Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Can I Get You a Drink?
Pentecost – what a great and wonderful day! I have always loved the day that my sister grew up referring to as “red dress Sunday.” Of course, the American Heart Association has stolen that one from us by claiming a day in February as the day for everyone – across race, creed, and religion – to wear red for a great cause; heart health for women. And here in Lafayette we wear red every Friday – especially during football season.
In the face of cultural religions and national campaigns for health and salvation, the red of Pentecost almost seems an idle tale. In fact, when I was thinking of the way in which we have romanticized the story of the birth of the church, I am reminded of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Indeed, Arthur and his gallant knights come in sight of the castle and each say the name wistfully, “Camelot. Camelot. Camelot.” Then the rude squire acknowledges the obvious concession of filmmaking, “It’s only a model.” After a very silly interlude about the rigors of courtly living, Arthur and his knights keep riding and searching for greater meaning and purpose. They do, of course, find their purpose – the search for the Holy Grail – even if they do not actually complete their purpose (or even the film for that matter).
I am reminded of this film because I think that we can often get stuck at the point of admiring the castle of Pentecost without considering the rigors of courtly life or the opportunity for finding greater meaning and purpose through a Holy and noble quest. That may sound like the stuff of legends – a quest handed directly from a divine being to a mortal who makes heroic sacrifices and usually dies tragically – but we who follow Jesus are in fact called to be a community that enacts the will of God through sacrificial living. And though our sacrifices, we demonstrate and point toward the hope of resurrection.
When I say the hope of resurrection I am not just referring to the end of this mortal life and the beginning of the next. I am referring to the thousands of little deaths we experience that open us to a lifestyle of redemption and hope and expectation that God is present and active in this world – right here, and right now!
I think that is why the story of Pentecost is so fascinating to so many of us. It’s one of the few times that we can point to in our collective witness as a people of God and say that God did something massive, miraculous, and entirely obvious! Yet, even in that story there was at least one heckler in the crowd shouting, “Shut up ya bunch of drunks!”
And perhaps we are still responding to that in some way. Perhaps we are still trying to demonstrate, and always will be, that we are not simply intoxicated by our own story or by our own identity – not even by our own beliefs. Interestingly, at the last Presbytery meeting we were warned not to become too self assured by the comparison of beer goggles – that state of perception which makes all things more attractive than anticipated – and the lenses of faith, or as John Calvin would put it – the lenses of scripture.
Therein lies the rub with our celebration of Pentecost. The collective memory of the church has colored this event as an unstoppable spiritual tsunami resulting in shiny, happy churches that shared everything and would have been fine, thank you very much, without the oppression of Rome. The Bible, which indicates a slightly different truth, is the only historical witness to this event, and with the timey wimey type of time traveling the readings go through it is a bit hard to keep the story straight sometimes.
Here’s what I mean. Paul’s letter to Corinth was written first. It was probably written even before the gospels and before the fall of the temple, and it was written to a cosmopolitan group of people that were not exclusively Jewish yet probably met in synagogues and wealthy homes. Acts was written by the author of Luke, who was a contemporary of Paul. Think of Luke and Acts as the back story that filled in the missing details about this person who was being talked about in the letters of Paul as the perfecter of faith – this Jesus, whom people followed even as the Jewish rebellion and Roman oppression were starting to boil over and the temple was being destroyed.
Then we have the gospel of John which was written after the others, and certainly after the destruction of the temple. It was written to a particular group of Jesus’ followers who needed to define themselves as distinct from Judaism while also battling against competing philosophies from within and from the outside influence of differing regional religions.
So, the timeline is Corinthians, Acts, John, but the narrative is John, Acts, Corinthians. And all of this was written down, we believe, after the event of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Or, as Jesus says in John’s gospel, those who believe in him have received living water and will never thirst, because they have rivers of living water flowing from their hearts.
And we, like those who first received John’s Gospel, stand on the other side of the story. We live after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit! We could argue all day long whether it was a matter of the Spirit not being active and present beforehand or if it was a matter of people becoming aware of it, but in the end all that matters is that God is with us. God sustains us. God gives us gifts. God gives us meaning and purpose.
Like heroes of antiquity we are given divine characteristics of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, spiritual discernment, prophecy, and perhaps even miracles. Each of these gifts is a result of the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Each of these amount to nothing when I forget the source and try to use them to get things done my way. That is why we have one another. Christ formed the church so that we might be grounded in our faith and moved by our love for one another. That is our quest – to be the body of Christ, broken for the world.
Lately, in conversations about our calling as the church, I have been talking about our impending “Pentecostal Moment” because of the expectations for population growth in our region. Last week I challenged the notion of the church as an established institution with the idea that we must first be established in God’s Spirit, and that getting ready for the influx of new community members has more to do with our ability to be hospitable than our ability to demonstrate institutional correctness.
I want to stress that I do believe with the conviction of a Prophet that we are standing at an opportune moment to demonstrate the active presence of God in a new and unique way. I believe that doing so will connect us with people who yearn for a knowledge of God’s presence. That is something that has never changed. People will always yearn for meaning and significance, and we are here to demonstrate the way in which the Spirit of God – the ground and source of all being – has been unleashed and dwells richly in every heart and mind that is willing to understand this simple fact. God loves you.
You matter to the One who manages the cosmos. Through Christ we come to understand that we matter because we are a part of the whole. We are muscle and sinew. We are vessel and flesh. We are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.
We are not waiting like the Disciples. We have received great gifts from God! We are not waiting on God to come and pull us up or out – for God is with us in all things, bearing with us and believing in us. The place to begin is not one of begging, waiting, or hoping. The place to begin is thanksgiving.
Even when we face trials that feel like a thousand deaths, there is yet hope and wonder and blessing found in thanksgiving. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Amy Voskamp writes of a simple life in a farming community that includes tragic loss and daily struggle. She claims that thanksgiving is the core for living in God’s presence. Thanksgiving is the fundamental act of the Eucharistic feast of communion, and it provides a pattern for living in God’s presence. “Eucharisteo,” as she calls it, is all about letting go of the self in favor of the greater reality that we are already a part of.
“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give – because He only gives love – and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.”
Give thanks. Become empty of self to experience the fullness of God. For God is active and present. God’s Spirit is indwelling and overcoming. God’s peace is enduring and overwhelming. God’s love is intoxicating. If we are proclaiming it well, someone will surely ask us if we are drunk. If they do, just offer them a drink – so that they may taste and see that the Lord is active, present, and inspiring acts of mercy and kindness.
The quest to become a perfect Christian, or the ideal church, or the perfect anything is sort like the quest for the Holy Grail. It’s a good thing to do, but it’s not a destination or goal to be reached. Ours is not to be perfect but to be perfected. Ours is to have faith, to give thanks, and to live in response to the immeasurable riches that we have received and have become as the Body of Christ broken for the world. Amen.