Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Signs of Your Presence" Pentecost Year C 2016

“Signs of Your Presence”
Year C Pentecost 2016
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond, VA

A Prayer for Mission
“O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(From the Book of Common Prayer, Evening Prayer, Rite II, p. 125)

Apples do not fall far from the tree, or so the phrase goes. Walking around with my daughters, one is told that she looks like her mom, the other one is told she looks like me. It is a comfort and a joy. Sometimes when I look at them, I will see an inkling of my parents in them, too. A glance, the eyes, a cock of the head. It is miraculous and wonder-filled. The same could be said of the Holy Spirit. If God the Father is the Holy Other, Creator and God in Heaven, and Jesus is God the Son, God Incarnate, Immanuel- God-with-us, then the Holy Spirit is God-in-us, the Advocate, the Comforter. Better than Jiminy Cricket I mentioned a few weeks ago, and just like that recognition of me or my parents in my children, the Spirit makes her presence known, in what we say and how we say it, in what we do and our attitude around it.

As we look at the wondrous story of Pentecost and our parallel Gospel reading in which what was to come was promised, we see a few things that are signs of maybe what the church can be, and maybe what the church should be.  Like in the prayer that we just read, we need to “manifest in [God’s] servants,” US, “the signs of [the Spirit’s] presence.”

What are some ways that can happen? Looking at Acts 2, I think there are some easy take-aways.

The Holy Spirit in us enables and encourages us to speak so we can be heard.  In Acts, that was about differing languages to observant Jews and believers from all over the known world. But what about now? It can be language. One of the formative pieces of solidifying language usage and spelling was the consistency of King James’ Bible, the Authorized edition in English and Luther’s translation in German. Speaking a language that can be heard and understood is a Holy Spirit thing. But that is not all, culture and approach both play huge roles. Even though some people may have a common tongue between them, how one uses that speech and attitude with which one shares makes a huge difference. It has always been this way. The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” I Corinthians 9:22b

Communicating in a way to be heard, with cultural and attitudinal differences appeased, there is more. Your faith should bring you joy.  Exuberance and joy at that. Now exuberance can take the form of running around with hands in the air, but that is not me or how I show my exuberance. Have you ever been telling a story and you get excited, leaning into your hearers and your pace picks up and your voice gets filled with energy? That can be exuberance, too. The apostles and followers that day were accused of being drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning, “filled with new wine” Acts says. Their exuberance was so great that people were mistaken. Andre the Giant, the humongous wrestler and actor, so loved new wine, the Nouveau Beaujolais, that he had cases flown in while filming The Princess Bride and proceeded to drink several of them, yes, cases, one night and passed out on the lobby floor of the hotel where the cast and crew were staying. They put a rope fence around him because he was too big to move. But when we are filled with the Spirit, not the spirits like Andre the Giant, we do not pass out. We are exuberant and joy-filled. Our beloved deacon Frank always reminds us, if you are not in joy about what you are doing, God wants you to do something else. Joy is a sign of the Presence of the Spirit.

Prophecies, Visions, and Dreams are promised as well. Now prophecies are when God speaks to us. It can come from a person, a newspaper article, and from a still small voice prompting us to do something different. It probably is not about the future. Too often we hear Prophecy and we think it is about what is to come. It can. But it probably isn’t. Prophecy is about living out our faith in the here and now. And the Spirit is all about showing up in those daily nudges to be more on God’s team than our ego’s.

Lastly, speaking of attitude, from the Romans passage, St. Paul encouraged us to have a spirit of Adoption, not slavery. Adoption here is an unbelievably empowering act. According to the Roman law that St. Paul knew so well as a citizen of the Empire, adoption was an intentional choice. It was a forever act; you could disown a kid you birthed, but someone you adopted was yours forever. A sign of the Spirit at work in us is acting like we belong, in our skin, in this world, and in the places God sends us. As God said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, that is canonical, right? God said,  “Stop your snivelling!” Too often we forget whose we are. We are not made to be timid. Humble, yes. Timid, no. We are co-heirs with Christ, chosen and enabled to be in God’s family, forever. A more biblical way of saying it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”Romans 8:31 When I have to walk into an intensive care unit, I have to remind myself, “I am as needed here as that nurse or that doctor. I have an important job to do.” Too often I do not feel that way, but God is there before me and I am needed to shine a light pointing out God, even in those dark scary places so that God can be seen there, too.

Jesus said in John 14:12 “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater work than these, because I am going to the Father.”

The signs of the Presence of the Spirit in our lives take a unique form and shape in each of us. But people know it when they see it. A relative of one of our families came up to Bishop Shannon and me during his visit a few weeks ago and said, “I am not Episcopalian, but I definitely felt the Spirit here today.” Bishop Shannon was very kind and said, “And you would feel it here most Sundays. This is a good church with a loving community.” The relative smiled and nodded. Those signs of the Presence of the Spirit are active, and vibrant, and beautiful. And most of all, they are here. May it always be so. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"For the Best" Year C Easter 6

“For the Best”
Year C Easter 6, May 1, 2016
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond, VA

John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

As a father, some of the hardest things I have ever had to do is share what will be bad news with my kids, these little ones that I love and who love me so much. In those times, when I had to say that something bad was coming are the worst. And no, we cannot change it. And yes, everything will be okay. I assured them that they are loved and that they will be cared for. I assured them that it might be scary, but in the end it will probably be for the best. I had to let them know, as much as I could, that the future was secure. If I had to do this, and it was so hard for me over something minor, relatively speaking, I cannot imagine what it was like for Jesus to entrust the Kingdom of God to this room of confused and worried disciples.

As Susan reminded us last week, this is a flashback here on the 6th Sunday of Easter. We flash back to Jesus’ final words to his followers after Judas slinked out to set up his betrayal. To those that were still in his fold, Jesus gave these instructions.

“If you love me, do what I said.” So simple, and yet my office is filled with books on on how to do that, supposedly.

And I see us every week, wrestling with these words that Jesus said. His approach to loving and serving others, his approach to putting God above all else. And how do we do that? By loving and serving others first. Circular, yes, but those were his instructions.

When a guest comes into our house, often times we use the phrase, “Make yourself at home.” Sometimes they do. We had a friend come over once, who proceeded to take off his shoes and ask for macaroni and cheese. And he wasn’t kidding. But when we have someone come over, especially a dear friend, we want them to feel at ease and comfortable, like they would at their own home.  When Jesus is saying, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” This phrasing is not conditional. Jesus is not saying, “If you do what I say, God will love you and we will make our home with you.” We so readily hear it and read it as conditional. But look, Jesus is making a declarative statement. "Those who love me will keep my word…” It is not an if. Those who love the Lord are not those who say it. Those who love the Lord are those who show it, in their words and deeds. And God will just love them, just love’em up. “...and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  In our lives and loves, we have to ask ourselves, would God feel at home?

If we do what Jesus said, God would feel at home. God does feel at home. When you walk around St. Thomas’, where do you see God getting comfy? Where do you God snuggling in? Think of it.

When we care for the Least of These, we are doing it not just for God. Jesus told us, we are doing it to him. “Whenever you have done it unto the Least of These, you have done it unto me.” This is the closing line in Jesus’ parable about the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. Who are the Least of These here? Every day of the week that answer is different, and every day we care for the Least of These differently. I am fortunate. I get to see it here daily.

What about where you work? Where is God made comfy and at home? Who are the Least of These where you spend your days? For many of us, the focus of our faith actions is here at St. Thomas’, but think of how big our sphere of influence is if we expand it to every home and workplace and gym and school and playground and store and grocery that we frequent. God’s home can be there, too. I know that because God’s Least of These are in every one of those spots.

Every one of the Least of These is coming from a different spot. They each have different needs. Some need a drink, and others food. Some need a safe place to stay, and others a safe place to play. As we meet the actual or felt need of those we meet, we do it for them and we do it for Christ.

But the question is how? How do we keep Jesus in mind when we don’t see Jesus here? The disciples may have wondered that question, too. And that is when Jesus promises a gift so great that we still receive it today, and it is still wonderful. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, also called the Counselor, and the Comforter, is the one at our side who does for us what needs to be done.

We just watched the miniseries “The People vs. O.J.” Continually I was struck by the lengths the lawyers of O.J. went to in taking care of their client. Bringing laundry, letting him stay at their house, lying or bending the truth, whatever he needed, they did. The Holy Spirit, in a MUCH MORE POSITIVE WAY, does the same. The Spirit steps into our lives, into our very hearts and souls, and does for us what needs to be done. The Spirit speaks to us, giving us courage and strength in our worries and fears. The Spirit convicts us better than Jiminy Cricket when we go down the wrong path. Sometimes we get promptings to do things that are outside of who we normally are, say things we would never be able to say on our own, to be Godly in ways far beyond ourselves or our abilities. Sometimes the Spirit whispers in our dreams, and at other times the Spirit screams against the injustice in the world. The Holy Spirit allows us to make our ways and our lives comfy and homey for God, and in doing so, we are transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. We pray it all the time, and somewhere around the world someone every second of every day is reciting, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.”  The Spirit is with us to help us make it so.

This may seem very Pollyana-ish, or wishful thinking. But Jesus said there is an outcome to this. A point in the following his teachings, in the Advocate working with us. The outcome is his peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  The sense of completeness, wholeness, living fulfilled and purposed lives is the point of all this. Jesus came to show us the way, and sent us the Spirit to enable our way so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly” as he promised in John 10:10.

Peace is the point. Our peace. The world’s peace. Peace, not in the sense of absence of war. Peace in the sense that we have no locks on the doors, no walls around the city, all manner of things are well, and all manner of things will be well. We are describing here the peace of the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus wants for us, and calls us to share.

There are times and places that stick in our memories, not because they are important, but because they speak to a truth. When I was ten, my father was working out in his workshop on some cabinetry or something he was making for his woodworking business, a side job to his being an electrical engineer at the Shipyard down in Newport News. One Saturday I wheeled in my bike, with an underinflated tire hoping for a little help.

Like a good dad, he stopped what he was doing, got out the air compressor, turned it on and pumped up my tire. I was appreciative, and in an offhand comment after I said thanks, I said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I remember the moment not because of what I said, but the look on my father’s face across the workshop.  A quiet man, not one for words, I was surprised when he looked back up from his work, turned and faced me, and said, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” He was so serious. It stuck with me. His tone. His expression. His sense of my abilities and my temperament.  I still wonder if he knew that day that he was not doing well. You see, a few weeks later he was gone.  

He died quickly and unexpectedly. Later in the grieving process I remembered about the tire and the help he gave me. I remembered the trite phrase I used and his singular response. Did he know his days were numbered? Was he not feeling well but did not tell us? We will never know.  But I do remember at times when I miss him, when I would give anything in the world for one more hug, for one more minute with him, I remember how he looked at me more like a man than a ten year old kid deserved,  and with love said to me, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” Those parting words are the ones we cling to when days are dark and our fears get the better of us. Which is why Jesus was so clear with his disciples and with us that awful night. He clearly spelled out that things would be bad, but that it was all for the best.

Jesus says to us: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.  Amen.