Monday, June 10, 2019

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

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