Just for the sport of it

This past week was, for me, an incredible journey, driving with my son across the amazing country we live in. The goal of the trip was to get him and his car to Seattle, where has moved to start his first job and launch his career, post college. We also had to do an extensive apartment search to find him a place to live, which we did! Following I-90, the drive out west, through the fast paced highways of Chicago, the rolling green hills of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, the spectacular beauty of the Badlands and the unexpected grandeur of Custer State Park in South Dakota, the vast and unique glory of Yellowstone with its hot springs and geysers, from the stunning Rocky Mountains to the rich green Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound of Seattle, left my son and I in a constant state of awe. At one point I even said that my eyes were growing numb from the ceaseless beauty we beheld. We were also entertained by the wildlife, the prairie dogs sounding their alarm as we drove by, amusing us as they ran and played and tumbled. We were delighted with the herds of buffalo, including babies, meandering across roadways and fields, owning the road, forcing cars to stop and wait until the buffalo moved on. 

These majestic creatures, powerful and potentially dangerous, a species nearly as old as time itself, were stunning. The entire trip, while arduous and quick, only a week from start to finish, was a playful adventure through the beauty of God’s creation. 

Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan is reminiscent of this trip, where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Clearly God must have a sense of humor to have created some of these creatures, just for the sport of it. The Psalm is a reminder that we are to have a sense of humor as we participate in the creativity of the world we live in. Being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to form themselves into a cohesive community and spread the message of Jesus far and wide. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds together all the wildly diverse aspects of creation. The Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as we hear in the reading from Acts, where all people heard the voice of the Spirit, each in their native tongue. This wildly diverse crowd of people from across the region of the Roman Empire, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, educated and peasant, soldier and tax collector, artisan and potter, baker and farmer, traveling merchant and who knows who else, all heard the Holy Spirit in a gust of fiery wind, breathing over them God’s words. From this the church was born and given its mission. The fruits of our good work, we hear, is love and wisdom. God revealed God’s self in human flesh that we might know God’s nature more fully, and love as God loves us, which is a process of maturity and growing in wisdom. 

We hold this understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, the church and its mission, in tension with a world of people around us who have not or do not go to church. If one reads the news or follows news-feeds on Facebook, there are plenty of reasons to doubt or struggle with the institutional church: scandals are pervasive, abuse of children and women is secreted away, arguing over who belongs and who doesn’t, over race or human sexuality, problems in the church seem to be at epidemic proportions. I get it. I know something about the desire to walk away, to disconnect, to leave the institutional church behind, to go it on my own, to be spiritual but not religious. I lived that way for a third of my life. No doubt in some ways it was easier. I didn’t have to wrestle with relationships, I didn’t have to work to figure out how to be a good Christian and how to be a person of faith, how to live as Jesus asks of me. I could live anyway I wanted too. Sure, I could still have good values and still treat people fairly and work for justice. 

However, learning to manage the tension of living in community, fostering a relationship with God, and navigating the complexity of diversity is what it means to be a faithful Christian, growing in compassion and maturity and wisdom and love. To be mature one needs to have resilience, the ability to move through and rebound from life’s challenges. Individually, and as a community, maturity reflects one’s ability to be clear about what one values and the principles upon which one makes decisions and guides one’s life. One of the key components of resilience and building healthy relationship is the ability to be playful and creative. 

How are we, the people of Christ Church, seeking to live as God calls us? How are we working to be in relationship with one another and the world around us? How are we working to be in relationship with our neighbor? WHO is our neighbor? How are we working to be and become a beloved community? How are we resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful, creative, and transformative? The newly formed Renaissance Strategy Task Force has been charged by the Vestry to reflect on and explore these questions, and then to help us develop a strategy for growing this Christian community, in more intentional ways. They are not starting from nothing, they have a vibrant list of ministries and a long history to work with. 

For example we host a very busy building filled with activities offered by civic, international, artistic, health focused, religious and sometimes political, meetings, classes, and events, offered by individuals and groups, revealing a creative ongoing source of energy as a community-centered church. More specifically, our church picnic, coming up next week, is an example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, and share a meal. It’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our exterior plaza, the community garden, memorial garden, labyrinth, and pet memorial garden, in fact our church grounds, are a sign of our creativity – beautiful and welcoming to everyone. Many people walk our grounds, sit in prayer at the labyrinth, and find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer will be our third year hosting the outdoor summer concert series, held on four Friday nights, two in July and two in August. This concert series is one way we are reaching out to the wider community, building relationships in creative and fun ways. In these, and other ways, we are feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

As we celebrate Pentecost, our readings have one primary theme in common – the call to relationship. The call from scripture to be in relationship with one another, with our neighbor and with strangers, and with all creation, is serious. But, paradoxically, scripture also reveals that we do so playfully and creatively. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the sport of it. 

Inside Out God

A little girl was visiting her grandmother one beautiful spring morning. They walked out into grandmother’s flower garden.  As grandmother was inspecting the progress of her flowers the little girl decided to try to open a rosebud with her own two hands.  But no luck! As she would pull the petals open, they would tear or bruise or wilt or break off completely. Finally, in frustration, she said, “Gramma, I just don’t understand it at all. When God opens a flower, it looks so beautiful but when I try, it just comes apart.”  “Well, honey,” Grandmother answered, “There’s a good reason for that.  God is able to do it because God works from the inside out!”

God works from the inside out. Today, the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate God working in as and through us.

Traditionally we say that Pentecost begins with the story we heard in our reading from Acts this morning. But, we might say that Pentecost actually begins, with the words of the angel to Mary, in the Gospel of Luke: “”The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).  Mary’s response is so powerful that it has become known as the “Magnificat” – we pray it and sing it on Christmas. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,  my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;” proclaims Mary.

The same Spirit responsible for the birth of Jesus is also responsible for the birth of the church.  Remember – Luke and the Book of Acts were written by the same author and are companion stories – Luke tells the story of what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus. Acts tells the story of the formation of the early church and what God was doing through the Holy Spirit. The birth of the church in the first two chapters of Acts parallels the birth of Jesus in the first two chapters of Luke.

In summary we might say that from inside a small room the Holy Spirit speaks to Mary and intervenes in the human condition. From inside a woman’s heart and body, God enters human flesh and is born a baby. From inside the upper room where the disciples hid in fear, the Holy Spirit enters – fear evaporates, and hope prevails. The Holy Spirit sends them all out into the world, filled with the Spirit, to do God’s work of love and compassion. God works from the inside out.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and the sacrament of baptism – both examples of the spirit moving in and through humanity.

Baptism, along with Holy Communion, are the two primary sacraments of the Episcopal Church – given to us by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. They are sacraments because they reveal the nature of God’s grace. A sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible spiritual grace – in other wards the sacraments reveal on the outside of our lives what God is doing on the inside.

So in baptism the grace that is revealed is the love of God acting in human life to restore order out of chaos, new life out death. The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament because it is the ultimate act of hospitality, of God’s love manifest in the life of Jesus. In the sacraments God’s grace is revealed as radical hospitality and love that transforms human life.  

The sacraments of baptism and holy Eucharist reveal God’s grace in the acts of giving, bestowing, and receiving. Each person ends up with a forehead drenched in water and dripping from the oily mark of the cross  – these are signs of God’s abundance of grace, of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us, and now present within us. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the special gifts that each of us are blessed with, are enlivened in baptism.  

Over the last five weeks we have heard scripture readings from Acts of the Apostle, which describe the life of the early church – how leaders were picked, how the church was to function, what the disciples were to do. And now we have come to the place in the Acts of the Apostle where the Holy Spirit blew over the gathered disciples and community, and transformed them into the people of God, the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit enlivened the gifts of each and the church was born.

Walter Kasper, a Roman Catholic Cardinal who spent his life working for Christian Unity, says  this about the Holy Spirit’s work in human life: Everywhere that life breaks forth and comes into being, everywhere that new life as it were seethes and bubbles, and even, in the form of hope, everywhere that life is violently devastated, throttled, gagged and slain — wherever true life exists, there the Spirit of God is at work.

Whenever the Christian community baptizes a new member we renew our baptismal covenant. We renew our commitment to live into the gifts God has given us, to let God work from the inside out.

In just a moment we will baptize Alexander James. For a month we have been praying for Alexander, his parents, god-parents, and this parish. We have prayed for Alexander James, forgoing his surname, because in baptism we all have the same surname – Christian. Today, each of us has the same last name, each of us belong to the same family of God called Christian. Now we welcome Alexander into this family.  May the Holy Spirit fill him with all good blessings and gifts for a healthy spirit filled life of faith. And may the Spirit renew the same in us. May God work from the inside out. May we go out and share the Good News of God’s love for all.

Pentecost

A reflection on baptism and the readings for Pentecost, particularly 1 Corinthians 12

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone
12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Although she was only nine years old she knew that she wanted to be baptized. She went to church, week in and week out, walking herself down the street to the local congregation. Her parents were much more relaxed about church. So she asked them if they would arrange for her to be baptized. At first her parents thought she should wait until she was older. But eventually, as her asking became persistent, they relented, and a baptism was arranged.

The day of the baptism she arrived at the building that held the font. There she changed into the flowing white gowns of baptism and proceeded toward the font. A number of people were being baptized that day, and she had to stand in line. Finally her time came and she climbed the stairs to font. Her baptism would be by full immersion. The pool was a semi-circle, almost as large as an olympic pool, with a mural of Jesus being baptized. As she waited on the ledge, while the person in front of her was baptized, she suddenly realized just how deep the water was. It would easily be up to her shoulders. And she couldn’t swim.

She became terrified. What if she drowned in the water? What if her uncle, who would baptize her, by tipping her over backward and under the water, what if he dropped her? And being backward and disoriented she inhaled water and drowned?

For a moment she thought about leaving, but there were people behind her, also waiting their turn. She was had no choice but to walk down the steps and into the pool. The water was warm, and deep. Easily up to her shoulders. Walking to the center of the pool where her uncle stood waiting for her, was slow and challenging in that deep water. Her fear rose higher. Her uncle greeted her, covered her nose with her hand and his, and with the other hand he tipped her backward into the water.

I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Up out of the water she came, alive, and relieved.

Fearing death through baptism might strike us a bit odd, but death and new life are metaphors for the baptismal event. The ancient church taught new members of the church that they were leaving behind, dying to, an old way of life, dying into the death of Christ, and rising again into a new life as a Christian, into the life and body of Christ. The girl was on to something mystical and ancient in this ritual we call baptism.

The ancient church also celebrated the gifts given to the apostles in baptism and again on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit infused the community of people gathered, and called them into a new order, the church, the Body of Christ.

The gifts given were that each would live as God has called us, in Christ, to live: to love God, love others, and love ourselves. Each of us has a special calling from God, infused with gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some of us live out our gifts as musicians, or artists, or executives, or gardeners, or teachers, lawyers, doctors, or parents, or as someone who is ordained a priest, deacon, or Bishop.

On Thursday we celebrated the many ministries of this parish, and renewed our commitment to those ministries. Today we celebrate the a new member being welcomed into our community, our Christian family. We have been praying for Peyton Edward Kirkland for a month, preparing him and us, for this day. We have prayed for him by his first name and two middle names, because today his last name will become the same as ours – Christian. Today he will receive his gifts of the Holy Spirit, being born anew into a life in Christ. Our job, our ministry, is to support Peyton and his family, in their faith journey, just as it is our ministry to support each other with prayer and acts of kindness, with honesty and companionship, with love.