Sunday, June 9, 2019

God is up to Something

Todays Psalm for Pentecost Sunday reads in part…

How many are your works, Lord!
    In wisdom you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,
    teeming with creatures beyond number—
    living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27 All creatures look to you
    to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
    they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
    they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.

Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.’ These words demonstrate the ancient Jewish view of the Spirit of God annually renewing the face of the natural world with flowering plant life and also a widespread belief in the activity of a divine Spirit in many religious cultures around the world, both ancient and modern. All life is thereby seen in them as a divine gift of God to a divine creation.

The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ was ‘ruah’, whose original meaning was ‘breath’ as well as ‘wind’ a word meant to sound exactly or close to what it is Ruahhh... “John tells us how Jesus likened the Spirit to the wind that ‘blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going’  (John 3:8), and this explains why Luke described the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as ‘like the rush of a mighty wind’ (Acts 2:2). In other words, the Spirit is identified as the breath of God, both breathing life into all living things, and withdrawn to let them die.

John’s Gospel describes the death of Jesus on the cross with an unusual Greek expression: he ‘handed over his spirit.’ These words imply that the Spirit given him in baptism is being passed on in his death. He reveals to whom the Spirit is being passed in Christ’s resurrection appearance to the gathered apostles when he lays his hands on them.”[1]

Today’s Gospel foretells of the Holy Spirit coming, the advocate.  We all know the Pentecost story almost by heart. I will return to that story in a bit but for now 

“Pentecost is the day that the gift of the Spirit brings the new life of Christ to the apostles and the scattered people of God. Both evangelists (John and Luke) were writing about events that they themselves did not witness, and so they tended to link their narratives with those Jewish traditions which could best illuminate their significance most vividly, and the experiences that the apostolic Church initially identified naturally as ‘the Spirit of Christ’.”[2]

These understandings of what Pentecost meant or how the Holy spirit came did not happen immediately. There was confusion surrounding the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  There were stories that were simple and stories that were huge exaggerations. There were arguments, misunderstandings and even stories from people who heard from someone who heard from someone who had a second cousin that was there.

I am not making light of our scriptures.  I am simply stating a fact.  There were no accurate recorded histories at the time of Jesus.  There were many writings and different accounts of Jesus life and teachings. Alice Camille write;

“With all the writings floating around the ancient world, who decided which of them rated as sacred enough to be scripture?

This question is technically one of canonicity. “Canon” means norm or standard. The term was first applied by St. Athanasius to a collection of Jewish and Christian writings around the year 350. A fourth-century bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, Athanasius was a powerhouse.

He would later be named “Doctor of Orthodoxy” for his strong defense against heresies of his time. Athanasius attended the all-important Council of Nicaea, from which we get our Nicene Creed. He was a zealous advocate for the divinity of Jesus in an age before the nature of Jesus was uniformly accepted. For all of these reasons, Athanasius was invested in settling the canon of scripture: which books might be counted as the “Word of God”—and which, at best, were just good words.”[3]
It wasn’t until the council of Trent in 1545 that the old testament was finally decided upon. Meaning which books would be allowed in…of course this was in the midst of the reformation and so some books the Catholics choose the reformation tossed out. “Today’s bible owes a debt to these many debates.”[4]

This is why it is said we take the bible seriously but not literally. It is the inspired and inspiring word of God. That word still speaks to us today and allows us to grow and move just as the spirit leads us as we work to bring Gods kindom here on earth.

Fr Robert styles, SJ states;

“We therefore need to understand why Luke saw the celebration of Pentecost as a particularly significant feast for the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Pentecost began as a harvest thanksgiving celebration with the creative Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth. It was the traditional date of the original covenant of the Law of Moses given on Mount Sinai. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD70 this latter aspect of Pentecost was emphasized more exclusively in the synagogues of the Jewish diaspora. It is during this period that Luke wrote his Gospel.”[5]

I find it interesting and calling to my heart today that Pentecost was a celebration of the harvest a celebration of the bounty of the earth and now it is a celebration of the spirit. The renewing spirit of God.  That spirit renews us, renews the church and renews the Earth herself.

   this is the day on which the first believers came alive in their faith,
       the day when the Rock upon which Christ planted his church began to
       support and uphold an incredible new life -
a life that has existed since the world began,
   but which was poured out in a special fashion 
       and took on flesh in you and me 
much as it took life in Jesus, the son of Mary, the son of God 
so long ago.

Pentecost is an event that the world has long been promised and which the people of God have long awaited. With that let me say…

Dzien dobry (Polish), Buenos dias (Spanish), Nyado delek (Tibetan), Endermen aderkh (armarhic), Bari Luys (Armenian), Kali Mera (Greek), Shubh Prabhat (Hindi).  I have just announced good morning or good day in several languages those languages were… (see above).

We are in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time it is 50 days after Good Friday.  Actually, the name of the Holiday is a Jewish reference. Pentecost is actually a Jewish Holiday a festival of early harvest that occurred fifty days after Passover also known as the festival of Weeks, Shavuot, or the day to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments.

It is interesting to note that Christ said in Mathew “Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” So, Jesus was then, the accomplishment of the law and the prophets and the beginning of something new.

Then Later in John Jesus foretells of the coming of the spirit…"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Creator, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Creator, she will testify about me.”

Today is Pentecost and for us that's the birthday of the church,
when the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God came into the
church and gave the church life. John does not tell of the event but it is in Luke that we hear the story.

So here it is Pentecost in Jerusalem and the disciples are kind of hiding out.  They are frightened that the mobs that came for Jesus may come for them.  They come and go very clandestinely. This day they are all gathered, again I must emphasize that all means men women and children, slaves and free. It is reported that suddenly there was a roar as of a rushing wind.  It was so loud that the people who had gathered in Jerusalem heard the noise and gathered around the house.  Imagine hearing the sound of a rushing wind and yet there is none…no wind…no movement just the sound, wouldn’t you want to see what was happening.

So gathered outside are Jewish people from Jerusalem and those who traveled back for the holiday.  There are Greeks and Romans, there were people from what we know as Libya and Egypt, there were probably traders from the Far East as well as Macedonia, People from the entire known world.  Some had come for Passover and just stayed till Pentecost others were there just for that festival.  There were many people and many languages.

So as the crowd is gathering outside those in the house are hearing the same thing, it sounds like a mighty wind is coming and it is all around them.  They are wondering if they have been found, if they are under attack of some kind, or if the world as they know it is ending.  Suddenly a fire appears in the room divides and alights on each one’s head.  They are filled with the spirit and they go out to greet the crowd.

Pentecost is the reversal of what occurred at the Tower of Babel when, because of our sinfulness, because we chose to separate ourselves from God, we became unable to understand one another and then a mighty wind came up and blew us to the four corners of the world.

Do you hear the similar elements here, there was a sound of rushing wind but it did not disperse the people but caused them to be gathered and at Pentecost each heard the disciples proclaim the news in their own tongue. I have always found this one of the most significant passages.  It is not that the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to speak languages of all the known nations at the time but that the spirit made it possible for all to hear and understand the message of God.  The message that there is new life and a new way to be in the world, away free from guilt and persecution. For as it was proclaimed at the days of creation, it is being proclaimed again, God saw all things under the heavens and proclaimed them all GOOD!

All creation was Good, all creation saw and witnessed Gods spirit, God’s breath, the very Ruah of creation was alive and well in the world.  Perhaps this is why Pentecost came on the festival of harvest.  Gods bounty of the Earth is being celebrated and at the same time God’s bounty of the spirit is gifted.

The nature of this spirit empowers us to live first of all pointing to Christ. The kind of life God intends for us to live points not to us, not to our accomplishments, but to the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works with our spirit so that we might experience the righteousness of Christ in our lives.

It is this Spirit that comes into our lives, into the church to allow us to spread God’s message of love to all people and to all of God’s creation. It is this Spirit which makes the church, the Body of Christ, the most unique organization on the face of the earth. Because the spirit inspires us and moves us to stand in the face of oppression. 

It calls us to care for the sick, the poor the marginalized and the earth itself.  It calls to mind the early bounty celebration and asks how do we envision our bounty through the gift of the spirit?  How are we being moved?  How are we using our bounty, our gift of the spirit, to renew Gods’ earth and make earth just as it is in heaven?

The church is the most amazing organization in the world! And my friends you and I are part of it, not because we did anything, but because the Holy Spirit has led us, because the Gospel and the Life of Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit gathers together, enlightens and makes holy all people on earth and keeps Holy the earth herself.

Rick Kirchoff, Germantown United Methodist Church said this in 2001 at the Opening remarks to the Memphis Annual Conference of the Methodist churches.

When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:

barriers are broken,
communities are formed,
opposites are reconciled,
unity is established,
disease is cured,
addiction is broken,
cities are renewed,
races are reconciled,
hope is established,
people are blessed,
and church happens.

Today the Spirit of God is present
and we’re gonna‚ have church.

So be ready, get ready...God is up to something... discouraged folks cheer up,
dishonest folks ’fess up,
sour folks sweeten up,
closed folk, open up,
gossipers shut up,
conflicted folks make up,
sleeping folks wake up,
lukewarm folk, fire up,
dry bones shake up,
and pew potatoes stand up!
But most of all, Christ the Savior of all the world is lifted Glory 

Yes, welcome to the Pentecost event, 2019, and Happy Birthday to the church!


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