June 9, 2019

Pentecost  June 9, 2019  Psalm 104, Romans 8:14-17, John 14:15-17, Acts 2:1-21 ***************************************************************** Imagine gathered disciples singing prayerfully soulfully, many times – Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us – Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us Till suddenly without warning the Holy Spirit floods the zone, fills the room with God’s presence…With a sound like a wild stormy wind and what appears to be flickering tongues of fire dancing on disciples’ heads – And the Spirit speaks through disciples, enabling all to speak the praises of God in many languages – Alleluia, thank you God, Alleluia, thank you Lord…  a strange and beautiful sound – that works as a summons – for many to come and listen… As believers, altogether in one place now – are praising God passionately, speaking of God’s mighty deeds in many tongues – understanding each other across borders and boundaries of language and culture… Quite a hard act to follow – this wild scene in the book of Acts… Not that this first Pentecost after the resurrection was meant to be replicable in any literal sense. Nothing happening here at Pentecost was ever planned by people. From the get-go the giving of the Spirit is God’s work, not ours. To this day the Holy Spirit is a mystery we can’t explain… Yet – little Pentecosts keep happening… The Holy Spirit has fallen afresh on gathered disciples of all nations – many more times than we can imagine. We may not hear the sound of rushing wind now, or see dancing tongues of flame, now, or receive the gift of speaking in tongues that we don’t know (or didn’t know we knew).  But the Spirit dwells in us and among us, even now – God’s gracious gift to all who believe and follow Jesus… And if we ever find ourselves not noticing the Holy Spirit’s presence – we’re invited again to remember – that one thing those first disciples did get right – (one of the rare things Jesus told them to do that they actually did right away –)  which was – to wait. Wait in Jerusalem, in their day. Wait wherever we are, now. Wait till God sends the Holy Spirit… Wait and pray… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… A simple prayer. Simple. But – One of the harder things for most of us to do is… Wait… Wait attentively… For the Holy Spirit… without submitting to distractions… (And if you’ve figured out how to do this on a regular basis–tell me how you do it) Because I still get distracted, way too easily, by way too many things… Yet – sometimes, I (even I) – even if only for five or ten minutes – I sometimes do manage by grace to hear the Spirit whisper – Peace – be still… And obey. *** We don’t know exactly how long those first disciples had to wait for the Spirit. There’s fifty days from Passover in the Jewish calendar (Easter in the Christian calendar) to Pentecost – so we could say they waited fifty days. And it’s ten days to Pentecost from the day of Ascension, where Jesus says again – ‘wait for the Spirit in...

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Ascension Sunday June 2, 2019

Ascension Sunday   June 2, 2019 Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:48-53, Acts 1:1-11 *************************************************************** The book of Acts begins with a retelling of the last scene in the gospel of Luke –  Luke, our narrator’s way of letting us know that Acts is volume two of the story of Jesus and the early church. In Luke’s gospel, first, then again in Acts, Jesus shares quick reminders and final instructions with disciples… then vanishes into clouds of holy mystery… as… In the last scene of Luke’s gospel, disciples worship Jesus, now, for the first time. I imagine them singing a first century version of the Charles Wesley hymn: Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia! To his home above the skies – Alleluia! Christ, awhile, to mortals given, Alleluia! Re-ascends his native heaven, Alleluia! Jesus tells his followers – wait here in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom you’ve heard me talking about… The Spirit will fill you with power and equip you for ministry. Then you’ll be my witnesses, starting here, moving out to Judea and Samaria – then to all the ends of the earth, as the Spirit leads… Meanwhile, wait right here, till God the Father sends the Holy Spirit. I’ll be watching over you from my Father’s house… And we can almost hear the angels sing as Jesus comes to sing with them – ….Christ has conquered death and sin, Alleluia! Take the king of glory in, Alleluia! Ascension is a joyous celebration, now, in retrospect, for the church. But at the time, and again, maybe even more so now, as pollsters tell us – the fastest growing religious group in America is the so-called Nones ( N-O-N-E-S) – people who say they belong to none of the religious groups they know of – this huge transition in the story of Jesus and the church that we call The Ascension needs unpacking… And it may seem a stretch for our imaginations, but – to follow the story line we need to mention the role of angels. The word angel meaning literally messenger. Angels keep showing up at key moments in Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts. (Today let’s skip over other appearances to remember just in the last chapter of Luke, two angels in dazzling bright clothing appear at the tomb of Jesus early on the first Easter morning – asking the women who have come to anoint the body of Jesus – “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Don’t you remember what he told you – about him being handed over to sinners who will crucify him – then, on the third day he’ll rise again?” The women do remember now – but – the disciples they tell the good news to don’t believe…Till they see Jesus for themselves, still bearing the marks of the cross… Now, as the story continues, just as we see Jesus rising into the heavens – two angel messengers, again, in bright clothing, again, appear – asking this time – “Why do you stand looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has just been taken up into heaven will come again the same way that you’ve seen him go into heaven…” And – “Why are you standing looking up?” is...

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May 26, 2019 – Sermon

Easter 6    May 26, 2019    Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29, Acts 16:6-15          Where to? ***************************************************************** A rabbi’s walking down the street one morning in the Russian village where he lives. A soldier asks “where are you going?” “I don’t know,” the rabbi replies. “What do you mean you don’t know,” the soldier says. “Every day for 25 years I’ve seen you leave your house and walk down the street to the synagogue to pray. What do you mean you don’t know where you’re going? You’re going to jail now, for not answering my question properly.” And the soldier takes the rabbi to the jail – and the rabbi says – “As I said… I didn’t know… where I was going.” Pastor Sandra shared this story with our prayer group last week. She found it in a book on prayer, The Breath of the Soul, by Benedictine monastic Joan Chittister. And this darkly humorous and all-too-serious story makes a pretty good point of entry for our story from Acts today… Where the apostle Paul and traveling companions have set out on a mission trip, heading for the Roman province of Asia (in what’s now the northwest part of Turkey – Asia Minor – not the much larger Asian continent). But the Holy Spirit has other plans – and blocks the missionaries from going where they thought they were going… So – re-calibrate – re-calibrate – we can almost hear the spiritual GPS re-calibrating their route… As the travelers try now to go Northeasterly to the region of Bithynia… But the Holy Spirit again blocks them from going where they thought they were going… Again it’s recalibrating time  – and not knowing where to go now, the travelers pause in the port city of Troas… Where, in the night, Paul receives a vision, in which a man of Macedonia pleads – “come, help us over in Macedonia…” And without delay they sail across a corner of the Mediterranean Sea quickly to Philippi – a major city of the province of Macedonia – and a Roman colony. (A reminder the  Roman Empire is in the business of colonizing all political, economic, and cultural life throughout the Mediterranean world.) And the travelers, to their credit, listen well to the Spirit – and adjust their travel plans accordingly… And a deeper, less obvious kind of re-routing of the journey is also happening, we notice. As now, after a few days, in which they’ve probably been praying and observing – the mission group makes its way to the riverside outside the city gates, where they find a group of women at prayer. They speak the gospel message to the women, and one them, Lydia, listens especially intently – decides to be baptized – and all her household’s baptized with her. She insists now on hosting the missionaries in her home. And we notice… In Paul’s vision it was a man of Macedonia who pleads with him and his companions to come and help… But now here in Macedonia, there’s no  Macedonian men waiting to hear the gospel. Instead it’s the women of Macedonia who listen and accept the gospel – outside the gates of the city, by the riverside – not in a temple, church, or civic center. Signaling we’re in less-charted spiritual territory...

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Easter 5, May 19, 2019

Easter 5, May 19, 2019 (Ps 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35) Acts 11:1-11 ************************************************************* The church in Jerusalem hears the news – a whole bunch of new believers have just come to God! – So we’re all singing alleluia – right? Well, not exactly. Actually, the first thing we hear from the church council is a rebuke of the apostle Peter – (Like–) “What were you thinking? Visiting uncircumcised men – and eating with them?” Which should certainly have us asking – what’s going on? Why is the church not enthusiastically unanimously welcoming newcomers to the faith and the table of fellowship? Of course we weren’t there at the time… so we’re listening close, now, as Peter re-tells the story, step-by-step – recounting events that take up the whole previous chapter in the book of Acts… As Peter tells a condensed version of the story – starting with his vision of a blanket full of kosher and unkosher animals all mixed together – and a voice from heaven saying “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Peter replies “no way, Lord, I never eat unkosher food.” But the voice says “Don’t call profane anything God has made clean.” And the vision repeats three times in all. (And we see yet-another happening-in-triplicate-thing-with-Peter – who famously said he didn’t know Jesus three times in one night –  then at breakfast on the beach told the risen Jesus “yes, Lord I love you” –  three times…) And as Peter now retells the story for the church, he says “as soon as I got this vision, here comes three men (– yes, three again – ) sent to fetch me to share the gospel. And the Spirit told me to go with them and not make distinctions between us and them.” So what’s with this strange vision of foods on a blanket? And what’s this got to do with making distinctions between people?  A biblical background note may be in order: The ancient food laws described in Scripture in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 list foods that Jews can and cannot eat. Fish with fins can be eaten. Shell fish, shrimp and lobster cannot. Animals with a cloven hoof that also chew their cud you may eat. Animals that don’t chew their cud, like pigs and camels – you may not eat. Chickens and ducks you may eat – but eagles, buzzards, osprey, cormorants, hawks or any bird of prey you may not eat. No eating of reptiles of any kind – nor insects – except for the locust and the grasshopper – you may eat them if you choose. But – What’s the purpose of all these food rules? Many theories have been elaborated over the centuries. Some teachers of the Law have said foods like pork and camel are bad for our health and-or subject to contamination, that’s why we don’t eat them. Others have pointed out pigs were often worshiped by local pagans, so we don’t eat them, partly to show we’re not pagans. Some rabbis of old said the food rules are either arbitrary or so mysterious that only God knows what they’re for – but either way, they’re given by God – so we keep them – even when we don’t understand why. The explanation I like best –...

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May 12,2019

Easter 4 May 12, 2019   Ps 145, 2 John 1-5,12-13; John 19:25-27, John 2:1-12 ************************************************************ The mother of Jesus makes only two appearances in John’s gospel…We only get to hear her speak in our last reading today. But even these brief moments are enough to let us know… how powerfully-strong-a-place she has in the heart of her son. And… What a challenge it must have been – bringing up Jesus – truly God and truly human. I can’t imagine all that Mary must have gone through. Though I do remember how, quite often, over in Luke’s gospel, she pauses and ponders… Ponders the angel’s announcement of her coming pregnancy by the Holy Spirit. Ponders the testimony of shepherds, telling of angels singing to them of his birth. Ponders the words the prophets Anna and Simeon speak to her when she and Joseph present baby Jesus in the temple. Ponders again the words her son speaks to her as a twelve-year-old– when he’s finally found on the third day apart from his family – discussing bible interpretation with bible scholars in the temple while his parents have been searching frantically for him…. Mary has been through quite a lot even before Jesus becomes a teenager… So it’s a blessing here, to see, in our last reading today – Jesus doing a Mother’s Day thing – making something like 150 gallons of wine from water, when friends of his mother run out of wine at a wedding party. (To run out of wine was a disgrace at a Jewish wedding – which typically included the whole village – so everyone would be talking about this running out of wine forever and a day.) So it’s a blessing Jesus is there to help. But – at first glance Jesus sounds a bit less-divine, a bit-more-human today – maybe over-tired or having a bad-hair day – as he replies to his mother’s mentioning of the dilemma of no wine – saying “so what’s that got to do with you or me? My time hasn’t come.” Which sounds like a “no” to me… But what do I know? As his mother, who knows much better than me how to interpret Jesus – tells the steward of the wedding party – “Do whatever he says.” Which the steward does – and good wine flows abundantly… The party is blessed. And we remember this story at weddings ever since. And I think the story works for Mother’s Day also… As we think about the roles of biblical mothers, our mothers, and all who have been as mothers for us… Remembering… Neither I nor anyone I know has ever been able to turn water into wine – even if it’s Mother’s day and mom’s telling us the wedding party’s running on empty. Sorry mom, that’s way above my pay grade. But even I have learned to honor my mother…. Learned, as I’m sure most of us have – to honor all the women of faith who have helped shape our lives in more ways than we can ever adequately say “thank you” for… and… Even I have learned to honor the biblical mothers of old…Starting with Eve, first mother of the bible… Sarah, mother of Isaac, child of promise… Hagar, mother of Ishmael, child of another promise…...

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May 5, 2019

Easter 3 May 5, 2019 (Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, Acts 9:1-6) John 21 ************************************************************ I still love this last chapter of John’s gospel… Even though over the years I’ve had to gradually, grudgingly, admit… it’s probably really not entirely about fishing. Even so, it’s one of greatest-fishing-stories of all time… A story most fisher-folk can relate to. A story of fishing a long time without catching fish… Only to start catching fish like crazy… when we fish differently… And do what Jesus says… Fish-less fishing doesn’t have to happen at night… I’ve fished all day without catching more times than I like to remember. But night fishing is normal in warm climates. Fish are harder to find in the heat of the day. And night fishing goes best with St John’s theology – with it’s frequent contrasts of dark and light, night and day… and… Life imitates the gospel – as so often we see these same kinds of night- and-day contrasts in our every day life with Jesus… As he teaches us to recognize, usually gradually, occasionally suddenly… the presence of God… Seeing – and believing – (with or without seeing) – the presence of God – has usually come only gradually for me, a slow learner…(better than not learning at all, I tell myself)… As I recall how, as a younger man I used to go where I wanted and do what I wanted to do. Fishing almost every day five days a week after work, and all weekend except for church Sunday mornings. My fishing habits only changed when I was called into ministry and there was no longer time to fish more than once a week…But even then, still… As a beginning preacher I tended to go pretty much wherever I wanted to go with any sermon touching on anything to do with fish (like today’s gospel story). I used to fasten my own metaphoric wader-belt-and-suspenders, as I vicariously revisited my old fishing haunts… Retelling many a fishing story set in the rivers and lakes of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and the Adirondacks (later including the salt water estuaries and beaches here on the Cape). Now as a little bit older pastor I consider myself fortunate-fishing-wise if I get to choose when and where to fish even half a day a week in season – (once in awhile maybe a whole day) – when my wife and daughter say yes, you can buckle your waders and go fishing. Other times they buckle me now into the seat belt of the car and tell me where to drive… (If I’m exaggerating a little… fishermen, by tradition, on occasion stretch a fish… or a fish story… just a little… to make a theological point…) Did I mention – I’ve been gradually learning to hear this story as not entirely about fishing? On the other hand, I’m certainly not about to join the chorus of those who claim Peter and other disciples are sinning by going fishing. On the far-end of the anti-fishing theological spectrum, a few name-brand bible scholars (whose names I won’t mention) have actually called Peter and the other fishermen apostate – a church word meaning “denier of the faith.” I’m with Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, who said the fishermen were the...

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