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A Trinitarian Perspective: The Holy Spirit, Changing Us With Love (Pentecost, June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-21; 1Cor 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The Day of Pentecost is, for the church, one of the “Big Three Holidays,” right up there with Christmas and Easter. One reason it doesn’t get the publicity is that Hallmark and big retailers haven’t figured out how to make a profit off of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost has been celebrated by Jews forever. It means “50,” and was celebrated 50 days after Passover. It’s also called in the Jewish faith the Festival of Weeks, celebrated as a harvest festival. Not a big decoration theme for the mall.

More than retailers and TV specials, Pentecost doesn’t get the press of Easter and Christmas because it is about the Holy Spirit. And we really don’t get the Holy Spirit. So we don’t make Pentecost a big deal.

But it is a big deal. It’s all about the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, and that in John, Jesus actually breathes into us. The Holy Spirit. The left-over member of the Trinity. The one we don’t really know what to do with. The aspect of God we ignore because we can’t really define. But if we don’t know the Holy Spirit, how can we claim to know God?

We are more comfortable with God the Father, the Creator. We know who that is and what that role is. Creator. When we pray, usually this is who we envision, isn’t it? Isn’t is usually God the Father we imagine answers our prayers? But this is also a God who seems far off, remote, waiting for us to call upon him (always “him”!). And, we believe it is God the Father who comes down and intervenes in the world to answer our prayers. If we have enough faith, we are told. For some reason, we seem to be OK with a god like that.

Or Jesus, God the Son is OK too. We understand him as a historical figure who “died for our sins.” 2000 years ago, he died, rose, and ascended. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, which separates our prayers from people of other faiths, I guess. Jesus is a good person, a moral guide, but also often far off—at least in history. We use his name with respect, and claim to follow him. But too often following him simply means being a good person. For some reason, we seem to be OK with that.

But the Holy Spirit is different. The Holy Spirit is God present here and now, with real people in real situations. The Holy Spirit elicits the heart of Christ from within us.

When we express compassion, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we love someone, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are generous, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are moved by beautiful music or art, that is God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we become angry at an injustice perpetrated on someone who is weak or vulnerable, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if we have more problems with the Holy Spirit because we want to put parameters around the Spirit, the same way we do with he Father and the Son. That may well be part of the issue for us—the Spirit cannot be controlled or influenced! Instead, the Spirit influences us! And that isn’t always comfortable.

If we’re OK thinking of God as a far-off entity that exists outside of us, the Holy Spirit can be unsettling. Because the Holy Spirit is God all up in our lives, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. If we give in to that, well, who knows what could happen?! We could, you know, change!

Yet that’s what the Holy Spirit does within us. I know a woman who all her life had maintained pretty “traditional” views on marriage and family. She used obscure Bible verses she saw on TV to feel better about her assumption of marriage being between a man and a woman. She was religious, but for her, God was “out there” somewhere, watching to make sure his people didn’t commit too many sins and went to church. Her parents and her circle of religious friends didn’t make a big deal about it, but said homosexuality was a sin. So she just held the same position her parents held without ever really thinking about it.

Then one day her daughter pulled her aside and said they needed to talk. They were close, so the woman knew something significant was up. “I’m gay,” her daughter told her. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years, but was afraid you would kick me out or quit loving me.”

The woman was shocked. She hadn’t even thought about this possibility. She did two wise things, however. She told her daughter that nothing could make her stop loving her. And she asked for a few days to process this news.

During those few days, she prayed, she cried, she shouted, she researched, and she prayed some more. But as confused as she was, the overriding position she kept coming back to was that this was her daughter and she loved her with all her heart. Nothing could change that.

Her daughter’s sexual orientation didn’t seem like such a big deal after that. It was love that mattered. And love was all that mattered. So she found that her position on homosexuality changed. God present: the Holy Spirit moved her with love to change. She didn’t ask for it or hope for it. God present: the Holy Spirit, blew in and made God’s love real—with real people in real situations.

With the Holy Spirit, God can no longer be far off in heaven answering some prayers and ignoring others. With the Holy Spirit, God is here, right now, messing with us. With the Holy Spirit, the nature—the heart—of God becomes real and connects inside us. And we are changed by the heart of God to be more like Christ. With the Holy Spirit, none of us are safe, because with the Holy Spirit, God’s love, grace, compassion, forgiveness and justice become real in our lives, with real faces on real people in real life. With the Holy Spirit, you never know what’s going to happen. Hang on. Happy Pentecost.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Admitting There’s Room for Growth (Ash Wednesday, 2/10/16)

ash-wednesdayAsh Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. . . . 16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we pray for things. Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in ways that look compassionate and merciful? Are our lives different as our relationship with God grows? Is God’s vision of compassion and love in the world more realized by us than it was a year ago?

In other words, are we actually growing in our discipleship? Are we discovering more about Jesus and God’s vision for the world? Have there been any changes in our lives, our attitudes, our activities to reflect that growth?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to begin a deliberate journey of growth in our faith and our discipleship. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our commitment to change, to grow, to more fully join the journey. In other words, a sign of repentance.

This is more than just being sorry for our sins so God will love us and we can go to heaven when we die. No, repentance literally means “to change direction.” Repentance is actually more about changing our minds, changing our lives, changing our direction as people committed to God’s ways revealed in Christ.

The gospel text makes clear to us that we don’t show this sign of repentance—of change—to impress anyone. We don’t wear this ashen cross proudly, but in honest humility. This is a sign to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that LCM is committing ourselves to God’s compassion and justice in the world. So much so that we are willing to begin a journey of change in our our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely.

Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of life and peace that he was willing to be killed for it. Just as the cross is a symbol of that commitment by Jesus to love and mercy and grace, the crosses on our foreheads are a symbol of our commitment to that same vision for the world.

So our first step in this Lenten journey tonight centers on the real, biblical meaning of repentance. That first step is committing to a change in our lives. This is repentance, a willingness to change and to grow.

We enter into Lent tonight. A journey of the cross. A time to deliberately grow in our discipleship. And we begin by using language and symbols of repentance. We begin with a commitment to change.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Perspective and Action (March 23, 2014)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Acts 10:23-33; Acts 17:19-21

Do you remember the first time, as an adult, you went into an elementary school bathroom? When you were little, everything normal sized, but now everything is so small? When did the porcelain shrink? You gain a new perspective as an adult.

When I moved from Salt Lake City to St. Paul, MN, I was warned about the cold there. “I have a coat, ” I said. “How cold can it be?” I gained a new perspective very quickly.

When my children were small, I’d talk with parents of teenagers and think, “Just tell them what they should do. Reward them if they do it, and punish them if they don’t. How hard can that be?” Then my kids became teenagers. Teenagers are wonderful, just not the same as young kids. It’s an experience that will gain you a new perspective.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

Peter in Acts 10 understood God’s love and God’s law. He knew who was in and who was out. It made sense. And then this whole thing sheet thing happened with clean and unclean animals and God telling him that profane and holy aren’t as clear-cut as he thought. It was an experience that changed his perspective. And with a new perspective that God loves people who shouldn’t be loved, he is doing things differently.

So when three men sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius (obviously not a Jew) come to him, he goes to Joppa with them “without objection.” Only after he gets to Cornelius’ house does he ask, “Why did you send for me?”

The Athenians in Acts 17 recognize that what Paul is teaching is new. They don’t have a frame of reference for this information about someone named Jesus being raised from the dead. So wanting a new perspective, they ask to know more.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

So, I’m wondering what new perspectives have we gained from God? As a result of an spiritual experience, how do we do something differently? What has God shown us that would cause us to “get and go without objection?”

Let me give you some examples:

As a result of spending time with these chapters in Acts as well as some others, passages like “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” my perspective on our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers changed. Those who God has made clean I can’t call unclean. My perspective on immigration was clarified so that it doesn’t matter to me whether someone has proper documentation or not. These are just more people that God loves and should be treated exactly that way.

As  result of new perspectives, I do things differently surrounding those two issues, and many others. When God shows us something that changes our perspective, we do things differently.

One more perspective that may be changing as a result of an experience with God. What if holy communion wasn’t for the baptized, but was the responsibility of  the baptized to provide it to the world? If we trust Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, bringing forgiveness and life, why aren’t we taking this meal, as a church, to the park, the shopping center, the coffee shop?

And what about LCM? How has our congregational perspective been changed by an encounter with God that has caused us to do things differently?

I believe God is speaking to us, showing us that God is active in our neighborhood outside the church building. And that we are most fully the church not when we’re in here, but when we’re out there–with God. That’s why we have embraced ministries like Hope, Green Mountain Elementary Homework Helpers, Abrazos a Molholm. That’s why we have so many people from here who are joining God at The Action Center, with Habitat for Humanity, and all the others that we’ll be able to see and celebrate on April 27th right here on our Celebration Sunday.

God shows us God’s work, and our perspective changes. And we end up considering possibilities like mentoring Green Mountain and Bear Creek High School students in career possibilities.

Peter’s perspective was changed by a vision from God. As a result, a Gentile and his household were baptized into Christ.

God comes to you now in love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Let that sink in. As forgiven people, experiencing unconditional love, how might you see the world differently? With these new eyes touched by grace, new ears touched by forgiveness, a new perspective from God, how will you do things differently now?

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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