+ Pentecost Day, Year A, 2011 – Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12:3b- 13, A story to start with: one day in a big city – the streets department comes by and systematically digs a hole in the terrace. The hole sits there until the end of the day, when a truck comes by and fills the hole up. This goes on street, by street, block by block, Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. One woman in the neighborhood notices this interesting pattern as she walks her dog. On Thursday, she stops one of the hole-digging workers and asks – what in world are you doing? Well – we’re on the urban beautification crew. What’s so beautiful about putting holes in the grass? Well, you see, the man who puts the trees in the holes is on vacation this week!
To each is given a gift – and that gift is important. At Pentecost we read this great story about the start of the church and think – wouldn’t it have been a wonderful thing to experience? Wouldn’t it have been a great time to hear all that great preaching, been caught up in the development of a new movement with its great hopes and expectations?
It’s always easy to look back and suggest there was a golden time that was so much better. I’m sure in the third century they looked back 50 years and said – those were the days. Sometimes I suspect that now in the 21th century we are dis-advantaged because we follow such a prosperous time in the church.
But, even in the 1st century – the church had its issues. It wasn’t all fiery ecstasy and preaching. By end of Acts 2 we have gatherings and organization. They were meeting for meals and prayers, and you can be sure that someone was complaining that they weren’t told what door to go in by. By Acts 4 we have trouble with the city officials, but also we learn that stewardship was becoming important within the community, and stewardship issues caused the first scandal. And by Acts chapter 6 we have clear evidence of church troubles and complaints, and establishment of systems to deal with that. Maybe there never really was a golden time when all was smooth and easy and everything turned on all cylinders.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church is written in the midst of these two elements – great excitement at the wonderful things God is doing by the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus – and great distress at the conflicts that have arisen in that very community of Jesus. Paul is speaking by and about the Spirit of Pentecost, and in a very deliberate way to his church and to all of us – says that it is the here-and-now – not the there-and-then, or the even by-and-by – where the Spirit of God is doing God’s work. Paul tells his church their energies should not be directed at creating factions based on who evangelized them, no, for that is in their pasts. It is how they treat each other now that is important.
In the church in Corinth, there were people who thought they were better than others – they had more significant talents, more wonderful gifts, more powerful expressions of the Spirit of God in them. They had groups that supported each other – I am one of Apollos’ converts – so, I have the gift of such and such! I am one of Paul’s converts, so I stand for this and that! Preaching is most important – no – speaking in tongues is most important – back and forth they went.
But Paul points the back, not to the gifts, but to the Giver. “No one can say: ‘Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” That is where all the gifts begin. That is where all church organization begins. That is where we all begin in our lives of faith – as children being given a precious inheritance – the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Lord. It’s a dramatic leveler. We all start at the same place in faith. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;” Small Catechism – Apostles Creed, 3rd article.
But starting in the same place does not mean we all have the same talents – that is also clear that Paul, and Jesus as well – recognized the beauty of the diversity of the followers, and saw that the Holy Spirit would bless us each with unique and significant powers. Yes, powers.
Pentecost is really a story about baptism of the Spirit, baptism into gifts and abilities. Baptism is not only about being named in the sight of God, and being claimed as a child of God, but also about being commissioned as a worker for God. And a worker does his or her work through the power he or she is given. In the Pentecost story we hear of gifts of speaking in other tongues, and perhaps also the gifts of preaching – but as we learned – the church developed so it needed more and different talents – stewardship, organization, communications, support, love, charity, cooking. To each is given . . . do we believe that? For the common Good . . . do we believe that? Technology – numbers – friendship – speaking to strangers – steadiness – pray without ceasing – argumentation – delight in the movement of the body – music – calmness in stress – compassion for those who grieve – gift of teaching children.
Pentecost isn’t for looking backwards – not backwards to some golden age of the first century, when all was new and shiny – or backwards to the 1960s – when there were plenty of people to do everything. Paul warns us that basing our lives in anything other than the Life of the Holy Spirit in us today is wasteful. Remember that story I began with – what if the person whose gift is planting trees is always missing? Has the Spirit dwindled? I don’t think so – in the church the tree-planting person will be there – we, all of us, need to be open and supportive.
We are the new Pentecost people. We are new every day, in the life of the Spirit. We are the inheritors of the Holy Spirit here and down – and we can say and believe it: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Let us open our hearts to that new wind of the Spirit, blowing through us and discover ways to give ourselves away for the common good. +
+ Easter 5A – Sunday May 22 – Confirmation– “Welcome” 1 Peter 2:2-10 (Living stones), John 14:1-14
Welcome! Welcome to the confirmation students who have come this whole way. Welcome to their families and friends who have come to see them step up and affirm their covenant of baptism. And Welcome to the rest of you. Maybe you didn’t realize what we were doing today – and that’s okay – in fact that’s wonderful. You are not here by accident – not at all. God desires this building to be full when we pray for these young people. Too often we forget that these kinds of moments – the baptisms, the confirmations, even the weddings and the funerals – are not just for the people who are doing them – but they are part of the life and breath of the whole church.
That’s what I’ll be speaking about today – the life and strength of the whole church. You see, kids – this day is “all about you” but it’s not all about you. You’ve done some work, hung in there in your Christian education – but you’ll be making your promises ‘by the grace of God.’ My understanding of the process of Confirmation education is that you students ‘try on’ the promises to see how they fit. We invite you to practice worship, fellowship, study, service and justice. We’ve asked you think about those things, how you will experience them in your life. Some of you fought that pretty hard, some of you found a wonderful insight.
Bless your hearts – we’ve asked you to try and try on the promises of baptism – and – you weren’t perfect. Here’s the big reveal – nobody is – I’m not perfect, they are not perfect, no one on earth does it perfectly as God desires.
That’s why, this day, this event isn’t about you at all – it’s about our beautiful God, our loving God. A God who takes even people, imperfect people like you and me – and offers us a place in his house. Yep, even folks who have messed up occasionally – who have frustrated the pastors in class, who have absolutely sat in stone silence in class and only answered us with jokes –
• folks who aren’t totally sure what we believe, (Do I believe this enough to be here?) • folks who wonder if we’re good enough, (Not as good as – that!) • folks who are pretty sure if someone knew their deepest hearts –
Well – God does know – and God does care – how we live, what we do, that we fix our eyes on him, our lives on his power to change us – even then, when we are weak God does not discard. God believes you are one of the living stones.
The author of our second lesson – the lesson from the First letter of Peter – speaks of living stones. Living stones are useful stones, are stones that have strength and beauty for a building. The author invites, yes, invites each of us to “Come to Jesus Christ,” and submit ourselves to be built into a temple. Come and be used. Interesting, isn’t it, that we are make for a purpose – for use.
Christ is the cornerstone – the place where it all begins and ends – but we are the bricks, the stones, the substance of this Temple, spiritual house. All of us, each one of us, confirmation student or parent or regular worshiper or musician or stranger who wandered in today – each one of has a purpose.
Yes, each of us is supposed to be here because together, and only together do we make the great Temple of praise. Here we find out what we are supposed to be doing – what all this was about, kids – is that you are the living stones of the Temple of Jesus Christ. You are the living stones. The role of the living temple – is to tell - is to praise – is to exclaim the Great Work, to point out the joy of the Real Story of Jesus. That happens here in this hour, but because we are a spiritual house – we take our mission with us wherever we go – we are commissioned to be the house of the LORD everywhere, every day, every encounter.
What happens when a brick isn’t there? There will be a gap, an absence, a missing support. Something will not be right. Now, tomorrow, you might say – I don’t matter here – it does not matter if I come to church or not – it does not matter if I keep my promises to this project, this person, to church, to God. Now only God can really answer that.
But the scripture here and in the Gospel makes a promise about promises – Our God promises that mercy and hope and honor will come to those who keep their promise. “once you were not a people – now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
That’s what this is all about today – WE are called to be God’s Living stones, his Temple, his priesthood, his nation, his voice, because we have all received mercy, not because we finished some years of education, not because we’ve done the right thing, not because we were born a Lutheran or American or anything.
The mercy is that We have been introduced to Jesus and through him know the Father. Come to him, a living stone – and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. +
+ Good fences make good neighbors - is that the quote?
Our neighbor behind half the back yard put up a fence last year. They put it inside the property line and put the side with the supports outward. Black mark #1 - I was always taught it was neighborly to put the supports on the inside, so other people had the 'front' of the fence facing them.
#2 - then they did not mow outside the fence.
#3 - during the first big wind storm - one panel fell down - they put it back up - then it fell down again in the last windstorm. It's been at least two weeks, they haven't put it back up.
#4 - they aren't mowing.
I don't think anyone is living there. The garbage bin is surrounded by two-foot high grass (I can see it through the fallen down fence panel). There is no 'for sale sign' up. They are in the town - not the city. Not mowing the grass seems to be pretty common on the town side of things - I can see at least two other houses like that on that street.
Hmmm- maybe a call to the town offices might be in order. +