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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pentecost Day A June 4, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"What is more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives."

Commentary, Elisabeth Johnson, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"Sometimes I think we have more faith in our fears than we do in God, in the Risen Christ. Have you ever been locked in by your fears?"

"Locked In And Locked Out," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross

Christina Rossetti (AD 1830-1894)
Read more at:

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Our passage begins on the evening of the first day. Ignatius believed this was the moment when Christians began to associate Sunday morning worship with the resurrected Lord over and against the sabbath.  That the first day of the week was a day of work to begin with the work God has given us through the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, this is indeed what happens.  Jesus comes and in their midst.
Raymond Brown points out that this is typical of the Johannine resurrection pieces:
1. A bereft situation
2. The appearance
3. Greeting
4. Recognition
5. Command (John, Anchor Bible, 1028)

He tells his followers that he is sending them out and that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. The passing of the Holy Spirit over to the disciples is a giving of authority. They are representatives of the family of God in their proclamation, mission and service to others.

We spent time on this passage previously the Sunday following Easter and so I don't want to spend time on the resurrection appearance. I would rather focus on the powers given over to the disciples.

The Holy Spirit has been given to them directly from God.

Throughout the whole of John's Gospel he has refrained from talking about the disciples as apostles, in this passage he does this for the first time. (Brown, John, 1036)
We see that the grounding, the theology of the trinitarian community ad extra, serves as the grounding for the disciples being sent by Jesus.

They are holy, they are consecrated by the Spirit to bear the Gospel forward.  This breathing on them echoes the first breaths given to man in Genesis 2.7. This is a new creation that is being made.

We might remember our Holy Saturday Great Vigil and the words spoken in Ezekiel's prophecy (ch 37).  In it the "Son of Man" is told to prophesy to the dry bones: "Hear the word of the Lord...I will cause breath [spirit] to enter you, and you shall live." (1037)

I very much like how Raymond Brown speaks of this moment:
Now, another Son of Man, himself fresh from the tomb, speaks as the risen Lord and causes the breath of eternal life to enter those who hear his word.  In the secondary, baptismal symbolism of John 3.5 the readers of the Gospel are told that by water and Spirit they are begotten as God's children; the present scene serves as the Baptism of Jesus' immediate disciples and a pledge of divine begetting to all believers of a future period represented by the disciples. (Small wonder that the custom of breathing upon the subject to be baptized found its way into the baptismal ceremonial.)  Now they are truly Jesus' brothers and can call his Father their Father (20.17)  The gift of the Spirit is the "ultimate climax of the personal relations between Jesus and his disciples. (1037ff)
This Sunday we will all celebrate the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Some will call this the birthday of the church and many will wear read. It will be a festive and exciting time.

We must not loose site though that the gift of the spirit is a missionary gift. The recreation of humanity is not for the church alone but for the whole body of God's people around the world.

We should have a glorious celebration of the Church's new creation, but as the first fruits of the great community of God, the reign of God yet to be fulfilled; and the mission of God in which we have the privilege to participate.

A Sermon on Pentecost

Who are we? We are forgiveness bearers.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

There is this great scene in one of my favorite movies, Joe Vs. the Volcano; where Joe Banks (played by Tom Hanks) receives credit cards to help him begin a journey to the Volcano island Wapponi Whu (which means island with a big volcano). He is going to jump in the volcano because he has a “brain cloud;” and doesn’t have anything else to do with his last days. He hires a limousine and driver to take him out to buy things for his journey. The driver asks him where he wants to go. Joe replies, “Shopping for clothes.” The driver asks what kind of clothes and where would you like to go. Joe answers that he doesn’t know; and then asks the driver, “Where do you go for clothes?” To which the driver quickly pulls over the car and says. “You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you want to go. You don’t know what kind of clothes you want to buy. And that is a very personal thing. I believe clothes make the man. I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am, and I am tired. I certainly don’t know who you are.”

I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am.

I used to believe that I knew who I was and where I was going. But when I arrived at that destination I found that my vision wasn’t large enough to encompass who God was calling me to be.

I have spent my whole life trying to figure that out. I don’t believe we really know who we are.

If we spend our lives trying to figure out who we are then who has time to figure out who Jesus is. After all, like the limousine driver says: “I am tired.”

I really believe our lives are frustrated by the fact that we don’t really know who Jesus is either. As a Christian this poses an major identity crisis. Because I primarily understand myself in relationship to God above all other relationships and so when I don’t understand who God is and who this person of Jesus is; I am just a little confused. If I don’t understand who God and Jesus are, I really can’t understand myself.

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes:

As we sat there on the runway, the man with the book about the Apocalypse commented on the small gold cross I wear.

“Are you born again?” he asked, as we taxied down the runway. He was rather prim and tense, maybe a little like David Eisenhower with a spastic colon, I did not know hot to answer for a moment.

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that old Jonathan Miller routine, where he said, “I’m not really a Jew – I’m Jew-ish.” They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon-vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed.

So I told the truth: that I am a believer, a convert, I’m probably about three months away from slapping an aluminum Jesus-fish on the back of my car, although I first want to see if the application or stickum in any way interferes with my lease agreement.
That is kind of the way I approach my life. Before I decide I am anything I want to know how this impending choice is going to affect my lease agreement. How will this Jesus affect who I am? What will I be asked to do if I follow him?

I think that is why many churches don’t ask much of you; they keep Jesus just far enough away that you can’t get a good enough feeling about who this is. In this way our lives and choices are not complicated and a whole life of complicity can spread out before you.

The disciples were exactly the same way. They were in the midst of an identity crisis. Their leader, teacher, friend had led them into the city of Jerusalem and been crucified. Now he was no where to be found and they had locked themselves in a room for fear that they would be rounded up and caught and crucified.

Jesus comes and stand in their midst and they receive him. They know him. They recognize him. They are transformed by his presence in their lives.

His presence tells them who they are. They know him and they know themselves. He says to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

They find out they are forgiveness bearers. They find out that they are bearers of God’s peace to the world. Peace and forgiveness bearers that is their identity in the risen and transforming life of this “Resurrected Jesus.”

Now of course Thomas wasn’t there and he has to come along and see Jesus for himself. And, he does; and then he knows who he is. Thomas finds out he too, through his belief, is a peace and forgiveness bearer to the world. That is his identity.

What I love about the story is that the disciples and Thomas come to know the risen Jesus in two different ways. They require different manners of knowing. Both ways are all right, and both ways lead to understanding themselves. Their belief helps them to know who they are and what their purpose is.

Their experience informs their belief. Their belief transforms who they are.
Richard Rohr in Hope Against Darkness, writes:
Everybody looks at the world through their own lens, a matrix of culturally inherited qualities, family influences and other life experiences. This lens, or worldview, truly determines what you bring to every discussion. When Jesus spoke of the coming reign of God, he was trying to change people’s foundational worldview… When Americans speak of money as “the bottom line,” they are revealing more about their real worldview than they realize.

We would do well to get in touch with our won operative worldview. It is there anyway, so you might as well know what this highly influential window on reality is. It’s what really motivates you. Your de facto worldview determines what you pay attention to and what you don’t notice at all. It’s largely unconscious and it drives you to do this and not that. It is surely important to become conscious of such a primary lens, or we will never know what we don’t see and why we see other things out of all perspective.

Until we can allow the gospel to move into that deepest level of unconscious and touch our operative worldview nothing substantial is going to change.
What is your operating worldview?

What is your operating core?

What is your lens?

Is there room in the core of your being for God’s peace? Is there room in the heart of your heart for God’s forgiveness?

That seems to me to be the radical call of the Gospel: Peace and forgiveness. Supernatural grace: peace and forgiveness.

We say that we know and can see resurrection all around us. We see transformation in ourselves and in others. We know Easter is real. Easter has ontological value in our world. There is resurrection and transformation. There is peace and forgiveness.

But do we know this peace and forgiveness ourselves? Is it the lens that we view the world through?

When it becomes your lens, life changes for us. Gordon Cosby of the Church of Our Saviour in Washington, D.C. says:
“…We come to know that God’s grace is surrounding you and you rest back in it. You know you have been loved with this sort of love. And simply because you have entered into this love you are able to splash it around so that it touches anybody who comes close to you. For this is a supernatural grace and there are people who love in this way. I have seen them. I know them, and you recognize in them just enough of Jesus to make you uncomfortable.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” This is what it means to be a Christian. And if we do not love this way, we are not Christian.

Who am I today? Who am I tomorrow? I am a bearer of Christ’s peace and forgiveness. That is how they will know I am Christian; that is how I know I am Christian.

Who are you today? Who are you going to be tomorrow?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:3-13

"I would have fit in well in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians' struggles, which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1?4, resemble my own: jealousy, striving, arrogance, and a propensity to measure one's worth through comparisons with other people."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"... [Paul] is thinking about people who make claims that their actions flow from the Spirit. In effect it is indeed possible to curse Christ by what we do and think, even when we are claim to be acting and speaking by the inspiration of the Spirit."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

On this Pentecost we attach Paul's writing on the gifts of the spirit.  Of course Paul is writing because there is an argument over whose gifts are most important and who is more important and what gifts are acceptable...blah blah blah.  It is typical of Christian community to argue not only over who is in and who is out but also what the hierarchy is once you are part of the group.  I think this is not unique to Christian community but the problem with community in general.

While the community is focused on the spiritual gift of speech, Paul reorients them to understanding that there are many gifts.  Deep within the text is a bit of important trinitarian theology.  Paul writes: “same Spirit ... same Lord ... same God” The Spirit is a gift of the Father; Christ was to serve or minister; and the Father is the creator of all things. This is where and how the gift giving is rooted in God. Nothing is for personal use all of it builds up the kingdom, builds up the church, and does God's work in the world.

There is the speaking but also wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  We each receive gifts for this work - the work of the church.

Because baptism is through the Spirit these gifts are through the spirit as well. Everyone no matter what their background, family of origin, or place within the roman social hierarchy - all are given gifts for ministry.

I believe that the place where these sermons go wrong - including my own in the past - is when we narrowly define the purpose of the gifts.  I think we do a good job of telling people they have gifts, that God receives them all into his kingdom, and that they are each blessed and chosen by God for his work. We fall down on this message when we so narrowly focus the gifts so as to imply that their use is only within the four walls of a church building.  When we do this we create a separate world apart from the world that God came to save.

God does welcome us all into his family, regardless of who we are and where we have been, he radically forgives and welcomes the prodigals.  He does this so that the world may know him and be reconciled.  The work takes place out in the world. The kingdom gifts are given to each and every person so that in their families, in their work, and in their life - in general - they may be a witness.  God has not raised all of us up, gone through this extraordinary ordeal, sent his Holy Spirit so that we might figure out how to keep the lights on in an empty church.  Our gifts are give for evangelism - spreading the Good News of Salvation through the unique witness of God in Christ Jesus AND our gifts are given that we might serve our neighbor and in so doing serve the God who created and has made all things - who gives life and light and love.  That is a much more important mission and it is the mission for which these gifts have been given.

Some Thoughts on Acts 2:1-21

As many are aware, there are several passages that describe the moment in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. John’s version is very much a imparting from Jesus as he breathes on them and gives them peace. Luke’s is the story of the mighty rushing wind and it is more likely the popular version people remember.

In Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch he says, “[Jesus is the fulfillment of] the holy and faithful things of David.” (Acts 13:13-41 as referred to in connection with this passage by Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 232.) Luke is clear regardless of who is speaking, Peter or Paul, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy that God’s reign will be victorious and that it is meant for the whole world. The Gospel authors, Luke included, reads the Old Testament as the prefigured and prophetic work of the Word at work in the world.

The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples is clearly the way/manner in which this gospel message of fulfillment will be taken into the world. And, the coming of the Holy Spirit (as discussed in previous passages on Peter’s speech) is also part of the fulfillment itself. For while Jesus is the culmination of the work of the Word, it is the Holy Spirit that shall reweave and restore creation and humanity. And, Jesus is to be the Lord of all.

This is all clouded in the midst of our celebrations of Pentecost Sunday. The message will be muddled by the reading of the story in different languages. It will be obscured by the celebrations of the “birthday of the church”. It really isn’t a story about the inside but our celebrations tend to reinforce a stayed church institution and hermeneutic of attraction. The story is instead one of sending, of going, of being empowered with gifts for the journey, and being unmoored from our appointed seats at the table to a world hoping for light in the midst of shadow. Pentecost is NOT about the birth of a church it is about the ever expanding reign of God and the Good News of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus outside our church boxes and upper rooms and actively spreading into the world around us.

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