Friday, June 30, 2017

Prayer 1617: held within the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The bishop presents us to the congregation at Christ Church Cathedral as newly ordained priests last night.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
your love is stretched as wide as the heavens
as we rise to sing our praise.

You, Lord Christ, are our true food and drink;
you gather us in your arms as your children.

Press the hand of blessing over our hearts and minds,
that they be consecrated to You today, O Holy One.

Give us hands that heal and hearts that forgive,
that we reflect your love into the world.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus,
envelop within your mercy
the wandering, the lost,
the hurting, the lonely.
By the power of Love Incarnate,
bless and protect those we now name,
we humbly pray.

Amen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prayer 1616: On the day of our ordination

My friends and fellow ordinands Maria and Andrew with me on the night of our ordination to the transitional diaconate on December 16, 2017. Tonight at 6 pm we will be ordained priests in Christ's Church.

Almighty God, who is making heaven and earth,
we lift our hearts to You in gratitude and praise.

Let all the round Earth sing out your glory;
let heart tell to heart the wonders of the Lord.
Plant within our hearts the strength and courage
to serve You and your Holy Church in all we do.
May we celebrate the beauty of God
in every person we encounter,
aflame with the light of Christ,
who is mother and father of us all.
Make us steadfast laborers in the fields of justice and peace,
standing with all oppressed in body, mind, or spirit.

Abide within our hearts, Blessed Jesus,
that we may sing your love into the world.
Make us healers, hearers, doers,
shepherds for the found as well as the lost,
grounded in your grace and mercy.

In humility, we lay our lives before You:
bless and hallow them to your glory, O Merciful One.
Spirit of God, rest upon us,
and extend the shade of your blessing over all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Prayer 1615: For discipleship

Detail from a tapestry at St. Augustine's Chapel at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

Almighty Lord, Bringer of Peace,
we bless and worship You in our morning praise.
At noonday we pause and lift our hearts to You, O Lover of Souls,
and wonder at your steadfast lovingkindness.
At nightfall, we rest ourselves
under the strength of your right hand
and recount your many blessings.

Make us worthy to stand before You, Blessed Jesus,
bearing the name of disciples, we pray.
Help us keep our feet firmly on the pilgrim path
and our hearts within your Way of Love and Mercy.
Spirit of God, burn within us
and gentle our souls
that we may love God and each other always.
May we always proclaim the healing power of love,
that we may live in hope and charity.
Holy One, gather us within your grace today,
and pour out your blessing over those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Prayer, day 1614: For discernment

Sunset at Windridge Solitude Retreat Center, Lonedell, MO.

We worship You, O God. Our strength comes from Your abundant Love, that gives us hope to press on toward our goal. 

You call us to faithfulness: let us always trust in Your abounding grace. 
You call us to compassion: let us always love one another. 
You call us to action: let us work for justice and peace as love made manifest. 

Give us eyes to see clearly, minds to discern justly, hearts to love freely, and hands to work unceasingly. Give hope to those who are troubled, wisdom to those who seek a path, and comfort to those who suffer, especially those we now name.

Amen.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Prayer 1613: for grace and gratitude

Morning dew on a hosta in the garden.

Almighty, All-Merciful God,
who has stretched this day before us in beauty,
we praise and bless You for your goodness.
May we be grounded in gratitude
and filled with your grace, O Holy One,
Source of Light and Life.
May we be a blessing to those we meet today,
embodying peace and kindness
in witness to our God.
May we carry your hope to the weary,
and extend healing hearts to those who ache.
Precious Savior, fill us with a Spirit of Mercy
and rest your hand upon those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Prayer, day 1612

The petals of a pale pink petunia mirror the beauty of an evening sky.

Almighty God, You have made us for yourself, and blessed creation with your love and care: we offer up our thanks and praise. 

We offer sincere repentance for our manifold sins, and ask strength and wisdom to renew our journey with You, O Christ. May we remember that we can never build ourselves up at another's expense, and turn away from pride and fear. 

Help us to walk the pilgrim's path of love, justice, and unity, working together for the repair of the world. May we open our hearts to bind up the wounds of those around us, Lord God, embodying your mercy and compassion for all creation. On bended knee we ask your blessing this day, O Holy One, and remember the needs of our loved ones before You.

Amen.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

Prayer 1610: knit together in love

The ceiling of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

O God of Abundant Grace,
we welcome You into our hearts,
that we be led by your Spirit into praise.
Fill us with the mercy and love of Christ,
that we may reveal your love in the world.

As this day unwinds in its skein of hours,
knit us together in love and hope,
united by fellowship and peace.
Give us forgiving hearts and compassionate hands
that we may seek out the lost and the hurting.

Lord Jesus, spread your blessing like an awning
over these beloveds for whom we pray.

Amen.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Prayer 1609: making our lives an offering

Pray at all times.

Most Merciful God,
Earth-maker, Redeemer, Life-Giver,
we lift our hearts before You in oblation and praise.
You have given us life, O God,
all that we are as your gift,
that we may be your peace and blessing in the world.

May we hear and live into your call to us,
and live in love and charity with each other.
May your Spirit move over us
as it moved over the waters of creation,
and awaken the full humanity within us.
May we honor You and praise your goodness
and be your hands of healing
reached out in blessing over all people.
May we turn toward the path of wisdom,
and ground our lives in deeper knowledge of You.

Be with us this day, O Lord,
and bless and comfort those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speaking to the Soul: Speaking to the Soul, June 21, 2017

Jesus, the Word- detail from a door at La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.
Daily Office readings for June 21, 2017

On Monday, my friends Andrew and Maria and I were blessed to go on a retreat with our bishop as the day of our ordination to the priesthood draws near. One of the things we did was to go over the liturgy for the ordination of a priest. We carefully examined and discussed the language that is used in the liturgy, because, as Bishop Smith reminded us, words matter. This may seem to be an obvious point, but this is actually a statement that receives a lot of resistance right now, especially in our political discourse. As a former English teacher, the idea that words do NOT matter is actually puzzling, and even a bit frightening. As a former history teacher, I recall times when words have been used to the great benefit of humanity. I have also known of times and places where political leaders have used words to inoculate themselves as they have gone about perpetrating great evils, where words have been used to insert terrible concepts into the political discourse through the use of euphemism and doublespeak and sometimes the outright undermining or subversion of the power of words.

No, I believe that words matter. And so do most of the world’s great religions: in Islam, the only Qur’an that can be called a Holy Qur’an in one that is written in Arabic, the language of Muhammad, and a person who has memorized every single word of the Qur’an is called a hafiz, which means “guardian.” For generations, the Torah existed in through memorization. Now, there are actually two Torahs, the written Torah, which we see preserved in the first five books of the Christian Bible, and the oral Torah, which is commentary and explanation about the written Torah preserved in the Midrashim and the Talmud. In the book of Genesis, both Jews and Christians are reminded that God spoke creation into being, commenting on the goodness of creation aloud at the end of each “day.” In the Christian gospel of John, the Word of God is described as being present within creation itself, and Jesus is identified as that living Word.

Words matter. That’s why my attention was caught when I saw that the Pentecost event in the Book of Acts was one of the readings used today in the daily office. In the reading from Acts 2:1-21, we are reminded of the power of words in the response of the disciples after the power of the Holy Spirit comes over them, giving them the gift of language. In a blink they are outside, in the streets, doing exactly what the disciples were told to do in our gospel reading—they are out in the world, testifying to the power of God as revealed in Christ to the people they encounter there. It’s probably the most excitement you and I have ever heard coming out of a church meeting.

In a kind of reverse of the curse of the Tower of Babel, now these disciples, many of them simple country folk, have just learned to speak other people’s language. I think that’s an important point for us too in the Church today: we are called to speak to people in their own languages first, rather than expect them to immediately understand the language of Christianity.

Through the power of the Spirit, we are reminded that language is power, empowering us to carry the gospel of Christ throughout the farthest reaches of the world as disciples, evangelists, and teachers—as Christians who are the Church.

But the disciples’ first new language came as a challenge even earlier, for them as well as us. As soon as those early disciples answered Jesus’s call to follow him, they had to learn the language of Jesus—a strange language, then and now, awash in a grammar of grace rather than a grammar of vengeance. 

We are still learning Jesus’s language of reconciliation today. It is the language of salvation, but not salvation for selfish ends. Rather, this language calls all disciples, them as well as us, to find the vocabulary for helping to repair the world and our relationships within it, with each other and ultimately, with God. This idea of responsibility of faithful people to repair the world is what our Jewish brothers and sisters call tikkun olam—the repair of the world.

This language was filled with strange ideas, in which the greatest is the least, the least is the greatest, in which forgiveness and grace are more important than being right or self-righteous. Even after Jesus’s life on Earth was done, we can see that the disciples were still trying to make sense of that language. And we are too. We ourselves as Christians 2000 years later also continually work at acquiring that same language-- and it’s still just as alien and difficult for us as it was for them. The power of the Holy Spirit is here to help us continue learning Jesus’s counter-cultural grammar of grace and reconciliation.

The Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, and God spoke goodness into the world. The Spirit breathed the Church to life at Pentecost, and blew those disciples out into the streets with the explosive power of love and truth to proclaim the good news to those who most needed to hear it—and in their own languages. The Spirit hovers over us even now, hoping to reinforce the goodness in our hearts. The Spirit is always trying to speak to the soul, using a language that we understood instinctively in childhood, but often have allowed to slip away as our hearts sometimes harden and we become more “worldly-wise.” That’s why the language of love that God imprinted on us at creation, during Jesus’s ministry and again at our baptism, often seems like a foreign tongue. It’s hard for us to trust in words like “grace,” “mercy,” and “forgiveness” for ourselves as being real, much less for us to speak and live them out to others.

But that’s exactly what we are called to do as the Church. We are called to speak to the soul of each precious person we encounter, and hear the echoed whisper of that goodness and love vibrating from them—especially when it’s hard for us to do so, when we allow our differences, our fears, or our suspicions to divide us rather than strengthen us. Words do matter when we are speaking to the soul, and the word is Love.

This essay was first posted on the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on June 21, 2017, with the title "Words Matter."

Prayer 1608: for kinship with all people

A rabbi prays for justice and peace with everyone on the steps of Christ Church Cathedral in 2014.

Almighty, Life-Giving God,
we praise You in joy before the rising sun.
Breathe into our spirits the gift of grace
and let mercy take root within us,
who know our manifold faults.
Forgive us our divisions, our fears, our jealousies,
and enlighten us by your living, eternal wisdom.
Help us to perfect ourselves in love
that we are living witnesses to You
through our words and deeds.
Guide us into generosity and empathy,
seeing your imprint in each person.
Unite us through love of You, O Redeemer,
who are known by many names but one truth.
Pour out your blessing over us,
and place your hand of healing over all.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Prayer 1607: allowing the holy to shine through

Clumbine in bloom

Almighty God,
blessed be your Name throughout the earth,
and holy be your people who hear your call.

Let us praise our God for all our blessings:
for life, and light, and wonder in creation.
Lord you have made us in your image;
may we nurture the love and wisdom
you have planted in us to flourishing.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
and in imitation of Christ,
teach us to live in witness to God's grace,
in peace and mercy.
Blessed Jesus, guide us and bless us this day,
and draw within your embrace all those who call upon You.

Amen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Prayer 1606: for dedication to holy living

Asperging the growing crops in Shepherd Farm garden, who will eventually be used to feed the hungry.

Most Merciful God,
Source of All Hope,
Anchor of Our Hearts,
we praise and bless You in all the world.
Blessed are those who seek
to walk the path of mercy and healing,
whose lives give honor to You, O God.
May we live in recognition that all that we offer You,
even ourselves,
is already yours, O Holy One.
May we forever glorify You, Lord Christ,
by all that we do and all that we are,
grounded in love and empathy.

Spirit of Compassion, move over us and set us free to serve You,
and grant your peace and sanctuary to all who call upon You.

Amen.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Prayer 1605: First Sunday After Pentecost

The harvest is ready-- let us be willing workers to gather it!

Holy Redeemer, we come before your altars today,
in praise and thanksgiving,
that we may live more deeply into your truth.

Send us as joyful workers
into your harvest, O God,
that we may live into your call in our lives.

Make us doers and healers,
witnesses to your glory,
seeking out the lost and the hurting in your Name.

Give us grace to be light to the lost
and protectors to the weak,
standing alongside the oppressed.

May we grow into our faith in You, Lord Christ,
bearing your love into the world in joy.

Spirit of Hope, guide each step we take today,
and pour out your peace over those we now name.

Amen.
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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Prayer, day 1604: for justice and peace

Detail from a window at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Ferguson, MO.

Blessed Jesus, You are the light and life of the world: guide us into justice and truth. 

Let us seek to keep the peace by keeping peace first in our hearts, banishing all fear and hatred. 
Let us seek to pursue justice by taking the hand of mercy and forbearance, remembering all that we have been forgiven. 
Let us have compassion instead of anger, love instead of suspicion, serenity instead of war in our hearts. 
Let us go forward in faith, renewed in hope, uplifted by God's abiding covenant of love. 

Draw us together, Most Merciful God, and send forth your Spirit to renew in us hearts of courage and the will to work together. Stretch forth your hand, O Holy One, and draw those we name beneath the shadow of your wings.

Amen.
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Friday, June 16, 2017

Prayer 1603: surrounded by God's embrace

Detail, The Embrace, Gustav Klimt.

We praise you, O Creator God,
who made us and blessed us with reason:
may our questing hearts rest in your wonder.
Make our hearts houses of prayer, Lord Christ,
and our spirits temples of praise and mercy.
Lord Jesus, you walked among us
to teach us the path of healing and wholeness,
compassion springing up in every step.
May our lives be testimony
to your grace and beauty, O Spirit of Truth,
and may we embody your Word and example.

Gather within your embrace, O Holy One,
all who are in pain, and all who mourn,
that they be comforted.
Pour your blessing over us like summer rain, O God,
and grant your peace to those we remember before You.

Amen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Prayer 1602: For the Epidemic of Gun Vioence


Yesterday, there were mass shootings of Congressmen and staffers in Alexandria, VA and at a UPS facility in San Francisco, CA, and countless others across our nation were wounded and killed through gun violence. When will we say enough,
and admit that we are choosing ways of life that deny our goodness and faith?
O God, your embrace has brought us safely to this new day;
may we rest ourselves within your mercy and love.

Forgive us, Lord, our headstrong and selfish ways
that lead to violence, exploitation, and cruelty.
Give us the wisdom and will
to lead ourselves into righteousness and peace,
as You have called us repeatedly
through the lips of prophets,
even at last
by sending your only Son,
whom we put on a cross,
himself a victim of our violence and fear.

Yet love is stronger than death,
and hope is stronger than fear,
and still we rise,
seeking to turn again and live by your will.
Awaken our hearts to receive your light
that we may instead dwell in hope, charity, and wisdom.
Give us the courage
to stand up to the forces of fear and hatred,
who profit from the bitter harvest they reap.

Comfort the mourning, O Holy God,
and, as our shepherd, gather the lost in your arms.
O God, our cry is to You and each other;
Send your healing Spirit over us, and all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Prayer, day 1601: For forgiveness and compassion

A palm frond unfurls as the warm summer air coaxes it to growth.

Like incense rising on the morning breeze, may our prayers ascend to You, O Creator and Redeemer. Let us breathe deep the goodness and mercy of God, rejoicing for the generous love of the One Who Made Us. 

May we welcome Christ into our hearts, that we may act in wisdom and compassion for all living things. 
May we place our arms around all who mourn, and offer care and relief for those who weep. 
May we seek reconciliation from one another, and forgive those who have wronged us, not only for their sakes but for ours. 
May the power of the Holy Spirit fill us with the firm assurance of the steadfast love of God, and knit us together, heart and soul. 

United in the fellowship of God's kingdom, we raise our prayers before our Shepherd and Savior.

Amen.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Prayer 1600: in trust and assurance

For 1600 days, the answer to this question has been "Yes," and I thank God for all who have prayed with me.

Living God, Keeper of My Soul,
unto you I offer my heart
led by your Spirit in joy.

In humble trust I offer You my all:
You spread your love beneath me like a net
to catch me if I fall.

Lift me up to see your glory, Lord Christ;
from the aspect of love
let me see your ongoing creation within us.

Holy One, set me high upon the rock:
though waves and tempests crash,
you keep me safe and hold me fast.

Grant me wisdom
that I may serve others and You
in truth and love.

Bless and keep us,
O Redeemer and Friend,
and pour out your mercy on those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Prayer 1599: On the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting

Today we remember especially those murdered in the terror attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL,
June 12, 2016, may they rest in peace and rise in glory,
and may all who were wounded in body or spirit find healing and comfort.

Most Merciful God, we bow before You,
opening our hearts to your guidance and correction.
You have called all creation to yourself, O Creator,
and delight in every living being:
hear our prayer.

Forgive us our sins,
our apathy in the face of hatred,
our inability to look beyond our personal concerns
to see the cares of others.
May we hear your call to mend our relationships,
and amend our lives by the power of the Spirit of Love.
May we stand with all
who are marginalized by enmity
as we seek to walk in Jesus's footsteps.

Lord, rest your peace upon all who suffer
and upon those who mourn due to violence and hatred.
Accept these prayers we offer, O Redeemer,
and grant your blessing on these for whom we also pray.

Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Prayer 1598: Trinity Sunday

Icon of the Trinity

We praise You, O Merciful One:
Earth-maker, Love Incarnate, Life-Giver,
who holds all our days in your keeping.

Create in us clean hearts, O God,
and send your Spirit to move over us
and bring us to new life in You.
For You have given us life
that we may serve You and each other,
and that is heaven on Earth.
Unite us in hope and compassion,
and lead us away from the temptation
of using others for our benefit.
Help us to live in unity and shalom, O Christ,
that we may proclaim your glory to the world.

Holy God, bless and sanctify us
to feel the holy dance of your love
within our hearts.
May our lives be taken up
and brought to completion within You, O God,
as we lay our concerns at your altar.

Amen.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Prayer 1597: for true friendship

Here are some of my friends blessing my replacement car after an accident totalled my first one.
They took seriously my need for closure and healing with good humor and kindness, and that's real friendship.

Most Merciful One, we praise You and bless You,
lifting our hopes and prayers before You.
Let us seek not exploit others, or use them for our gain,
but instead celebrate the beauty within each person.
Help us to treat each other with tenderness and dignity,
that we embody the compassion of Christ.
Make us loyal friends and companions,
with words and hearts abounding in gentleness and hope.
Give us the insight to seek pardon when we have offended,
and to grant pardon when asked.
Help us to walk unencumbered in the Way of Jesus,
laying aside all grudges and resentments.
For You, O God, are the source of all blessing,
may we praise You with every breath that you give.
Hold us tenderly within your heart, Lord Jesus,
and grant your peace and comfort to these beloveds.

Amen.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Prayer, day 1596


Holy Redeemer, we lift our voices in praise of your sheltering canopy of love, which You spread above us as deep and as broad as the night sky. 
You have carried us through the darkness to deliver us safely upon the shore of hope and faith.
Set us firmly upon your path of holiness and justice; make your way broad and clear before our eyes that we may not stray from You.
Renew our souls that we may be truly one in your Spirit of wisdom and truth.
Bend near, O Holy One; for while there is breath we will sing out our thanksgivings for your mercy and loving-kindness. 
Hold us within the palm of your hand, O Love Eternal; especially those we now name.

Amen.
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Prayer 1595: as a mother hen gathers her chicks


My friend Bobbi loves animals of all kinds.


Holy One, we lift our prayers to You,
strengthened by your Word
and rejoicing in your grace.

May we seek to serve You
in thought, word, and deed.
May we act with justice and mercy
and respond to the cries of the oppressed and the poor.
May we embody the love of Christ,
and offer healing and grace with every step.
Set us aflame for your gospel by the Holy Spirit,
that we may walk in its call to love and service.

Most Gracious God,
gather us to you as a mother hen gathers her chicks;
watch over us, and bless us this day.
We pray for those whose needs we remember,
and ask your blessing, O God.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Prayer 1594

Part of the beautiful grounds of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis.

Merciful God,
tune our hearts to the melody of your grace and love,
that we may sing your praise in our lives.
Your truth is sweeter than honey, Lord Christ:
may we be nourished and sustained in hope by your love.
Open our eyes to see the web of mutuality
that binds all that lives together in your Spirit, we humbly pray.
Teach us to be steadfast and loyal friends,
comforters of the afflicted,
and warriors for the oppressed.

Holy One, we bow before your saving love:
may we testify to your kingdom and peace among us.
Blessed Savior, pour your grace and blessing over us,
and set your seal upon the hearts of those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Prayer, day 1593- In solidarity with our Muslim kin observing Ramadan

An Oklahoma wildflower along a path.

God of peace, let us waken the dawn with our prayers and praises, illumined by your love. May our faith in You unite us in holiness and mutual respect, driving away all rancor or contention. May we be drawn into brotherhood with all who serve You, and call upon You by many names. May we speak to each other in love, and pray together for peace and amity. O Blessed One, bring us within your embrace, and look with favor upon those we now name.

Amen.
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Monday, June 5, 2017

Prayer, day 1592: For Faithfulness

Ferns along a pathway in my backyard garden.

Fairest Lord Jesus, your love soothes as the cooling breeze in forest pathways, your peace refreshes our souls: come, Lord, come. 

Abide within our hearts and bless us with thy wisdom and peace, we pray. For we are a headstrong people, prone to forgetting your way of light and wandering far from You. 

Forgive us, Lord: open our ears to hear your call to return, to keep your commandments of love and compassion. Fill the hollows of our hearts with a holy longing to serve only You, O God, and rest your Spirit upon us. 

Draw within your mercy all who cry out to You, O Holy One, and comfort those we now name.

Amen.
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Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Language of the Spirit- Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year A


In our gospel from John today, we see a scene from Easter night, after Mary Magdalene has been spreading crazy stories all day, as we talked about the last time I preached. And the disciples, men and women, are afraid, locked into a room to keep the world out. Suddenly, locked doors or no, Jesus appears to the disciples in his resurrection body, complete with marks in his hands, feet, and sides. Jesus continues to be the good shepherd, taking care of his sheep, for he knows that they are afraid. Twice Jesus bids them peace. And then, he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, thereby making clear to them that their work is only just beginning, and he commissions them to send them into the world to continue Jesus’s work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Notice that—they are empowered to forgive. Not judge. Forgiveness, based on mercy and grace that they themselves have received in just the events of the last few days. And then, just like that, our gospel reading ends, right before the story of Thomas and his doubts are told.

Once again, in the quirks of the lectionary, our first reading actually takes place several weeks after our gospel. In our reading from Acts, the disciples—the men and women who have been hanging on in faith in the month and a half since Easter-- remain locked away. They are bewildered, they are afraid, and yet they are still clinging to each other as a community even though it’s been nearly fifty days since Jesus’s crucifixion. And then, even behind locked doors, a great wind moves through the room, and the power of the Holy Spirit comes over them, giving them the gift of language. In a blink they are outside, in the streets, doing exactly what the disciples were told to do in our gospel reading—they are out in the world, testifying to the power of God as revealed in Christ to the people they encounter there. It’s probably the most excitement you and I have ever heard coming out of a church meeting.

In a kind of reverse of the curse of the Tower of Babel, now these disciples, many of them simple country folk, have just learned to speak other people’s language. I think that’s an important point for us too in the Church today: we are called to speak to people in their own languages first, rather than expect them to immediately understand the language of Christianity.

At Pentecost, through the power of the Spirit, we are reminded that language is power, empowering us to carry the gospel of Christ throughout the farthest reaches of the world as disciples, evangelists, and teachers—as Christians who are the Church.

But the disciples’ first new language came as a challenge even earlier, for them as well as us. As soon as those early disciples answered Jesus’s call to follow him, they had to learn the language of Jesus—a strange language, then and now, awash in a grammar of grace rather than a grammar of vengeance.

We are still learning Jesus’s language of reconciliation today. It is the language of salvation, but not salvation for selfish ends. Rather, this language calls all disciples, them as well as us, to find the vocabulary for helping to repair the world and our relationships within it, with each other and ultimately, with God. This idea of responsibility of faithful people to repair the world is what our Jewish brothers and sisters call tikkun olam.

This language was filled with strange ideas, in which the greatest is the least, the least is the greatest, in which forgiveness and grace are more important than being right or self-righteous. Even after Jesus’s life on Earth was done, we can see that the disciples were still trying to make sense of that language. And we are too. We ourselves as Christians 2000 years later also continually work at acquiring that same language and it’s still just as alien and difficult for us as it was for them. The power of the Holy Spirit is here to help us continue learning Jesus’s counter-cultural grammar of grace and reconciliation.

Actually, in considering our readings today, vocabulary is important as well. The texts we draw from are translations of Biblical Hebrew and Greek. The important words we hear this morning are translated to us as
breath,
spirit, and
wind.
Now, in Hebrew, these are often the very same word: ruach. In Greek, the language in which the New Testament is written, the word for breath and wind is pneuma. Now, the former English teacher in me, still on a high from the National Spelling Bee, reminds you that words that sound like what they are are called “onomotopoeias,”—a really hard word to spell for words that usually themselves easy to spell.

But listen: Pnuema. Ruach. They actually sound like a breath. And the Spirit is the breath of the Church, and the breath of God. It gives us life to live in Christ, and to use that breath to testify to God’s saving work in the world.

Together these words are meant to call to mind something else—the Spirit or wind or breath of God that moved over the waters of chaos at the creation in Genesis. Three of our readings today—from Acts 2, Psalm 104, and John 20-- hearken back to creation, and remind us that creation is not a one-time event. God did not make heaven and earth so much as God IS MAKING heaven and Earth. With the same breath or Spirit or wind that hovered over creation at the dawn of time, Jesus breathes that same life-giving, empowering, creative Spirit over and into the disciples and sends them en masse out into the streets, where they are then empowered to go and make more disciples of all nations and all peoples. Rather than the end, they begin anew. Our celebration of Pentecost today reminds us to begin anew, too, and draw closer to God so that we may serve God in all our lives.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry makes this connection between Pentecost and creation clear in his book Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus. He says,
“When we draw closer to God, we draw closer to each other, for we are all children of the one God who created us all. And when God draws us closer, the Spirit moves, and we experience the power of Pentecost, that day many Christians over the centuries have regarded as the day when the Church was born. Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Seriously. Remember those same apostles. They took being NOT perfect to an art form. And thank God for that. That allows us to have hope for ourselves.



The Spirit moves over the world at creation, and the Spirit moves over us seeking to restore and renew creation within us. I want you to listen in a few minutes during the Eucharistic prayer we are going to pray together as Christ’s Church for the world. This is a Eucharistic prayer that hasn’t been used very much before here at Good Shepherd, but it is one of my favorites, and will actually be prayed at my ordination at the end of this month, which I hope you will all attend if you are able. Listen as we recall again the Spirit moving over creation, and moving over Mary’s womb. Listen as we call down the Spirit to move over the bread and wine, and therefore over US, so that WE can be made a new creation before God as we lift our hearts in thanks. Listen as we ask that same Spirit to transform us as God’s children and heirs, to be sent out into the world to continue Christ’s mission to all the world as his Holy Church.

Just as creation is ongoing, the Church is not something tied to a specific time or place or event in history. The Church is not a building. The Church is not a hierarchy. The Church is not a denomination. The Church is not a social club. The Church is the Body of Christ, bound together in bonds tighter than the closest family bonds we may have known. The Church does not exist for its own sake, and that’s a crucial point to make, I think, in this day and age, when institutions can run roughshod over people, and when it seems we are more divided by ever.

As members of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called to live out the gospel of Christ, we too do not exist for our own sake, or for our own salvation. Instead, we are called into discipleship for the life of the world, to go out into the places that most need the light of Christ, starting with the corners of our own hearts-- and then spreading outward into the entire world.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is part of the mystical Body of Christ and as such, is given FOR the world as an offering. As each of us remember this day that we are the Church we are called to offer ourselves for the good of others. We are called to build bridges between people who are all so different, and yet united by bearing the image of God that was planted in all of us at creation, no matter what our race, background, social class, or perceived “goodness” or “sinfulness.” Bishop Curry notes elsewhere in the same book, “On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus made it possible for all people to hear the message of the gospel…. That same story of what some call the birth of the Church, the day of Pentecost, speaks of the barriers being bridged and divisions being overcome. On Pentecost, people heard the gospel of Jesus. And as they heard the gospel, barriers came tumbling down, bridges of rose, and the new humanity in Christ began to emerge.”

The Church is lost if we forget that, as the Church, we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to minister to and IN the world—all of us, and to and in ALL the world. We are not called to stay in our comfort zones and only hang out with “good” people, but to emulate Christ, who definitely moved in mixed social circles, to say the least. We are called to be Christ’s hands, feet, and heart in the world, empowered by the Spirit of Hope, Love, and Truth that makes us the Church.

When I was little someone taught me a little rhyme, which had an accompanying hand game. It went like this:

Here’s the church;
Here’s the steeple;
Open the doors
And see all the people.


From the website of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago.

How many of us remember that little game from our childhoods? If you’re under the age of forty, I imagine that’s the first you’ve ever heard of that little rhyme or the hand game that accompanies it. I remember teaching this one, though, to little kids when I would help staff the nursery at the latest church my mother had taken us to when I was a young teen.

But I now realize that game might lead us to exactly the wrong idea. Maybe we should remember it this way, instead:

The People are Church;
Christ’s body for the world
Called by the Spirit
That on Pentecost swirled.

Pentecost reminds us to open ourselves to the power of God in the world right now. Jesus is still creating a new Spirit within us, calling the Church out into the streets to testify to this ongoing creation in the world—and that is you and me, not an institution or a building or just the clergy, but all of us who are baptized by water and the Spirit, as our Baptismal liturgy reminds us. Each and every baptized Christian, whether lay or ordained, is a minister of the gospel of Jesus. Each and every one of us, as Christians, is called to testify to the power of the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus in the world, by living lives of joy, compassion, wisdom, faith, hope, and healing—all of which qualify as grade-A, bona fide miracles in this day and age of cynicism and greed.

We can be the miracle. Let us go forth by the power of the Spirit. Let us be the Church in and for the world.

Amen.

Preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, MO, on June 4, 2017.


Video:


Prayer, day 1591- Pentecost Sunday

The West Cupola in the Basilica di San Marco in Venice depicts Pentecost (mosaic, 1100CE). Photo from the Web Gallery of Art.

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew our hearts and our minds that we may be animated to bear the holy fire of joy and faithfulness into the world. 

May we be united to one another and to Christ as one body, to set our entire beings upon worshipping and serving our God. 
May we be filled with holy forbearance and peace, inspired by love to tend to Christ in the least of those we meet. 
May goodness and gentleness take root in our hearts, breaking us open to new life in Christ our Savior and his Gospel. 

Come, Holy Spirit, we pray, and spread your sheltering wings over those who call upon You.


Amen.
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