When Differences Bring Understanding

Pentecost 6-4-17 Acts 2:1-11, Ps: 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13, John 20:19-23

When Differences Bring Understanding

St. John’s description of the gift of the Holy Spirit is very different from St. Luke’s. Luke waits 50 days after Easter, until the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which celebrated God’s gift of the Law at Mt. Sinai.  John, on the other hand, tells of the gift of the Spirit occurring on the evening of Easter day.  How do we know that?  Well, verse 18 of John, Chapter 20, was Mary Magdalene coming directly to the apostles from the empty tomb, announcing that she had seen…and talked with… the Risen Christ.  Our reading today starts with verse 19, the very next verse: “On the evening of that first day of the week ( Easter)..”

John used this same expression, “that day”, when Jesus, at the Last Supper, promised the disciples, “The Father will give you another Advocate…the Spirit of Truth…On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in You.”  John’s community understood that Easter was “that day”.

Consequently, John’s community was highly centered on the Eucharist, which almost immediately became the custom of the disciples on the first day of the week.  And here in our Gospel, is the risen Jesus himself, on the first day of the week, with his disciples, just as he is with us in our Eucharist and in the Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is seeing his disciples for the first time since they abandoned him at his arrest in Gethsemane.  They have a lot to answer for.  They deserved to be fired, have their reputations blackened for life. What does Jesus say?  “Peace to you.”  Then he reveals himself by showing his hands and his side.  He literally opens himself up to them.  It seems to be in part self-identification. We might call his wounds his “credentials” to minister to all who suffer.  Next, he repeats “Peace to you.”  Upon hearing him and seeing him, then the disciples rejoiced and believed He was risen from the dead.

“Peace to you” is a Hebrew phrase which meant that something sacred was about to be revealed.   It is not just, “Hey Guys, relax.”  No.  It is a declaration of peace, a proclamation, an announcement. The risen Jesus brings them peace, gives them peace.  (You know: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.)  Having prepared them to open themselves to the Spirit, he breathed on them.  This takes us right back to Genesis 2, where God breathed into Adam the breath of life.  It is as if the Spirit “re-creates” the disciples.

Early on, the breath of Holy people was presumed to have supernatural and healing powers. In fact, an early Patriarch of Alexandria filled a skin bag, like a balloon, with his breath, and sent it off to Ethiopia to ordain a Bishop.  Here in John, this breath, a sign of creation, is linked with the power to forgive sin, becoming a sign of restoration and fullness of life.

The differences between Luke’s and John’s Gospels can’t be reconciled. We have no chronological historical documents which focus on the exact time line. Besides, much of our scripture was written not with the intent of keeping a play-by-play, but with a much more important goal – that is- to explain the revelations of God to the generations to come.

These revelations are given in a way to help us understand, they help us make sense of what happened, in ways that are not bound by the swing of a clock pendulum, but by the movement of the Spirit in the heart and soul. Our job is to attend carefully and embrace the mystery.

Perhaps the best way for us to really enter into the revelation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to talk about it in ways that we have experienced and with issues that we face. The Holy Spirit has been called “the love that God and Jesus have for each other”.  The Spirit brings closeness.  Think about the image found in Luke’s Pentecost of everyone in Jerusalem hearing the Good News in their own language.  We view that as being able to draw close and talk with someone we had never been able to communicate with before.  The barrier of language is removed, and we can share with a “foreigner” the truths we base our lives on.  We can listen intently to them, hearing them speak from their innermost self.  We are then drawn to love the very human-ness of each other, without stumbling over the clutter of culture or social customs.

What if this Spirit who is Love gave us the ability to listen to people we dislike, those people who drive us nuts, and the people we can’t talk to without getting into an argument. What if suddenly, with the Spirit, we could hear what they were saying, really saying, and suddenly realize that is so very much like what we, too, are really trying to say.  What if we wanted to share our time with them, what if our faith suddenly felt big enough to embrace someone else’s understanding?

This week, Trinity Episcopal Church in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, offered the use of their chapel to a Jewish congregation who had lost their synagogue, saying, “Let’s loose the keys to the church to the community.”  Wouldn’t that be the sense of Pentecost?

In John’s Gospel, immediate after saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus brings up forgiveness. Without the Holy Spirit, the “power” to forgive sins – or not forgive – seems enticing.  But with the Holy Spirit, suddenly the thought comes – “When I offer forgiveness, the sin is gone, forgiven.  What if all the pain and hurt between me and that sibling I haven’t spoken to in years is gone?  What if my estranged friend and I could once again enjoy each other’s company?

What if then, we shed some of our defenses, let some perceived insult or meanness be forgotten, what if we felt the person who formerly had annoyed us was, in fact, really of great value. Wouldn’t that be the gift of the Holy Spirit?

Let me end by quoting Pope Francis. “Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to ‘God’s Surprises’?  Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit?  Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness set before us?”

 

Grasphing the Gracious Gift

1st Sunday Lent A,  3-5-17; Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 ;  Ps: 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11

 Grasping the Gracious Gift   

This reading from the second & third chapters of Genesis always makes me sad. It is likely one of the most used and abused, most misinterpreted passages in the Bible.  It has been used to prove that women should be oppressed, that men are spineless wimps, that God’s creation is faulty, and that both humans and snakes are inherently evil – when that was never the intention of the story.

What was the intent? It’s a beautiful creation story and by far more sophisticated in its vision than anything comparable found in the ancient world.    It is older than the story we find in Genesis chapter one, and shares themes with other creation myths in the Mesopotamian region.  And just in case you feel the need to explore your Bible a little more closely, check out the creation story in the book of Ezekiel chapter 28 that you’ve probably never heard.

But there are two things we really need to pay attention to here. First – the eternal question of evil.  God in chapter one is said to create a good world.  God is pleased with it.  When you read Proverbs chapters 3-8, you find this theme again and again.  So, where did the cunning of the serpent come from, and why did it lie to Eve?  Interesting question, but that’s not really what we need to know, so I ask the 2nd question, and that is- what was Eve’s reason for making the choice of listening to the serpent’s lies?  The text tells us, “the tree was… desirable for gaining wisdom.”  The serpent had said, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods (little “g”) who know what is good and what is evil.” Sometimes I wonder if the story suggests that in Eve’s ears, she heard that she would be like “GOD”?

So what was humanity’s relationship to God when they were created? God had created humankind, and blew the breath of life into man.  God gave mankind the power of naming the animals, and thereby giving man power over animals.  God gave these humans the very best of everything.  In chapter one, the creation of humans is the climax of creation, the grandest and greatest of creation, actually in the divine image.  We are not God, but we are a reflection of God.

And somehow Eve thought that the glory of God, the wisdom and knowledge of God was something she and Adam could grasp by eating a piece of fruit. It is a concept still pitched by marketing snakes.  Buy this car, and you will look rich and powerful and women will be attracted to you.  Drink this diet soda and your body will be sleek and desirable.  Take this drug and your sports performance will be Olympic.  It’s the same old lie.  And why do we still fall for it?  Because we want to grasp the goal without developing the grit.

What does scripture say? Look at Philippians 2: 5-11:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Which is why in Psalm 51 David doesn’t say to God, “The devil made me do it.” Instead he claims his evil choice of taking another man’s wife and having her husband killed.  David admits his desire to be all-powerful (like God) is wrong, too great to be grasped.  He asks instead for the “joy of (God’s) salvation” – a joy which God, and only God, freely gives to those who empty themselves of the pride of power, the need to control that which they did not create, the desire and greed for that which was not theirs to grasp.

St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reassures us there is a way out of our folly. He teaches that although these impulses of pride and control and desire haunt us, “how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift- of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for (us).”  What was the gracious gift?  It was his good and selfish choice of being obedient and coming to us as a humble man to face and overcome our murderous actions – actions which grow out of pride and power and control and desire.

Of course, Jesus was never one to simply tell us how to live and walk away, shaking his head at our endless repetition of the same bad decisions. He demonstrates it for us, he lives the trials; he shows us success and gives us solutions.  Our reading from Matthew is only one example of that.  He is tempted at his most vulnerable, when he was near starvation, when he saw power at hand and close enough to reach for, when he was shown glory and fame in its most magnificent and attractive forms.

Shucks, I hear the word “temptation” and I think of double chocolate cake with Breyer’s mint ice cream with chocolate chunks in it. But the solution is still the same- obedience.  Trying to grasp the joy of the stomach or the joy of ego or the joy of stuff never really works, only the freely given joy of the soul lasts beyond the end of the day.

This time of Lent is when we re-set our moral compasses, when we hold out our intentions in the cold light of day and ask if we act with justice and love. We look at those things we do without thinking the rest of the year and consider the fruit of our actions.  What do we seek to grasp, what do we reach out for?