Sunday, May 20, 2018

Year B Pentecost 2018 Too Deep For Words

Year B Pentecost, 20 May 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Too Deep For Words” 

Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Romans 8:22-27 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 Jesus said to his disciples, ”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 

Happy Birthday, Church! All who are in Christ, Christ’s holy catholic (universal) Church, have reason to celebrate this day. The promise of the Holy Spirit was received in that Upper Room almost 2,000 years ago.  

The Advocate, as Jesus calls the Spirit in John, is God-in-Us, in whom we move, and breathe, and have our being. I have spoken of this before, in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the words ruach and pneuma, have the same approach. The words used cover wind, and breath, and spirit. It is all the same.  

This helps me when I get caught in my head, and think too often of the Spirit of God as ephemeral and intangible. Too often intangible equates to non-existent. And non-existent is the last word I would apply to the Spirit. 

I think of the times when I had a hunch, or a feeling, and for no conscious or recognizable reason I said a word or did something and people looked at me like I had superpowers. I do not. Ask my wife. Far from it, but that same Spirit I tried to stay attuned to is accessible to all of us in Christ. It opens doors that are closed, and opens stone-cold hearts that are as locked down. Time and again, the Spirit works in ways that we cannot plan for or expect/demand. But when it happens, that sense of awe comes in. God breaks through, and we must acknowledge it. 

On Pentecost, some heard the disciples and it seemed to be the rants of drunken idiots. While others heard their utterances and heard the Good News. 3,000 people responded that first day and the Gospel spread throughout the Roman world. “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” And remember, that is the Jewish believers in Jesus that came on board that day. The evangelization and the welcoming of the Gentiles, the non-Jewish, was yet to come. 

One of the great changes which enabled the work to spread as far and wide as it did was one simple fact, and it is unique in most of the major world religions. I know I talk about language a lot. I find it fascinating. Even this morning I looked at the Greek and Hebrew for Spirit. Etymology, the study of the development and meaning of words, is something that will always fascinate me. And one of the main reasons is this. Our faith is unique in that we are not tied to and limited by having to worship in the same language as the founder of our faith. Very few of us in this room speak Aramaic. Jesus’ name was not even Jesus, the Greek version of his very Hebrew name, YeshuaAND THIS IS NOT A WEAKNESS. One of the key reasons Christianity has travelled as far and wide as it has is because it is translatable, and because of that it is UNIVERSAL. Now ministers study Greek and Hebrew so we can clarify and edify, but I am far from fluent. I am really good as looking up things in dictionaries and on the internet and that is good enough for most of what I need. But our faith is not tied to language. It is tied to Truth and that Truth will set us FREE. 

And think about it, as they were speaking in tongues, the words were understood and clear no matter where people called home. The Spirit spoke to them. And if you think about it, Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. The story of Babel is that God confused the languages because people were attempting to be greater than God. But Pentecost is enabled and empowered by God so that we can be at work in the world on God’s behalf. It is the ultimate sign of being on God’s team. God speaks for us despite our meager efforts. 

I find it funny sometimes when people enthusiastically respond to a sermon, and they will tell me what they heard. SO OFTEN that is not at all what I said, or meant to say. But that is the Spirit, saying to them what they needed to hear through my meager efforts. I smile and nod, and on the inside say, “Thanks, Spirit!” because I know it was not me. 
If you have been on the internet in the last week you may have run across the argument whether it is Yanni or Laurel being said. You hear what you hear, and out of context you must rely on perception which is always limiting. It is Laurel, by the way. 
We are not responsible for how people hear, even though we try our best to be understood. Let’s leave that up to God. 

In the monasteries and convents of the Middle Ages, when often monks and nuns got up in the middle of the night to pray, we might think that they would get in trouble for falling asleep during the prayers. But in many monasteries and convents, if a person fell asleep they were not awakened. It was called Holy Musing when the Spirit spoke directly to the monks or nuns and falling asleep in the prayers was seen as a direct way to get the person’s attention. I will try to think that way when I see folks dozing off here. Just like the prophecy quoted in Acts: “Young men will see visions, and old men will dream dreams.” For that to happen, we have to give space for God to do it and not belittle folks when it happens. 

The Spirit speaks when others hear a word of God from us. The Spirit speaks when we are attuned to the promptings and urging of God in our daily lives and dreams. The other way, one that Paul brings up in Romans, is how the Spirit speaks for us when things are so bad we just do not have the words. 

Life is hard. We all deal with tragedies which can be heartbreaking and unspeakable. Part of the training of ministers is to teach a ministry of presence. There are times when the best thing to say is nothing. ANY WORDS would be trite and belittling of the situation. Think on all the horrible things people say when someone dies or a tragedy strikes. “They are in a better place.” or “God wanted another angel.” When we say things like that, think on how we are describing God. Often the better choice, is to say nothing. To be still and silent, and present. When Lazarus died, “Jesus wept.” And maybe that needs to be our model. And if there needs to be any speaking, let the Spirit do the talking. As Paul said in Romans: “...the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the One who speaks through us, the One who speaks to us, the One who speaks for us when we do not have the words. 
Sighs too deep for words. Groaning, and weeping, and sighing. Our Advocate works on our behalf at all times and in all places. Thanks be to God. 

The Spirit, our Advocate, with others, with God, and with our very selves, is wonderful. Acts likened it to a fire. And it is. 

Yesterday the fire was lit in a wonderful and surprising way. And the world stood by in awe, and in derision as well. I find the timing impeccable that this is Pentecost weekend. Must be God at work again. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, spoke to about ⅓ of humanity when he was asked to give the sermon at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. People were amazed, and many made fun. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached. Unquestioningly, unabashedly, and emphatically. The Spirit saw a chance, and enabled the good news to be preached. St. Peter had his 3,000 on Pentecost, and Presiding Bishop Curry had his almost 3 billion. Do not tell me God’s hand was not in this.  

In a world filled with horrible news and bleak attitudes, the world was enchanted with a message of hope and love. Esquire Magazine, a most cynical of journals reported it this way:  
“And at this point in history, when the world seems to be getting crueler by the minute, an impassioned plea for self-sacrifice, a call for a life centered on love for one’s neighbor, is exactly what we need to be hearing. Particularly when it’s delivered in a castle that has survived the Norman conquest and two world wars. In the last thousand years, Windsor Castle has seen worse than what we’re living right now. We will come through this. But we have got to start loving one another. We really did not expect to get inspired by a Royal Wedding, but there you are. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to join the Episcopal Church.”   
-Dave Holmes link 
And what was said? I won’t do it justice, but this was the part that struck me the most: 
Someone once said that Jesus began most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of god for the world. And a movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I'm talking about some power, real power, power to change the world. 
He didn't die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn't—he wasn't getting anything out of it. He gave up his life. He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the well-being of the world, for us.  That's what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish sacrificial redemptive love, changes lives and it can change this world.  If you don't believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.  When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of god's children because when love is the way, we actually treat each other well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that god is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of god. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family. -Presiding Bishop Michael Curry link 

Yesterday, sisters and brothers in Christ, we witnessed the evangelical witness of our brother in Christ, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Most of These as well as the Least of These. We witnessed another Pentecost moment, when even Esquire Magazine, and the New York Times, and CNN, and Fox News, and The Guardian, and too many others to share repeatedly the Gospel message to the world in awe with the idea that love can and WILL change the world. 

As we come to bring a new one into Christ’s family, we pray for her and the work of the Spirit in her life and in her family. We celebrate her choices to be a part of Christ’s Church, and promise to walk with her as she continues to believe and grow in her faith. It is an honor and gift to us to be able to celebrate and welcome her today. 
This is the birthday of the Church, and the birth of a new day in her life, and Pentecost. We have so much to celebrate! Thanks be to God. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock