Monday, September 16, 2019

Re-imagined Parables of Finding and Sacrifice

For many years of my ministry, I have given this flashlight to graduating seniors. Actually what I give is a water bottle filled with things like a thermometer and bandaids and this flashlight. Giving books that are never read, or pens that are easily lost seems like a waste. Instead, I give them tokens for the journey of what comes next. Tokens that are metaphors of faith AND items that meet practical needs - hydration, healing, light. 
I like this particular flashlight for a couple of reasons. It has several ways to enlighten: direct, glow, flash. It is lightweight enough to hold between your teeth when you need your hands free, And/or you can put it on a string. The flashing option is clearly intended for emergencies, And it also has a whistle: not melodic in any way, but good for getting found in a desperate situation. In a moment of unknowing and crisis, a light like this is a precious gift. 

It is easy to hear today’s parables and think of them calmly and cutely. Aw, that lost sheep got found, it was like the Poky Little Puppy - just off doing its own thing not even knowing it was “lost”. We have been misguidedly trained to approach most of the not-obviously-difficult parts of the Gospels as if they were marshmallows. However, the other time we hear these two parables of the Found Coin and the Found Sheep is in Lent, and our Psalm is Lenten, and the lamentation of Jeremiah is one to be heard during Holy Week. Jesus is headed towards Jerusalem, the people he is speaking to know that harsh winds are blowing. The powerful are fearful and lashing out, The poor are getting poorer and ready to rebel. 

All these things have happened before... so let's reimagine the parables a bit. Let us say that the shepherd is instead a delivery driver. She has to deliver so many packages in just so much time, Or she gets docked, and she doesn’t get promoted. The powers that be have set up her digital tracker so that it looks like a light-hearted video game, but it feels like the Hunger Games. And a package gets lost. The package doesn’t care that it is lost. It didn’t lose itself. Taking the time to find the lost package is a sacrifice of time and treasure. However, for the person who was expecting that precious package, The delivery driver's determination is everything. 

As for the Found Coin, imagine instead a struggling young man. He works mostly on a

cash basis and doesn’t have a checking account, like nearly ⅓ of Americans. He keeps much of his not cash money on refillable debit gift cards. Most of his ‘liquid assets’ are right now in 10 $100 cards. And as happens sometimes to the most organized of us - one of those cards goes missing. The card didn’t lose itself, It wasn’t wasted on dames and horses. It is simply missing. So he turns on all the lights, which they really cannot afford Because the electric rate went up again. He disturbs his roommates, who have long shifts at a warehouse, and they need their sleep. Yet he searches and searches - until he finds that one gift card. He is so thrilled about finding it he posts on Twitter and wakes his roommates and invites all his friends to a party to celebrate. Which maybe costs about as much as was held on that card in the first place. And this according to Jesus, is good news. It may not be reasonable, but this is a parable. It could be a wild and crazy other-kingdom kind of what ‘God is like’ metaphor where practicality doesn’t matter nearly as much as truth and love. It makes its point by the unreasonableness. Our owning up to our honest to goodness lostness is what invites us to the grace of God. And the way to grace isn’t found through our perfections, but through our imperfections and the cross and the empty tomb. 

So where are you today? Are you the sheep minding her own business? Are you the shepherd in frantic search? Could you be the grumbling scribe? Or are you a tax collector leaning into the word of love you have been denied? 

There is a long tradition that tries to make every parable a ‘God is like’ one of these human characters' lessons. Taken that way, these parables do highlight interesting adjectives when it comes to God, ones we certainly need: persistence and risk-taking and party-throwing. However, I am not so sure that this is certainly one of those - ‘God is like’ parables - at least not in the most obvious way. If we are the sheep or the coin - why are we lost to God by no action of our own? That doesn’t hold water in our tradition at all. The coin didn’t sin, it didn’t lose itself - and human sin - both our own and those of our communities - have always been the measure of failure and needing to find ourselves again in God’s arms. 

If you take the view that this is a parable of grace, and therefore a parable of death and resurrection, Then you might have to try on a different arrangement of the metaphors. Sheep are the backbone of the ancient Jewish economy and well being. And singled out sheep usually a sacrifice. If you don’t have sheep, then you might have coins to exchange for a dove, and so coins are in their own way Also a token of sacrifice. Repentance is the center of this episode - and it is the human who acts in ways that suggest repentance, all that persistent demanding action to restore what has fallen away. Maybe God is the sheep or the coin that is found and returned to human lives, maybe sheep and coin are images of Jesus himself: precious, lost, sacrifice. 

The beautiful thing about parables is that sometimes many interpretations are true. Finding and re-finding God’s awesome presence can be both frightening and enlightening. Let the celebrations of these parables shine a light on our emptiness, let that be filled with the reality that God’s grace is always present, whether or not we have a grasp on God at this moment, and even when we think we are lost from God. 
It is as if Jesus is saying all the things we pursue to try to fill our God-shaped holes, “Give it up already, God is here, ready to throw a party for you." 

I have gathered for you little bits of precious light: glow-in-the-dark beads. Keep them somewhere you choose, somewhere with some light, But perhaps somewhere that you don’t always notice. When you see them glow, remember found sheep and found coins. And that it is God whose precious light will fill the God-shaped holes in our anxiousness. The gift of grace, the token of trust, has been already given in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Look around, look deep, shine a little light. Persist, adapt, stick together, collaborate, celebrate. This is the way of love, the way of Jesus, the way of God’s grace. 

September 15, 2019
RCL Proper 19 RCL C Track 1

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Why Keep Going Jesus: The Awkwardness of the Incarnation

I have to wonder why the aristocracy keep inviting Jesus to dinner parties. Perhaps
they were curious, and maybe they were hopeful, that this would be the one time he would not be at the center of an awkward occurrence, and Jesus wouldn't make most of the guests feel consciously uncomfortable about their way of life. Why did they keep inviting this rabbi and his companions? Jesus who embraces the lowly and he who is of seemingly inferior birth. 

There is a theory in sociological study of religions that the people who support and nurture the growth of new religous movements are the top 5%. People with enough time and resources to learn and explore when the handed down ways don’t seem to feel effective anymore - think Eat Pray Love. Folks living with back-breaking conditions don’t go looking for nirvana. The gospels suggest this same phenomenon - that it was the well-to-do that supported Jesus’ mission and kept inviting him to visit, feast, teach. 

I also have to wonder why Jesus keeps accepting these invitations to the parties of the elite. One would think that it is hardly his comfort zone. Today’s episode comes to us in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem. That beautiful city that is supposed to be a beacon of our salvation, but time and again slays the truth-tellers and prophets. The city of David polishes its image on the outside and revels in sin and degradation on the inside. Jesus’ vulnerability is only increasing with each step up to Zion. Did he think there was something he could possibly say at these parties - something so movingly truthful, something that he could say in the presence of the powerful that would turn the tide write a new ending? 

There has been a tendency to imply that Jesus’ divinity made him perfect and suave. I don’t know about that. I would expect a fully human and fully divine Jesus to be well, awkward, out of place. For all the curious among each snobbish crowd, there had to have also been strange looks and overheard insulting whispers. Some people don’t notice that stuff, but research suggests, that most people do. 

You might notice if you look closely at the readings insert that the gospel lesson skips a couple of verses. Jesus comes to dinner, something happens, and then most of what we heard. What was jumped over was another healing. One so tremendously similar to last Sunday’s lesson, that I can excuse the lectionary deciders, this time. 

When imagining the scene it is natural for us to imagine tables and chairs, but that isn’t the case in most ancient homes, not even a host in the top 5%. Imagine rugs and cushions and low tables. There were certainly more esteemed seats, usually closer to the host, perhaps even on a higher platform. This is not a plated supper either, so if the host and esteemed guests are served first, then that means that those who are served last may get the bottom of the barrel nibbles. 

We pay attention differently to the people in the box seats, glance at the folks in first class. Egalitarianism and libertarianism haven’t done away with the human tribal tendencies toward valuing pecking orders. 

When I imagine this episode I imagine Jesus sitting along the side of the room. If I were in a similar situation, that is where I would want to be. Able to watch the people, notice who they are and how they interact. Today I imagine the holy voice of our Jeremiah lesson weaving through his mind as he watches the party. Love and disappointment. People jostling for higher seats like we are not all people who are just trying to find our way though the wilderness. 

What idols of self-importance and perfectionism people have set up for themselves instead of setting heart and soul toward the ways of the one Lord God of the universe. Can you even see and hear yourselves - you are making your own enemies, and sometimes that enemy is you?

Today at this sabbath dinner, at some point, Jesus leaves the sidelines and addresses the whole party. Jesus uses both logic and appeals to the ego and tells us to leave things - like the esteem we have become convinced is our salvation - to leave all that fragile detritus at the door. The only way to the peace and assurance we seek is through losing the pointless trivia we focus on and following Jesus all the way to the cross. 

Jesus, with the sacred storyteller of Luke - are telling a parable about living together within a parable about death and resurrection. That bit about moving up a seat - the word is the same as what is used in the resurrection accounts. That word about being the lowest - in the Greek the word is the same as the word for the last things - the final things - the eschaton. Not just the heavenly union with God part, but the judgment part. Judgement isn’t an in or out thing, it is a I love you and was heartbroken by your behavior thing. 

In this lesson we are invited to look from the edges of our lives and the edges of history with the long loving look of God at our “dinner party”. What Jesus is offering us in this parable of a parable at a probably awkward, but beloved, dinner party. What Jesus is inviting us into is that what we are offered in his life and death and resurrection is the big exclamation of ‘Who gives a crud !’ to all our party pecking orders. 
If Jesus was at the edge of the dinner party that is your life - what would he notice? Is his teaching easy to hear or hard to hear today? We cannot lie or cheat or maneuver our way into the top seat. This will only sink us further into sin and darkness. Our relationship with God and each other and our children’s children - all of whom are at this party with us, is one of the most crucial topics these days, one that we cannot just navel-gaze at. 

Fidelity to God and to the future of creation demands we drop our pretenses and attempts to sweep our sinfulness under the carpet. There were some who left that dinner party offended, God loves them, and waits with eager longing for their humility. There were some who left that dinner party feeling intrigued, God loves them and is luring them toward liberation. There were some who left that dinner party feeling the blessing of peaceful satisfaction and resurrected life, God loves them and sends them to share the same for the last, the least and the lost. As the venerable Robert Earl Keen croons - the road goes on forever - and the party never ends. 

Sept 1, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Extreme Adventures in Hyperbole: Carrying the Cross and Assessing our Readiness

I met this guy once in Santa Fe. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, which led to - what do you do and what do you do? I offered my part (minister), and Marco it turns out was an outdoor adventure tour guide. Mostly leading wilderness backpacking trips for tourists through the high desert forests of Northern New Mexico. After a bit of chatter, he said, ‘I have a side project that you might be curious about.’ What he then told me was How he led “premarital extreme adventure weekends”.

What he would do is take three or four couples at a time and they would all travel to a drive-in kind of state park campsite. For that first evening, there was teaching all sorts of wilderness survival skills. How to build a fire, what you can eat, bear repelling strategies, how to make a shelter, etc. They would comfortably camp at the drive-in site for the evening. But then in the morning, he would take each couple to a different spot in the nearby wilderness of the mountains. Marco would give them a bag of very basic and random stuff - shoelaces, gummi bears, a knife, a tin of matches. Then he would leave them there, and return in 24 hours. The couples had to ‘make it work’ for overnight and then some with almost nothing but each other, a gps beacon tracker, and what they had learned. The next day Marco would then pick them up, hopefully at the same spot, and the couples would come back to the drive in camp site to feast and debrief the experience.

I asked him, so what are the results like? He said, I don’t have any real data, and it was chosen by people who are adventurous and/or intentional about their relationship... but the outcome looks like a stop light. About 1/3 come out of the experience saying we got this - ring that bell- green light! Another third come out really clear that they have serious issues and that they should hit the brakes - red lights. And the other third were yellow lights; folks who said - we can see our difficulties more clearly, and we need to work on such things sooner rather than later.

I tell you this story because I think the intention of the premarital extreme adventure and what Jesus is asking all of us today is essentially the same. Are you ready for this? Adoration and idealism and traditions are terrific, but discipleship with Jesus takes so much more than adrenaline and good intentions. Yes, it is a light yoke, a wholehearted resurrection joy. AND It is also a reckoning with humility and a struggle with doubt. God knows how easily we pollyanna the problems, and give up when the moral demands of our commitment to a just and healthy society make us uncomfortable. This question is asked both of the disciples, and of every generation of the Jesus movement since then. Are we prepared to follow Jesus to Jerusalem?

Two of the statements Jesus offers us today are hardly rare sage wisdom. Should you make a plan before you build a building? Yes. Should you count the costs before launching a mission? Yes. The other two statements, however, are dangling the loss of all security through the rejection of your family system, AND suggesting that living in a righteous community in Jesus’ name is to bear the shame of being convicted like a criminal.

I don’t think that Jesus is predicting his fate. His being the perfect love of God made flesh was so against the grain, that it was nearly inevitable that he would be slain by human sin and injustice. Each day of his life in this world was terribly unsafe - much like the lives of so many of the most vulnerable. Manipulatively shameful and excruciating, crucifixion was a regular atrocity in the Roman Empire. The disciples would have known exactly how extreme the example is, well before Holy Week. This lesson whispers to all of us - Is there something that you need to learn - or let go of - before the next stage of your journey with Jesus to and through the cross?

The statement to carry the cross is not a prescription to endure or inflict any type of abuse. Nor is it a trivial inconvenience. That extreme premarital adventure was rather like hyperbole in action. Hyperbole is over exaggerating and intensifying a statement to make the deeper point. The reality of the relationships that Marco's guests were exploring were more complicated than those 40 hours In the wilderness. Our discipleship and lifelong formation Into a life that is the shape of Jesus’ life is a much longer and much more of a multi-hued journey than the striking impact of his gruesome question today. I trust that part of what he is saying is hyperbole: intense exaggeration to make the point.

But I also know from the beginnings of the Jesus movement right down to this day people have chosen Faithfulness and servant leadership that cost them everything. We are in a wilderness, but we are not alone. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are pushing us, are present with us as we pursue new directions to do something creative, truthful, and holy with the sacred Trinity, One God, who is as close as a potter to clay, and a weaver to her cloth.

In the life of the church and the community of disciples, there are moments that resemble that extreme pre-marital adventure. Thank goodness we have the Spirit of God as our guide and are knit together with love and wit and given a bag of Good News. So to rephrase the question Jesus is asking - Who will we be and where will we follow Jesus from here?

September 8, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Monday, August 26, 2019

Three Sunday Morning Questions: Creating Easygoing Holy Conversations

It took a while to name it. Relationships were healthy, interest good, curriculum fun and theologically terrific. But things seemed to move along like lugging a heavy bag up a hill.  What took a while to name was that what many people needed most on a Sunday morning was a break from demands and information and performance of accomplishment. Little league, music lessons, school work, day after day. When being at church at 9 am is the easy day of the week - that reality needs to be cared for. Plus some studies suggest that typical teenage brains are not most apt for complex learning until a bit later anyway. 

There is no way that folks are going to become world-class theological ethicists in an hour a week - no matter how awesome my plans are. What we can offer on a Sunday morning is our best imitation of Jesus: welcome and freedom to check-in or just listen; love mixed with some tickling of the sacred desire. Oh, and food. Our friends know they are hungry more than they are clear that they have questions about who we are and who we are called to be.  

This method is very simple, very intuitive if you think of ministry as a call to gather at the table, and it may not work for every setting or every settings goals.  It worked for me in one setting, and I suspect it could be a gift for others.

In the parish setting, we centered the conversation with large coloring posters (Illustrated Children's Ministry - thank you).  This gives a focus to the gathering and opens up that space of learning while hands are busy.  We colored them together - which was bonding - and about anyone can color.  Sometimes we filled in the spaces with words that were said or patterns.  Perhaps this is why some restaurants cover tables with butcher paper and offer crayons.  It somehow fosters friendly togetherness.  That butcher paper and crayons idea might be all that your friends need.  The nice thing about the posters is that they made colorful art for the walls!

We also equipped the room with a toaster oven and electric kettle (and the freezer with breakfast treats, and hot cocoa mix/tea for the kettle). I tried to get folks to premake and freeze breakfast casseroles, but that idea failed promptly - however , maybe it is a good idea for another setting.

These are cafe style questions; ways to sit together and grow together.  They were written for a wide range of young people, however, I trust that they can be adapted for adult gatherings. I imagine them as life-givers at pub theology meetings, prayer knitters groups, outdoor duty clubs (weed pullers and lawn cutters..).  They could also work as table-toppers at a dinner.

The first is always an on-board silly would you rather type game - expanded a bit. (See above to the right).  Seven items are written up, sometimes with a lead-in question, sometimes no question just there. Then you have two dice and folks roll the dice and have to choose between the two matching numbers, and if a person were to get two of the same number then that is where the x comes in. 

Then we chat through the questions which go from worldly to faith-based. Usually three, sometimes four questions. Sometimes I would let the participants choose the order of the questions.  They tended to foster other questions - the kind that could be answered with a bible dictionary or google.

This can be added to with scripture and/or theological readings and reflection. What I found was that it met people where they were and invited them toward bigger questions to be explored at another time. It is non-demanding and simple and meets a human need which can caress the hesitant into engagement.  

Here are some of the question sets:

  • List the most important rules for life together.
  • Tell about a time when you broke a rule.
  • Why is it hard for some people to choose to follow God's best ways to live?

  • Name your favorite animals.
  • What animal is most like you?
  • List jobs that are important but get no respect.
  • Jesus says he is the good shepherd'.  How does that make you feel?

  • What do you do when you need to 'look busy'?
  • Tell of a time when you should have prepared more than you did.
  • What does God want us to do to be prepared?

  • Name book/movie characters that are good friends.
  • How can friendship be risky?
  • Can you imagine Jesus as a good friend?
  • What is better: one fabulous friend or many alright friends?

  • Tell a story about needing to be silent.
  • How do you feel when it is silent?
  • Is the call to be still and listen well followed?

  • Name books/movies about disasters.
  • Which is scarier: being all alone or in a crowded mob?
  • What good things can come out of accidents?
  • Does God cause bad things to happen?

  • Weather can be lovely and terrifying.  What is your favorite type of weather?
  • How do you respond when others are afraid?
  • Find a bible passage where God (or Jesus) responds to fear.

  • What color can signify LISTEN?
  • Name a favorite sound.
  • Do you listen more or make noise more?
  • How is prayer listening?

  • What does WELCOME taste like?
  • How is welcoming difficult?
  • Find or recall a time when Jesus was welcomed.

  • Tell a brief story about finding something important to you.
  • What makes you say 'whoa'?
  • How do you experience God/Son/Spirit?

  • What are some things for which we should be more grateful?
  • Imagine yourself as another animal.  What would you be and why?
  • What does Jesus give thanks for?

  • What are some things that seem ordinary but are actually special?
  • Name ordinary things that God does amazing things with.
  • Imagine yourself in Jesus' company - what is ordinary and what is special about that scene?

  • List fictional kings and queens.
  • What is hard and what is easy about being a national leader.
  • Why might the church focus on Christ the King this week?  (Last week before Advent)

  • Name tasks you do not want to do.
  • List classic stories with trials and hardships.
  • Name some of the experiences that being 'sunk' might represent.

  • Name songs or music that lifts your spirit.
  • Tell about what you like to eat when you are sick.
  • Do you expect God to help change and heal us?

  • Tell about an object you loved when you were younger.
  • Talk about the pro's & con's of Valentines Day (as it is practiced).
  • How is God's love like and not like romantic love?

  • What natural disasters frightens you the most?
  • Tell about a time when you had to start over.
  • Do you think God gets frightened?

  • Share some of the interesting names you have heard.
  • If you could name yourself what would you choose?
  • Why does how we speak of God matter?

  • Name some rules you think are absurd.
  • Why is it hard to follow the rules?
  • What one command would you add to the top ten?

  • What do you like to do when you have no demands or plans?
  • How is sabbath helpful?
  • Why might God need rest?

  • If life was full of monsters, what would they be?
  • Tell about a time when you conquered a 'wild beast.'
  • How does God help us face the 'monsters' around and within us?

  • Tell about a fantastic party you attended.
  • Who would you like to have a party for?
  • What would a party with Jesus be like?

  • Can you share an outrageous daydream you have?
  • Name three adjectives that you hope people would say about you.
  • How do we know about what God hopes for us?

  • Share about a time when you were surprised.
  • What needs to be challenged to better care for the whole creation?
  • Which does God require more of - right words or right actions?

  • Talk about allowance, chores, 'toothfairy' money etc in your household (currently or as a child).
  • Name some things you know (or can quickly learn) about income inequality.
  • Find a parable Jesus tells that applies to 'money'.  How does it connect to your life?

  • What do you think people like about this neighborhood?
  • Name a few things that strangers do that make you leary.
  • Tell about a time you changed your mind about a place or people.

  • How is risk attractive?
  • Tell about a time you took a risk.
  • Name 3 courageous people in the Bible.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pinwheels for Pentecost

Pinwheels for Pentecost with Fresh Fruits of the Spirit.
I have to confess that I have thought this was super obvious for ages, and am surprised it caused such delight and newness!  Some churches have practices connected to Pentecost involving balloons or kites.  Someone needs to make fireworks happen - but I will let others work on that idea.  I have been serving as an interim minister at a parish without any special Pentecost practices, so this was a chance to make a new one.

For a long long while, I have been adding pinwheels to Godly Play baptism lessons!  Doves are super scriptural imagery, but they don't offer very complex metaphorical teaching. So dove yes, but also a pinwheel.  Pinwheels are colorful and joyful and the basic ruach metaphor is all there - wind or breath move and make energy.  One of the best parts is that sometimes it takes a big breath to move it; other times when outside on a breezy day it just moves.  This pinwheels for Pentecost is teaching about some of the scriptural facets of the Spirit and summery colorful good fun.  I had enough for everyone - and folks took them for people they love.  I also encouraged folks to keep it in a place they will notice it and pray on their word, and even to take it with them on journeys and take photos #flatjesus style.  #pinwheelpentecost ??

Not pinwheels but origami cranes in fire colors on a mobile.
I ordered these multi-colored pinwheels online (Oriental Trading, Amazon...).  Only problem is that the ink on the stems rubbed off easily on hands. There were others that you could assemble yourself.  I also wanted them to be quite colorful (both a statement on diversity and it was Pride weekend (and a purple parish)), but one could order all fire color ones.  There are ways to make them with origami, and you could probably find a way to upcycle something to make them if you planned well enough in advance.  I used to make an origami crane mobile using firey colored magazine pages.

Then using the label function on MSWord I made labels with one word each - various fruits and gifts of the Spirit.  This parish has torch holders on many pews so I used those to hold sets of pinwheels.  Simple, exciting, and theologically complex.  A new way to celebrate and teach Pentecost.  Maybe next year you can try this instead of balloons.

Let's Rumble - Fresh Fruits of the Spirit for Pentecost

I received a message this week from a friend. It was a note of gratefulness and optimism in what for my friend is a time of uncertainty and commotion. One of the things that she said was 'I don't care much for the idea of a puppeteer God', but she is also wondering with awe at some of the unplannable assistance she has recently encountered. I replied that I also didn't care much for the idea of a puppet master God, but I trust deeply in the Spirit of God who is at times luring us forward and other times that same Spirit of God is nudging us from behind, almost always surprising us. 

We invoke the Holy Spirit all the time, but you may have noticed if you've ever bothered to count the lines for each subject in the Nicene Creed, the Spirit of God which is Co-Eternal and co-equal and One with God and Jesus The Holy Spirit gets only one line to itself. In our Gospel lesson today we hear Jesus naming his relationship with the Holy Spirit, which is sometimes translated as Paraclete, and here today in our lesson Advocate. Referring to the Spirit of God in this way is describing the divine activity that is shared with Jesus. Jesus is encouragement and comfort and enlightenment. Both are a companion in times of need but also a radical shaker up of the status quo. The Spirit turns over tables and parties with the ill repute too. 

Just previously in John, Jesus has uttered that sacred poetry speaking of himself as the Way the Truth and the Life. The work of the Spirit of God is to keep the truth of Jesus the Christ present in the community of the believer, and of the barely curious. The Spirit works to make the Good News tangible in ways that might feel like soft rain, or like a bolt of lightning, or occasionally both at the same time. The Spirit is pushing and pulling us, supporting and whispering to us. It is the drive beyond ourselves to become one with the way, truth, and life; and doing so just how Jesus said: love God and your neighbor as much as God loves you. 

I love love love Pentecost and have been thinking lately about Paul’s wonderful lists of fruits and gifts of the Spirit - healing, teaching, speaking... Those are good lists but they are also the quick notes of an author who was often on the run.  There is of course much more that could be said about the multidimensional experiences of the Spirit in community, and voices that were once not as free to speak as they are now about such gifts. So I wondered aloud online: what are some fresh gifts of the Spirit? Through those responses, and some other theological and scriptural and social science exploring, I compiled a list of 100 Fresh Fruits of the Spirit. (It could have been gifts but I serve at the church of the blueberry and close to cranberry bogs - so fruit).  A list of 100 is just a tiny fraction of all the tastes of all the fruits of the Spirit of God. I printed out the list of a hundred and they're on the back table and they're also online on our Facebook page... 

I want to draw your attention to three words in particular. The first is making-space If this is a fruit of the Spirit, it is how the love of God expands in our hearts and in our lives and how it creates a feeling of expansive freedom. The kind of letting go that helps us to release our clutch and grab anxieties, it the clears out the noise that we use to protect ourselves from the challenge of change. Making-space is to flip the channel and to listen to the sighs to deep for words. 

I don't think that the big deal wonder in the episode we heard about Pentecost today is that different languages are spoken. I think the startling thing is that strangers and folks with whom we totally disagree with are heard. When I ponder the gift of making-space I think of this Pentecost wonder, and of the hospitality of Abraham who made space for the three strangers. He welcomed them with the best of the best he had, invited them into his tent and heard a blessing and a message completely unexpected and possibly unreasonable. The Spirit of God is a space maker, and is not contained by our rules and assumptions. 

The second of the 100 I want to raise up is rumbling. Rumbling with the middle of our stories, wrestling with the hard parts of our lives where God is moving and it is uncomfortable. In the Book of Ezekiel there's a vision of a valley of dry bones and the Spirit of God moves over these dry bones and puts on muscle and sinews and flesh.  While this is a mystical metaphorical sketch if you've ever gone through the process of regrowing skin or bone: you know that this is not a painless process. I have experienced that one of the gifts of the Spirit is rumbling. It is keeping on keeping on and being candid in the harshness of life and death and remaining in God’s way in that disorientation. 

The 3rd of the fresh fruits of the Spirit list that I want to draw your attention to is one that caused the most conversation online: transgression. Of course, when you hear transgression you may hear buried within it echoes of the word aggression, and therefore violence. You also hear an echo of the older English translation of the Lord's Prayer where trespasses and transgression and sin are the same. However, when I say transgression I mean something else. 

Here I mean a type of divinely empowered righteousness of stepping over the line. Whatever line it is in pursuit of Justice. I'm thinking of people who sat at lunch counters and were beaten. I'm thinking of people who dare to live the full colors and truths of themselves and are bullied and hated for it. Scripturally I'm thinking of Moses. Because everything in the story of the Exodus is this kind of Spirit supported and led transgression of imperial power. The Spirit of God was an encourager with Moses, not as puppetmaster, but empowering him, filling him with valor, and providing the human and spiritual support that he needed to lead the people of God into a space of freedom. A desert space that is hard and took rumbling, and many years of trial and error that we are still working through. The Spirit is still calling you and me to make space and to rumble and at times to transgress because the kingdom hasn’t come yet and there is still so much grief across the earth.

So I wonder how has the Spirit of God been an agent in your life and agent of energy or nerve or deep listening? Is the Spirit of God something that you acknowledge and listen to? Or do you cover your ears and lock the doors? 

One of those words in the Old Testament that could be translated as Spirit of God is the word Hebrew word ruach. Ruach means wind and breath and energy, and so I send you out today asking you to choose a pinwheel. A pinwheel is an active symbol of wind and breath creating energy. They each have their own various gifts of the Spirit on stickers on them. I want you to take one with you today, but don't go around looking for the word you really want. Approach it a little bit more like a fortune cookie and discover the gift that the Spirit the God could be making space in you for this Pentecost. 

Take it home and put it in a place where you will see it and/or if you are a traveler this summer if you have the room take it with you and dare to take a photo of it and send the image out into the world in celebration of the fruits of the Spirit that have nudged or lured or comforted you. Whatever gift you carry, may it make space for God in our hearts and neighborhood so that we may rumble with injustice and act up for the common good through the way the truth and the life of Jesus Christ. 

So let us pray. 

Healing Sovereign God Overmatch our resistant ears with your transforming speech infiltrate our jadedness and our fatigue. Touch our yearning by your words and through your out loudness draw us closer to you. We are ready to listen. in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer adapted from Walter Bruggeman.

Pentecost RCL C 
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
June 9, 2019

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Fresh Fruits of the Spirit

With Pentecost approaching, I have been conversing and posting and preparing and thinking about the gifts of the Spirit of God.  And thinking how wonderful the list from Paul is and how many are the attributes of the rest of Scripture and tradition, yet also how in my experience - some facets overlooked.  So celebrating living between the cranberry bogs - and the people who are so empowered day in day out to persevere, here are 100 Fresh Fruits of the Spirit.  What fruit and gift of the Spirit rises for you?  Comment below.