Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecost C


“Pentecost is something more than a so-called past event.
It is the story of God’s continuing presentness experienced again and again...
...the amazing story of people coming to awareness through reflection on the life of Jesus that the same Spirit that moved in him moved in them.”
Michael Morwood, Praying a New Story

I have always enjoyed a good party. Perhaps it is the maritimer in me; cause trust me, outside of Quebec, the rest of this country is far less likely to randomly break into a kitchen party. But there is something about the feeling of having friends and family, of a meal together, of music playing and people laughing… it really seems to make everything feel better.

The Jewish faith actually had this down to a science thousands of years before most of us did. For them, every religious observance was accompanied by a feast, by a gathering, by music and prayers…sometimes lasting for days.

The festival of Shavuot, some 7 weeks after Passover, was the Jewish festival celebrating the time when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on top of Mount Sinai. It was a time when you headed to the temple for the weekend and prayed and ate and celebrated.

And people from all over the world would flock to Jerusalem. Religious or not, everyone was going to be there, so why not go… traders and merchants, soldiers and tax collectors, The faithful from other countries and the curious… everyone would head to the city for the weekend.

One year, it happened that the disciples were there too… shortly after Jesus death… and that was the weekend everything changed.


If we are to truly understand Pentecost we have to see it as a time when things got put back, when things got fixed… and that is why we start with the tower of Babel… here is where they got broken. It is not a real story, but it is a true story… and here is the truth behind it… People reach too far… we want too much, we try too hard… and when we do, we get broken.

Think of it as being for our own good. If we build the tower too tall, we are going to fall and get hurt… it is as simple as that.

There is a Greek Myth about Icarus… who wanted to escape his world and so he made wings out of feathers and wax… but once he was flying he wanted to go higher and higher, eventually getting too close to the sun… when the wax melted, his wings fell apart, and he fell to his death.

Same story – sometimes we go too far, and it ends up with us getting hurt… so, as the tale is told, God protected us by making it so that we could not work together anymore…

And it was pretty effective too… instead of being united, we all spoke different languages, we all lived in different places, we all looked different, and we really did not trust each other…

Now we would not be able to build that tower to the sun anymore….


Now this is where the story gets interesting…. Where the broken gets put back together again… the point of the story of Pentecost is that it reverses the tower of Babel; our differences, our languages, our faults… none of that will stop us if we believe in Jesus.

The disciples, you might remember, are all from small town Galillee, and they are mostly fishermen. There was not much education between them, certainly they were not city kids on the streets of Montreal who might speak three or four languages… they spoke Aramaic… not even the Jews in the Temple spoke Aramaic… the city folk spoke Hebrew…

And yet, as they spoke and preached and prayed during that first Pentecost they did it in Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic… every language known to civilization.

The point of this story is not some miraculous speaking of tongues, the point is about overcoming differences. Here were these people with a message that they thought could change the world… but not that many people had heard the message yet… until this one day, during a festival, when people from all over the world were gathered in one place… and they got it.

This is why we call this the Birthday of the Church. It really did not start with Jesus, or with Paul, or with Peter… not the church… the message started and spread through them… but it took this moment, this perfect moment when everyone was in the right place at the right time, to start the church.

People left Jerusalem after the weekend and returned home, and they talked about this, and they spoke of Jesus, and other people got curious, and things spread from there to everywhere… 

You can think of a thousand reasons that this might not work, that people might not stop to listen, that others would not be curious, that the message was boring anyway… but that was not the case. They had something to say, and they said it with passion, with tongues of fire, and it was worth listening to, worth sharing….


"Wind, wind. A reflection on the Spirit"
By William Loader   (Adapted)

Wind, wind,
you come from nothingness and go to nothingness,
and when you are still,
there is nothing we see, nothing we hear,
and you surround us in our not seeing and not knowing.
Wild, wild wind,
you whip the seas, whirling great water spouts and fountains,
crashing the foamed edges of the shore,
sweeping the unsuspecting fisherman from the slippery rocks,
terrifying force, uncontrollable, beyond our power.
Wind, wind, wondrous wind,
hovering at the birth of creation,
whisking secretly among the wonders of new life,
bearing the seed, lifting high the heads of mighty trees,
swirling among the grasses, celebrating life.
Wind, wind, gentle wind,
wind of our breathing, our life, our hope,
renewing, refreshing,
sighing in our stress,
moaning in our pain,
still in our dying.
O wind, wind,
you breathed upon the clay and there was life,
you danced down to the forehead of a Galilean
and there was hope,
you shook the foundations of community
and there was Pentecost.


Did you know that there is only one word in Hebrew for Spirit, breath, and wind, “Ruach”? They are interchangeable… which I always find interesting because they are pretty much used in the same way in the Old Testament… the spirit of the Lord hovered upon the waters, the breath of God was upon him, God spoke in a mighty rush of wind… all sentences from the Bible we would understand to be almost the same….

Anyone who has ever watched the wind blow on a beach knows that it is powerful and creative. The wind is what makes boats sail and airplanes fly… it is, literally, the wind at our back…

Which is what the spirit of God is too; the spirit is that which blows through you and gives you strength, or courage, or hope, or love… it is the feeling that pushes you to better places, better ways of being…
It is what unites us all and weaves us together…

I wonder what changed at Pentecost. I wonder why a thousand years of division suddenly got reversed. 

Maybe when we tried to build the tower of Babel we were not ready to work together, but when we heard and understood the message of Jesus we were?

Cause that is a powerful claim for those early Christians to make… where once we were all divided, now we are all together… where once we could not work together, now we understand that we are all the same…

But that is what they are saying, that once God had to separate us, but now through Jesus we are restored…. That is what Paul says when he writes that we are all part of the same body, that there is neither Jew nor Greek. It really was not only their hope, but their passionate belief that now God was with them and nothing could stop them!

And this time it was not arrogance because this time they were not trying to build a tower, or fly to the sun, or do anything to prove they were the coolest, or the best… this time they were trying to help everyone to be loved just like they were.

It surprised even them when it happened. Like all grace filled moments, they come out of nowhere… but looking back we can say that this is where it all began… this is when people took it seriously and went out into the world hoping that they could make a difference themselves.

Instead of spirit, let’s call it something else… inspiration…. This was the moment where inspiration came into their lives and it led them out into the world full of passion and purpose…


I think what we see around us is 90% what we feel. Think about it, your mood changes how things look, feel, taste, are….

So what, you may ask… well… I want you to see Pentecost the same way. I want you to see that it was attitude that caused people to have hardship, and it was attitude that got them all back together again…

We, as a church, moved from the tower of Babel to the celebration of Pentecost…

And it is a lesson we can all understand, all see as being true, and all take to heart. God’s love has the power to overcome our differences and set us free. Working together for the good of others is an idea that can challenge and inspire us, and the spirit is with us as we go.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Easter 6 - C

The Rich Count Too


I am not sure if any of you saw the movie Spiderman… the first one, a while ago now… Anyway there is a line in that movie, where Uncle Ben tells the young Peter Parker, who will one day become Spiderman, that “With great power comes great responsibility.”

It is a great line, it is actually a lot older than Spiderman, the French philosopher Voltaire wrote it down centuries before; but I am pretty sure it has been around in some form or another forever… Take care of your younger brother… if you are going to borrow the car you have to drive your sister to soccer. We all learn that as we get more freedom, more power, more life, we also have more responsibility…

Perhaps we do not stop and think about it spiritually all too often. What does it mean that the more power we have, the more responsibility we have? We usually think of it the other way – when we read the Bible we see ourselves as one of the poor, one of the powerless, one of the great majority of people who Jesus was talking to when he said, God will come and make it better.

And the heroes of the Bible… Moses Stutters, David is the youngest and smallest son, Jesus is just some small town carpenters son; and almost every other person we encounter comes from the poorest of the poor, shepherds and fishers…

But what about the other side… what is God saying to the people who have it all? And I don’t necessarily mean money, I mean resources, influence, lifestyle… which, to be fair, most of us have more of than most people in the world… What is God saying to us.

With the Kids – Comfort

Thinking of Comfort

I have often read the John passage at funerals. It is one of my favourites to preach on. I guess probably that is because I hope to be as brave as Jesus when I die. You see, he knew what was happening, he knew this was the end, and his last thoughts were about making it all right for his family and friends.

Don’t worry, he tries to say them. I am always with you, and I will send another to comfort and guide you, you do not have to go through it alone, God will be with you, in one way or another…. It is their future, their pain, their life that concerns him the most as he is losing his.

Imagine what it would feel like to know that someone was there who would teach us how to get through it, who would help us to feel at peace with the world even when tragedies happen… That is what Jesus is offering his followers. He is saying that no matter what comes, there will be someone who is there for you. 

That is a pretty powerful promise.


So here is our hero for today, Lydia… as important a person as ever there was for the early church, but another person for whom we only have one brief story; and so I want to tell you that story again, in a more dramatic way… I have to admit that I got a little help from a book called Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda.

The wind rustled the branches overhead until they became a swaying canopy whose shadow danced across the circle of women bowed in prayer. It didn't matter that Philippi had too few Jews to support a synagogue; the river's edge had become their place of worship, a green sanctuary where they gathered each Sabbath to pray.

A woman named Lydia was there that day, on the edges, watching it all unfold. Lydia was not Jewish, but she had come to believe in this God they spoke of. She had come to Philippi from Asia Minor and was a prominent businesswoman who sold fine cloth to those who could afford it. The cloth was prized for its purple colour.

Now Lydia listened as a stranger from Tarsus began the morning prayers; "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Such prayers were like a gust of wind, fanning her longing. Though not a Jew, she wanted to know this God powerful enough to part the sea yet tender enough to yearn for the love of his people.

Paul did not stop there, he spoke of a God whose Son, Jesus, had been murdered for love. This Jesus had risen from the grave after suffering the most agonizing death imaginable. He was the Messiah, the merciful and holy One.

The women sat quietly as Paul told the story. Even the branches overhead had stopped their noisy rustling. But in the stillness, Lydia felt a strong wind rushing through her. Tears rolled down her cheeks even though she felt like singing. Afterward, she was baptized in that same river she had come to pray at. In fact, so strong was her faith that her entire household followed her example and were baptized; then Lydia insisted that Paul and Silas and probably Timothy and Luke too accept her hospitality.

Philippi seemed an unlikely place to plant the gospel. It was a prosperous Roman colony located on the main highway linking the eastern provinces to Rome and its citizens included large numbers of retired Roman soldiers. Despite its size, however, Philippi hadn't even enough Jews to provide the requisite quorum of ten reliable men to form a synagogue--and it had always been Paul's habit to preach at the synagogue first. Even so, Philippi did have its group of praying Jewish and Gentile women.

Shortly after Lydia's conversion, Paul and Silas had been thrown in prison for upsetting the Roman authorities. After they were released, Lydia once again extended hospitality and invited them into her home and cared for them. In the short time that they had been away, Lydia had started a house church and the faithful were gathered there. Her home may have become the very center of the church in Phillipi.

I am sure that Lydia did not fully understand the power that she held. Luckily, she took her responsibility to be a good person seriously. This affected all of those around her and her simple actions of commitment, love and hospitality helped to set the church on a certain path.

All You Need Is Love

I guess we all know that John Lennon was right when he wrote, all you need is love… after all, he got that from some good sources, like Jesus, and the Apostles, and… well… God.

But perhaps more to the point, that is what we are talking about once again… whether you are rich or poor, whether you are young or old, all you need is love.

Why is that true?

Well, in this letter, which is thought to be written by the person who wrote the Gospel of John, we have a long passage about love. And essentially it says something we already know, that God is love… but then it goes on to say we should then be acting out of a spirit of love… and the ultimate reason given is that love conquers fear….

So it is more than just loving because you are nice, it is more than just making the other person feel good, it is more than just doing the right thing… it is a concrete way to conquer fear.

This, when you think about it, is a pretty good tool to have; because who of us is not afraid, I mean, really, we are afraid of death, of sickness, of speaking in public, of being alone, of speaking our mind, of being judged, of spiders…. Fear is at the heart of a lot of our decisions… maybe most of our decisions.

And what would it be like if we overcame that fear with love? Could that not be what drew people to the faith, whether they were rich or poor? Could that not be why Lydia is recognized as a Saint, that she did things, like bring in Paul the prisoner, despite her fear… she acted out of love in the face of fear…


So what about that whole “great power leads to great responsibility” thing?

I think that we have to realize that we all have choices to make, that is what Lydia is all about – she had the power and the resources to make a difference and she used them for good. And perhaps if you do find yourself with more than other people, that should be your guiding principle.

Did you know Bill Gates, certainly one of the richest people on the planet, what with basically owning the concept of computers, is also one of the biggest givers to charity in the world, like, giving more than a lot of countries….

God calls us to be responsible, and in that, to live out of a place of love.