Come, Holy Spirit!

“Come, Holy Spirit!”

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-4 (2:4) – May 31, 2020

My parents grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s. That was the golden age of radio. When I was young, my mother used to tell me about radio serials she used to follow. Serials like the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, Buck Rogers, and the Cinnamon Bear. I know many people all across the country followed these programs closely every week, and listened to even more.

I think of our friends, the followers of Jesus on that hilltop. Like in the radio serials, when last we left our intrepid heroes, we saw them with heads toward the sky. They watched the risen Lord Jesus ascend into heaven. Fast forward to this week. Thank you, Levi, for reading our Scripture from chapter 2 of Acts.

Only a few days have passed since that miraculous happening. Jesus disappeared into heaven. Yes, Jesus gave His followers their orders. Marching orders! But—where are the disciples now? What are they doing? Are they fearlessly marching out into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world? Come on, guys! What gives? What’s the matter? The followers of Jesus—both men and women—are waiting for something; something that Jesus foretold, something big that had not happened yet. Everyone was together in one place—waiting.

At least they all were in Jerusalem. After all, another religious festival was right around the corner. Fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or Passover) the Festival of First Fruits, or First Harvest was celebrated. This festive day was also a glad ceremony in the Temple, and many Jews from hundreds of miles around were in Jerusalem to celebrate.

At least the Jews did not have a pandemic to worry about. No, Jerusalem and the surrounding area were packed with visitors ready to celebrate at the special worship services at the Temple, ex-pat Jews from all across the known world at that time.

And, where were the followers of Jesus? Up in that upper room, presumedly the same room where Jesus and the disciples had celebrated that Passover dinner the night before Jesus was crucified. They were there, but yes, they were shut away. Presumedly behind locked doors, for fear of what the authorities might do to them, even weeks after the crucifixion of their leader, the Rabbi Jesus. Or, is that the Messiah Jesus? Or, the risen, ascended Jesus?

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. When, on that Harvest Festival morning, a noise like the rush of a mighty wind blew through that upper room. Apparently, it was loud enough—surprising enough—so that people on the street heard it, too!

The Holy Spirit came with full sound effects, with heavenly flames over each head and I suspect with some kind of noise, music or something that caught everyone’s attention for some distance. After the energizing of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus couldn’t help themselves. They spilled out into the street, and started speaking other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and utterance. Surprising? Amazing? Miraculous? Yes to all three!

I think the Holy Spirit moved mightily upon the disciples, and the very breath of the risen Jesus was felt by many—on that day of Pentecost, through the centuries, and to the present day.

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. I envy them.

Because of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order I have not been able to gather together with a number of other believers for almost three months. And, neither have you.

Sure, we have had online worship, Zoom bible studies and prayer meetings, and telephone conversations. Perhaps individual Christians have met each other in the neighborhood, taking their dogs for a walk or running into each other at the grocery store. We remain socially-distant, to be safe and caring for others who are elderly or in fragile health—but it is not the same as in-person worship, IRL. Not the same, at all.

However—do we depend on a structure, a building, a tall steeple to witness to the Resurrection? Or, is the Church something more, something much bigger than this building?

The COVID-19 pandemic did not surprise God. I am not here to tell you this is a judgement of God upon the earth, or upon one group of people or another. I do not believe a good, gracious, loving God works that way. But—I want to suggest something else. Is it possible that we, as followers of Jesus, can also serve God by being separate, socially-distant, apart and still caring for one another? Can we follow the final instructions of our Lord that He gave just before He ascended, to go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth?

The newly-energized disciples spread the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection, and of God’s reconciliation. Boy, did the Good News travel! The authorities in and around Jerusalem got seriously worried, so upset that they eventually started to crack down on anyone who called themselves a follower of the risen Jesus. The disciples needed to move out from Jerusalem, and started taking the message of the Good News out to the ends of the earth.

God did a new thing at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with power! I wonder if God is doing a new thing now, today? It’s possible that “God will use such a time as this to blow new life through and among and into and upon us. For our own sakes, yes. But even more so for the sake of those to whom we are sent.” [1]

We, the Church, are on assignment—out among the people God wants us to minister to. Feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, welcoming the stranger, taking care of the least of these. We can all tell people about the Good News—the wonderful news of God’s reconciliation and healing. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-together-in-one-place/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

All the Saints

“All the Saints”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 9:7-28 (9:7) – November 5, 2017

Today, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. The first Sunday of November, that day we remember all the saints who are now in heaven, worshiping God in that great cloud of witnesses. We also remember familiar people, relatives and friends known to us, dear to us, who died since last All Saints Day last year. What is it about these formal occasions of remembrance? Often, we remember those who have sacrificed much, displayed tremendous bravery, or were persecuted—even died—at tremendous risk to themselves.

What is it that causes you and me to be listed in among a great multitude of saints like these? Or, aren’t we even to be worthy to be listed on the same page as these rarefied superstar saints? These women and men who followed after God, no matter what?

One of our Scripture readings today comes from the book of Revelation, starting at verse 9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

We break into the narrative as the elderly John has another vision, this time a scene of heaven. And, instead of seeing a predominance of Jews and only a sprinkling of other tribes and people groups, John sees a great multitude of all colors, all ethnicities, all languages and dialects, from every place on the globe.

I am blown away by that vision, the more I think about it. I am in awe, because the great multitude is of every possible description, every possible people group under the sun. Not just me and my family, not just me and the people from the neighborhood where I grew up. Not just people from one region, or one country, or one ethnicity. But, people from everywhere.       These people of the vision are called “saints,” and many people today have only one specific idea of what a “saint” is. St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Martha—the patron saint of our neighbor Catholic church, or the newly beatified saint, Mother Teresa.

Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, has a different definition of “saints.” “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” And, both apostles Paul and Peter call their friends “saints” in the greetings, to all of the people who receive their letters.

But, we know very well that life often does not go smoothly. Not for us, not for our friends and families, and certainly not for the multitudes who lived in centuries past. Interesting, that “because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions, we are able to keep on going as Stevenson says.  Our keeping on in life often involves suffering.” [1] And, if we know anything about history, we know that believers in Christ often had to deal with grief, pain, suffering, and even persecution.

When John received this grand series of visions that he wrote down in the book of Revelation, he was often puzzled. He had to ask the people or elders or angels around him what it was he was seeing. As is the case here: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

Leading question, you may say! John persuades the elder to answer the question himself. ““they are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.”

It sounds like to me that these people in heaven, who are identified as “saints” in other places in the book, no longer have to go through that valley of the shadow here on the earth, where God walks right by their side as they are in difficulty. They no longer need to face challenges of health reversals or job loss or crushing poverty or horrible accidents, or various calamities of one sort or another. They are at God’s side in heaven, and never have to experience those trials, losses, hunger and anguish any more.

But we are still left on this side of the veil. On this side, on a troubled world where suffering and loss and fear and anxiety rear their heads all too often. Especially grief, where we mourn the loss of loved ones, friends and relatives who left us too soon.

Rev. Janet Hunt talks about a sad situation like this: “And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.

“It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)

“Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.” [2]

Grief, sorrow and loss are like that, sometimes. We can be fine, content, living our lives. Then, out of nowhere it seems, the thought of that special loved one, that dear friend who is no longer with us in this world, comes to mind.

And then, Janet Hunt reminds us, “nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation. A time and place:

  • where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
  • where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
  • where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
  • where the very water of life will sustain us,
  • and where God Himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.” [3]

Is such a place even possible? In those times when you or I are grieving anew, remembering with sorrow or longing in our hearts, the apostle John assures us that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And, ““Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

In plainer words, from his first letter to the scattered believers in Christ, John gives us further assurance: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, we have a foretaste of heaven from both Scripture readings. Revelation tells us of the wonderful worship service in heaven, where everyone is praising God. And 1 John lets us know that when our Lord Jesus appears to each of us, we shall be like Him in glory.

“So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day. In memory and in powerful hope we will light the candles. Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.[4]

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://preachingtip.com/archives-year-a/pentecost-year-a/all-saints-day-all-saints-sunday/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-in-memory-and-in-hope/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Hospitality + Service = Discipleship!

“Hospitality + Service = Discipleship!“

Deacons Greek Jews Acts 6

Acts 6:1-7 – July 5, 2015

I attended an Interfaith Panel discussion last Tuesday evening at the Muslim Community Center here in Morton Grove. The panel had representatives from five major faith traditions here in the Chicago area: Baha’i, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh. Each gave their religion’s basic approach to serving those in need. Charity. Service to those less fortunate than ourselves. I appreciated listening to diverse views on charity and assisting the needy.

I want us to focus on the New Testament reading from Acts on—surprise! Charity and assisting the needy! My recent evening with the Interfaith panel has an unexpected tie-in to the bible passage from Acts this morning. I planned and set out these passages and these sermon topics almost two months ago, before I was ever contacted by the Interfaith Outreach Committee at the Community Center. Was I surprised to find out that the topic of last Tuesday’s evening fit right in with today’s reading from Acts—and today’s sermon.

What is the situation for the group of believers in the Risen Jesus? The early church?

Let’s turn back to the beginning of Acts 6, and take a look at this particular Postcard from the Early Church. The first sentence of the chapter tells us a lot: “In those days, the number of disciples was increasing.”

That’s the situation. Everything seems to be going well for this growing group of believers! Attendance in services is up. Plate income is increasing. The apostles—the pastors of this growing flock—are busier than ever. Everything is on the upswing. When—a complication comes up.

I need to give you all some backstory, so you can get the full picture. (I appreciate the Rev. Bryan Findlayson’s concise explanation.) At this point, just a couple of months after that first Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, all the believers were Jewish. Jerusalem was a large city in that area. It was the time of the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, and Jews from all over the known world returned to the city of Jerusalem and settled there.

As Rev. Findlayson mentions, “The Jewish world was divided between Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine [Hebrews—home grown], and Greek-speaking Jews from the dispersion [or Hellenists—who had grown up outside Palestine]. Racial tension, often focused on religious purity, existed in the wider Jewish community and found its way into the New Testament church. [The tension] revealed itself in a dispute over the care of widows. The [Greek-speaking Jews] claimed that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church’s welfare budget.”

Do you hear the problem? Two separate groups of people in the early Church, and one group—a minority group, no less—claimed they were being overlooked. Discriminated against. Or, rather, that their poverty-stricken widows, who were part of the group of believers, were being left out in the charity distribution. Welfare budget. Or almsgiving to the poor. Whatever you call it, a group of people was getting left out.

I don’t think that anyone was left out on purpose. What I do know—by Dr. Luke’s report—is that the Church in Jerusalem was growing by leaps and bounds! This is a good problem to have! In a large group of people going through such rapid growth, unfortunate things happen. And, it’s inevitable that someone ends up getting overlooked. Some people’s needs just aren’t met.

What happens next? This is the perfect situation for a church-splitting conflict. Hospitality was huge in the Middle East, as well as in other areas throughout the world. Of course people opened their homes to friends and acquaintances, even strangers, invited them in, offered things to them of what they had. Listen to Chapter 6: “So the Twelve apostles gathered all the believers together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’”

These verses in Acts show us the first rumblings of church conflict. The Apostles could have gotten anxious and started to fret. Or, possibly started micro-managing and overseeing each little thing in the distribution of food. Or, called a board meeting, and appointed a task force to study and look further into the treatment of the Greek-speaking widows. But did they? No. The Apostles faced the conflict directly, and responded in a proactive way.

What about today? People have definitely not stopped being hungry. What about communication problems? What about the local food preferences? How should those be handled? What if several different faith traditions in our area have conflicting methods in the distribution of food? Are there any hungry or needy people—unintentionally—getting left out?

Let me tell you more about the panel discussion and dinner at the Muslim Community Center last week. I heard diverse views on charity and assisting the needy. Yet—they were not so diverse, after all. I saw in all five faith traditions a deep concern for those with less, and a desire to come alongside and help where possible. I also appreciated breaking bread with such a diverse group of friends, after the evening service.

Yes, Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs do come from different faith traditions. Yes, the Muslims are observing the holy month of Ramadan. Yes, Muslims commonly fast every day during the daylight hours during this month. The Community Center invited a large group of people to join together with them for this discussion and for the Iftar dinner after sunset, to break the fast at the end of the day.

Back to Acts. True, these Aramaic-speaking Jews and Greek-speaking Jews from the book of Acts were both of the same faith tradition. However, there were big cultural and language differences between them. So, what happened? How did they solve this problem? The Apostles had the whole group of believers choose seven upright, worthy individuals to be responsible for the distribution of food and goods to this minority group.

What I find the most interesting? The seven men all had Greek names. I suspect they all were Greek-speaking Jews, themselves! How awesome is that. The other believers showed great sensitivity in selecting seven servers, seven people who could oversee distributing of food. Seven men with Greek names. What’s more, one Greek man was even a proselyte, a convert to Judaism. Imagine that!

Paul Waddell, writing for the Center for Christian Ethics, tells us more about this calling, this service to the church: “Christian hospitality is a matter of welcoming, caring for, and befriending the stranger, the poor and needy, the homeless and destitute, the unloved and the unlikable, the weird and the strange, in gratitude to God and in imitation of Christ. For Christians, hospitality is not an occasional gesture but a whole way of being. It is not an interruption to our normal way of life but a habit, practice, or virtue that ought consistently to characterize our lives.”

Dr. Waddell asks: how do we become this kind of person/or these kinds of congregations in the Church and for the world today? Great question! We can start small, with a small act of kindness each day. A small act of hospitality, of welcome and greeting each day. Each one of us is called to be welcoming members of this church today. Each of us is an individual, true. However, Lone Ranger Christians are not a good idea. We need to support each other, be kind to each other, and support the wider community.

What about you? Are you going to be a welcoming person, both here at church, and at home, as well? No matter what the cultural differences, no matter where people come from, we are all called to be welcoming. Just as Jesus was kind and welcoming to all people, throughout the Gospels, we can all follow His excellent example. That’s what His disciples do, to the best of their ability, in the book of Acts. And, that’s what all of us can do, here in the church, and everywhere else, too!

Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)