God. God doesn’t need us to care for God… but if we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus asks. Jesus asks us to love God – and love each other. Scripture tells us to love God, and love each other. The Spirit within us tells us to love God, and love each other. That Advocate reminds us again and again of the highest commandant: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind: and love others as you love yourself.

God doesn’t need bathed, need food, need support – God’s children do. The aging and the young, the physically or mentally challenged, or able or disabled, the often well or often ill – the widows and widowers – the orphans and the foster care kids – the moms and dads – the grandparents and neighbors – every single soul needs someone being their earthly advocate, just as we all need our Heavenly Advocate.

So who are the parents to the orphans?

Who are your parents?

We are. We are each other’s support, each other’s protection, each other’s advocates. We are each other’s family. We are the family of God.

Care for every person in some way – great or small.

Care for each other – here. And care for each other – out there, the strangers we are yet to meet.

We are never orphaned.

We are the children of God.

We are the family of God – and to love God is to love one another.

Amen.