Sunday, May 30, 2010

How Is the Trinity One?

Sheepscott Community Church May 30, 2010

Proverbs 8: 1-4; 22-31

Romans 5: 1-5

John 16: 12-15

How Is the Trinity One?

On this feast of the Holy Trinity, I am already feeling glutted, stuffed full of the rich food of the liturgical feasts we have been partaking of for weeks now––Easter, Ascension, and last week, Pentecost. And here we are at the table again, for one last feast that begins ordinary time. I think we could use some ordinary time to digest and decompress. But before I invite you into consideration of the uncertainty, the ambiguity, the mystery of what the doctrine of Trinity raises up for consideration today, I want to pass on to you a belated gift for Pentecost that was given to me this past week.

Jon and I have observed, as I imagine you too have observed, that the three nights of killing frost we had a few weeks ago––it was 28 in Whitefield on those days––wreaked havoc with a number of plants and trees. On our property, the oak trees, which are plentiful, suffered the greatest insult to their young and vulnerable leaves. Apparently they were at their most vulnerable, having emerged two weeks early at the invitation of the warm spring temperatures. Those frosts blasted the tender young oak leaves, which now are shriveled and brown. When Jon and I were walking the property on Tuesday, he wondered aloud whether there was some sort of regeneration mechanism that could cause new leaves to be made in this kind of traumatic natural situation, which could potentially threaten the life of the tree.

We looked up close at a low branch on a young tree, and wonderful to behold, there were the young pinkish-greenish-brownish leaves, about half an inch long, pressed against the branch like a baby to its mother’s breast, but clearly on their way to leafing out. Praise the generative and generous Lord of all living things.

Where there are the brown, shriveled remains of the tender, new green leaves killed by frost because they were prematurely out and vulnerable, there is now new growth behind them on the branches. What a cause for rejoicing. The immediate parallel I saw was Pentecostally related. The experiences of our lives, perhaps particularly those early experiences that may have wounded us when we were young and tender and most vulnerable, those experiences can be expressed as the brown and shriveled remains at stems’ ends. A shake by the wind of the same Spirit that blew into and through the upper room on the day of Pentecost can drop those dead remains and enable the sprouting of new life. It is never too late. Never––too––late. I have talked and talked about the Holy Spirit of God, as Paul does in this morning’s reading from Romans, where he says that “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. I hope that that image of hope that the new leaves represents will be gift and blessing to you as it was to me and that you will call it up when you may be feeling hopeless.

Now, back to the feast at hand: Trinity Sunday.

It’s not unusual to hear the word Trinity and its derivative Trinitarian in a religious context set in opposition to unity and Unitarian. The Unitarian affirms the “uni” or oneness of the Godhead, especially as opposed to the orthodox Trinitarian, who affirms three persons in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For myself, I don’t see opposition. Let me share a few thoughts with you, and you can come to your own conclusions, as I’m sure you will without any encouragement from me.

I’m borrowing a page from St. Patrick here, which page you’ve heard me read before. Here we have the three-leafed clover. Our fields are full of them this time of year, as apparently were the fields of Ireland when St. Patrick legendarily strode those fields and hillsides converting Pagans left and right. St. Patrick used this humble clover or shamrock to illustrate that just as there are three leaves or petals on the clover, and yet it is one clover, one plant, just so there can be three distinct persons in one God, the unity and yet the individuality both uncompromised, all partaking of the same root of the Godhead. Seems to me that we have there Trinitarian––three leaves; on one plant––Unitarian. No division, although I’m sure that theologians would be happy to talk far into the night about the real divisions. My vision rather than di-vision of God is as one from many, many from one. Think about one tree with thousands of leaves on it. Leaves as one manifestation of the tree’s essence, preceded by blossoms as another; roots as another. All are different parts, but they make up the same tree, are part of the same tree.

What about us as part of families? Particularly as Westerners, we would never deny our individuality and would fight to defend it, but what about our DNA? Although we are unique individuals, we are directly related to our parents through our DNA. We are one with them, combined genetic copies of them, try as we may to deny it over time.

Here’s another possible way of thinking about the one and the many simultaneously, about how the three persons in God are yet one. Picture the biological process of mitosis, the means by which a cell reproduces itself. The nucleus of a cell divides by stretching the threads thinner and thinner. Those chromosomes come forward, line up in the middle of the cell, and divide there. They duplicate themselves into two complete sets of chromosomes and go to either side of the cell and the cell forms a barrier between them. Then they separate and form two cells, one identical to the other.

Or how about something as simple as a piece of bread? We slice off a piece from the loaf, and it is identical in nutritional value to the rest of the loaf, no less bread than the rest of the loaf is. Think about the loaf of bread we will have for communion next Sunday. All those pieces of bread we have individually in the communion, which sacrament Jesus had the wisdom and foresight to give us, all those pieces make up one loaf of bread. We are one, we become one in Christ, with Christ, when we partake of that loaf of bread that we name, that he named his body. One loaf, many pieces. One clover, three petals. One tree, many leaves thereon. Doesn’t this make the idea of three persons in one God seem accessible?

A certain measure of wisdom is needed to grasp the idea even as it flies from the hand that is doing the grasping. Last Sunday as part of her personal witness about Pentecost, Cyndi Brinkler mentioned that when she asked God to send the Spirit into her life, she asked for the gift of wisdom. In the reading from Proverbs this morning, Ted read the lines that have Wisdom personified speaking: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old. I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. I was there when he set the heavens in place ... when he marked out the foundations of the earth.” This is the wisdom available to Cyndi and to all of us. This is the Spirit of God, identified as Sophia or Wisdom, whom Jesus sends as he promised, and whose coming we celebrated last Sunday.

But that same wisdom was with God from the beginning, was the first of God’s works, as the scripture says. We have the Father Creator, the first petal, if you will, of the clover; Jesus, called the Christ, the second petal or leaf; and the Holy Spirit of wisdom that is the third petal of that same clover, that binds all in a relationship of love––the Trinity. Three leaves or petals, one clover, one shamrock. I had a thought about a four leaf clover. Is there any reason we can’t be the fourth leaf, having received the Spirit of God as we have? Don’t we become one with God in our full and complete union with Jesus through his Spirit? That’s how it currently makes sense to me scripturally as well as experientially.

Did you catch the word relationship in there? The fruit of the loving relationship between the Creator and the Spirit––Jesus, called the Christ. Who else was invited into that relationship was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She was not a bit player in this drama, but a key player, and although there are some who would reduce her significance to her biology, i.e., a human body necessary to bear the would-be divine child, in fact it was her fiat, her,”Let it be done unto me according to thy word,” that enabled the whole drama to go forward. Yes, it was biology, but it was her decision whether to offer her “biology” to God for God’s purposes, which is to say, it was an act of her free will neither forced nor coerced.

According to the story in the birth narrative in Luke, the angel Gabriel told Mary, in response to her question of how she could possibly be a mother when she had never been with a man, the angel told her that the power of the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and thus the child she would bear would be called the Son of God. Whatever you want to do with the birth narrative, go right ahead. Think and believe as you will. What I want to underscore about it is the relationships involved: between God the Father and the Holy Spirit and between that Spirit and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and between Jesus and all of them individually who cooperated in making possible by laying out, by structuring an environment whereby Jesus would be able to respond to the call on his life. I believe that all of our lives are as complicated as Jesus’ life was. It may be his was and is more significant, but we are in the same pattern as he, whose life we have chosen to share, which we do by how we partake of his Spirit, by how we share communion.

Why all this theological, semantic hoo-ha? Why not just let it be, let God be what or who God is? God is ineffable, after all, and can’t finally be captured in language or image. So why do we formulate these theological concepts? What purpose do they serve? I think one purpose of the theologizing behind the doctrine of Trinity is to try to make that ineffable one at least seem somewhat more accessible, to try to filter out some meaning that our human minds can absorb. One way to do that is to think about these aspects of God which we encounter in scripture, as being in relationship, a three-way relationship that we call Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, parallel to family relationships, which we understand. Mother, father, child. A human trinity.

The point is the relationships that the Trinity represents. How love works in and through human relations, with the question of the interaction vis-à-vis divine and human relations always hanging fire in the background.

Who knows how it all finally works out, what it all finally means. As I promised at the beginning, I invited you into the uncertainty, the ambiguity, the mystery that underlies any consideration of the Trinity. We can get caught in the death grip of a belief in only the words of what we’re taught, which teaching may not be informed by the living Spirit of God who teaches us in our deepest selves who that One is as Creativity, Wisdom, and Love, the three persons of the Holy Trinity, which is One.

If I am going to include a poem in a message, I usually offer it at the beginning, but today I’d like to read this at the end, just to stir the pot of questioning and maybe help you to give yourself permission to always question doctrine and theological construct.

I Asked God

from The Palm of Your Hand, by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she call me that sometimes

she said you can do exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I am telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This Is the Day

Sheepscott Community Church May 23, 2010 Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-21

John 14: 8-17, 25-27

This Is the Day

Fifty days after Easter, here we are, balanced on the cusp of extraordinary time––Easter, Ascension, Pentecost––and ordinary time, which will commence next week with Trinity Sunday. Ordinary time lasts until the liturgical year ends in late November, when Advent begins yet again. ‘Round and ‘round the liturgical cycle we go, year after year. What keeps the worship, and perhaps the adventure of it all fresh enough that we keep coming back? The answer is the Spirit of God, the so-called Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost, who entered the vocabularies and thus the imaginations of children of previous generations to confound and frighten and amaze. Not a bad thing, I don’t think. Would that we could recover some of the native awe that is characteristic of children.

On this birthday of the church, we celebrate the renewer of the church, this Spirit of God, named in scripture as Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, the Comforter, the Counselor, the Sanctifier, the Advocate. We celebrate that One’s coming upon the apostles in Jerusalem in fulfillment of the promise of Jesus, “The Advocate whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and will remind you of all that I have told you.” The reference is to the Holy Spirit who brings home to us internally the teaching given externally by Christ.

So, this is the day, folks. The big day, which Jesus promised to us before his death on a cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension. In Buddhism we have the concept of the bodhisattva, the enlightened one who returns to earth to help those still caught in samsara, the daily grind that obscures the light and meaning of life. One way of thinking of Jesus is as a bodhisattva, the embodiment of compassion, who comes back to help the rest of us find our way to where he has gone, and that way is love. The master teacher comes as the Spirit of Love to enable us to find our way back to love.

I think the reaction to that first descent of the Spirit was amazement and confusion in Jerusalem when those who were there from places as diverse as Libya, Rome, Cappadocia, Asia, all heard the apostles speaking in their own languages, their own tongues. As people tried to process what they did not understand, some joked about it, as in, “They have had too much wine!” I think we’ve all seen people try to deal with what they can’t or don’t understand by mocking or ridicule. Others present at that first Pentecost had the curiosity, interest and wonder to ask, “What does this mean?” Perhaps they and their legitimate philosophical offspring, who would ask the same question today if that same event occurred right here in this church, would be in a better position to discover what that event did in fact mean because they had the humility to question it rather than to prematurely name it in a mocking way.

Which reminds me of a story my father told more than once at the dinner table when we were kids. He was an Irish Catholic kid in the early 1900s in a city where people were worshiping in the new––at that time––Pentecostal way, viz., with shouts and crying and God knows what all. These Pentecostal worshippers were called “holy rollers,” and you know when you hear that that it isn’t a complement. My father and his friends would watch through the windows and be amazed at what would go on in these places of worship, so different from the solemn ritual of the Roman Catholic Mass. The story was told to us in a way that would encourage mocking. I know better now, that the Spirit of God draws forth all manner of worshipful expression, and that offered up with a clean heart and without judgment on others is wholly acceptable to God.

Think beyond these Pentecostal worshippers of the early twentieth century to whirling dervishes of Sufism, which is the mystical branch of Islam. You have probably seen pictures of these, their ample skirts––on men and women––flying out around them as they whirled in a kind of religious ecstasy. Or the Shakers for that matter, founded in eighteenth-century England by Mother Ann Lee, who fled to America where her religion took solid root for more than a century. The inspired music of the Shakers and the shuffling group dancing isn’t that far from the dervishes in expression and meaning, or the early Pentecostals for that matter. Shape note singing as well is inspired by that same Spirit. All of these expressions of spiritual activity and worship come from and return to God as praise in different forms. The One God who is myriad in expressions of that One’s self––only look at the natural world with eyes to see–– that One likewise welcomes myriad expressions of worship. How fitting that seems.

The ascetic practices of medieval Christianity, including self-flagellation, protracted fasting, deliberate exposure to extreme temperatures, self-denial of sleep were all attempts to draw down or draw up the Holy Spirit of God more fully into the life of the practitioner. The use of drugs in the twentieth century, including the peyote of those influenced by the writer/visionary Carlos Castenada; of opium specifically in the nineteenth century by such known figures as Coleridge the poet and the writer DeQuincy, were also attempts to open the consciousness wider to the influence of what is severally called the Muse or the Spirit.

All of these means of opening the deeper self, or mind expansion, imitate or touch on what happened spontaneously on Pentecost in fulfillment of Christ’s promise, and in fact, of Joel’s prophesy, which Ernie read as part of the reading from Acts.

“In the last days, God says,/I will pour out my Spirit on all people./Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams./ Even on my servants, both men and women,/I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy,” and so on.

This quotation from Joel, which an inspired Peter spoke to those gathered on that first Pentecost, was not just for that time. I would guess that Peter saw that extraordinary day as the once-and-for-all fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy, and I expect if I had been there I would have thought the same thing. But I have lived long enough to know that when something is true, as with Joel’s prophecy, it is true for all time. The words of the prophet Joel are for us now.

There’s another scripture from the prophet Joel that would make a perfect opening for Cyndi to say what she has to say vis-à-vis the action of he Spirit of God in her life. And that is Joel, chapter 2, verses 25 and 26, which has been one of her favorite scriptures right along.

“I will repay you for the years that the locusts have eaten––the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm––my great army that I have sent among you.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,/ and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,/ who has worked wonders for you;/ never again will my people be shamed.”


It’s fitting that I should follow that with a quotation from the Oswald Chambers book My Utmost for His Highest, which Cyndi gave me as a gift in 1977. In this day’s entry Chambers talks about the graciousness of uncertainty, what I call the adventure of the life that is Christ, that is his Spirit. Chambers notes that certainty is the mark of the commonsense life. Gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. What he is talking about is trusting God from moment to moment to continue to reveal our lives to us even as we’re making them according to the guidance of the One whom I am advocating for today, the One whose coming we are celebrating: the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of Love who is the personified life of God: wise, loving, one.

I mentioned last week that the creeds which formed many of our beliefs are words. It is important to codify and ritualize––that’s what we are doing here this morning, ritual out of belief––but if we become advocates of creeds themselves, something goes a-missing, and that something is the Spirit that gives life, by filling out the words of those creedal statements with meaning. We need to walk in fear of believing only our belief about God rather than living in trust out of faith in that One from moment to moment.

Last Sunday I encouraged you to read the Book of Acts in anticipation of Pentecost, mostly to give you an idea of the extraordinary events that took place in the early church and were recorded for our benefit as much as anything else. To give you an idea of what God as Spirit does in the world. I won’t ask for a show of hands of who actually read Acts because counting isn’t the name of this game, and God being sovereign, we never know how that divine partner of ours in this game is going to play his hand. I alluded earlier to the Pentecostal movement that began in California in 1908, and I want to mention also the Pentecostal revival that began in about 1964 among some college students who decided to pray for the Spirit to come down on them as a group just as it had on the apostles in Jerusalem that day, and by golly it happened. It was at that time and over the next two decades that the Pentecostal or charismatic movement swept through the mainline churches, and by that term I mean Episcopal, Methodist, Congregational, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc. It really was a breath of fresh air and firsthand experience of the power of prayer to bring about what the Spirit of God wants to do in a life. You just heard Cyndi’s testimony.

Just an aside. When I first went to a prayer meeting that was starting at St. Patrick’s Kelly House in Newcastle in 1972, it was one of the quietest two hours I ever spent. Did you ever pray spontaneously with a group of Catholics? Spontaneous Catholics in a worship setting is an oxymoron. But we were in the school of the Spirit, and all of us loosened up over the next few years. More than loosened up. Many of the gifts of the Spirit were in evidence at our prayer meeting. People prayed in tongues, one of our group received the gift of healing which she exercised whenever the need arose. There was prophecy, which in this context is not prediction of future events usually, but words of comfort and instruction for the people of God. There were those who wished we would tighten up and button up again. But today, this great feast of Pentecost, I claim the right to speak as I will, to attest to the truth that God is alive and well and wants more for and from me and you.

I remind you that Cyndi and I will be in church this afternoon from 2 to 4, before the Board’s planning meeting to pray for whatever you want to pray for, yes, but especially for the release of the Holy Spirit of the living God in your life in greater measure. I note that God always comes to us as we are, honoring, not overwhelming our personalities. You need not expect or fear a public emotional breakdown. No. What you can expect is a very deep. quiet coming of the Spirit of God to reveal inwardly in your understanding, thus making it come alive in your life, what Jesus taught outwardly. Amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Filling the Hungry Soul to Overflowing

Sheepscott Community Church May 16, 2010

Acts 1: 1-11

Ephesians 1: 15-23

Luke 24: 44-53

Filling the Hungry Soul to Overflowing

Today is the feast of the Ascension of Jesus to what is commonly called heaven, a post mortem place or state of mind where the soul and spirit of a person continue on after the death of the body. I believe wherever Jesus went, we will one day follow, as he said to his disciples, “Did I not say I was going before you to make a place for you?”

But if he is gone from our sight as he was from the apostles’ sight––and he is gone–– how can we claim that he is with us? It’s a simple answer, really. Ascension, he disappears from sight; Pentecost, he returns, by way of his Spirit, as he promised he would. In the gospel of John, he says to the disciples that it is much better that he goes so he can send his Spirit to guide them––and us––to all truth.

At the time I came to Sheepscott Community Church, Clara Fagan’s son-in-law, Topher Belknap, had just finished working on her house in Jefferson and she was planning a housewarming. Clara invited Susan Winter, the minister who preceded me in this position, to bless the beautiful new house. I don’t know how many of you have had your house blessed, but what it entails is the minister, or priest, or rabbi or imam or well-disposed friend going from room to room in the house and in suitable language invoking the blessing of God in and upon each room. Sometimes there is prayer for cleansing, if needs be, and prayer for the descent of peace and God’s protection over the house and its in habitants. You can see that this is a good thing.

Consider this: Just as Clara invited Susan into her house, honoring the tradition of house blessing, and honoring Susan’s position as a practitioner of that tradition, I propose that next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, you invite the Spirit of Jesus into your house in just the same way. I am talking about the house that is your self, your being, your soul. If you do issue such an invitation, God will send the Spirit of Jesus to enlighten, to render you joyful or peaceful, whichever you need, to open doors of understanding and other doors of all the rooms of your inner house. To air them out, to clean them out, to shine the inextinguishable healing light of God into them.

No more secrets. Fears looked at head on. A depth of understanding of the meaning of God’s presence with us moves in, but not just understanding, God himself. True thing. What a relief to know, not just to believe, but know that there is a God who knows all about us, specks that we are, and loves us completely, just as we are. Hear this, if you hear nothing else I say this morning: We do not have to change for God to love us. His love for us is constant, complete, and eternal and it is what enables us to desire the good, to seek the light rather than the darkness, to love others in our turn as that One loves us.

Today and next Sunday, I am making you an offer you can refuse. As with all things of God, we are free to choose them or to reject them. What I am offering you over these next two weeks is information and nothing less than a way to receive the fullness of the Spirit of Jesus, the living Christ. Not the dead Christ, whom we can picture in our mind’s eye so recently stretched out on a cross on Golgotha, but the living Christ no longer visible to the naked eye, but able to be present to us as surely as he was present to the apostles in those first years of spreading the gospel in obedience to his command.

The feast of Christmas has its joys in the returning light of Christ in the deepest dark of the year, in its family-centered customs and pleasures. The Easter time also has its gamut of emotions from the profound sorrow of Good Friday to the exaltation two days later of the resurrection of the so recently crucified Christ. It is something of a spiritual and emotional roller coaster for those who invest themselves in the mysteries of the Christian religion.

So what about Pentecost? Where does that fit in with this panorama of religious holidays? For my money, without the Spirit, whose coming we invoke, acknowledge, and recognize at Pentecost, Christmas and Easter are little more than believed religious observances with attendant joys, sorrows and pageantry. The Spirit of God charges these religious holidays with meaning we cannot manufacture or buy.

In the creeds many of us grew up with and subscribed to, there is mention of this Spirit whom Jesus promised to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. The Nicene Creed, expanded in 381 The Common Era to include the lines, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son” etc. The inclusion of those lines about the Spirit codifies belief based at least partly on verse 49 of this morning’s gospel, which has Jesus say, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” And they did as he commanded them, and indeed they were later clothed with that power, but that is next week’s gospel. In Acts 1, verse 8, which Cyndi read this morning, the author of Acts has Jesus similarly say, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

And if that event of the coming of the Spirit was codified in the Nicene Creed, it was also ritualized in the sacrament that came to be known as confirmation, which continues under that name in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Anglican traditions. The United Church of Christ Congregational and the United Methodist Church also administer that sacrament, which can be seen as a ritualization of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century religious phenomenon known as sanctification.

One man who experienced that phenomenon was John Wesley, the father of Methodism. In spite of what he felt was his calling to be a missionary and preacher, Wesley was completely ineffective in both areas. The turning point came in a famous experience at a mission in 1738. As he listened to someone reading Luther’s “Preface to the Epistle to the Romans,” ––a text concerning the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ––he wrote that “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” In this experience, Wesley was infused with the love of God. This literally heartwarming assurance brought a new dimension to his faith and his preaching that enabled him in turn to warm the hearts of countless others.

Wesley’s and the apostles’ experience of the Spirit was distinct from baptism by water. According to Christian belief, that first baptism, by water, joins the one baptized with the family of God, related through the life and death, and teachings of Jesus as the Christ. Christ himself gave the example when he received John’s baptism of repentance in the Jordan River. Some believe that that water baptism also washes one clean of so-called original sin, which is an innate tendency toward evil, which some believe we are born with, and also of our own chosen sins, for which we are undeniably responsible. The step of sanctification goes beyond this ritual washing and cleansing. It is a baptism by fire, whereby we are joined more deeply to God, a God whom we are seeking at a level that God knows and which we ourselves are not even necessarily conscious of. That is the baptism of the Spirit, the one whom Jesus told his apostles at the ascension that the Father had promised to send, and whom, Jesus himself promised as power from on high. That power, which is the presence of God “satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with good things.” Psalm 107, verse 9.

A legitimate question arises from what I said about the sacrament of confirmation. If we have already received that sacrament, why would we need this further action, this infilling, infusion, sanctification, or quickening of the Holy Spirit? This is all history anyway, is it not? Yes, it is history, as we read about it in the scripture, but the Good News is that it is living history. The coming of the Holy Spirit in power is as much for us now as it was for the apostles and new believers in the first century. Most who receive the sacrament of confirmation are usually from 13-16 years of age. The rite of passage it represents is like the bar or bat mitzvah in Judaism: the young person is inducted into the church or the synagogue and is expected to take his or her place as a responsible member of that worshipping body.

Realistically speaking––but with exceptions; always there are exceptions––the rite of confirmation has become just that: a rite, without any observable changes in the one inducted. Where is the fire? Where is the excitement that we might expect to attend a visitation by the personified power of love in the Trinity? I think what’s missing is knowledge about Pentecost and what really happened, and it’s all there in Scripture, in the Acts of the Apostles. Think about reading that this week before next Sunday. It’s found in your bible after the gospel of John. Expect. Believe in the activity of the Spirit of God in the world now. In people’s lives now.

Another thing about the sacrament of confirmation and where it falls developmentally for kids that age, between about 13 and 16 is that they are just embarking on their adolescent search for their own identity and meaning. No doubt there is transmission of the Spirit in the rite and ceremonies of confirmation, and that Spirit will help those confirmed in their search for identity and meaning. But in fact it is usually some ways down the road, maybe late 20s, maybe the 30s, even the 40s, and later for some, before life has made it clear that there must be more meaning in that life than simply searching out our selves in the adolescent manner. It may be a death in the family, a divorce, a job loss, an unresolved argument between old friends, life-changing sickness––the possibilities are as numerous as the people whose lives are affected.

Then do we come with longing and hunger for God. And then does God satisfy that longing and hunger as only God can with this same Spirit, whom we only then begin to know as we ourselves have been known right along. How many times have I talked about us surrendering our lives more deeply to God? It seems to me it’s every week. You must tire of that, as in, What do you want? What do you expect? I’m doing all I can with what I have right now, time wise and resources-wise. Back off. Give me a break from this surrender talk.

No. I won’t back off because I don’t think there is anything more important I can say to you than that it is not all up to you. By that I mean making your life work as it is, which seems difficult and exhausting sometimes, and unrewarding, as in, How can I get up one more day and go to work? What is it all for? When work and family issues and civic and social responsibilities seem about to overwhelm us, it is into just that scenario that the Spirit of God, as that One came on Pentecost, can come and change everything. Well, not everything. The circumstances themselves may not change, but the Spirit changes how we view them and lets us know that God knows and we are not alone in them. That is almost everything.

Others of us are quite content with our lives as they are. Perhaps retired or working part-time, we feel pretty well set, as involved as we want to be with family, volunteering occasionally for a cause we are interested in, continuing with study in some area. These are all good things that constitute the good life. What more can there be? I can only say that with God there is always more. Every day is an adventure with Christ, when the Spirit is the moving force.

And when you have a whole community whose members know they are not alone, who are becoming increasingly enlightened, who are sharing a Spirit of concern and caring, there is the kingdom on earth, there is heaven on earth, the Body of Christ recognizing its own image in the mirror of another soul. That is life being lived to its fullest, not for itself, but indeed with and for others in a healthy way. I believe this is what Pentecost makes possible. If you are so inclined, prepare prayerfully for the feast of Pentecost next Sunday. I recommend that you search out in your own prayer time, your own way, what the Spirit of God wants for you. To be open and humble before God, asking for the fullness of his Spirit, for the fullness of life and how God would have you live it.

Next week I will talk about the life and gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit. Cyndi Brinkler, who has been a friend for 35 years and who has experienced this long walk in the footsteps of Christ with me, will share a bit about her walk, so you can have a sense of the hands-on application of the Spirit of God and what that one can do in a life. What you were not ready for all those years ago when you were confirmed, you may be ready for and desirous of now.

Next Sunday the Board is having a second planning meeting with Ted from 4-6 p.m.

Before that planning meeting, from 2 to 4, Cyndi Brinkler and I will be available here in the church to pray with anyone who wants the release of the Spirit of God in his or her life, who wants more of the life of God. Anyone who has that kind of spiritual and existential courage to dare to ask God for his Spirit will only receive a yes. I can’t predict how that will manifest, but it will be entirely personalized because God knows who you are and what you need.

I’d like to conclude with a quotation from this morning’s reading from Ephesians. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Amen.