Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sermon 2009

Pentecost 2009
St. Peter’s Eastern Hill
Robert Whalley

Acts 2: 1-11
Galatians 5:16-25
John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

According to authorities, the easiest way to trap a monkey is to take a coconut, punch a smallish hole in it, empty it, tie it to the ground and fill it with a few pieces of good food. I am not sure what qualifies as good monkey food, maybe straw, and I am inclined to go for pizza and chocolate, but am prepared to see that as pure projection. Anyway, when the monkey comes exploring, he sees the food inside the coconut and puts his hand in. He finds he can’t grab hold of the food and get his hand out at the same time. And he won’t let go. Supposedly a monkey will try to hold onto the food even when the people with the nets come ‘round, even when he’s going to get trapped, lose everything, he’ll still try to hold on.

This story scares me a bit, because there is something in me that often wants to hold on, to an old idea, to an old idol, to an old plan or an old pain. But what is more important than saying yes to life and to God in the present moment? What are we trying to hold onto? Is there an old idea of failure or success? Is there a worn out list somewhere of people we tried to impress when we were younger? Is it an old idea of our religion, of how to act it out and live it out? What are we holding on to that holds us back, that can trap us, trip us up, keep us from turning around to say yes to the present reality of celebrating life and love right now, when that’s what might matter most?

Now most days I believe the kingdom of heaven, the realm of the spirit, the way of Jesus, the reign of God, is not a place to be tight-fisted. It is also not easy to get hold of, not easily condensed into a book or a creed, not a winning ticket, not even just a place to rest. Don’t get me wrong, none these things are bad or wrong; we need benchmarks and rest-stops, records, starting points, places where we can turn around and begin to live again. They are all valuable, but they are not the way, and there is even a danger that they can turn into detours, get us out of the way. There is such a deeply human tendency to think that checking out the cookbook is like eating the meal, or looking at the map is like moving into the territory.

But the way of Jesus is a way to live and move and have our being: it’s more of a walking tour where you start right here! Because in life in Christ there is so much “here” right here! Here in a way you walk, inhale, exhale, accept, receive and give over every minute. Every time that you take it in, turn it over, put it out, love your neighbor as yourself, heaven happens here and now. A way that is forever new and renewed in the making and giving and taking the gift of the moment. Again, nothing you can get your head or hand around, less like a bank account or a lesson plan, more like a flower or a fresh breeze, or love: Jesus sings a song of the intimacy of God breathed by the spirit in every moment of creation. That’s the gift, that’s the way the way works in each of us as well as in all of us together. We can’t lay hold of it easy, but that’s the way.

That’s why I think we have four Gospels which don’t quite fit together, to show us how wide the way is, because the truth of it isn’t tailored to suit us all the time. I’ve said this before, but I figure the evangelists have four family albums, four sets of snaps from different sides of the family tree, with different vantage points, different focus, pointing towards a different purpose with different results. So when you look at all the records together you find important stuff that doesn’t add up and won’t fit in your outline. You can’t use it easily for as a morality to suit your own mentality. And that’s good!

For you get something far better; a kind of moving picture that emerges by living with the Bible, looking into it and through it, like a kids flip book, that you can use as a kind of moving-picture of faith in motion. So you learn the way of Jesus by watching him move, you learn by moving with his rhythm, following his lead, walking his walk, learning to dance, to partner with him: both companions in the intricacies and rhythms of your own life and times as well as that of all the disparate and communities where he loves to be found: the communities where you are bound to find love. And that can be good news.

Because if God’s openhanded way and truth is the way to follow; then the self-directed documentary of who we want to be and where we ought to go, all the plots, hopes, fears, memories and desire, or follies and forecasts that we hold on to, we can let all that go! For then we can be held in the free-gift of God’s true love, right here, right now. In a way willing to be filled with "God-shaped events," instances of creativity, redemption, blessed mercy and surprise; when the world ignites with Pentecostal connection, compassion, wisdom, justice, love.

But there is something is us that wants to fight that, keep our hand in, get what we want. That relates to what Paul is talking about in the Epistle to the Galatians with his nasty little list: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing” are all attempts to grip power, passion, come to control, to make the world our way. But listen to the other list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” All openhanded ways to be companions, neighbors, lovers, freely giving without the need for control or power. A bright dance, a procession from the heart of creation, from the deepest heart of love in the fragile centre of the human journey.

We see those instances shining brightly in the life of Jesus, a moving pattern of the will and the love of God, and learn to breathe that spirit here, in the middle of our lives. We come here to learn to walk that way, walk in that hope.

And that takes us to John’s Gospel. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Perhaps what this spirit declares in the Book of Acts, where each person hears it anew in the tongue of their tribe or family; is that the biggest of those “deeds of power,” is that the tender power of love will win, will live forever. But for most of us these are only “hints and guesses.” We will only know this fully in walking the way and see it clearly at the end, finally, in the light of heaven, under the kind eyes of the saints and through the grace of an empty cross, under the wide sky of eternity where we will eat the bread of heaven. We are here on the way to ease into that truth.

So don’t let your hand be caught in holding on to what you wanted in life, instead let yourself come home to Christ in the midst of the world of living and dying, in the hope of heaven. Deitrich Bonhoffer writes, “Christ bids you come and die,” and that is not easy, but it can be very good. Die to the fiction of a controlling life so that you can live for the truth of abounding and outpouring love. Stop grasping at dried straws. Give up a lonely living death, and begin to lose yourself in the hope of Christ’s dying-rising life. Live to breathe, move, dance with all the wild, incomparable, highly unlikely, quickly passing by, possibilities, in a stewardship, partnership, friendship, kinship with God in Christ, in communion with everybody else, a dance that will breathe us, neighbors to the last, and, lay us to rest, take us along, raise us up and bring us home.

Welcome to Pentecost!


Grace said...

Rob, This is only good, all good! Thank you.

Joel H said...

Thanks for this -- today it's the only words focused on Pentacost that I will "hear." I'm grateful.

Joel H said...

I meant to say, today these are the only words focused on Pentacost that I will hear. (I'm still grateful.)

Ruth Anne, Pax on you!! said...

Bob -- now I know what you are doing in Austrailia and I am so pleased to hear that you are finally where you have wanted to be and worked so hard to be for so long.
Your sermon speaks to me in the sense that I have difficulty trusting our newest minster (4 years) who I believe lied to me in the first months of her ministry. We are now in talks to establish some kind of workable relationship so I can be readmitted to Eucharistic Ministry which I have been doing for 15-20 years -- with a specific calling to serve in nursing homes. Holding on to that lie has cost me a lot and I want to regain my EM status before the elderly I have served are gone -- Rodney Jueneman is one (96, I think). Thank you for your words. Ruth Anne Harris