Sunday, May 19, 2013


At the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit united
            a wildly diverse group of people
                        constituting them as the Body of Christ.
Just as Jesus was anointed with the Spirit
            to proclaim good news, to heal, and to liberate,
the Church was anointed to do those same things in his name.

But this wasn’t the Holy Spirit’s first rodeo.
We have older stories about how the Spirit works.
A thousand years before Pentecost,
the Holy Spirit descended on a farmer boy named Saul.
It happened this way.

For 400 years, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes.
They each went their own way most of the time.
They would have made good Nevadans.
But whenever an outsider attacked one of the tribes,
            the others were supposed to join in the defense.
There was a problem though. Attendance.
During those 400 years, when tribes were attacked
not once did all of the other tribes
                        show up for battle. Not once.

Then one day, the little Israelite village of Jabesh Gilead
            was besieged by a large foreign tribe, the Ammonites.
Jabesh Gilead began negotiating the terms of surrender.
But Nahash the Ammonite leader said, you can surrender,
            and we will let you live, but we will gouge out the right eye
of every one of you as a sign of Israel’s disgrace.

That gave the people of Jabesh Gilead pause.
The liked their right eyes.
So they said, “Give us 7 days to send for help.
If no one comes to save us, then you can gouge out our eyes
            and we will be your vassals.”
Nahash the Ammonite said, “No problem.”
 He was that confident that no one would show up.
Israel’s reputation had gotten around.

Messengers from Jabesh Gilead asked the tribe of Benjamin to save them.
This was a long shot.
The Benjaminites had done atrocious things to fellow Israelites before
            and  there was particularly bad blood between the tribe of Benjamin
                        and Jabesh Gilead.

The Benjaminites were not likely saviors,
            but the situation was just so horrible,
                        the Benjaminites began to mourn.
Young Saul was a farmer of the tribe of Benjamin.
That day he returned with his oxen from the fields.
When Saul heard about the siege of Jabesh Gilead,
            the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him and he gave up farming.
He hacked his oxen into pieces and sent a piece of ox
            to each of the other 11 tribes with the message,
            “This will happen to your oxen
            if I don’t see you at the battle day after tomorrow.”

Saul got a good turnout.
It was the first time all the tribes actually showed up
            and Jabesh Gilead was saved.
Through Saul, the Holy Spirit called together 12 tribes
            for a common mission with the simple message
                        from the Solomon Burke r & b song,
            “If one of us is chained, none of us are free.”//

A thousand years later,
            that same Spirit united people
            from every nation to be the Church,
            continuing the mission of Jesus, who said,
            “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me
            to proclaim good news to the poor, . . . liberty to the captives,
            recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
That’s the same thing the Spirit was up to at Jabesh Gilead
      to set at liberty those who are oppressed.

The Holy Spirit does something miraculous and life-giving.
To us it looks like three things but they are so connected,
            you can’t have one without the other.

First, the Spirit works inside each soul to pull our own self together.
            to help us get our act  together,
            to assemble our thoughts and feelings into some order
            as in “pull yourself together, man”
We get so scattered in life.
We do so many jobs and tasks, play so many roles,
            we lose touch with who we  are inside.

We want so many little things, worry over so many things,
            strive for so many goals,
            we lose touch with our basic desire.
We need to reassemble,
            to have our souls and our lives sewn back together
            like Tinkerbelle sewing Peter Pan’s shadow to his heel.

Second, there is the interpersonal level.
The Spirit overcomes our social separation to form us as a community.
Just as our personal lives get scattered,
            our community gets scattered.
We split off from each other.
We get distracted and don’t pay enough attention
            even to the people we love most.
When we do connect with others,
we are like  the tribes of Israel
caring only about the folks who are most like us.
We cut off the rest of the world.

Sociologist Jim Bishop
            says American culture today is becoming
            more and more fragmented .
We self-segregate into little enclaves.

More than ever before,
            we live near people like us.
We socialize with people like us.
We talk with people like us.
We gather in groups of the like-minded,
            listen to the like-minded,
                        and so become increasingly small-minded.

Like the Israelites divided into tribes,
            we live in silos, keeping our circles of those we care about
                        as small as possible.

It makes for a small, cramped life, a stingy shadow of a life,
filled with tasks but devoid of passion and direction.
We are starving to rediscover each other
            to explore a new world in each others
                        beauty, humor, and quirkiness.

Finally, there is the matter of mission.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just act inside an individual to heal that individual
            as a solo project.
We reconnect with our own souls, we find our own inner coherence,        
            through befriending others.
It is paradoxical -- we connect inwardly and outwardly at the same time.
The Spirit brings us together in common mission by reminding us
            of our inner connectedness.
“If one of us is chained, none of us are free.”

If the Holy Spirit is doing the connecting,
            it is never just about relationship for the sake of relationship.
It isn’t just feeling sweetly close, or relaxed and serene, or blissed out,
            or high on Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is not a matchmaker for spiritual one-night stands.
The Spirit of the Lord is not upon us because he has anointed us
            to feel exhilarated and have a nice day.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon us because he has anointed us
            to proclaim good news to the poor, . . . liberty to the captives,
            recovery of sight to the blind,
            to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
We find our unity and wholeness
when we befriend each other /for a common liberating mission.//
“If one of us is chained, none of us are free.”

This is the great paradox of Christian faith.
It heals us. It makes us whole.
But the healing doesn’t’ happen as long as we as individual focus on ourselves.
It doesn’t happen when we as a group, as a congregation or even a diocese,
            focus on ourselves.
Healing happens, wholeness manifests, life gels
when we engage the mission
            to heal the broken world.

It is in giving that we receive.
It is in healing that we are healed.
It is in setting others free that we ourselves taste freedom.