Sunday, June 17, 2018

4 Pentecost

June 17, 2018

Ezekiel 17.22-24; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34

I hope you don’t get too upset with me this morning.  But I’m going to start out today with, of all things, a poem. Actually, it’s only a fragment of a poem. And no, you can relax: it’s not one of my poem either.

No, this poem is a poem from, of all people, a Communist. A Communist from Chile.  It’s one I definitely love. It is called “Oda al ├ítamo” or “Ode to the Atom.” (I think I’ve shared this poem before)

Infinitesimal
star,
you seemed
forever
buried
in metal, hidden,
your diabolic
fire.
One day
someone knocked
at your tiny
door:
it was man.
With one
explosion
he unchained you,
you saw the world,
you came out
into the daylight,
you traveled through
cities,
your great brilliance
illuminating lives,
you were a
terrible fruit
of electric beauty…
[Then] came
the warrior
and seduced you:
sleep,
he told you,
curl up,
atom, you resemble
a Greek god…
in springtime,
lie down here
on my fingernail,
climb into this little box,
and then the warrior
put you in his jacket
as if you were nothing but
a North American
pill,
and traveled through the world
and dropped you
on Hiroshima.

This poem was written by one of my all-time favorite poets—a poet you’ve heard me quote before and, trust me, you will hear me quote again and again—Pablo Neruda.  And this fragment of the poem we just heard just touches a bit on what something as small as an atom can do.

An atom—that smallest of all things—can, when it is unleashed, do such horrendous damage.  It truly can be

“a
terrible fruit
of electric beauty…”

And look at what it could do.

If the people of Jesus’ day knew what atoms where, he would no doubt have used the atom as a symbol of the Kingdom of God,

But rather, what we find today in our Gospel reading is Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to the smallest thing they could’ve understood.

A mustard seed.

A small, simple mustard seed.

Something they no doubt knew. And something they no doubt gave little thought to.  But it was with this simple image—this simple symbol—that Jesus makes clear to those listening that little things do matter.

This past Monday—on the feast of St. Barnabas—I celebrated my fourteenth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.  What can I even say about fourteen years in the priesthood?  At fourteen years, one is definitely not the new kid on the block. Fourteen years is a long time.  Those hopes, those dreams one had for what one was going to do in the ministry have either been realized or dashed.

At fourteen years, you are a grizzled old veteran.  You’ve been through a few things, you’ve seen a few things.

More importantly, one definitely knows if one is bearing fruit or not by fourteen years. One knows if the seeds one has sown have been planted in fertile ground or are, instead, being thrown to the wind and to infertile ground.

What we all recognize is the fact that in one’s life as a Christian there are going to be moments when it seems as though one’s ministry is flourishing and wonderful. And there will be moments when our ministry seems to be producing nothing.

Our ministry, in many ways, reflects our lives.There will be feasts and there will be fasts. And all are equally productive.

Jesus’ use of the mustard seed is particular apt way of approaching ministry.  The mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds and yet look at what it produces. This is what ministry is all about as well.

The smallest thing we do in our ministry can produce some of the greatest fruit.  And that’s real point. All of us—certainly all of who profess our faith as Christians, who come to church on Sundays—are called to ministry.

Ministry is simply part and parcel of being a Christian.  If we are baptized, if we live out that baptism in the world, we are doing ministry.  Ministry is not nor has it ever been the exclusive claim of those of us who have been ordained, who wear funny collars and crisp black clothes.

Ministry has always been the work of all of us. That is why Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to these images of seeds. The Kingdom of God doesn’t just happen when priests and bishops get up and preach and make legislation in the Church.

In a few short weeks beginning on July 5th, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention will meet in Austin Texas.  Let’s face it, the Kingdom doesn’t’ happen just when we as a Church send out deputies off to places like Austin where they make decisions about what direction the Church might go.

And I can tell you right now: the Kingdom of God definitely doesn’t happen when we hide behind Scripture or manipulate and use scripture to promote evil, blatantly unchristian acts such as separated children from their parents.  In fact, in those instances, we are uprooting the Kingdom of God in our midst.

The Kingdom happens when we—each and every single one of us—do, in even some small way, what we profess to do, when we go out from this church on Sundays and try to live out in whatever way we can what we have learned and professed here.

To bring about the Kingdom of God in this world, we don’t need to be grandiose. We don’t need to shout or scream or strut about, full of ourselves.  We don’t need to use the Bible as a sword to cut people down.  We don’t even have to say a simple word.  When it comes to the Kingdom, when it comes to true ministry, little things do truly mean quite a lot.

That sprig that the Prophet Ezekiel talks about in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures is another example of what the Kingdom of God is like.  From a sprig form the topmost part of the cedar tree, can come a canopy under which we all live and serve.

Ezekiel’s sprig and Jesus’ mustard seed remind me of Neruda’s atom.  Just as the small good things in the world can produce such beautiful and wonderful things such as the Kingdom of God in our very midst, so do those small seeds of discontent flourish into ugly and life-threatening weeds.  

Sometimes the little things we do, do much harm as well. A quick, harsh word of criticism, a glance, a gesture of anger at a fellow motorist on the highway—all of these don’t do anything to bring about the Kingdom of God in our midst. They only sow discontent and anger and frustration.  And where discontent and anger and frustration flourish, the Kingdom of God is stifled.

We have all known what it feels like to be on the receiving end of those seeds of discontent. We have all known people who have been driven from the church by what those seeds have produced.  We ourselves have no doubt been close to leaving the church over those weeds that clog our lives and cause us such pain.

But it does draw us back to the mustard seed once again.  It reminds us that despite all the weeds that can grow, that mustard seed can produce something even greater than weeds.

Those small, good things we do can truly bring about more good than we can hope to produce.  Simple things like a hug, an ear to listen, a smile, an attempt to soothe, to comfort, to help—all these things and so many more go a long way in helping to crowd out the weeds of negativity in the world.  Over and over again in our lives, we have no doubt seen the Kingdom of God blossom in people’s lives and in the world from the smallest seeds of goodness.

So, let us be seeds of absolute and total goodness!  Let us hold before ourselves that image of the mustard seed. Let it be an icon for us in our ministries. Let it be for us a symbol of the ministry we have been called to do by our baptism, by our membership in the Church of God. Let the mustard seed be for us a doorway through which the Kingdom of God breaks through into our world. Let it be the positive atom which, when unleashed, creates an explosion of goodness and beauty and grace in this world.

Let it be the “fruit/of electric beauty” that will transform this world into the Kingdom in which God reigns completed and fully through us.  

Let it be, as Neruda begged the atom to be at the end of his poem:

“…instead of the fatal
ashes
of your mask,
instead of unleashed infernos
of your wrath,
instead of the menace
of your terrible light, deliver to us
your amazing
rebelliousness
for our grain,
your unchained magnetism
to found peace among men,
and then your dazzling light
will be happiness,
not hell,
hope of morning,
gift to earth.”

Let our dazzling light be happiness not hell.

Let us be hope of morning.

Let us be gift of earth.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

3 Pentecost

June 9, 2018

Mark 3.20-35

+ Today is a big day for us here at St. Stephen’s. We, of course, are blessing and dedicating this wonderful window today—the final one of this series of eight windows.   Personally, it means so much to me. Of course, to have such a wonderfully window dedicated to my mother and cousin is moving for me. And I am deeply humbled to be honored by seeing my name and ministry, as well as my poem immortalized in the window means so much. And to honor not only my predecessor-priests, but also those priests that will come to St. Stephen’s in the future is truly beautiful and wonderful as well.

But, for all of us, this window of course represents the completion of an amazing and truly beautiful artistic project here.

It was about two and half years ago that our very own Leo Wilking brought an idea before the Vestry of having a window dedicated in memory of his parents.  At the time, I didn’t know what to think of the idea. Of course, I was all for a stained glass window!

But, I’ll be honest.  I thought we would end up having one window and that would be it. 

Stained glass windows are expensive after all!




But with Gin’s artistic vision, we moved forward, thanks, in some way, to Piet Mondrian (and the Mondrian painting in the opening credits of Green Acres—which causes poor Gin to roll her eyes, but it’s kind of the truth!!).

Still, I will be even more honest about the fact that I thought this would be a project that would be completed long after my time at St. Stephen’s.  I thought: well, this will be a project that will take at least five years, more likely ten.

But first came the Good Samaritan window. And then dear Harriet Blow died and we then got the Mary and Martha window, to balance out the windows.  Then came, of course, the Integrity window which was controversial and exciting and amazing all at once!  And before we knew it…well, here we are.

The first window, that Good Samaritan window, was dedicated and blessed on June 12, 2016. That will be two years on Tuesday.  Within two years, all of our windows are done! That is absolutely amazing! God works in these ways!  (and so does Gin Templeton)

I thank Leo for his vision for these windows.

I thank Michael Orchard and Nick Walberg from the Michael Orchard Studio for their hard work on these windows.

I thank the donors who stepped up and contributed to this incredible artistic accomplishment.

And, of course, we thank Gin. Gin, who sacrificed and labored and lost sleep and was unable to fully enjoy her vacations to Florida, for these windows.  There is a lot of blood and sweat and tears in these windows.

Now, having said all of that, I want to stress something. This all more about more than just glass and paint and metal this morning. These windows are more than just lovely additions to our church building.

Look at these windows! Actually LOOK at them.  See what they represent.Actually look and see what it is they celebrate and commemorate. Because what they celebrate and what they commemorate is you.

Each of you.

You, as well as those who are not here among here in this building today but who now dwell in a place of light inaccessible.  These windows commemorate the ministries you have been doing in this church for 62 years.

These windows represent your blood, your tears, your sweat, your sacrifices, your lost sleep, your moments of despair.

These windows represent your devotion, your perseverance, your dedication, your devotion to God and others.

These windows represent in a very real and beautiful way your attempts at doing the will of God in this world!

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying that wonderful statement of his:

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

Now that was no doubt a jarring statement to Mary, his mother, and to his brothers and sisters. But, I’ve always loved that scripture for a probably not so nice of a reason. Many of know full-well that family is not always those who share genetics with us. Family is often those we chose as family. The Church reminds us of this again and again. Those of us who follow Jesus, who are the sisters and brothers of Jesus, we are also sisters and brothers to each other, and hence, family.  It is true of our church and it is true of our own community.

So, what is doing the will of God? Do I honestly need to even ask this this morning? We know what doing the will of God is.  It’s peached and lived out in this church every single day.

It’s celebrated in these windows.

Doing the will of God is loving—radically and fully and completely. Doing the will of God is accepting radically and completely. Doing the will of God is being radically and fully inclusive.  Doing the will of God is doing things that others say shouldn’t (or can’t) be done.

One of the things we endure in our lives is Christians is the doomsayer. We know the doomsayer. We’ve endured the doomsayer.

While other Christians—and specifically Episcopalians—are singing their songs of doom about the demise of the Episcopal Church and other mainstream churches, we are the ones who laugh at such doomsayers. We are the one who shrug our shoulders at those in authority who tell us we shouldn’t do what we have done here.

Look at these windows and what they celebrate.  

Mary & Martha window

We are the ones who gave women a place in leadership when others said that can’t be done.

Peaceable Kingdom window

We are the ones who say and again that peace is always an option and that justice is a Christian obligation even while wars and rumors of wars raged around us.

Sts. Benedict & Scholastica window

We are the ones who welcome all people in these doors in the name of Christ, receiving them as Christ and including them as one of us.

Good Samaritan window

We are the ones who did not pass by on the other side of the road when see others in need.

Integrity window
We are the ones united under the overarching love and acceptance of God to include all people here, because we are a family under the overarching love of God.

We are the ones who stand up and say we cannot abide when those in  authority tell us we cannot do this or that.

St. Stephen window

 We are the ones who, like our patron saint, St. Stephen, can look up in the midst of a rain of stones, and see the glory of God and Christ standing his the right hand of that Glory.

St. Cecilia window

 We are the ones who, on good days and bad, who in the face of life’s storms or in the sunshine of our youth, who even at the grave are able to rejoice and sing and say, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Bread of Life window

We are the ones who gather here, at this altar, again and again, to break bread with each other, to share the Body and Blood of Christ, and to then go out into the world to share Christ with others.

This is what it means to do the will of God.  And by doing this, we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

See, it’s not doom.  See, it’s not the end of the Church. Yes, we know it’s uncomfortable to change and grow and be pliable. But it’s essential.

The church is changing. These windows today reflect that changing church. These windows reflect the Church that is about to be.

This is the Church of the future. And it is the Church of the past. It is a church filled with music and poetry and art, but it is a church centered squarely on God and God’s Christ.

It is a Church supported by the saints, both those who are alive and present right here, and those who are singing their praises this morning in the Presence of the Lamb.

It is a Church that is radically different and yet radically the same.

Doing the will of God means being like these windows.

In this month’s newsletter, I shared the poem “Windows” by the great Anglican poet and priest, George Herbert (yes, one of my heroes—and who is quoted in our latest window). That poem is, of course, about more than mere windows. It is about us being the windows of the Church.  It is about us being the conduits through which the Light of God shines.  It means opening ourselves to reflect God’s Light to those who need God’s light in their lives.

We don’t have to perfect. We can be “brittle crazie glass” as Herbert says.  We don’t have to be gorgeous stained glass done up in Midcentury modern/Mondrian-inspired beauty.  We can be cracked and dirty and imperfect to reflect the Light of God. But our job is to reflect that Light, even when we don’t feel like or think we can’t.

“Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?” we are being asked today.

We are! That is what these windows represent. That is what these windows remind us we are doing. We are being Jesus’ sisters and brothers in this world by doing what these windows celebrate and commemorate.

So, let us celebrate today. Let us give thanks to our loving God for these windows, for all that they represent in our lives and ministries here at St. Stephen’s. Let us rejoice in the artistic and poetic vision and talents of those who labor beside us. Let us be thankful for those who worked on these windows and for those who are remembered in them.

But, most importantly, let us live out what these windows represent.

Let us be windows in our own lives.

Let us be windows reflecting God’s Light and Love to others.

Let us, like these window, shine!

Shine in all we say and do.

Shine in conveying the Light of God’s love and acceptance to all.

Today and always, let us...

SHINE!  




Sunday, May 27, 2018

Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6.1-8; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17

+ When all is said and done, at the end of the day, I can say this about myself: I am actually fairly orthodox in most of what I believe.  I don’t say that pridefully. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying…

Yes, I know. I’m pretty liberal.  At least socially.

But theologically, I’m pretty cut and dry. It would be hard to find a major heresy in most of my thinking.

OK. Yes, I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a universalist. I do believe that, eventually, we will all be together with Christ in heaven. I really do believe that. I do not believe in an eternal hell.

But the rest of it is pretty much straightforward. I believe in the Incarnation of Christ.

I believe Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.

I believe prayer does make a difference in this world.

I believe in the Resurrection.

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.

And let’s not get into my view of Mary and the saints.

But, then, there’s the Trinity. 

Sigh.

The Trinity.

I’ll make it simple for you. I don’t know what it is for certain. I don’t know how it works.   But somehow I know it works. And I think that is where most of us are with the Trinity.

Most of us, let’s face it, don’t give the Trinity a lot of thought. For me, it’s a mystery. Which is not a bad thing.  I love the mystery of our faith. And let me tell  you, there is nothing more mysterious than the Trinity.

God as Three-in-One—traditionally seen as the Father, or Parent or Creator, the Son or Redeemer and the Spirit or Sanctifier.

I know, I know.  It’s difficult to wrap our minds around this concept of God.

The question we regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one?  How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three?  Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? (We’re definitely not, by the way—just to be clear about that)

Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history.  The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.  Even as recently as the 1960s, when Episcopal Bishop James Pike denied the Trinity and was brought up on heresy charges, it has been an issue for us as the Church.


We can debate it all we want this morning. We can talk what is orthodox or right-thinking about the Trinity all we want. And I will admit, I probably have been heretical in some of my thinking on this issue.

But, for me, I think it all comes to down to how we experience God in our own personal lives. Now the word I use for this experiential understanding of the Trinity is tri-personal. If we look at our relationship with God in a tri-personal way, maybe—maybe—it sort of, kind of, maybe makes a bit more sense.

One tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways.  We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is how we interact with our God.

How is our relationship with God and with each other deepened and made more real by this one, tri-personal God? How do become closer to God?

This is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?

Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God.  God is not some Rubik’s Cube or a puzzle that has to be solved.

Our goal is to know God.  Our goal is to love God.  Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.

Because God does know us. God does love us.

And, more likely than not, we have actually experienced our God in this tri-personal way more than once in our lives.

I personally have experienced God in a variety of ways; certainly I have experiences God in that tri-personal way countless times.  I have known God as a loving and caring parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people or the Church or society or by friends and colleagues. And let me tell you I have definitely been clinging to the parental aspect of God in these last few months since my mother died.

I have also known God as my redeemer—as One who has come to me where I am, as One who knows my suffering because this One also has suffered as well. And this One has promised that I too can be a child of this God who is my—and our—Parent.    I have been able to take comfort in the fact that God is not some distant deity who could not comprehend what I have gone through in my life and in this limited, mortal body.  God the Redeemer knows what it was to be limited by our bodies.  There is something wonderful and holy in that realization.

And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life.  Certainly we, at St. Stephen’s have experienced and continue to experience this Spirit’s presence in the life and renewal we are celebrating in our congregation.  We have known in a very real way the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God here among us.  And, I don’t need to tell you,  it is wonderful.

In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we get a real and beautiful glimpse of how God seems to work in this kind of tri-personal way.  We hear,

“When we cry Abba! Father! It is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit…


So, The Spirit helps us to recognize this parental relationship with God. It then goes on,

“…that we are children of God [like Jesus], and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,”

Here is the tri-personal relationship at work.  We can also see our place in this relationship.  The Spirit helps us to see our place, as fully-accepted, fully-loved children of God, alongside Jesus, reaping the same rewards Jesus himself was able to reap, doing so because of Jesus.

So, in this one fairly short, but truly wonderful scripture, we see it all working together well, like a well-oiled machine.  In a sense, we, as children of God and heirs with Christ, are essentially being invited to join in with the work of God. We are essentially being invited to part of this Tri-Personal relationship.
 We are being invited to join into the work of the Tri-personal God.

It reminds me of that ikon by Andrei Rubelev that I have put out in the Narthex this morning. We are being invited to join in to the work God is doing.  And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.

We are constantly being invited to the table of God. We are called to sit down at that table with this tri-personal God, to join in that circle of love and, as followers of Jesus, to share that love with others, then we are truly celebrating what this Sunday is all about.  We are sharing the love and work of our tri-personal God.

We are saying to God, as Isaiah did in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures:

“Here I am!”

So, no matter what the theologians argue about, no matter what those supposedly learned teachers proclaim, ultimately, our understanding of God always needs to be based on our own experience to some extent.  The mysteries of God do not have to be a frustrating aspect of our church and our faith.  Rather they should widen and expand our faith life and our understanding and experience of God and, in turn, of each other.

So, today, as we ponder our tri-personal God—and we should ponder this tri-personal God in our lives—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our lives, let us remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us.  

God cannot be limited or quantified or reduced.

God can only be experienced.

And adored.

And pondered.

God can only be shared with others as we share love with each other.  When we do that—when we live out and share our loving God with others—then we are joining with the tri-personal God who is here with us, loving us with a love deeper than any love we have ever known before.



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Gin Templeton has been working hard on the last stained glass window in the nave at St. Stephen’s. Here is the beautiful butterfly for the plate dedicated to the memory of my mother. The window will be blessed and dedicated on June 10. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost

May 20, 2018

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2.1-21

+ My guess is you you’re probably sick of me mentioning my small amount of Jewish Ancestry. As some of you know, I took my DNA test last November and found out that I am partly Jewish. Which, for me, was incredible and wonderful!  And made so much sense to who I am.

But since then, I’ve really run with it.  And I’ve really embraced it.  And I have to say that my own faith, my own perception of Christianity has changed a bit as a result of this discovery. Seeing scripture, theology,  even these feasts of the Church through a Jewish lens is actually amazing! And I have been enjoying it greatly. It’s sort of like it’s all brand new to me!

Let’s take today, for example.  Yes, we are of course celebrating Pentecost today.  It’s a very important day in the life of the Church. Today is essentially the “birthday” of the Church.

But, in Judaism, the feast of Shavuot is being celebrated this weekend.  Shavuot is a wonderful and important Jewish feast. It is now 50 days since Passover.

The word Shavuot is Hebrew for “weeks.” The belief is that, after fifty days of traveling after leaving Egypt, the nation of Israel now has finally arrived at Mount Sinai. And on Shavuot, the Torah, the “Law,” the 10 Commandments were delivered to them by Moses.

So, in a very real sense, this is an important day not just for Judaism, but for us as well.  The Torah, the 10 Commandments, are important to us too.  

Our feast of Pentecost is very similar in many ways.   It now 50 days after Easter.  The word “Pentecost” refers to the Greek word for 50.  And it’s connection with Shavuot is pretty clear.

Shavuot is this  feast on which the early Jews offered to God the first fruits of their harvests. Now that is particularly meaningful to us Christians and what we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.  It is meaningful that the Holy Spirit came among us on this feast in which the first fruits were offered to God.  After all, those first Christiana who gathered in that upper room in our reading this morning from Acts, were truly the first fruits of the Church.  And let’s not forget that those first Christians were also Jews, gathering to celebrate the festival of Shavuot.  God chose to send the Spirit on those first followers of Jesus on just the right day!

Still, like nuclear power or electricity, God’s Spirit is sometimes a hard thing for us to grasp and understand.   The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is for us:

 "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Although Jesus’s prophecy from God might no longer be among  as it was when Jesus himself was with us physically, the prophecy does remains with us in the sending of God’s spirit.  Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again, on this side of the veil.  But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus’ place. Jesus is gone from us physically, but in the Spirit Jesus is still with us.

In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’s Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets ourselves.  The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel in our reading this morning, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, which spoke through Jesus, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible and through Jesus.  That is who the Spirit is in our midst.

The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—and in our lives is truly the spirit of the God that came to us and continues to be with us.  It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before.  

God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration.  God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always.

Always.

For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan.

We can’t grasp the Spirit.

We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do.

In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.

So, how do we know how the Spirit is working in our lives?  Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit.  In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.

Remember what the feast of Pentecost originally was? It was the Jewish feast on which the first fruits were offered to God.

In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits back to us.  On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them, and, most importantly, share them in turn with those around us.  The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.

We often hear about Pentecostals—those Christians who have been born (or baptized) in the Spirit.  They are the ones who speak in tongues and prophesy and have words of knowledge or raise their hands in joyful praise—all those things we good Episcopalians find a bit disconcerting.  These Pentecostals—as strange as we might find these practices—really do have a lot to teach the rest of us Christians about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I remember the first time I ever attended a Pentecostal church.  Rather than being attracted to that way of worship, I was actually turned off. Partly my reason for doing so, is that by that time in my life I had, in fact experienced the Spirit very profoundly in my life.  

For me, the Spirit of God came to me not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way.  The Sprit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.”

The fruits of the Spirit for me have been things such as an overwhelming joy in my life.  I have known the Spirit to draw close when I feel a true humbleness come to me.  When the Spirit is near, I feel clear-headed and, to put it simply, happy.  Or, in the midst of what seems like an unbreakable dark grief, there is suddenly a real and potent sense of hope and light—that is the Spirit at work.

When the future seems bleak and ugly, the Spirit can come in and make everything worth living again. We experience God’s Spirit whenever we feel joy or hope.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the Spirit of God is a Spirit of Truth. We experience God’s Spirit when we strive for truth in this world, when truth comes to us.

In turn, we are far from God’s Spirit when we let bitterness and anger and frustration lead the way. We frustrate God’s Spirit when we grumble and mumble about each other and hinder the ministries of others in our church, when we let our own agendas win out over those who are trying also to do something to increase God’s Kingdom in our midst.  We deny the Spirit when we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

No doubt everyone here this morning has felt God’s Spirit in some way, although we might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit.  But our job, as Christians, is to allow those fruits of the Spirit to flourish and grow. For us, we let the Spirit of God flourish when we continue to strive for truth and justice, when stand up against the dark forces of this world. The Spirit of God compels again and again to stand up and to be defiant against the dark forces of this world!

On the feast of Shavuot, the scripture we heard from Ezekiel today is read. Again, remember, those first followers of Jesus on that first day of Pentecost would have heard this scripture that same day as well.  It is an amazing scripture and an amazing vision. In it, God’s Spirit revives the bones in the valley.  What appears to be dead and lifeless is given life by God’s life-giving Spirit.   And that reading ends with these very powerful words that speak so clearly not only to the Jewish people, but to us as well. Ezekiel says,

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

God’s spirit is placed within us so that the graves of our lives may be opened, and we can stand in that place to which God has lead us.  That dynamic and life-giving presence of the Spirit of God speaks loudly to us.

Certainly we have seen God’s Spirit at work here in our congregation as we celebrate a bountiful harvest—the growth and vitality here. We see the Holy Spirit at work in the ministries we do, in the love we share with others, with the truth we proclaim as Christians, even in the face of opposition. We experience this Spirit of truth when we stand up against injustice, wherever it may be.

This is how God’s Spirit comes to us.  The Spirit does not always tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives.  The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.  Though, often the Spirit comes to us as fire—an all-consuming fire that burns way all anger and hatred and fear and pettiness and nagging and all the other negative, dead chaff we carry within us.

So, this week, in the glow of the Pentecost light, in the Shavuot glow with the Law written deep in our hearts, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us.  Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind and burn through us like a purifying fire.  And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us.

Whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto us as with those first disciples.  On these feasts of Shavuot and Pentecost—these feasts of the fruits of God—these feasts of the fire of God—let us give thanks for this God who never leaves us, who never stops loving us, but who comes to us again and again in mercy and in truth. Amen.