Thursday, May 31, 2018

Prayer, day 1951: The Visitation of Mary (based on the Magnificat)

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.

Holy One,
I lift my heart before You
and amplify the proclamation of your glory.

May I proclaim your greatness, O God,
from the depths of my soul
with a shout of joy and victory.
May I give thanks, Lord,
for your manifold blessings and great mercy
that maintain my life and my spirit.

Your love, O Almighty One, forever will I sing
joining the chorus of generations in praise.
May I walk in paths of justice and mercy
that my life may testify to the power of the Holy One.

For You, O Sustainer,
call us to stand alongside the oppressed
and fill the hungry with good things.
You, O Mighty One,
cast down the oppressor
and scatter the schemes of the powerful.
You, O Savior,
have lifted up the humble
and exalted the ordinary,
but chasten the tyrants
and call them to justice.

Your promises are our foundation and hope, O God:
we appeal to You in trust and faith as we pray.

Amen.
1727


Scripture reference: Luke 1:39-56

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Prayer, day 1950: Prayer of dedication


Lord Christ, Beloved Shepherd,
keep us as the sheep of your pasture,
and hear our chorus of praise.
Let us join with the stars that sing the dawn into being,
and rise in the morning
to give praise to the Creator, Holy and Loving! 

Abide with us through fair weather or foul,

through heartbreak and joy,
O Spirit of Healing and Peace.
Turn our hands and hearts toward good,
and our mouths to praise and faithfulness.
Make us instruments of peace and healing in the world,
that we may proclaim the Truth of God in all things. 

Holy One,

watch over and bless your servants, we humbly pray,
especially those we now name.

Amen.

1234

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Prayer, day 1949: Thankfulness and service


Holy God, we give thanks to You
for your gracious mercy upon us,
and for the beauty of loving hearts in the world. 

We thank You for steadfast and faithful friends,
whose love and support strengthens us each day.
We thank You for the glory of your creation,
which inspires us to love and care for this Earth.
We thank You for your angels who bend over us
at sleep or at work or at play.
Kindle our hearts and minds with a holy fire
to serve and worship You with all that we have.
Soothe the pains and sorrows of those who mourn this week
those lost in defense of hearth and home. 

Accept the whispered supplications of your people, O Holy One, and scatter the blessings of your love and tenderness upon those we now name. 

Amen.
863, 1210

Monday, May 28, 2018

Prayer 1948: For Memorial Day



Almighty God, Our Shield and Our Guide,
we rise to give you praise,
and lay our thanksgivings and prayers at your feet.
Breathe upon us, Breath of God:
renew our hearts and spirits
that we may turn aside from evil and willfull ignorance,
from unkindness, casual cruelties, and malice,
and remember You created us in light, O Creator,
and call us to love, honor, wisdom, and service.

As children of God, whose peace surpasses all understanding,
may we fight tyranny and oppression wherever it takes root,
both at home and abroad,
even in our own hearts.

May the memories of those
who have fought overseas or at home
against violence, genocide, enslavement, and terror
be treasured and honored by us,
that we too may fight for the common good,
for the brotherhood of all humanity,
honoring the human dignity of all persons.

May we memorialize their sacrifice and honor their service
by building a society rooted in true peace and plenty,
in equality, generosity and hope,
a fitting monument of justice that will endure
long after statues have crumbled,
parades have ended,
and flags have faded.

By their sacrifice, may we be consecrated and dedicated
to remember our call to defend the vulnerable,
the impoverished, the marginalized, and the weak,
which is your commandment, O God, from time immemorial.

May we remember that freedom can never be built
on pain, suffering, or oppression
in any form:
may we, too, be willing to give up our comfort
for the sake of those who need our help.

Strengthen us, O Mighty Defender, O Prince of Peace,
to stand against those at home or abroad
who espouse violence, hatred, inequality, or tyranny.

Lord, you know the inmost secrets of our hearts:
comfort those who mourn, and those who remember.
O Gracioue Spirit,
illumine our hearts with your truth, glory, and beauty,
and lift up those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Love in Communion: Sermon for Trinity Sunday B


I spent the first thirteen years of my professional life teaching middle school English, and one of the most basic things with which many of my students struggled was what was known as “subject-verb agreement.” You know: if you have a singular noun, you use a singular form of the verb attached to it, and if you have a plural noun, you use the plural form of the verb attached to it.

This should be simple—but in English there are always exceptions. One of those exceptions is this: there are some nouns that remain the same word, whether singular or plural. Like “moose.” Or “bison.” Or “news.” Or “shrimp”—unless you are British. With these words, we have to think hard about whether we use “is” or “are” for instance, because we only know if they are singular or plural based on the context.


Trinity, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves
In Christianity, “Trinity” is another one of those words. Sometimes we speak of the Trinity in the singular, as a unity. Sometimes we speak of the Trinity in the plural, as three distinct “persons” or “aspects.” But the problem is, no matter how we try to speak about the Trinity, we run into the danger of limiting the relationship within the Trinity in ways that make one aspect dominant over the others, instead of “one in being,” as we say in the words of the Nicene Creed. It’s not made any easier by the fact that, while various terms for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all mentioned in scripture, the term “Trinity” itself does not appear anywhere in most modern translations of either the Old or New Testaments.

And yet each one of our readings can be seen as describing aspects of the Trinity. The Spirit of God calls to Isaiah and we hear both the singular and the plural in that call: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And Isaiah plucks up the courage to answer even as the vision he sees overwhelms him. In Romans chapter 8, Christ is described as the one who reconciles us to God, the Spirit leads us and bears witness within us, and the Father adopts us as children. All three aspects work together to redeem us and restore us to proper relationship as beloved children of God. Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus depicts the Jesus the Son talking about both God the Father and the Holy Spirit coordinating in the work of salvation—and just like us, Nicodemus probably emerged from that conversation more confused than ever.

This encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus reminds us that too often, we are more like Nicodemus than we realize—we may think we have God all figured out, only to find that God upends our comfortable certainties with endless and therefore discomfiting possibilities.

Even saints tread carefully around trying to define the Trinity, and most agree it is far safer to talk about what the Trinity is NOT, rather than what the Trinity IS. It is at this point that I have to tell you how excited I am that we have a visual aid for this right here in the rose window behind me, made by the good people of Emil Frei associates, my favorite stained glass artists. This does not always happen in such a convenient manner for a preacher, let me tell you.


Very useful window...

Have you ever looked at this window? Do you see what’s going on here? I am certainly no scholar of Latin, but you can see an example of that kind of negative explanation of the Trinity right there in the window behind me, visually representing the Trinitarian formula of blessing. The Father is NOT (that’s what “non est” means) the Spirit, the Spirit is NOT the Son, and the Son is NOT the Father. Yet all three are connected at the center to make up God—Deus, in Latin. Thus, the Father IS God; the Holy Spirit IS God; and the Son IS God. Together. All different, yet all working together actively and equally in creation as God.

And God is at the very center, so that as we look at this image, we are reminded that we are drawn by love into God’s very existence, the existence that is the center and gift of our own lives. 

Because language is limited and we are finite creatures, we speak imperfectly about God. St. Irenaeus, one of the so-called Fathers of the Church, argued against heresy that the “persons” of the Trinity were not equal partners, and that the God of the Old Testament was different from and inferior to the God described in the New Testament. One of the most famous metaphors Irenaeus used to talk about proof of the Trinity throughout scripture was based upon the statement in Genesis 1:26, where God says “Let US make humankind in OUR image, in OUR likeness…” Following the argument of St. Justin, Irenaeus argued that the use of the plural “us” showed evidence of the Son and the Spirit in God’s own voice.


In a beautiful image, Irenaeus then refers to the Word (Jesus) and the Wisdom of God (the Holy Spirit) taking part in creation as being like the hands of God that are mentioned in the psalms and elsewhere as molding and shaping creation. Irenaeus said, “In carrying out his intended work of creation, God did not need any help from angels, as if he did not have his own hands. For he has always at his side this Word and this Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit. Through them and in them he created all things of his own free will. And to them he says, ‘Let us make human beings in our own image and likeness.’”(1)

I like to think of that even more specifically: God the Father is the ground of our being, and the Son and Holy Spirit are like embracing arms that draw us into union with God and with each other. Yet I admit that this is just one image, and that for all its beauty it is still too limited to express the full glory of God.

The doctrine of the Trinity, as difficult to define as it is, nonetheless teaches us some valuable truths. First, that no matter what, as Nicodemus was reminded, we can never rest on our own reasoning or knowledge to know God—God is a beautiful mystery, yet at the same time absolutely a loving, involved presence in each of our lives. Second, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that relationship in community is at the heart of the life of faithfulness. We know God through God’s initiative, not ours, because God’s very being is love. Whenever we seek out God in prayer, in worship, in joy, in anxiety, in sorrow, God invites us into relationship.

God as Trinity declares that God is, by nature, relational: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, as we hear in our Book of Common Prayer. Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-Giver, in the words of the New Zealand Prayer Book. Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. No matter the terms we use, they can only partially express the active love of God in our lives. The three “persons” of the Trinity nonetheless are mysteriously but ultimately one, bound together in what can only be described as a dance of love into which we, as God’s beloved children, are invited, even if we ourselves think we only have two left feet. Yet we are made to dance, because if we are created in God’s image, that means we are created also to be fully who God created us to be only when we too live in community and communion with others.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us of the relationship and community at the heart of God’s very nature in his book he co-authored with the Dalai Lama, entitled The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. He writes, “Certainly in our sort of prayer, it is never the alone speaking to the alone. Our concept of God is of a God who is one, but who is a fellowship, a community, the Trinity. And we are made in the image of this God. When you become a Christian, you are incorporated into a fellowship." (2)

We are thus reminded that relationship is at the heart of being Christian. This is tonic in a society in which so many people feel isolated, marginalized, and beseiged, a society in which we see a marked tendency by many to define themselves against those who are different from "us."

But that is contrary to the very nature of God. The fellowship of love at the heart of God, and to which we are called, is not limited by the walls of this building, nor by race, nor by flag, nor by nationality. The fellowship to which we are called by God’s love is a fellowship with all creation. The Trinity is a celebration of interdependence, a true unity in diversity. What could be a more necessary miracle in this day and age?

Relationship is at the heart of who God is: pure love, as the first letter of John has been reminding us throughout the Great Season of Easter. Fierce, active, enduring, limitless love-- that is the foundation of fellowship, of communion with God, and with each other.

In the words of Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, “the being of God is a relational being; without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God.”(3)  That word “communion” is important, for the eucharistically-shaped life we commit to in the Episcopal Church is one of the most obvious ways we ourselves are invited into the relationship of the Trinity. Through communion and thanksgiving, through God’s grace and invitation, the divine circle of love is expanded even more dramatically, to include all creation through each and every one of us gathered around this altar.


Listen! Soon you and I, all of us together, will ask the Father to accept our gifts of bread and wine, taken from this good earth. We will ask the Father that the Holy Spirit be present to us to sanctify those gifts and us, making Christ present to us, here and now. It is only through the loving activity of the Trinity, acknowledged in our Eucharistic prayer, that we may receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may be present and one with him-- and one with each other.

We are not called to this sacrament only for ourselves, but rather so that we can be strengthened to go out into the world as participants in God’s reconciliation and redemption in the world. We take our place within the embrace of the Trinity through ourselves cultivating real love—love that doesn’t count the cost, but rejoices in the beloved. Love that is the basis of ongoing creation—since God creates us through a desire for relationship with us, and that then draws us to share that love with all that is.

It is only this divine love which we wonder at in the Trinity that can satisfy the hunger for meaning that plagues this time in which we live—and just look at the response to Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding to see how deep that hunger runs in the world.

I am convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity, when taken seriously, reminds us to be and remain humble, and to admit that we need to never lose our sense of wonder, of awe, of mystery—a real challenge and yet opportunity in our blasé, cynical world. We can rediscover that sense of wonder, awe, and mystery each and every time we gather together with our hands upraised and hearts open to partake in Christ’s Body and Blood, given for us so that we may then carry and reflect that love into the world for the sake of the world.

The love embodied in the Trinity is calling to us to be its vessels in the world, that love may overflow our hearts and spill into all the corners of the Earth. The voice of that sacramental love-- that is God, Unity in Trinity-- calls to us: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Sustained by wonder and nourished by Trinitarian, sacramental love, may we each dare to answer, humbly, joyfully, compassionately, “Here am I; send me!”

Amen.


Preached at 8:00 and 10:00 am at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, on May 27, 2018.

Readings:
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

References:
(1) Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.20.1
(2) Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, p. 131
(3) John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, p. 17

Images:
(1) Greek icon of the Trinity in communion
(2) Trinity window from Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves, MO. Photo mine.
(3) Trinity rose window at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO. Photo mine.
(4) Celtic Trinity image.
(5) Sweet Olivia at the communion rail. Photo mine.

Prayer, day 1947: For Trinity Sunday


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.
1593



Photo: Trinity Window at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prayer 1946: Inspired by Psalm 20


Life-Giving Creator,
You have woven love into the fabric of creation:
look with favor upon us this day,
and prosper our witness to your wondrous deeds and power.

Defend us in all our journeys, O Merciful God,
and strengthen us in kindness and integrity,
that we may flourish in the Way of Jesus
and lighten the hearts of those who search or struggle,
through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Accept the sacrifice we offer before You, Almighty One,
a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,
that we remember to embody your compassion and mercy,
walking in the light of Christ,
the Incarnate Word who shows us how to live.

Spread the awning
of your abundant and verdant mercy, O Lord,
over all who call to You, we humbly pray,
and answer and bless those whose whispered prayers we lift before You.

Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Prayer 1945


Most Merciful God,
we rise to bless your holy Name
and serve you in faithfulness this day,
rejoicing in your unfailing care of us.

May we walk in your ways of mercy, Blessed Jesus,
embodying forbearance and humanity in all our dealings,
putting our shoulders to the wheel of reconciliation and hope.
Holy Spirit, grant us wisdom,
what we may live within the peace of God in every moment.
May we dedicate our efforts to building up your household,
O God of Unfailing Love,
and work for true justice for all we meet.

Lord, we lift before you our hopes and aspirations:
bless and keep us, O Blessed Trinity,
and bless all who call upon your Name as we pray.

Amen.


Matthew 12:1-14

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Prayer 1944: Inspired by Matthew 11:28-30


Almighty Creator,
who is making the heavens and the earth,
your Spirit moves over us,
renewing our hearts and spirits in hope.

Let us lean upon you, Blessed Jesus,
and learn from you the way
of true justice, abundant mercy, and steadfast peace.
Bless and preserve us this day,
that we may serve you, O God,
taking up your yoke of love with joy.

Holy One, we lay our cares and concerns before You,
trusting in your steadfast and tender mercy,
your grace which knows no end.
Gather within your embrace all who cry out to you,
O Shepherd of Our Souls,
and place your healing hand upon all for whom we pray.

Amen.

inspired by Matthew 11:28-30, from today's daily office

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Pull of Love: Speaking to the Soul, May 23, 2018


Psalm 8:4
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
     the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What are we that you should be mindful of us,
      mere mortals that you should seek us out?
                                      -- from the St. Helena Psalter

Today in the calendar of the saints we remember Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, who added to our knowledge of the heavens and in particular of how celestial objects moved relative to each other. Although born nearly a century apart, their work challenged the notion that the Earth was the center of the universe—that it stood still and everything celestial object in the universe glided around our planet in perfect circles, like an ice skater with hands clasped behind her back, measuring her way around a frozen pond, some sort of cosmic Hans Brinker.

Copernicus took what was then a bold first step, proposing that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe. However, he still believed, like the ancient Greeks, that the orbits of planets and moons could be traced in perfect circles. It was Kepler who proposed that planetary orbits were actually ellipses.

It is my theory that there are two kinds of people when it comes to math: algebra people, geometry people, and people who can’t count. Now, not being a particular fan of geometry, I had to look up exactly what an ellipse was, to be certain. Ah yes—like a circle being flattened by a giant invisible hand from the top. Got it.

So the problem that led Copernicus to question the belief (church-sanctioned, by the way) that the Earth was the center of the universe was the fact that there were times when planets in the night sky would engage in a maneuver called “retrograde motion”—when they would actually reverse direction and loop off on an opposite course through the night.

Copernicus and Kepler’s work frightened many, who saw their search for knowledge as a challenge to biblical truth, such as that contained in Psalm 8, because the church at the time believed that humans had to be the center of attention. Yet God is so great that even the smallest creatures are held and treasured within the force of divine love.

Regardless of where the center is, there are forces of attraction that hold it all together, even as galaxies expand, suns cool, stars are born, and meteors die. Some of the light we see in the skies at night is a mere echo, travelling billions of miles across space like an arrow to land upon my particular eye as I notice it. The wonders of creation continue to amaze, as God is making the heavens and the Earth.

Lately, even in the advent of spring, which leads to my favorite season of summer, I have noticed that our family has been cycling through a series of retrograde motions. Green life is sprouting up everywhere, and then one of our precious dogs, who was playful and joyful and mischievous, suddenly sickened and died three weeks ago, and we are all still mourning. Another school shooting has brought back feelings of helplessness and fear. We have the joy of watching our son graduate, made bittersweet by his leaving in a few short weeks for college.

And yet we hold on, because while we know we are not the center of the universe, yet there is also the reminder that we don’t have to be. The ellipse will spin out again: of this we are certain, and through it all God is with us. We are captured in the pull of love, and it holds us with the force that cannot be broken, knit together by the fingers of God. Psalm 8 reminds us, especially on the day we remember Copernicus and Kepler, that we have the reassurance that the stars overhead remind us of: we are all made by God’s hand, known tenderly, each by name, and God is mindful of us, seeking us out with a love that never fails.

And that is enough.



(This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on May 23, 2018.)


Photo: Moon aglow, October 2017, by Leslie Scoopmire

Prayer, day 1943


Lord Jesus, we rise to give you thanks,
for your love has watched over us through the night.

Holy One, keep your hand upon us
as we journey through this day,
that we may turn aside from evil and embrace good.
Help us to have open, grateful hearts,
and serve each other in love and joy.
Give us eyes to see the glory of your creation
and the face of Christ in each person we meet.
Let us put aside all that separates us from love,
and remember that we are your hands in the world.

Almighty God, preserve us in peace,
and make your face shine upon those we now name.

Amen.
1211

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Prayer 1942


Most Merciful God,
we rise to sing to you the glad song
You have placed in our hearts,
the song of joy You taught us even before our birth.
New every morning are your mercies, O Almighty One,
and great is your grace and mercy and power.

On this day, may we deliberately and humbly walk
in your path of justice and peace, Lord Christ,
following in your footsteps with integrity and gentleness.
May we seek your wisdom, O Spirit of Truth,
to shape our throughts and guide our words,
honoring each other as children of God.

May the blessing of the Triune God pour out abundantly
upon all who seek you, Lord,
especially those whose needs we now lift before You.

Amen.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Prayer 1941: Planted deep in hope


We rise to center our life within You, Most Holy One:
let us kindle a song of praise within our souls,
and gather together in prayer and and faithfulness.

Plant our spirits firmly with the garden of your grace, O God,
that our roots may go deep in hope,
and we may stand upright in the company of the faithful,
nourished by your Word.
You lift up our heads when they are bowed down, Lord Christ,
and answer us from your dwelling-place
within our deepest heart.

May we embrace each other as You have embraced us,
O Shepherd of Our Souls,
and serve each other with grateful and humble hearts.

Spirit of the Living God,
pour out the power of love within us
and consecrate us to witness boldly
to your wisdom and truth.
Make your countenance to shine upon on, O Lord,
and grant your blessing and protection to those we remember before You.

Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Born of the Spirit: Sermon for Pentecost B, May 20, 2018


Unless you have been on silent retreat for the last week, you have probably heard that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, was chosen to preach at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and his American bride, Meghan Markle. Upon hearing the news last week, those Episcopalians who have been blessed to hear this man of God preach reacted with what was, especially for we staid Episcopalians, outright glee. However, those of us who have to try to preach after that amazing sermon know also experienced a slight feeling of dread at the thought of stepping into a pulpit after an amazing message like that.

Sure, there was the frustrating side: trying to explain the proper usage of the word “Episcopal” (an adjective describing an institution) and “Episcopalian” (a stand-alone noun for a person, not a church), that the style to address him is “The Most Rev.” and not just “Reverend.” Then there was the amusement of watching every single place he has ever lived claim him as its own—Chicago, New York, North Carolina—all those newspapers looking for that precious local angle.

And if you were able to hear his sermon, you know that he did not disappoint. If you have not heard his sermon, even if royal weddings are not your thing, I highly recommend you listen to it, or any of his other sermons available on Youtube. Bishop Curry’s preaching is rightfully described as “Spirit-filled.” And yesterday, the world got a taste of it, thanks be to God. His preaching proclaims the gospel boldly in ways that capture the imagination even of those who are unacquainted with religious faith. Consider this: in a nation like the UK, where only 28% of the population expresses a belief in God, his amazing 13-minute sermon about the power of love had not just that nation but the world betraying the same kind of amazement and wonder we saw in our reading from Acts this morning. Yet of the three “persons” of the Trinity, the Spirit is probably the one we talk about the least, especially we Episcopalians.

Something about the Holy Spirit seems… intangible. God the Creator, we get. Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God, a description which boggles the mind, we even get, because he was one of us, fully human. But the Spirit is a puzzle or a bewilderment.

Maybe it has to do with other names for the Spirit, which include Holy Ghost; Advocate; Helper; Breath of God; Giver of Life or Life-Giver; or Paraclete. Yet the Church itself would not exist without the Spirit, as we see in the words of the Nicene Creed, where discussion of the “Holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is placed in the section on the Holy Spirit. We always need to remember that the Church was founded after Jesus’s earthly life had ended, not before, becoming the Body of Christ in the world. Today, the Day of Pentecost, is the day we celebrate and remember the Holy Spirit coming to consecrate and commission the Church to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the Earth.

Last week and this week, from the Day of Ascension onward, we have heard Jesus promising to send the Spirit to guide his disciples once Jesus himself ascends into heaven. He promises that we will be filled to overflowing with power to work for the glory of God’s kingdom once the Spirit descends upon us and abides within us. Over the last few weeks, we have heard that phrase repeatedly: “abide in.” We heard it in John 15: “Abide in me as I abide in you…. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” We heard it again, twelve times, actually, in the brief first letter of John, which was our epistle for several weeks. This indwelling of the Spirit of Love was most beautifully expressed in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” 

That same Spirit abided completely in Jesus, and after his ascension, it is sent to abide within each of us, if we will welcome it. And elsewhere John’s gospel we are assured that it is through the sacraments of the Church that we can experience the Holy Spirit as Jesus and disciples experienced it, for John 6:56 promises, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

In his book, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, Bishop Curry spoke of Pentecost Day as a day of the power of collaboration and community, when the power of the Holy Spirit seized each one of those disciples and made it possible for the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of the power of love, to be heard and understood by all people—to abide in all people as a living presence. Bishop Curry wrote, “The story of Pentecost… speaks of 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 arose, and the new humanity in Christ began to emerge."(1) It is clear that when that Spirit is present and abiding in a community, barriers and divisions are broken, and bridges and community is built and made strong through planting within us the love of Jesus Christ, who scorns no one who seeks him, but instead embraces them regardless of any category we might us to differentiate one person from another.

The gospel of Jesus is meant to bring us together. It is never to be used to divide, to hurt, or to wound another. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we abide in each other, we abide in truth and integrity, we abide in God.

In another of his books, Following the Way of Jesus, Bishop Curry recalls the words of an illustrious former archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who served for far too short a time during World War II. Archbishop Temple once said that telling anyone to live like Jesus is useless. We fallible fallen people can’t do it. EXCEPT through the power of the Spirit of Christ. Bishop Curry then continued, “When the Spirit that lived so fully in Jesus inhabits us, then we have a chance to live like him. That’s precisely what happened to the early followers of Jesus’s way. They began to look like Jesus. Folk in Antioch saw them and nicknamed them 'little Christs.'”(2) And they, and we, are able to look and act like Jesus, flawed and hesitant as we all sometimes are, through the power of the Holy Spirit that we remember especially on this Pentecost Day.

The same Spirit who moved over the waters at creation, as our psalm reminds us: You send forth your Spirit, and all things are created; and so you renew the face of the earth. The Spirit who breathed life into all living things, and into all humanity at the birth of humanity. The same Spirit who is still active in creation, as our psalm reminds us in the present tense as well as the past. The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus as he arose from the waters of baptism to begin his earthly ministry of making God’s Love visible in human form. That then filled him with the power to speak words of healing, justice, and redemption into the most bereaved and wounded places that still exist in people throughout the centuries—all by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And as we saw in our reading from Acts today, that same Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a faithless companion who would not even admit to knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’s arrest, to a fearless preacher driven out into the street and boldly proclaiming in the open air the full truth of Christ’s life without any concern for the consequences. In our gospel today, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate, and Paul reminds us of this also. The same Spirit who alights upon Jesus’s disciples is the one that intercedes for us, helping us in our weakness, our faithlessness and even despair, we hear in the Epistle to the Romans. The Spirit who hovers over us with her regenerative, healing presence when we are so troubled we don’t even know how to pray, as Paul assured the newborn church in Rome.

But that Spirit is more than an Advocate. It is the living presence of Christ within our hearts, the embodiment of the love and grace of God that seeks to claim us and renew us, body and soul. While during much of his earthly ministry Jesus directs his attention toward his own people, with some notable exceptions, when the Spirit empowers the disciples, the first thing we see is that the Spirit equips them to take their message beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem. Once those disciples pour out into the streets with their tongues of fire, we see the Spirit do something very interesting: it gives each disciple the ability to speak in a different language.

In doing this, the Spirit reminds us that diversity, not uniformity, is a strength, even a gift from God. And that’s a reminder we could all use today. Reminding us that, no matter what language we speak, in Christ we speak of love, redemption, and transformation not just of ourselves but of the whole world. It is the Spirit who draws us together as the Beloved Community, a community that is consecrated and charged by the Spirit to offer ourselves, souls and bodies, as witnesses and embodiments of God’s mercy, truth, and grace for the life of the world.

The same Holy Spirit who alights upon Jesus’s disciples, then and now, is the one whom we ask to consecrate the bread and wine and ourselves every time we gather around the altar in thanksgiving and communion, as we are reminded that we abide in Christ and in each other through the love of God manifested through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who at the end of worship sends us out into the world, just like those disciples on Pentecost, to carry of the work and healing of Jesus into a beautiful, hurting world. In the words of hymn 504, “Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire….”

Come Holy Spirit, kindle the holy fire of love within us, and lead us into deeper wisdom and faith, that we may dedicate our lives to God. May we embrace the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of God’s love and grace in our lives, and go out into the world like those disciples, our hair on fire, rejoicing as we proclaim the wonders of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.


Preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Louisiana, MO, at 10 am, and St. John's Episcopal Church, Eolia, MO, at 2 pm, on May 20, 2018.

Readings:

References:
(1) The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, 2013, Kindle locations 846-848.
(2) The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus: Volume 6 in the Church’s Teachings for a Changing World series, 2017, chapter 1, location 143 of 1178.

Prayer, day 1940: The Day of Pentecost


For Pentecost
Almighty God, You give us a Spirit of Wisdom, Power, Healing, & Truth: guide and inspire us by your Spirit in all we do. May we as your people sing out the glory of your Name and all your wondrous works, and give thanks for the bounty you provide. Enflame us by your Love, that our lives may be a testimony to your saving power and abundant grace. Let us always turn to your Advocate and seek to be led by Holy Wisdom, that we may be open and forthright in all we do. Knit us together in faithfulness, that we may be able to speak the Truth and live the Love for which all hearts thirst. Strengthen your faithful people to be your hands, heart, and hope in the world, to bring your good news to the wide world. By your Spirit, bestow your grace, blessing, and benediction upon those for whom we pray.


Amen.