Monday, May 25, 2015

Holy whoosh, holy whisper

Whoosh and whisper 052415
Romans 8:22-27; Acts 2:1-21

This past week some of our Heart Listening small group went to hear John Philip Newell, an author and teacher of Celtic Spirituality.  He was not a dynamic speaker; his voice was soft and melodic, without a lot of inflection, and he was slow-speaking.  And yet, God spoke to me, to the three of us, that night….
And since I was already thinking about Pentecost and today’s service,  that got me thinking about the work of God’s spirit in our lives, in the world.   In today’s texts we have signs that God’s spirit works in various ways…in Acts it’s the sound and rush of a mighty wind, with a vision of fiery fingers touching the Jerusalem Jesus followers who’d been waiting for a word from God….and in the letter to the followers in Rome, we hear the Spirit comes “in sighs too deep for words”…..

Sometimes the Spirit comes with a WHOOSH! And sometimes with a whisper.
Someone in our SLB group this week mentioned the sound of the wind in a tornado, sounding like a train rushing in, and we hear a whoosh where the sound cries out from the universe:  ENOUGH!   I hear it nightly if I watch the news…                                                                                                                                             Enough selfishness,                                                                                                                        enough religious extremism,                                                                                                          enough human arrogance arrogance,                                                                                               enough abuse of the earth….

Or we hear a Whoosh in an unexpected confrontation of our own sins:                                                  prejudice, narrow-mindedness, abuse of relationships, harmful habits. 
….whoosh in the sudden realization of our own mortality, and failure to be all God dreams for us…
……And sometimes we hear the whoosh when the sound cries, GO!                                                        any emerging consciousness can come like a whoosh….as one friend said to me, the truth struck me like a 2 by 4.   GO, says the spirit,                                                                                                New life and energy and purpose lies ahead….                                                                                                There is love and mercy and justice work to be done...                                                               And to our foolish amazement the Spirit says, you, yes you

Watch out for the whoosh!   And I mean that literally as well as spiritually!  Be alert and expectant like those Jerusalem Jesus people.
But the spirit can also come to us like a whisper, and need to listen in for that quieter sound…..                                                                                                                                                                           the quiet slow dawning of a new understanding....                                                                                     a deep sigh of grief that opens body and soul to the Spirit’s touch on that un-nameable hurt…..                                                                                                                                                        that restless urge to find purpose in a harried life….                                                                                                                                                             The longing for healing from a chronic illness….                                                                                                                                                             hat yearning for peace in a troubled world……

Most of us would rather hear the whisper….(quote from “Fragments of the Ancient Name” May 18 Holy Spirit)
It’s quiet, softer, nicer, personal/private….it has no real implications because I can pretend I didn’t hear or understand…
But today’s celebration of Pentecost reminds us the church’s job isn’t primarily to be a warm fuzzy for our souls….
The Spirit’s work in the church is communal, corporate; it’s public.   As Joan Chittister wrote in the item I sent out for our weekly email, “the Spirit is a wild thing”.
It’s the life force of the cosmos, and until we open ourselves, personally and corporately, to that force, we are doomed to be out of step with either whoosh or whisper.

In both Hebrew and Greek one word, ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek, can mean both wind and spirit and even breath….that whoosh of wind and that breathed sigh whispered are the same force
The sound of whoosh touches us, the wind of spirit moves us, the whisper of sigh strengthen us—NOT for our own benefit, but so we might be conduits of the cosmic life force that is God.
At the beginning of worship, we breathe in, so that we may fill up with an awareness of God
We breathe out, so that we can make room for God’s spirit to enter
Now at the end, we breathe in, so that we might be opened up to the call of God on our life
We breathe out, so that we can help others uncover their call, and spread the Spirit, the life force of God, into a troubled world
We breathe in so we can speak out… our lives may speak a word from the Cosmos, in a language those we encounter can understand.

Whoosh or whisper, the Spirit comes.  Through us or in spite of us, the Spirit works.  May we find ourselves open enough, humble enough, to receive this gift…..watching out for the whoosh, and listening for the whisper.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Big Bang (C Jewell)


Our scripture today immediately brought to mind one of my favorite quotes: “Christianity started in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Rome and became an institution, it moved to Europe and became a culture, it moved to America and became a business”.
It’s one of my favorite quotes because it reflects a profound truth. Originally our faith was an experience. Not a philosophy, not an institution, not a culture, not a business—an experience. Not just any experience--a direct-immediate, life changing experience of God.
Our scripture today points back to and reflects that strange, amazing, life-changing experience.

One of the big ideas in first-century Judaism and Christianity, was the experience of an ascent to heaven to encounter Godthis was THE experience for the founders of our faith…
In the Bible Jesus is not the only one who is said to have ascended to heaven. Jesus, Elijah, Enoch, John in Revelation,  Paul.  Paul describes this journey in his own words for us. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. (read)
Scholars all agree that Paul is talking about himself. First century Jews thought it was arrogant to speak of their own spiritual experiences so Paul discusses his in the third person. We know from his report that Paul encountered the unknown, the mysterious unknown, when he ascended into Heaven and we know Paul was forever transformed by such an experience. He was converted into a new life—he went from being a Pharisaic Jew to an apostle of the Christ. He underwent a radical shift in perspective.

The Ascension experiences reported in the New Testament, these trips into heaven, they reflect the experience/s that were The big-bang of Christianity, the big-bang of the New Creation---the church came out of such events—and, thanks to great scholarship, that is now indisputable. So the church, of all places, needs to be a place that facilitates such experiences—why? Because they transform lives and by extension, the world.  In our day, there is plenty of science to back it up—once people begin having these experiences, they become more loving, more empathic, less selfish, less materialistic, less controlling, less manipulative, less self-centered. They begin to see themselves—and their own issues more clearly. Heck, many therapists are even encouraging patients to have spiritual experiences. Imagine the effect this type of change has on the world. If you become less-self-centered—less concerned with your own gratification, less concerned with manipulating those around you to get your own way, you change the world. You are the pebble dropped in the pond. Then you don’t have to do anything special—just by living a transformed life you change those in your circle—because the old manipulative self is not there anymore. That is what really transforms the world. The way many people try to change the world is by running around serving everyone for mostly unhealthy and selfish reasons. That gives us toxic churches and toxic charities.  Now I’m not saying these experiences of God give us perfect people—those only exist in bad stories and comic books, but these divine encounters undoubtedly help us grow---why else did Jesus and Paul value them so?
How do we, 21st century Christians, experience what Jesus and Paul called an ascent into Heaven?the same way they did! They were human beings---just like us—culturally different, yes, but they were people. That doesn’t make them any less extraordinary—but it does make them real. If we turn them into literary characters that lived in an ancient time of magic when some God zapped them up into heaven—we reduce them—we make them irrelevant for too many adults.  Such Spiritual immaturity has been the true enemy of the church. When we reduce them we cannot truly learn from them. By not making transformative spiritual experiences the primary concern of the church we also reduce the church. We reduce it to an institution that only supports the status-quo rather than transforming it. We allow the church to be an institution that is too-easily hi-jacked and subtly controlled by ideas like the worship of success and competitive capitalism.
Jesus and Paul journeyed into heaven through their own spiritual practices. They meditated and prayed deeply. They went off to be by themselves so that they could be with God. We know this. This is how the human is lifted into the conscious presence of the divine. This is the true miracle of the New Testament: the radically, and when I say radically, I mean completely, from the roots up, the radically transformed lives of people like Paul, Jesus, and the first Christians. The radical transformation of consciousness that is reflected in the ascension stories is truly mysterious—miraculous—stranger than fiction.
When we embark on our own ascent or journey into heaven we must risk leaving behind our old way of life. Because an ascent into heaven is a journey into the unknown—it is, as Paul tells us, a journey into a mysterious place. A place beyond thought and words. It is the place where our humanity meets the divine. It is a place where real people like Paul, Jesus, you and me—are transformed into our true selves. It is the place where Christianity becomes new—it is the place that is always new. It is the place that transforms all of us into the New Creation. It is the big-bang that sends God’s love out into the world. Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2015

the joy of friendship

The joy of friendship 051015
This is a day of joy and excitement!  We hear it in our texts today: from psalm…sing a new song, be happy, rejoice out loud, make music, even the rivers clap their hands…and from Jesus: my joy is in you so your joy may be complete, love one another…..
And this is a day of joy and excitement for other reasons, the weather, a wedding here yesterday, and Mothers’ Day!
All may not be mothers, all may not have good mothers, but all can both give and receive love….the love of God at the centre of all our texts today, the love that is at the centre of all our relationships.
And it’s relationships that struck me in the words of Jesus we heard….I no longer call you servants, but friends.
And it was love that changed that relationship.  Love changes all relationships.
Who are your servants?   Many mothers might feel like servants; perhaps today they get a break and someone serves them! But it’s still an unequal relationship….and for sure temporary. 
And seriously who are your servants?   (your turn)…………
What would it take to see them as your friends? what would change that relationship?
Love changes relationships
You see, friendship is a relationship among equals—this may seem obvious today, but in Jesus’ day – and in the gospel writers end of first century world, it would be radical for Jesus, seen as divine by John’s gospel, to call mere human followers, ‘friends’.  There is too great a power imbalance between them. From Sojourners: human beings, lowly, mortal time-bound and fallible as we are, can be friends with God almighty.
So, think about our servants…..on PBS Newshour on Friday, manicurists…then there’s garbage collectors and lowly clerical workers, baggage handlers at airports (my personal experience this week),  sweatshop workers allowing you certain clothing labels, the cleaner at your office…..the list goes on, and might even include the people in your own family whom you treat as servants…..
Love changes those relationships, sometimes personally, one on one, sometimes in attitude and cultural understanding, but it changes things.   Being a Jesus follower means change happens.
So, what qualities do we see in friends?   (your turn)……….
Mutual, interdependent, caring, loyal etc....
So for Jesus to call us friends has profound implications. 
This week I read a quote from Teresa of Avila:
If Jesus dwells in a person as friend, that one can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens and never abandons us. He is a true friend.
But its not just the mushy “what a friend we have in Jesus” kind of relationship….an equally profound “what kind of friend does Jesus have in us”?
Love changes us and our perceptions….then it changes relationships.
Relationships beginning, like yesterday’s wedding couple
Relationships long  lasting
Relationships in trouble
Love changes them.
Here’s how it works:  we, you and me, we are loved by God, whatever Name you give the divine.  I believe Cosmic Energy IS in fact Love.  God is love.
And loved, we learn to love, giving and receiving.  And in that back and forth of Love we grow more and more like the one we call friend, the one who calls us friend.
And so joy comes, for what is more joy-making than knowing you are loved and loving?! So we can sing a new song, be happy, rejoice out loud, make music, even hear the rivers clap their hands…because, from Jesus we hear: my joy is in you so your joy may be complete!
May your soul sing a new song, your heart know the deep love, and your life resonate with the joy of love.