PENTECOST

May 24, 2015
Saint John’s
Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.

As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

HOLY SPIRIT – BREATH, SPIRIT OR WIND
They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.

jesus_breathes_on_the_disciplesIn both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

pentecostLike deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.

As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.

THE HOLY SPIRIT CREATIVE, SPONTANEOUS & PLAYFUL.
For example check out the Psalm for today –
PSALM 104
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.

whale3
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

God made the whale just for fun. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS ADVOCATUS

Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.

JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro

on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

Satan_Before_the_Lord_Giaquinto_17501

The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.

Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.

The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .

In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!

PENTECOST

June 8, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1 NRSV
pentecost

The Day of Pentecost – El Greco

The Great 50 days are ended, the double alleluias are spent, and long months of Sundays stretch out toward Advent. However, the Great 50 days go out, not with a whimper but with a bang.

PENTECOST IS THE FIERCE FEAST OF FIREWORKS – A HOLY JULY 4TH

Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus left town, going out by Bethany, so as to go by one of his favorite places one more time. Jesus left town, not going to Galilee as he did through his life in the flesh, but going home, returning to God the Father. He blessed his disciples and as he did he was separated from them and ascended into heaven.

ascension

They stared, slack jawed, gaping at the sky until angels shooed them back to town reminding them that they were to wait until the Comforter came upon them – and for once they did as they were told.

Consciously waiting, hanging on to the promise of Jesus, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

This comforter is come. This comforter will lead us into all truth. This comforter, how shall we describe his work?

The Comforter, this Holy Spirit is

  • Playful,
  • Spontaneous
  • Creative

I quote Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, “The Spirit is present in three open spaces in our lives. In the:

  • unpredictable,
  • place of risk
  • areas over which we have no control.

The Spirit of Truth, this Holy Spirit works behind the scenes, promoting Jesus, pointing to his teaching but doing it behind the scenes. Notice what happens when I place the characteristics of the Holy Spirit into the Open Spaces in our lives?

IN THE UNPREDICTABLE = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PLAYFUL

The unpredictable may prove dangerous, but it may also prove playful. The Holy Spirit is playful. For example check out the Psalm for today – [Pew Bible pg. 547 BCP – pg. 737]

Psalm 104

26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

Whales in Hervery bay

Whales in Hervey bay

God made the whale just for fun.

Fr. Craig Bustrin, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

IN THE PLACE OF RISK =  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS SPONTANEOUS

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller

Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible.  The Spirit moves in the risky places.

IN THOSE AREAS OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CREATIVE

The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos.  For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous = what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery.  The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.
________________________________________
I want to tell you a story.

I want to speak to you this morning of a man I know.
He has doctorate in Music Composition
He is a single-minded Christian
He is faithful
He smokes too much
He is legally blind

I have known him for the better part of ten years.  At the altar rail, he asked for prayers. He has the charism of servant, he is thoughtful, he is committed, he is prayerful, He walks a lot – He knows the people of these neighbors around Saint John’s. He knows us who are educated and live a reasonable facsimile of what passes for the post-modern American dream. He knows those who live below this level on less. He knows the community of the street, those whose place we pass through on the way to the rest of our lives.

Our way is their place.

Let me tell you what he means to me. He is single minded, A mostly-blind man is teaching me about life beyond my air-conditioned bubble with wheels that takes me through the streets and insulates me from them by isolating me from them and moving me quickly through them.

Let me tell you what I discern he means to this parish. If we went to hell it will because we were too busy to make other arrangements. He prays for the rest of us who do not have enough to pray for ourselves.

Mark has allowed none of his limitations to define him. What I call limitations, I suspect the Holy Spirit calls opportunities. These are the very places he has opened to God. These are the open places where the Holy Spirit is working in him and through him to do the Work of Christ in this place. To do the work of Christ is our task, Doing the work of Christ is Mark’s vocation. Why? Because he is baptized!

sugar

sugar

Sugar is made up of three molecules – oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Where is the sweetness? The sweetness is in the relationship. It is not a quality in any element of sugar. It is an emergent quality that resides only in the system as a whole. The sweetness is not in any one of us. The sweetness is in the molecular cohesiveness of the Holy Spirit.

The Spontaneous, Creative & Playful nature of the Holy Spirit is busy in the open spaces in Mark’s life and ours to make the sweetness of Grace

The sweetness of this grace is why today I name Mark Bradshaw, Street Missioner from Saint John’s Parish  Amen.

“Security is mo…

Quote

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” — Helen Keller

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

 

Pentecost el greco

Pentecost – El Greco

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing. As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

They looked into the Hebrew scriptures for ways to explain what had happened.  The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities.  Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathes on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone?  If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive?  Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely?  If we do not forgive is it because we are able to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied  Yoga.  The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious.  To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body.  The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to waste our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health.  Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm.  When we panic we breath faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear.  When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

Like deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested.  Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco says, “The Spirit is present in three open spaces in our lives: in the unpredictable, in the place of risk and in those areas over which we have no control.”

We do not know what is going to happen. Not long ago I read an essay by Umberto Ecco  where he speaks of flying…

A century or so ago the airship was invented. What a wonderful thing people thought, to be able to travel through the air just like a bird. And then it was discovered that the airship was a dead-end invention. The invention that survived was the areoplane. When the first airships appeared, people thought there would subsequently be a linear progression, advancement to more refined, swifter models. But this did not happen. Instead, at a certain point there was a lateral development.

Heinderberg Crash - Sven Sauer

Heinderberg Crash – Sven Sauer

After the Hindenburg went up in flames in 1937, [killing 35 people], things began to move in a different direction. At one time it seemed logical that you had to be lighter than air in order to fly in the sky – but then it turned out that you had to be heavier than air to fly more efficiently. The moral of the story is that in both philosophy and the sciences [and I would add life] you must be very careful not fall in love with your own airship.

We must resist the temptation of thinking that we should know more than we can know. Life is unpredictable.  But the Spirit is always present to guide us into all truth. If we breathe deeply of the breath of life that Jesus gave the disciples we can with courage live in the open place we call unpredictable.

To be alive is to risk.  Yet we are so afraid of risking.  We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure.  But it is an illusion. As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote,

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Let us go on the adventure of our lives. The Spirit is always present in the open place we call risk.

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us.  Yoga or whatever it takes.  Wendell Berry speaks of the process in one of poems from SABBATHS.

I go among the trees and sit still,

All my stirring becomes quiet

around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes

and lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

and the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,

mute in my consternations,

I hear my song at last,

and I sing it. As we sing

the day turns, the trees move.

  • Wendell Berry.

fear prevents the breathing that produces song.

Someone once asked a famous Mississippi doctor what she was going to do in the face of a crisis and she said, “I’m going to breathe in and I’m going to breathe out.”  In matters of faith and the spirit it is the least and the most any of us can do.