Monday, June 13, 2016

Pentecost Year C

Pentecost Year C 2016 May 15, 2016 Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost. One of 7 major feasts in the life of the church, on this day we mark and remember the birth of the Christian church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see this in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles for today. The disciples are gathered in Jerusalem all together for the Jewish feast of Pentecost—a celebration of the giving of the Torah and a sort of homecoming when people all came back to Jerusalem. As they are gathered together, Acts tells us that suddenly there comes from heaven the sound like the rush of a violent wind which filled the entire house. And then divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…” And thus the church was born. Pentecost is a day that is also especially appropriate for baptisms, and when we don’t have any baptisms (like today—it seems that everyone is saving up their baptisms for the bishop’s visit in a few weeks!), then we renew our baptismal covenant and are sprinkled with holy water to help us reconnect and remember. We reconnect with and remember the promises that we made (or were made for us) at our baptism, and we reconnect with and remember God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us at our baptisms. But here’s the thing about Pentecost that I never realized until someone else showed me this. On Pentecost, we aren’t just celebrating the birth of the church in a once long-ago-event. On Pentecost we remember and celebrate the fact that Pentecost has happened over and over and over again throughout the life of the church! Think about all those stories in the Acts of the Apostles that we have heard this Easter season, when the apostles are converted (both Peter and Paul) through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Think of all the amazing things that they are able to do—miraculous healings, bringing Tabitha back from the dead, freedom from imprisonment, and all the people that they converted to following the gospel—all in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that we hear today that through the gift of the Holy Spirit they will be able to do all that he has done and even greater things! But these Pentecosts are not limited to the stories in scripture. As we mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Columb’s (which we will celebrate at the Bishop’s visit on June 5th when we also celebrate the Feast of St. Columba), think about all the Pentecosts that we at St. Columb’s have experienced. The times when the Holy Spirit has shown up and inspired us with new vision, creating and re-creating, empowering and emboldening us to go where we otherwise might not go; the inexplicable peace which often comes; and the passion and new life and new energy that the Spirit gives birth to. In 1941- when 9 women and 3 men from St. Andrew’s had a vision of an Episcopal church to be planted in the thriving neighborhood of West Jackson—that was Pentecost. In 1994, when that community had a vision of hope that they might be a thriving faith community once again and decided to move and bought 9 acres of land in Ridgeland—that was Pentecost. In 2009 with the building of the new nave and yet another vision of hope and vitality—that was Pentecost. And those are just the ones recorded in our history. There’s just no telling how many millions of Pentecosts this community and the individuals who belong to it have experienced since we were founded 75 years ago. And the Holy Spirit is not done with us yet! Now is a Pentecost time in the life of this church. The Holy Spirit is among us energizing us, inspiring us to creativity, strengthening the bonds of affection, and giving us courage and vision for the future. Your vestry has just made the decision to hire a brand new consultant to do a feasibility study for a new capital campaign. His name is JR Lander, and he is from Jackson. His parents worship at the Cathedral, and he is a seminary classmate of mine. JR has a great deal of experience in stewardship (which you will hear more about later), and he is brand new at capital campaign consulting, so he brings a new wind and a new creativity with him to this work with us. And even though we do have significant debt to pay off on this building, the feasibility study will also be investigating new options, new possibilities for mission and ministry that we might commit to together. My dear friends, do you feel the winds of the Holy Spirit blowing among us? Can you trust that the Holy Spirit is lighting a fire in our hearts to recreate, re-energize, and renew us? We have so much good news and hope and kindness to offer to a needy and hungry world! And together, we will. For Pentecost is now!

4th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C

4th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C June 12, 2016 I was watching the season finale of a popular network tv medical drama this past week. And I was struck when the main character complained of another, more emotive character that she let all her feelings just come pouring out of her everywhere. When the two characters had an encounter later in the show, the less emotive one said to the other, “Just stuff your feelings down! Just stuff them down deep so they don’t come pouring out onto everyone!” At the time, I thought, “what a horrible and dysfunctional way to live—to stuff your feelings down so deep that no one really knows what you are feeling”. But I will confess that when I read the gospel reading for this Sunday, that was my initial reaction for the woman who washes Jesus’s feet. Good grief, woman! You are in the middle of the dinner party. I get that you are grateful to Jesus, but really, stuff your feelings down, stop making a spectacle and let’s get on with the meal! That also seems to be the reaction that others at the dinner party are having, including Jesus’s host—Simon the Pharisee who is one of the faithful religious folk to the day—not so different from us. And so Jesus asks Simon a question in the form of a parable. He talks about two different debtors, one of whom owes 500 and the other 50. Both find that their debts are forgiven, but the one who owed more is the more grateful one. Then Jesus brings it back to the current scenario with the enigmatic statement: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Jesus, it seems, is not in favor of the “stuffing your feelings down” school of behavior. So what does this mean for us? Where is the good news in this? I suspect that there are some of us here today who identify with the woman. We have done something in your life that for which we carry a great deal of regret and maybe even shame; we know that this something separates us in relationship with God and with other people. In some way, we have had an encounter with Jesus, like this woman must have had prior to the dinner party, when Jesus looks at her, knows her, loves her, and assures her that her sins are forgiven. Then she is so grateful, she is overbrimming with love, and she shows up at the dinner party to offer her thanks to Jesus. (If you have not had this experience and you long for it, we have a sacrament called Reconciliation of a Penitent that can help you with this. Call me, and I’ll tell you more about it.) But others of us are more like Simon the Pharisee. Our sinfulness is not something that is always hanging over us, ever present with us. It affects our relationships with God and others, but we’re not really aware of it. We don’t think of ourselves as sinful people; we might think of others as sinful people, but not ourselves… For us, the debt that has been forgiven is the smaller one, and we are those who “having been forgiven little, we love little.” We are the ones at the dinner party who want the woman to quit making a spectacle and stuff her feelings down deep inside, so we can get on with our nice dinner. This past week, I said something that was uncharitable and judgmental about someone else in passing-just some small, nasty remark. My husband looked at me and said, “You don’t like very many people, do you?” I was struck, because that is not the way that I see myself. So I asked myself, “Huh, I wonder what is going on with me now?” As I began to delve deeper, I discovered that I had spent very little time in reflection or introspection over the last month, and I definitely needed to delve a little bit deeper in my own soul. This past week, Parker Palmer posted a poem that I had read before (and maybe even preached on), and one part in particular struck me anew. The poem is titled Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, and it is a powerful and gritty reflection on how suffering can be transformed. In the last two stanzas, Nye speaks about how we know kindness after we have also known loss: Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. Perhaps what Nye and the gospel reading tells us this week is that for those of us who do “stuff our feelings down,” then perhaps we need to spend some time dipping down into that well, where our losses and our failures dwell. Gradually, draw them upward into the light and offer them to God and ask for redemption, for healing, for forgiveness. Then we will know the power of forgiveness in our own lives; we will become reacquainted with the love of God for each and everyone of us; and we will be able to offer kindness out of our own experiences. Does this make you uncomfortable? My dear ones, that is actually the good news, the love and forgiveness of God already at work in you. And that is where we begin.