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5.28.23 Sermon Transcript

We gather on this celebration of Pentecost. We gather on Memorial Day weekend. We tell stories of remembrance. And many of you have spent time or plan to spend time visiting cemeteries. The day is officially about honoring those who died while in the service of our nation. And yet very quickly it became a general day of remembrance for family, for relatives, for what we Christians call our great cloud of witnesses. We gather to remember we gather to honor and when we tell the stories. very often, we want to focus on the good. We want to tell the stories of our ancestors in the best light possible and that is a good thing. So long as we don't blind ourselves to those lessons that their shortcomings also teach us. Where we need to learn more and to do better. None of us are perfect. None of us see clearly or completely.

That is part of why we tell the stories. We mark time to honor all of the stories that made us what we are. To take the best of those stories. And to move on into the future that God calls us to. Last week. We told a story that invoked many other stories. Some of are not terribly familiar to us but as Elijah, the great prophet, passed the mantle to Elisha, whom God had ordained as his follower, as his heir. They made a journey. A long journey, a journey in which Elisha was tested, as to his faithfulness, his determination, his understanding of what that mantle meant. From Gigal, to Bethel, to Jericho, to the river Jordan. They walked a great circle of Israel's history. And Elijah was reminded of stories. Of the tribes that bound together in the wilderness. Of the shortfalls of their ancestors. Of those who did not cross the river because of sin and those shortfalls and yet a God who honors God's promises. Who brought the people into the land. A God who appears even before they knew him. The story of Bethel, of multiple patriarchs, encountering God in that place beyond their comfort zones and awareness. Surely, God was here, and I did not know it. Jericho, the story of the great battle of God giving the land to his people. in a way that can't come from their own power. but reminds that they are dependent on God's provision and the River Jordan fraught with meaning, a river of life for the region, the river that the people crossed to enter into the Holy Land, the river that later, Jesus would be baptized in. Where he would begin his public ministry. Where some would begin to believe who he is. The son of God with whom God is well pleased. One, they were to listen to and we told the story last week of a day, 40 days after the resurrection, after Easter, when Luke and Acts and Mark hints at this, tell the story of the Ascension. Of Jesus ceasing his bodily appearances to his followers but passing the mantle. Luke tells the story that angels appear and ask the disciples why they are looking into the heavens. They have work to do. They have been equipped and sent to be the body of Christ. To continue to do what Christ did. A couple weeks ago, we talked about John's gospel where Jesus tells his followers that after the spirit comes upon them, they will do even greater things than Jesus has done. That is our challenge as the body of Christ. Individually, we can't do it. Collectively, as the body of Christ in our differences, in our diversity, in our unique and interconnected gifts. We are commanded. We are called. We are equipped to do still greater things, to do what Christ does, to participate in the inbreaking of God's kingdom here and now. Today, on Pentecost, we hear the story from Acts of the coming of the Spirit. Luke in Acts tells us that the disciples stay in Jerusalem that they are hiding, that they are afraid, that they are not sure what they should do next. They bumble along, they cast lots to replace Judas with Matthias, But they're not boldly proclaiming. They're not using their gifts. And then on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, A Jewish festival, one of the three great Jewish festivals. Suddenly, they experienced the coming of the power of God, not for their own power, but for the good of the world. They burst from the locked rooms from their fear, and complacency, and they begin proclaiming the story and the miracle is not that they suddenly speak in languages they don't know, the miracle is all who hear them, hear them in their native tongue. In a way that they can understand. This message of grace and mercy. The message that Christ, the crucified one, yet lives. The message that Christ is active in the world. RThat Christ has given the Spirit to all who believe. Like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spreads through their ranks. Jews from all nations, from the entire known world have gathered. Jews of different practices, different understandings, different factions, and camps. And yet they hear in their native tongue. Now, they've gathered in Jerusalem from all the known world, Speaking Greek would have communicated with nearly everyone. But God doesn't equip his followers to speak Greek the common tongue. God equips his followers to speak words of power in such a way that those who come to hear, hear in their native tongue, in their way. And they are confused and some of them scoff. Even in the midst of the power of God, not everyone believes. “Ah, they're drunk on cheap wine.” And yet, the Spirit continues to flow. The Spirit moves among God's people. More and more people are convicted or transformed. They, too, begin proclaiming hope and good new in Christ's name, In their cities, in their towns. The movement spreads like wildfire. The early church didn't have buildings. It didn't have political influence. What it had was love and service and hope. For a bitterly divided world. What if that is what the Christian church was known for today? Love and service and hope.

And yet so often we hide in our locked rooms, or we insist on our own understanding. “You only really believe if you use my language for my reasons…” that is not Pentecost. Pentecost is sharing freely what we have been given and trusting that God will help others here. Not that they must conform to our language but that we will share what we have been given and that they will hear. God pours out God's Spirit on all people. God gives life and breath. I think it's important that on this day, the lectionary pairs this familiar reading with Acts with what is perhaps my favorite Psalm. We read a part of it. Psalm 104. It is a hymn of creation. It is a hymn of praising God for what God has done and in the midst of it, I had you read the line. “Yonder is the sea, great and wide.” The sea in ancient times and even to today is a symbol of chaos and the unknown. We have explored the moon, but we still haven't gone to the deepest trenches of the sea on our home planet. It is full of mystery, creatures we can barely describe or imagine. Leviathan, in ancient times, a sea monster, a symbol of chaos, and even destruction. Cast as God's plaything. And in the midst of the chaos of the sea, the unknown and mystery of the sea, the harborer of even Leviathan. We have a line in this hymn of praise to God's creation that says, “there go the ships.” Nowhere in scripture am I aware of God saying, “let there be ships and there are.” No, ships are human ingenuity. Humans take God's creation and learn to form vessels that could venture out on the seas. They could conquer the unknown, that could connect people far flung, different cultures, and languages, and opportunities. spices, and garments from different parts the world become trade. Oh, their understanding of the world at the time was much smaller than ours is now, but still, they venture forth on the unknown. My uncle is quite a sailor. He has built by hand two of his own sailboats and at one time, he had a plaque on the wall. It said “a ship in harbor is safe. But that's not what ships are made for.” That always stuck with me. Ships are made to go forth from the harbor. To brave the unknown and the waves. To overcome the storms. Not to sit safely at anchor. To go into the chaos.

Our gifts are given to us not to hide even if we think we're keeping them secure, not to keep an anchor in harbor, not to bury deep so they are unchanging. Our gifts as a church are given to us that we might invest it, that we might share it, that we might be willing to see it be transformed. Yes, changed. That others might gather. That our hope and good news might transform lives far beyond the boundaries of this building. That we might be God's body, a part of God's body, not in control or command but serving with love, with hope, with compassion, that each of us might find the sweet spot, that place where our particular combination of gifts fits into the body of Christ and serves the world. One of my favorite theologians, Frederick Buechner, says that your vocation, that which you are created to do, is that place where your deepest joy meets the world's deepest need.” Your deepest joy meets the world's deepest need. You are not supposed to be drained by your work. Yes, sometimes it's hard. But ultimately, you should be more energized by what you do than drained by it. You should find laughter and rest and renewal. Yes, some days are hard and tiring but overall, you should be energized, and your work should be meaningful. It should be meeting the needs of others. If we took a poll this morning on what the world's deepest need is. We'd come up with a lot of different answers. I have five, six, seven, eight things I'd rattle off the top of my head. Where is it that I am particularly equipped to meet one of those needs and not be drained but be energized and renewed.

After many years of running away, I discovered that it was in working as a pastor. It took me far outside my comfort zone, but my gifts combined to meet deep needs. I'll tell you a story about meeting a deep need in just a moment, but I want to refresh our memory of the other part of the lectionary here. We go back to Jesus’ earthly ministry. Just a short snippet from John seven. At the end of one of the great festivals. In this case, the festival of booths. Towards the beginning of Christ's ministry in John's telling. He stands up amidst the festival, on the last, most important day, and he shouts out, “let all who are thirsty come to me.” And then he says, as the Scripture has said, “out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.” The Scriptures exist to help us encounter Christ, not to contain Christ, not to control Christ, or limit Christ, but to help us encounter Christ, and then when we encounter Christ, when we live in Christ, rivers of living water flow from us, not of our power, but because we are part of that greater thing that Christ is doing in the world. When we thirst, we are called to our Savior.

When we encounter fiery trials, we are called to trust in Jesus’ holy name, In God's holy name. We are called to encounter a mystery greater than our understanding. And so beyond our control. We are called to be an Easter people, a Pentecost people. The story of Pentecost, Peter quotes the ancient prophet Joel. Joel spoke in a time of great division among the people. a time of exile, when the people had seen their fondest institutions ripped apart. Joel evokes the language of the last days of blood and fire. Not as a condemnation, but as a message of hope. When things seem to be at their worst, then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. When Joel speaks those words, none of us yet know the name Jesus. The name Jesus is indeed holy. That is not God's holy name. When we mistake our language and our understanding for containing God, we miss the work of the Spirit. Oh, by all means, let us proclaim Jesus. Let us proclaim Christ, the risen one. The crucified one. But let us remember that this is God's gift to us of faith. Jesus reveals God, but our understanding of Jesus does not limits or defines all that God is doing. I want to share with you a poem about Pentecost by another of my favorite theologians, Jan Richardson. She writes,


On the day

when you are wearing

your certainty

like a cloak

and your sureness

goes before you

like a shield

or like a sword,

may the sound

of God’s name

spill from your lips

as you have never

heard it before.

May your knowing

be undone.

May mystery

confound your


May the Divine

rain down

in strange syllables

yet with

an ancient familiarity,

a knowing borne

in the blood,

the ear,

the tongue,

bringing the clarity

that comes

not in stone

or in steel

but in fire,

in flame.

May there come

one searing word:

enough to bare you

to the bone,

enough to set

your heart ablaze,

enough to make you

whole again.

—Jan Richardson

from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

That is Pentecost. It's not just the people, the disciples preach to that are transformed, they are transformed. Late Sunday night, I got a phone call from Mike Cheney, Some of you know him. He's person that runs Konantz Cheney Funeral Home here in town. And I decided to honor one of my boundaries. It was late Sunday. I was off. I did not pick up the phone. Honestly, I had the phone silent. I didn't even realize I'd gotten the call when I got it. I didn't see it for another hour. At that point, I went, I'm not calling him now. I'll just call him first thing in the morning. When I did check the message, he said, I've got kind of an unusual situation. I need your help with. Interesting… So, I called him early Monday morning 8:15, 8:30am . He says, Yeah. I've got this Hindu family. And they just lost a baby. She was stillborn. And they've booked my facility. I'm handling the legal aspects and the embalming and all these things that we have to do and they're basically going to do the service. They have their own rituals and I don't know what it's all about but they said they need a pastor. I said, well, what do they need a pastor to do? He says, I don't really know but they need a pastor. Can you help?

Now, what Mike did not know when he placed that phone call Sunday night…I'm one of the few pastors in Southeast Kansas that has two qualifications that were uniquely met for this moment. One, while it was a different situation, much earlier, Robin and I have experienced the loss of a pregnancy. I have some understanding of what they were going through, not the same at all, but some understanding. I remember those moments.

And two - When I went to seminary at Saint Paul's School of Theology, one of the things nearly every seminary requires, certainly Mainline Seminaries, is a comparative religion class. To study another tradition. And I had Doctor Thangaraj and we studied Hinduism for a few months. Now, I don't understand their faith. I certainly don't understand all the rituals but I've been exposed to some. I had some resources. So, the moment I hung up from the phone call with Mike, I went to my library and I found Doctor Thangaraj's book. It's called “The Crucified Guru.” He grew up in India. His family had been Christian for a couple centuries, and it's been subject to some persecution for that, but he'd grown up immersed in Hindu culture. The dominant tradition of India and his comparative religion class he'd studied Islam. Trying to make sense of his home country and it’s major religions. Eventually, he had migrated here to the US, became a professor, and he was now teaching us about both Hinduism and Christianity.

So I had a background that helped find some common ground, and symbols, and words, and power. They are very, very different from us. Their rituals are quite different. I don't understand a word of their language. But I do understand when we talk about wind and fire and living water and earth. And we do understand each other when we talk about grief and sorrow. I'd had the privilege during my class of attending a memorial service, a gathering of lament, and mourning for one from the community who had passed by. We weren't supposed to be at that. We were supposed to be at some sort of ritual involving fruit, but there been a change in schedule that the professor didn't know about and so we went, and we intruded on this family's grief and they welcomed us in. Because what better time to learn about one another than when we're falling apart? They were so gracious to us… and so, I had heard their funeral chants before and I stood in a sanctuary, a funeral home in Fort Scott, Kansas and my mind was taken back to my experiences. So, I wept when they wept, and I laughed when they laughed, and I clapped when they clapped and then they invited me to say a few words. Because in their tradition, they need a priest to bless the sanctuary, to bless the ceremony, to acknowledge their grief. As Mike told me on the phone when he was talking to the family, “I don't have a Hindu priest available.” They said, “no, no, you don't, that's okay. We understand. We're here in Fort Scott, but we need a pastor…” and I got to be that pastor Tuesday morning.

And then we went out to the grave side with flowers and dirt, and water, and we enacted ancient rituals that spoke powerfully to me in my own grief. In my own loss, And I acknowledge theirs. Pentecost happened!

I was blessed this week with the opportunity to experience Pentecost. To acknowledge our shared humanity, our shared inspired living in God beyond the barriers of our language and tradition. Now, I'm not saying our boundaries don't matter. I'm not saying we all have to use all vocabularies all the time. That's actually God's business, not ours. We need to walk our path. In a few minutes, we'll be dedicating the labyrinth that I and some volunteers have built here. It's my favorite spiritual discipline and I think it's my favorite spiritual discipline because quite frankly, I'm not good at some of this pastor stuff. Particularly sitting still and being quiet and finding the right words. I so often feel inadequate in prayer. But given a single path to a center, an opportunity to literally center myself in God's presence. I don't have to find the words. God gives me the words and the moments and the experiences. Sometimes, I walk a labyrinth and nothing profound happens at all. Sometimes, I walk a labyrinth and I am transformed. That which I am guilty of is forgiven and I am healed. That which I fret about is released and my burdens are lifted. That which I'm not sure what to do about…suddenly, I have plans and words and the energy to be present in situations beyond my understanding. The boundaries matter. Without the boundaries, you don't have a path. But when we become so rigid about the boundaries that we start throwing stones, we destroy the path anyway. All of us are called to journey to the center. We are called to find our path, to walk our journey, to share it with others. Not to define or control theirs. That is what Pentecost is. Thanks be to God. We are equipped. We are sent forth to be God's people in this place and time. Let us be a Pentecost people. Amen.


Let us be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us go forth as a Pentecost people to share the good news, service, and love of Christ with all we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.



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