Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Pentecost Message

Sermon notes for Pentecost Sunday (5/24/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

The European adventurers who traveled the world in the 15th century were explorers looking for new lands. I greatly simplify the history and the process, of course, but these explorers would leave the safety and security of land, venturing by the power of wind and current into the unknown. The Trades, blowing from the northeast, would take them into the far reaches of the Atlantic, sometimes depositing them in the equatorial doldrums where they would wait for a new wind to arrive. Eventually, that wind which blew them away further away from their land – away from their home and that which they already knew - away from a worldview in which they were stuck - away from unimaginative ways. And it would blow them towards new places and new possibilities.

Now, without attending to the moral side of what such exploration would lead to (i.e. imperialism, colonialism, cultural genocide), the model can be a suitable metaphor for the acceptance and cherishing of the uncertainty of the Spirit, which is critical to keeping our minds from the delusion of omniscience. Indeed, like the explorers who were willing to encounter the unexpected winds, when we are willing to encounter the Spirit, even in unexpected ways, we can free ourselves from the constraints of fear, emotional barriers, and unimaginative thinking. We can begin to imagine the unimaginable, being blown to new and wonderful places and possibilities.

Recently, I was carrying my one-year old niece, Molly, along Stanford Avenue in Bartow. It had been a long day of playing, swimming, and eating at Aunt E’s house and it was getting on towards evening. Molly was tired. So I, the good uncle that I am, took Molly for a walk away from the hustle and bustle of sisters and cousins playing in the pool. As we were walked Stanford Avenue, Molly would put her head on my shoulder and I would think she was asleep. But then she would pop up and point at this big house or that funny cat or some noisy dog. Several times this happened until we stopped at an intersection, Molly having noticed yet another cat on a porch. Then she looked at me and put her down, closing her eyes and burying here face in my shoulder. At that moment, a gentle breeze blew and Molly was fast asleep.

While it took a little time, Molly eventually found her way to comfort and rest (and gave me a good metaphor for the work of the Spirit). You see, Molly was unable to find her rest or even feel the gentle breeze until she decided to let the distractions pass her by. I think it is like that with the Spirit. If we want to know the Spirit’s breath – if we want to feel the gentle breeze – we have to let the distractions pass us by.

Finding some disciples in Ephesus when he came there, Paul asked them,
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (Acts 19:1-2).
The Holy Spirit is too often the great unknown, even in our own day and even by those of us who profess belief in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. But the Spirit is a key, making our life in Christ with God even possible and giving power to our mission as Church.

Indeed, in the very baptismal rite that makes us as daughters and sons of God, we pray,
"Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen." (BCP 308)
Notice that it is by water AND the Holy Spirit that we are raised to new life. And then, after having received the waters of baptism, the baptized is anointed with holy oil, 
"N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever."
As Church and individually as members of the Body we invoke the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. We should be seeking constantly to grow in our docility to this highest gift of God, allowing ourselves to be sustained in the Holy Spirit so that we might assuredly be adventurous in the faith and at rest in the love God.

But how are we to go about this? Three things come to mind..


"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." (Romans 8:26).
The Holy Spirit not only teaches us how to pray but intercedes with and for us in ways incomprehensible and beyond our own communication. By this I do not mean that the Spirit will put words in our minds and mouth. Rather, I think that the Spirit will transform us as we pray, making us aware of who we have become in baptism. In other words, the Spirit makes us conscious of our reality as beloved daughters and sons who can confidently cry out, “Abba, Father!” Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer?


"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." (Romans 8:5)
Life according to the Spirit is what authentic Christian spirituality ought to be. To be spiritual, for Paul, simply means to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This means seeking the Spirit’s guidance – searching for the breath of the Spirit – in all that we do throughout the day. It means allowing the Spirit to rest upon us as it did upon the shoot that came "out from the stock of Jesse" – the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and awe (Isaiah 11:1-2). It means demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness as fruits of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22). It means consciously allowing the Spirit to guide us as we make the choices we make, recognizing that each of us has been given a "manifestation of the Spirit" for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our daily living?


"Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
'Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand
.'" (Romans 15:15-21).
We need to be cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work to make us witnesses of the faith. The Holy Spirit was sent upon the first members of the Church as tongues of fire so that they could proclaim the Gospel with confidence and ardent love. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit who would teach us all things, lead us to all truth, and remind us of everything he had taught us, precisely so that we could give this witness. Our sanctification is our cooperation in the Spirit’s work – allowing the Spirit to blow us like the wind where it wills. It is ours now to join with Paul to stand in service to the gospel of God in word and deed and by the power of signs and wonders. It is ours now to join with Paul in the power of the Holy Spirit to "fully proclaim the good news of Christ." Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us as witnesses to the faith? 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Church of England Divests from Fossil Fuel

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A Church of England news release from April 30, 2015 announces that the Church of England will divest from some of their fossil fuel holdings. The release reads, in part,
The Church Commissioners and The Church of England Pensions Board have today announced the £12million divestment from thermal coal and tar sands.
From today neither body, nor the CBF Church of England funds, will make any direct investments in any company where more than 10% of its revenues are derived from the extraction of thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands.
A Guardian report form May 1, 2015 confirms the action, quoting the Rev. Canon Richard Burridge as Deputy Chair of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group for the Church of England,
The church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor who are most vulnerable to climate change.
This move by the Church of England follows a 2013 move by the United Church of Christ to similarly divest from thermal coal and tar sands as well as make a commitment to invest only in “best in class” fossil fuel companies (to be in place by 2018). The United Methodist Church and several other smaller Christian organizations, churches, and colleges have made similar pledges. As a whole, these divestment moves have been widely welcomed by both climate change experts and charities that work in the world’s poorest regions. The same Guardian article quotess Christine Allen from Christian Aid,
The Church of England has effectively read the last rites to the coal and tar sands industry. The message must be heard loud and clear: they have no place in a sustainable future, and ultimately other fossil fuels don’t either.
Some of this new work by the Church of England (the divestment as well as new policies regarding climate change) can be traced to a Guardian op-ed piece penned by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in which the Archbishop calls for an “apartheid-style boycott to save the planet.” Archbishop Tutu recognizes a moral responsibility, as Christians and also as a human family, to address climate change:
People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change. We can, for instance, boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil-fuel energy companies. We can demand that the advertisements of energy companies carry health warnings. We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry.   
So there is a move afoot to divest form fossil fuels. But is it the appropriate Christian response? Will it be successful or is it pointless?

Yossi Cadan of 350.org thinks it is “hugely important” for religious groups to divest because it adds the aura of moral authority – a credence of a moral argument. He maintains that it is not about the money…
…and not about the scale of investment, because most of these institutions have very little investments. It's about sending a signal and telling people [the fossil fuel industry is] immoral.
With another view, Mark Regier of the Mennonite investing arm Everence, sees this kind of full-scale divestment as pointless, unrealistic, and unhelpful:
You can't demonize them any more than they already are demonized. Everybody loves to hate oil companies … they're more interested in whether we use their products. We can protest all we want. As long as we stop at the gas station on the way, they're more than happy.
So, there it is. What do you think of the Church of England's move? What do think of Archbishop Tutu's call for boycott? Is divestment a good move or not? What say you?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Being an Easter People

Sermon notes for the 7th Sunday of Easter
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

As we celebrate the 7th Sunday of Easter - the last Sunday of our yearly Easter journey - we might gain some insight into its import, meaning, and impact if we can recognize its place at the confluence of three great feasts: Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. Yes, coming at the end of the season which began with the Feast of the Resurrection and appearing between the Feast of Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost, I think that on this final Sunday of the season we can finally get a glimpse of what it means for us to be an Easter people.

First of all, in being an Easter People we should live as a people who know and and trust that we are on the Sunday side of the cross. We are, in other words, a Resurrection People.

What does it mean to be as resurrection people? Primarily, it means that we are a people of hope, demonstrating a confidence that death no longer has the final word. It means that we live aligned with Jesus or, as John has written, that we abide in Jesus – in Jesus’ love just as Jesus abides in the Father’s love.

To see what this might look like we turn to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6), where there is a new kingdom come, a new way in the world.
  • Blessed are the rich? No – blessed are the poor and humble. 
  • Blessed are powerful? No – blessed are the meek and merciful. 
  • Worry about what is to come? No – learn to trust the generosity of God. 
  • Love those who love you? Well, yes – but also love those hate you and persecute you. 
This same reversal shows up in big and small ways throughout the gospels:
  • The widow put in just a penny but gave more than everyone else combined.
  • The tax collector, stunned by Jesus forgiveness, gives half his possessions to the poor and pays back four-fold those he cheated.
  • The Samaritan woman, so burdened by shame that she was afraid to draw water with the other women and was reluctant to talk to Jesus, shares her encounter with the Lord with all in her village
Where lives demonstrate hope, living as though love has the victory, there is a Resurrection People.

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. ” (Luke 24:50-53)

We should never imagine that God is remote or inaccessible. The biblical picture is of Jesus still being involved in the world to which he came.

Yes, Jesus “ascended far above the heavens….” (Collect for Ascension, BCP 226). But let us not confuse ascension with absence. Indeed, we trust that he “abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.” The ascension of Jesus does not mean the absence of Jesus; rather and to the contrary, it means a very real presence often seen in weakness, in the despised, in the small, but backed by the infinite power and glory of the Trinitarian God.

In the final story of Luke’s gospel, I notice three details that are particularly significant for us who want to be an Ascension People. First, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” For me, this is quite liberating because it means that we have been invited into the story of God, to know it and to digest it. While Jesus is referring specifically to Old Testament scriptures, particularly those referring to the Messiah, it is nonetheless easy to see how this conceptually might also apply to the much broader story of God with the creation and with us.

Second, even though Jesus disappeared from their midst, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They had hidden during the passion, crucifixion, and burial out of fear so why are they now filled with great joy? Is it perhaps that, now, they finally understand Jesus and his mission? Is it perhaps that they also finally understand their place in the story and what they will be in the spreading of God’s kingdom of love?

Third, the opening of their minds has made them “witnesses of these things.” Witness is such a powerful word. They have seen and can bear evidence…but of what? Simply, the disciples are witnesses to the resurrection. They are witnesses to a new creation and to new life. They are witnesses to love. And they know it.

And they have been given a job to do (a mission). Their life has a purpose, spelled out in Acts 1:8b: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Living this purpose is what it means to be an Ascension People: to be witnesses to Jesus and our life with Jesus. It happened to those to whom Jesus appeared:
  • The disciples on the road to Emmaus, who felt their “hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road,” returned to Jerusalem and “told what had happened on the road.”
  • On the seashore, Jesus commands Peter, the representative of the eleven, to feed the sheep and tend the lambs.
  • On the hill in Galilee, Jesus commands his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
The two men dressed in white ask the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” They ask us as well. It is time for us to continue with the disciples’ mission.

The disciples, once fearful, found themselves courageous beyond imagining: singing in the face of imprisonment, merry in the face of floggings, buoyant when confronted with crosses, lions, vats of oil, stones, beheading, new instruments of torture. Their persecutors exhausted themselves trying to find more frightening forms of execution. And still the disciples, and those who came after, women, teens, thousands on thousands, went to their death rather than deny the truth they’d come to believe: Jesus, God himself, raised from the dead, has the way to freedom and life.

Being witnesses as Ascension People, witnessing to the power of Resurrection, doesn’t mean we are left to our own devices. Indeed not, in Jerusalem on Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of being able to communicate, the obstacle of Babel was undone. On that day, the disciples were empowered to tell the story, even in a “diversity of languages.” Not a curse but a marvel. So take courage, God undid Babel. We have the authority in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Common Prayer summarizes the power of the Holy Spirit in this way: “The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.” And “we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” In other words, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we stop being strangers with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and all creation.

There will be more on Pentecost next week. For now, a word from Origen, an early church theologian who at seventeen lost his father to beheading, lived most of his life under the threat of persecution, spent years in hiding and more years suffering a mix of ingenious tortures. In his “Principles,” he wrote: “We trust in the protection of the One who said, ‘Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. From His victory we take courage.'”

So, take courage and be an Easter People.