Thursday, June 06, 2019

Early Pentecost sermon: Singing a more beautiful song

Pentecost: Singing a more beautiful song
              Two of the earliest writings in Western Civilization that folk still read from time to time, are Homer’s Odyssey and Apollonius’ Jason and the Argonauts. Both are sailor stories, and both Jason and Odysseus had to deal with a similar, mythical, problem—the Sirens. These were half-bird half-woman monsters who sang songs that led sailors to their doom.
              Odysseus survived his encounter with the Sirens by plugging up the crew’s ears with bees’ wax so they couldn’t hear their seductive song.
              Jason chose a different tact, he had the ship’s musician, Orpheus, play a more beautiful song, so the crew paid attention to that song, instead of the siren’s song.
              And we as Christians have always been surrounded by many seductive voices and songs, and we have a choice to make, we could crawl under a rock and not listen, stuff bees wax in our ears, and at least we would not be tempted—in fact, this is the impulse of the early church prior to Pentecost and has been the de facto stance of many Christian movements throughout history.
              Alternatively, Christians are called to sing a more beautiful song. This is the voice of Pentecost, the voice of so many moments in Christianity that have blossomed and grown fruit!
              There is within us an impulse to take our story and run off into the desert and hide it, separate ourselves from the culture so as not to be contaminated
and the impulse to tell our story so well and so often that the whole culture hears it and is enraptured.
Bees wax or beauty!
              When it comes to Pentecost—The Spirit calls us to sing a more beautiful song!
              The Spirit calls us to sing a more beautiful song!
              Do you hear that song that the Sadducees are singing? Temple! Temple! Temple!
              Do you hear that song the Pharisees are singing? Separation! Separation! Separation!
              Do you hear the song the Zealots are singing? Death to Rome! Death to Rome! Death to Rome!
              Do you hear the song the Romans are singing? Hail Divine Caesar! Hail Divine Caesar! Hail Divine Caesar!
              That is the clangor of the world!
-Trust structures and trust buildings!
-Find self-righteousness in polarization and separation!
-Violence is the solution!
-Make leaders, of any sort, into gods!
              Those are the songs of this world.
              And those Christians holed up in the upper room. They close their ears, like Odysseus’ crew, hang close to one another, just hoping no one notices them, that they are safe, that they won’t be drawn to any of those foreign and unfaithful refrains!
              And then comes another song, the sound of wind, which takes them up like a Saxophone, Clarinet, or Flute. The Spirit plays them with such finesse that their song touches souls from all across the known world: Elamites from out East and Romans from the West, Egyptians to the South and Pontic Greeks in the North.
              To Temple, Separation, Death, and Divinity—the Christians begin to sing a prophetic and saving song:
“Christ is the temple for all people, he is the prince of peace, our Divine Lord.”
              Like Jason they sing a more beautiful song:
              To the Sadducees—Christ is the Temple.
              To the Pharisees—Christ is for all people!
              To the Zealots—Christ is the prince of Peace
              To the Romans—Christ is Divine Lord!
“Christ is the temple, for all people, he is the prince of peace, our Divine Lord.”
              What a beautiful song! What an amazing song! Can you believe that everyone is called to sing it? Sons and daughters, young and old, men and women, enslaved and freed! The Spirit sings through them all!

              And continues to Sing—When we read through the book of Acts—(and I encourage all of you to do that, it is a worthwhile and wonderful read)—we see Paul run up against songs that compete with the Christian song—economic songs, political and national songs, and religious songs—that all are jangling discord next to the true song sung by the Spirit on Pentecost!
              And to those small compromises for economic gain, the confusion of identities that Rome encourages, and idolatry of any sort—the Holy Spirit responds with a more beautiful song
—Justice, only Justice shall you practice!
You are heirs of God, siblings of Christ!
Worship God alone!

              And I wonder today, what Songs the Spirit is calling us to sing?
              Surely our world still sings:
-songs of temple,
-songs of separation,
-songs of violence,
-songs of false messiahs.
              Surely our world still has economic, national / political, and religious songs that seduce us to this very days!

              How do we sing a more beautiful song?
              Sing that where two or three are gathered, there he is!
              Sing that in Christ there is no east or west, in Christ no north or south!
              Sing that he is the Prince of Peace!
              Sing that for him alone every knee shall bow!
              Sing that God’s generosity is our own!
              Sing that the Spirit is poured out on ALL flesh!
              Sing that we have a Spirit of Adoption and are God’s Children!

              Holy Spirit come, that we might sing a more beautiful song!
              Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord!
              Come, holy Light, guide divine!
              Come holy Fire, comfort true!
              Holy Spirit come, that we might sing a more beautiful song!
              Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, June 02, 2019


        A fellow pastor was complaining about the festival of the Ascension getting short shrift compared to the other major Church Festivals… 
-There are no Ascension Presents,
-we don’t get Ascension Ashes on our foreheads,
-there is no Ascension Bunny,
-we don’t even ask you to wear a particular color like we do on Pentecost…
         I get why… at first blush Ascension is weird.
Yes, we confess every week, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” 
But we often make the same mistake Khrushchev (head of the Soviet Union) made, when he announced, ‘we flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.’
         If Ascension is the celebration of Jesus stuck in the sky, then, yeah, this is all rather odd celebration…
in fact, some of you might feel like you have to cross your fingers when you recite that section in the creeds.
         But friends, Heaven is not up! At least not at the time when Luke is writing Acts.
         Heaven is wherewe find the Human One from the Book of Daniel, the one whose good news saves us from the inhuman monsters that surround us and are inside of us.
         Heaven is wherethose in authority are found, those who we call Queens, Kings, and Emperors, those worthy to lead us.
         Heaven… well if Earth is the words, then heaven is the music—they are joined together and interlocking realities, descriptors of the totality of God’s good creation.
         To put it another way, when we celebrate Ascension we are celebrating Christ in three ways. 
-We are celebrating Christ’s completion of the Gospel. 
-We are celebrating Christ bringing about the Reign of God. 
-We are celebrating Christ’s calling of the Church.
Let us pray:

Ascension is the celebration of
-the completion of the Gospel,
-the Reign of God,
-and the Call of the Church!

Ascension celebrates the completion of the Gospel.
         Acts is, of course, the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus completed what he set out to do:
preach good news to the poor,
bring deliverance to the captives,
restore sight to the blind and release to the oppressed,
to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
         He does this by centering his ministry on outsiders—especially Women, Samaritans, and the Lost.
         He does this by transforming ideas about wealth and poverty into deeds of kindness.
         He does this by calling those who follow him to a life of repentance and persistent prayer.
         He does this by words and deeds that challenge the monstrous social, political, and religious status quo.
         He does this by dying and rising!
Yes, the Son of Man, the Human One, has done his work.
Ascension is celebrating the completion of the Gospel.

Ascension celebrates the Reign of God!
         Jesus has spent forty days talking to the Disciples about the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God
—likely reminding them of his many parables about the subject.
         He’s told them that God Reigns: 
when we forgive each other,
when we seek to redeem the fallen instead of destroying them,
when we throw off hypocrisy and cloth ourselves with humility. When those who can not repay kindness or mercy,receive kindness and mercy! 
When possessions do not possess us, when we do good instead of storing up goods, when greed gives way to generosity.
         When you squish together all Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom of God—that’s what you get…
         And after 40 days of that Kingdom talk… the Disciples respond, “When will you restore the Kingdom of Israel.”
         That’s not what this is about! We’re talking about the Reign of God, not the Kingdom of Israel
… you’re call is to be a witness! To tell people about the Son of God, our Lord!
Tell people about the Kingdom of God, when God Reigns.
There is a reason Jesus speaks in parables, because the Kingdom comes through hearing and being transformed by the Word of God.
It isn’t about restoring a Kingdom, it is about telling folk about Jesus!
         King Jesus has a holy and humble authority and is to be announced!
Ascension celebrates the Reign of God!

Ascension Celebrates the Call of the Church
         We, the Church, are given a commission, are called to witness to Jesus!
         Just as the prophet Elijah passes on his power to his disciple Elisha and then ascends in a fiery chariot, so to Jesus, he promises the Holy Spirit is coming and ascends to heaven.
He is leaving the disciples, and us, with a charge
—be his witness in Jerusalem, and Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!

         That’s what makes the disciples’ next action so funny,
they just gape up at the sky and it requires the same angels who witnessed to Jesus’ resurrection
—who told them Jesus rose from the dead back in Luke’s Gospel
—to return the disciple’s imagination to earth…
to remind them that they too are called to witness to that same resurrection!

         We are called to be little Christs in the world—collectively committed to the same acts of liberation and healing that he was.
         Called to point to Jesus, tell people his story and how his story has intersected with our story!
         Called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God—helping people see those amazing moments in their own life when God is clearly reigning!
         Don’t look up at the sky, look around you!
         As Luther wrote, “God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbor does.”
         “God’s work, our hands.”
         In Christ all of creation—heaven and earth—are being reconciled to God, and we the Church, by all means at our disposal, are bearers of that message.
         Ascension Celebrates the Call of the Church.

Ascension celebrates the completion of the Gospel, the Reign of God, and the Call of the Church! A+A