Sunday, May 20, 2018


(On the Day of Pentecost) the disciples were all together in one place. 
And suddenly . . .. there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind 
and it filled the whole house.  

Until I was nearly in first grade,
         my family lived in the back of a grocery & feed store
         in Leary, Texas – population supposedly 200.
Actually, Leary in 1950 was just our store, the gas station,
         the post office, and a country schoolhouse
all lined up along the same side of a 2-lane highway
and the highway was not very busy.
Not a lot going on in Leary – and my family never went anywhere. 
It was a small place for my small life.

But across the highway, there was a railroad track,
and every morning a train came from somewhere in the East
         headed toward another terra incognita in the West.
Each afternoon, a train would come from somewhere in the West
         barreling toward the mysterious East. 
I was mesmerized by the implication
         that there was somewhere else, 
and people actually went there. 

It was then that I heard my first song about the Holy Spirit.
Before there were separate charts for pop, county, etc.
there was just The Hit Parade 
and Gogi Grant’s number one song went like this:

In a lonely shack by a railroad track
He spent his younger days
And I guess the sound of the outward bound
Made him a slave to his wand ‘ring ways.

And the wayward wind
Is a restless wind 
A restless wind so prone to wander
And he was born the next of kin
The next of kin to wayward wind. 

I learned about the Holy Spirit 
         half from the Bible and half from Gogi Grant.
But fortunately for my orthodoxy,
Luke and Gogi were saying the same thing.

 Luke begins the disciples 
         were all together in one place.
But look what happens in the rest of the Book of Acts
after Pentecost.
The Spirit blows the disciples out into the world.
And today, the Spirit blows apart our little enclaves of likeness
         to take Christ out to strangers who need him. 

But people tend to resist being unsettled.
We don’t go easily. 
That’s why the Bible calls the Spirit a violent wind.
Episcopalians don’t like that very much. 
We prefer to sing,
         Like the murmur of a dove’s song
or, There’s a sweet sweet Sprit in this place.
We want a settled, comforting faith,
         an amiable, polite comradery.
Episcopal religion has been summed up as
         We are saved by taste and not by grace
         lest anyone should be embarrassed.
We are not so inclined to be driven out into the world
         by a violent wind.

But the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness,
         sent Philip out into barren Gaza 
         to baptize the Ethiopian Eunuch,
         and inspired Stephen to the confrontational preaching
                  that got him martyred.
The Spirt does not leave us sitting still in our comfort zone
but drives us out on an often-challenging mission. 

The besetting sin of Episcopalians is complacency.
We have preferred nice furnishings, sophisticated music,
         and a pleasing ritual to getting our hands dirty. 
We like to gather with each other all in one place, preferably well-adorned,
         but that’s when the Spirit blows in like a violent wind
                  scattering us into the world.

The Church has often -- perhaps usually –
tried to shut this disruptive Sprit out.
When Pope John 23 convened the 2ndVatican Council he said his purpose
         was adgiornamento-- to open the windows.
The windows had been kept tightly shut lest the wayward wind 
         blow thorugh the Church and drive us God knows where.  

The wayward wind 
Is a restless wind
A restless wind so prone to wander. 

Naturally there was resistance.
Naturally there was backlash.
Episcopalians have no monopoly on resisting change.
Resistance is natural.
But why would one choose to allow the wayward wind into one’s life
         or the life of one’s community?
Because, like the place where I grew up, 
the village where we live is too small.
Our faith is too small. Our God is too small. 
Our life is too small.
We were made for something bigger than this,
         something more interesting, more heroic.

That train going by tells us there is a mystery out there.
God has places for us to go and people for us to see. 
The Holy Spirit takes us, in the words of the great theologian Dr. Seuss,
On Beyond Zebra.
The Holy Spirit is a restless wind carrying us into a life worth living, 
a life of challenge, adventure, and value.  

Now let’s get specific – as in down and dirty -- about life in the Spirit.
The exact same Spirit that made Jesus the Christ makes us Christians.
In Luke, Chapter 4, Jesus sets it out crystal clear. He said:
The Sprit of the Lord is upon me 
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, . . .
freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free. 

When we are doing those things, we are living in the Spirit. 
Giving out sandwiches is a step in that direction.
But when Congress entertains a Farm Bill that would condemn
         multitudes to hunger, you can’t make that many sandwiches.
The Spirit must speak out.

Sending people to lead worship in a prison is a step,
         but when our nation incarcerates 2.2 million citizens,
         a 500% increase over the past 40 years,
         when we lock up a dramatically greater percentage
         of our population than a totalitarian regime like Russia,
         a percentage out of all proportion to any democracy,
         three times that of Canada, Australia, or Spain,
         thoughts and prayers are not enough to set the prisoners free.
the Spirit compels us to act.

These are just two examples.
The Spirit drives us out of our comfort zone
         to bear the love of Jesus into a world
of all manner of diverse people in desperate need of his love.

Why would we wantto go there?
Because their need is our terra incognita, our mystery land,
         the place we meet God 
         in the hungry, the naked, the alien whether he has papers or not,
         and in the prisoner.
If we don’t find God there, we won’t find God in the bread and wine
         on a Sunday morning with our friends and families.

I am leaving you now just as you are embarking
         on a bold project to grow, to build, and to beautify.
I wholeheartedly endorse your dreams and aspirations.
Our faith includes the beauty of holiness.
It includes art and song, poetry and prayer.
But I urge you, I implore you
         whatever your build, build it with the windows open
-- not just because the Bible tells (us) so
-- rather, because life in the Spirit is the only life worth living. 
I urge you to the life of bold adventure, Tennyson describes in Ulysses.

Come my friends
Tis not too late to seek a newer world
Push off . . .. For my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset and the baths
Of all the Western starsuntil I die.
It may be the gulfs will wash us down. 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles. . ..
We are not now the strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are we are, . . . 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


I do not call you servants any longer. . . .
            I have called you friends.

Gospel means good news.
But just how much good news can we stand 
especially if the good news isn’t just for us – 
it’s about us?
Today’s Gospel lesson is both 
            good news for us and good news about us. 
We are so used to bad news about us,
            so many criticisms and judgments about ourselves.
We are so constantly berated by the voice
            of our harsh inner critic –
            the voice that says, Your too much this way,
                        not enough that way. 
            Try harder. Work more. Be better.
We are so used to bad news about ourselves,
            good news sounds strange in our ears. 

Today’s Gospel lesson is about our friendship with God.
Many people think of God first and foremost 
            as a judge looking down on us
            deciding whether to declare us guilty or not.
For some, God is a drill sergeant
            constantly demanding, driving, 
                        pushing us toward perfection.

But Christians see God in the face of Jesus.
And Jesus shows is a very different way to connect with God.
He calls us friends.

The original word in this text is philos.
It’s the noun form of a Greek verb for love.
Raymond Brown, the all-time greatest scholar of John’s Gospel,
            translates it as my beloved.
I no longer call you servants. I call you my beloved.
The best translation might be my beloved friend.

There is no one-up position in this relationship.
Jesus has stepped onto our level to look us in the eye.
We may think of God as a higher powerdominating us.  
But there can’t be much intimacy in a relationship based on power.
Maybe God got tired of just being powerful. 
Maybe God got lonely. 
The Bible says God wants friends.

Jesus does not want a relationship of subservience
I no longer call you servants.
He wants intimacy, trust, mutual respect.
I call you my beloved friends. 

Call to mind a good friend you have had.
What made that relationship a good friendship?
Trust. Caring. Respect. Going both ways, right?
Jesus wants all those things in our relationship with him,
            and he has them to offer. 

But the one thing he puts in bold face underlined 
with an exclamation point is joy. 
Friends enjoy each other.
We enjoy watching our friend be who he or she is. 
Friends are enjoyable.
And our friends enjoy us.
Friends delight in who we are.
And that makes us look differently at ourselves.

That’s what Jesus is saying here. 
God enjoys us. 
God delights in who we are. 
 Other people may not be too impressed.
Our harsh inner critic may not have a good word to say. 
But God really likes us. 

Isaiah wrote,
            . . . You shall be called my delight is in her.
            . .  . for the Lord delights in you . . . .
            . . . . I will make you majestic forever,
                        a joy from age to age.
 Jesus used this parable to describe our relationship with God.
            The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field,
            which a man found and covered up.
            Then in his joy, he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.

How do we understand that?
We are the man who sells all he has for the treasure,
            which is our relationship with God, right?

Well, I’m not so sure.
Jesus got a lot of his material from Isaiah, 
            and look what God says in Isaiah.
              I am the Lord . . . your savior . . .
           I give Egypt as your ransom
           and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Footnote: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba
            were the richest countries in the world. 
The text goes on:
            Because you are precious in my sight and honored
                        and I love you. 
            I give nations in exchange for your life. 

Now let’s go back to Jesus hidden treasure parable.
It looks like we are the treasure.
It’s God who finds us. 
In God’s joy, God gives all he has for a relationship with us. 

God enjoys who we are. 
That’s what Jesus means when he says,
            As the Father loved me, so I have loved you. 

This isn’t a philanthropist’s pity for a beggar.
It’s appreciation, joy, and delight. 
That’s how God feels about us,
            and God vulnerably hopes we will love him back.
That’s a win-win proposition because
being in love with God is the best experience 
we could ever hope for.
Isiah says,
            Then you will take delight in the Lord
            and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth . . . 

Because everything God created is an expression of himself,
            loving God changes our experience of everything.
Imagine seeing God throughout the world 
            and enjoying him as a friend. 
That’s when we ride upon the heights of the earth, as Isaiah says.
This perspective is the exact opposite of what Albert Camus
            described in his book, The Stranger. 
Camus saw is as strangers lost in an impersonal, cold universe.
The main character, while awaiting execution 
after having been found guilty, says,

. . . (G)azing up at the dark sky spangles with its signs and stars . . . 
I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.
To feel it so like myself . . ..

People who experience the universe as cold and indifferent
            become cold and indifferent themselves.
But those who accept the friendship of God
            become friends of all creation.  

So, if we want to ride upon the heights of the earth,
            where do we begin?
We take a serious look at Jesus
            and dare to trust that he enjoys us
            and longs for us to enjoy him. 
Then we accept his judgment of us
            as the last judgment, the final word,
            the judgment that reverses all the other judgments. 

The Lord has reversed the judgments against you. Zephaniah 3: 15
Forget what the other kids in high school said.
Forget what your boss said. 
Forget the ones who broke up with you.
Forget your own self-judgment.
Jesus has called you his beloved friend. 

From that point on the path to joy is short and straight.
Jesus said, 
            I have (told you of my love for you) so that 
my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.