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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Your Illusion of Christ

June 26, 2016 Leave a comment

long lotus

Here’s my question for the day: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” Let me repeat that: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” For many years I was under the illusion that if or when I would finally be answering His call, everything in and about life would suddenly be like a movie. The butterflies and birds would fly around in circles near my head. Everyone would treat me kindly and I’d see the perfect utopia that we all dream about. Rainbows everywhere, and hunger, fear, disease and poverty were too far out of sight to be brought to mind for even the slightest moment.

I had a lot to learn and learned a lot in a very short time once I stopped the kicking and screaming as I passed from one Committee on Ministry to the next in my diocesan ministry discernment process. I was second-guessing myself right up to almost having to be dragged down the aisle by the saints and angels to have Bishop Baxter lay his hands on me to be ordained. Even the next Sunday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, so afraid I’d sleep in, that it hit me hard – this was for the rest of my life! This following Jesus thing was now for real! But did it have to involve wearing a collar? There were so many good lay ministers out there that seemed to be more in tune to what it meant to be a Christian than I ever thought I could be. In short, I was like John and James, wanting to know where those lightning bolts were to hurl around at something… just anything… to prove a point. I couldn’t tell you what that point was but I was positive that since I was now following Jesus I might as well go and do some rebuking of my own!

But when we read today’s gospel we find that all of that fluff that we dream about happening couldn’t be further from the truth. What do mean we can’t call upon the heavens to destroy some civilization that is being mean to us? It wasn’t part of the Old Testament lesson for today, but we just read about Elijah, Isn’t that what he did? Didn’t he request that God send down fire to wipe out enemies? Surely we can take revenge on those who harm us. It’s in the bible. We just read it. Oh, and still yet, didn’t Elijah let Elisha, who wished to continue on and follow him go home to say good bye to his family? But now Jesus won’t allow this one potential disciple leave to take care of the bones of his deceased father and then return and continue on with him. Why is there such a difference between what we hear in the old testament and what we hear Jesus doing when it involves the same situations?

Unfortunately, when we try to relate to the bible and look there for answers to what it is we should do in our daily lives, so many of us get caught up in the laws, just as the Jews did, just as the Greeks did, just as the Romans did. To understand Jesus, to understand what it takes to be a Christian requires us to unwrap our brains from the rules and regulations and sink our souls into the Spirit of Christ. I couldn’t remember where I first heard the saying that “You must never break a law unless you know the reason why the law was written in the first place.” Seems that you’d have to be a bit of a renegade to do that. But then again that’s what Jesus was. He healed on the Sabbath, he hung out with the homeless and the sick, he crossed religious and cultural boundaries tending to those different than him, and he opposed war, revenge, and violence.

Looking at those traits, what do many who claim to be Christians do today? Cities are finding ways to make it more and more difficult to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Money is withheld from or refused by agencies whereby that money would enable those who need health care the most to get it. Lies are spread and traps set to lure others into fighting instead of seeking to compromise on issues and work things out in peaceful fashion. We could go on and on with these comparisons, and even try to make them political, but the fact of the matter is they are issues not about countries or cities or governments but issues that affect the dignity of human beings everywhere. I’m saying these things today; Jesus was explaining it a couple thousand years ago. Not much has changed except the time and place.

What does all of that have to do with me being a Christian, you might ask? According to Jesus, it has everything to do with it. When we talk of being a Christian so many people like to wrap themselves up in their own little cuddly blanket thinking that to say they are Christians is enough. They wear crosses and put tag lines on email addresses and maybe even have a Shield on their car. They do the duties in church that are needed for the congregation to survive like tithe, volunteer and assist with the services. They do everything they’ve heard they should do and have read – like the ten commandments – from the old law. Yet still we find something missing. Something that nags at us from time to time and we can’t quite put our finger on it. Eventually it comes to us, some late in life, some early, some early, then late, then even late after that. Those are the ones like me who had the call at the age of 10, then put it off at the wise old age of 13, then on again around 35, off at 40, on at 45… until finally we think we “get it”. And then we find out there’s way more to what Jesus kind of said would happen but we glossed over it and act surprised when it does happen.

We find that following Jesus and being a Christian means what Paul said today, that now we are led not by earthly, material things (the flesh as he calls it) but we are led by the Spirit and so must live the way of Christ. We find that living in Christ means that our first response to a crisis is not about what happened or will happen to our property, but we move forward with an automatic concern and compassion for the people who may be effected by that crisis no matter if it’s from a natural disaster or an act of violence, revenge, or war. And we find that living in Christ means we know the reasons why rules and laws were written and made and if the time comes to break that law in order to save lives – be it human or animal, domestic or foreign – we will act in the spirit of the law of do what is right.

Looking back at my own illusion, what I thought what being a true follower of Jesus would be like, all I can say is, “it’s not the same animal, not even the same species.” But once we understand the nature of Christ, not the superficial one some talk about, but the Christ that feeds us with grace and inspires us through the acts of others; once we begin to understand that, we can begin to accept that not everything about being a Christian is butterflies and rainbows. You’ll often be on the wrong side of history. You’ll often have an opposing view of current affairs from what your friends have. You’ll often be in the middle of some illness, some crisis, some dilemma – either yours or other’s – that needs professional help. You may not have it all as far as others are concerned. Having it all is the illusion that you started with. But you will have more than you will ever need or know through this Grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Deacon Pete

(Ref Revised Common Lectionary:  Year C, 6 Pentecost, Proper 8, June 26 2016)

 

 

Ascending into the heavens… for the glory of God.

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier in the week I was writing my article for the Sentinel on this same subject, the Ascension, and it was difficult to keep it to a few paragraphs. I wanted to go on and on but had to cut it short. How much can one person comprehend from today’s lessons? We have Jesus promising an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to fall upon each of them and be their guide for the future. We have Jesus rising up into the sky as he departs from his friends.   Then we have Peter admonishing a group of disciples; probably for being afraid of the tortures they’ve begun to bear in the name of Christ, telling them to take it all for the glory of God who now holds them in the power of His hands. And finally we have Jesus asking God to glorify him so he may glorify God.

            But let us not forget we also have our present lives. If I may steal a little quote from someone, probably from more than one person, we are an “Ascension Church”. We have been resurrected through changes that were beyond our own doing, and now we’ve been drawn into the “in-between” stages of our wonderful community of St. Luke’s. Having to deal with being “in-between” can make us restless and anxious to move on. We may want to hurry things and be on our way. But we must remind ourselves that that type of thinking might have been why we got ourselves where we are in the first place. There are some things in life that can be taken for granted and won’t hurt us like what flavor of ice cream should I buy for dessert. But this isn’t one of those things. Jesus’s call to us and the instructions he gives us on the day of his ascension finally take hold on the disciples and they begin to understand. And I know we are praying that we all understand as well.

What happened right after the resurrection is a different story. At that point in time the disciples still didn’t understand what it was they were to do. It wouldn’t be for another 40 days – that recurring bible number – that the eleven, along with their friends and families would grasp it all. Right after Jesus resurrected from the dead, visited every one of his disciples, and even after appearing in the room with the locked doors where he convinced Thomas of who he was, even after all of the reports of Jesus’s visits, what does Peter do? He goes fishing. Not a bad idea to do myself either, I think, being a life-long angler. “See any walking dead people today Deacon? Sure did! I think I’ll go fishing and clear my head awhile.” But not only does he go! Most of the other 11 join in and go with him! I imagine today it would be like taking three or four pontoon boats out on Raystown Lake and tying them together. Everyone walking gingerly about. Trying to make another cast and see what they catch. And then off in the distance on the shore we see another figure that looks like … Jesus! Again! This time he’s over on the shore with a charcoal grill and a cooler of your favorite drink yelling, “Come on over and join me for breakfast!”

Imagine now their lives go on seeing him again and again for days, weeks. The fishing gets better and better. Eventually the disciples are paying more attention to Jesus then they have before but something is different. They seem to be grasping things a little differently now. Sure, they ask over and over to have Jesus show them this father he keeps talking about. Perhaps this is a real lesson on patience; for all of them. But all of a sudden, one day, things change drastically. There they are, once again all together on a hillside. Someone says, “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus announces that the date or the hour is not known, however when he gets to his Father he will send them the Holy Spirit who will guide them in the days to follow. And then we encounter that magnificent scene that has been replicated and recreated time and time again on stained glass and greater than life size paintings. Many artists have worked on it and some still do. Jesus floating in mid-air amongst the clouds with an angel on each side and the crowd standing around dazed and amazed at what they see!

This is the point that has contemporary biblical historians and theologians like Crossan, Berg, and Spong, finding it inconceivable and beyond reason that anyone could just disappear into the sky. So they deny that the Ascension ever happened and simply forget about it. And then I have to ask them, how much of what has gone on previously in the written life of Jesus does sound reasonable? Yet they have now have another obstacle to deal with. How then do you go about with the rest of Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, both written within about the same time period; all of them collaborating on the same theme. By the way, I don’t see any of the other evangelists finding a way to write Jesus out of the story line. They must have just given up. Except for John. He finishes his gospel saying that if everything were written that Jesus did there would be more volumes than we’d ever know. Sneaky!

What can we learn from this Ascension and the next ten days then? And what, besides the celebration of Pentecost next week (wear red), does this teach us? For starters, it teaches us that Jesus didn’t just disappear. You can believe the written account of him being raised up. You can imagine within the context of metaphysics that he was taken into the cosmos as the mystics see it. Or you may imagine him transcending this ordinary earth into a real heaven and becoming one with God as we’re told in the creeds and our catechisms. Then let us look again at how the disciples reacted to his leaving them here as opposed to his first leaving them at the crucifixion. At that time they were scared and all but for one that we know of, ran off to hide. Here – as their teacher goes to wherever, we find them confident and trusting in their Lord, making their way – not afraid and fearful for their lives – but with a countenance not seen before – making their way back to the upper room to be together and to pray.

If we are – and I am sure we are – an Ascension Church, we should really understand the idea of coming together and praying. That’s not just one concept; coming together and praying are two parts to the equation. First: We come together. —- I’m very happy that during this time of waiting we have Father Chris and Jeanne with us. Some seemed to think we were going to have someone around to fill the gaps while we called our next rector. I kept telling everyone; “no, we’re getting a trained interim who will help us discover who we were, who we are, and where we are going.” THAT is being played out in sessions like we’ll have — (after our service this morning) (had prior to this service). Fr. Chris is guiding us through a process we need to go through. He and Jeanne have richly blessed us with their presence and work here. He’s already helped us discover a great deal about the reality of where we are when it comes to our financial status. There is a great deal more to go through and so we must come together! We are an Ascension Church. We must come together.

Second: we pray. I’ve heard many thoughts on how and why we pray. I won’t go into the many ways and means of prayer right now, other than to say that when two or three or five or fifty are gathered together in Jesus’s name we KNOW that God is in the midst of us, and we KNOW that the Holy Spirit will give us answers to guide us just as Jesus promised. — The opportunities to pray in this parish are endless. We do pray!

And Third: we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us through our lives in everything we do; everything we think; and everything we ask. You see the day of Pentecost came to us two thousand years ago… the Holy Spirit is with us! We can stop waiting for that part to hit us. But as a church, as a parish, as a community, and as individuals which is what each of the original disciples were … we are an Ascension Church. And as St. Luke tells us, it was well worth every second of the coming together and all of their prayers, because when the day of Pentecost came to them, it was a time of great celebration!! We can do this. We can grow out of this time of waiting and we will see us prosper in the future … but … there is a but … you’ve heard me say it over and over: We must come together through the process, giving prayers of thanksgiving for what we have been given… and prayers for guidance as to where to go from here. We have all the tools we need to make it through our Ascension time of waiting. Let’s use them wisely, with love, and give the glory to God! Amen.

Spirit and Character (and hope)

May 26, 2013 1 comment

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How striking the words that Jesus starts out with! “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” He tells his friends this because if he told them the truth they wouldn’t believe him, nor would they understand certain things about God and Spirit. With each passing day He made reference to God as his father, yet even that seemed difficult for them to grasp. Many mysteries of the world would have been revealed to them if they could somehow break away from the routine thought patterns of their minds. But at the same time, they came to him with hopes, dreams and a faith that defied rational thinking. Day after day they followed him and listened to his words. He eagerly and lovingly accepted the crowds that begged to be healed, taking time away only to eat, sleep, and of course – pray. They may not have understood the how or why of this healing but none of it seemed to matter to the followers – as long as they could touch his garments they knew the possibility of a new life was at hand. And Jesus recognized this need for a personal relationship – all the while knowing that his absence would be quite hard for them to bear. For him to leave without instructions would be near abandonment to those who expected their messiah to be a living hero and free them once and for all. They were to hear all the truth at another time in another way. A way in which God the Son could continue guiding and loving them even after he was gone from their sight; a way in which we can still today can access all the truth without hearing the words.

Yes, even in our own time, we find it difficult to bear the real meaning behind the words we hear or miss the opportunity to make a connection with what we read or hear. I have a personal story about that which might serve as a good example that goes along with today’s reading from Paul. It illustrates this fairly well. Some of you may have heard me tell it, some not, and I hope it bears repeating on this day. Three years ago while I was working at my internship, Sheri happened to become ill and we were in one of rooms of the emergency department at the hospital. Now it also happened to be that I was preaching that upcoming Sunday and was reading the lessons to see where my sermon would be going. As I sat next to the bed, I opened up my Bible to the marked passage and was reading – quite intensely to be sure – when I glanced over and thought about how much pain she was in at the time. I glanced back at the text and continued. The next thing I know I’m reading the line about suffering… and about how it leads to endurance… and how that leads to character… and then hope… and then I became filled with the Holy Spirit, or so I thought, and thinking that this was all in some cosmic order of events; me… her… the reading… everything seemed to fit together… I said; “Listen to this! Here’s an answer and reason for what you’re going through!” Well, she glanced up at me in what appeared to be thankfulness for maybe finding a cure. “Here it is, right here in this week’s readings for my sermon!” And I began reciting the passage from Paul of what suffering led to and after I was done I said; “See? All of this pain and suffering you’re going through?!? It all leads to character and hope!! So you have nothing to worry about!” —– It was at that moment I learned a huge lesson in bedside manners concerning pastoral care. She gave me a look only a spouse could understand and said “I don’t want character and hope; I want this pain to go away!!!”

Yes, I then also understood how many times we think we have an answer – or the answer – and jump into something without first discerning the situation or praying for the right solution. It was not that I had lousy intentions with my zealous reaction; it was that I was not ready to bear the words. I, too, was hearing through my own mind from my own will and my own emotions – and not from a place where I could discern all the truth that the passage was telling me. Oh, the Holy Spirit was present there, that’s for sure, right there in the written words. Had I maybe not been so attached to the situation I may have found that the passage was meant for me. That as I struggled and sympathized with her pain, the situation would help form me into being better with hospital visits. It might just help me recognize the hope that I need to have for others.

When our knee-jerk human reaction is the desire to find a cure or an answer or a quick way to relieve someone from pain it can – as I learned – be more of a setback than advancement toward our cause. Instead of first seeking guidance and waiting to be faithfully confident in knowing the truth, we plunge into waters of unknown depth. Where did these words and my actions come from that led me to do the things I did and react that way? Were these actions and words that first came to mind and out of my mouth the result of patient listening to all the truth from the Holy Spirit or were they of my own will? How can we be sure? Where does the guidance and comfort come from? God? Yes, God. From that part of God who is our Father and Creator? From Jesus? Jesus did say that He would give us whatever we asked for in His name, and we know that Jesus was God in human flesh, but we’re also told Jesus ascended into heaven, too, so it’s not his physical presence that we meet. So what is it? Here, revealed, is the relationship of the Holy Spirit, being one with God the Father and Creator; and one with Jesus the Son of God, fully human, fully divine. Here is where one becomes three. It’s here in these last two or three weeks of the Easter Season where we are told we have nothing to fear even though Jesus is no longer walking among us. For what we have now – is what we have always had – it’s that part of God, that “person” that was from the beginning, that was breathed from the lips of God to bring us into life. It’s that Spirit that moves like the wind; we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. It’s that part of God that Jesus commands to lead us and trust in while we are on this journey together on earth. Our Advocate: The breath of God: The comforter…

In this period of the life of our church, I have witnessed how St. Luke’s has been listening to guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not only have we dealt with our internal matters in a prayerful and spirit-led way, but not one of our ministries to those outside these walls who need our help has been left unattended. We are alive with the Holy Spirit and She has kept us focused and strong.
Speaking of strong, this is also Memorial Day weekend – the time we spend honoring those who gave their lives during times of war in service to our country. There is something to be said about a person who stands up for his or her beliefs to the point of being willing to die for them. And that’s what this holiday is about. It started out being called “Decoration Day” because the graves of the fallen soldiers were to be marked with decorations of flowers. Today it has become to many a time of reflection, thanksgiving and a prayerful memorial. One of my favorite memorials is a song by Edwin McCain called “Prayer to St. Peter.” It’s a song about where we find souls lost in the conflict of war, and how they should be treated in heaven. Here is a portion of it: “Let them in, Peter. For they are very tired. Give them couches where the angels sleep. And light those fires. Let them wake up whole again… to brand new dawns. Fired by the sun. Not wartime’s bloody guns. May their peace be deep. Remember where their broken bodies lie. God knows how young they were. To have to die.” Likewise, may our peace be deep as we continue our journey together in prayer, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

scripture references: Romans 5:1-5 and the Gospel of John 16:12-15