Archive for May, 2015

Mary’s Pentecost…and Ours

May 22, 2015

Mary always felt better when she could be with his friends. True, all of them except the young one John had deserted him in the end. But she understood that. She’d been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he’d told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly, he wanted her to be part of them.

She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where Jesus had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble as well. So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days….individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

Now, it was the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover. It had originally been a harvest festival, marking the beginning the offering of the first fruits. She’d always loved its celebration as a child…and so had Jesus. So, she accepted their invitation to be together that morning. There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve (and they were 12 again now, with the addition of Matthias – who had, in any case, never been far from their assembly.)

They had just begun to dance…and sing the Hallel – “Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord” Psalm 113:1 – when the wind picked up. It first whistled and then howled through the streets of the old city. And, even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open. Strangely, there was no rain or fog as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine – bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around their make-shift “altar table.” But they were too caught up in their praise dance to worry about open windows now! And the volume of their singing only increased over the noise of the wind:

“Let the name of the Lord be blessed! Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory! How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all you people!” (Psalm 113-117 passim)

It was their custom, during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to gather the poor and the strangers, as well as the priests and Levites, for the great communal meal which was the highpoint of this great agricultural feast. It was a way of recognizing their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions of life.

And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world. But their racial and ethnic diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day! She had no idea how it happened, but no matter in what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it. Everyone “got it!” All of them from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.

And, when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14) (Pause)

Well, that may not be exactly how it happened on the first Pentecost. But it must have been something like that. Clearly, something momentous must have happened to transform that ragtag group of frightened disciples into missionaries and evangelists.

And that “something” had been promised by Jesus shortly before he died. He had said that something called “the Advocate” would come. He called it the “Spirit of truth” and said that that Spirit would guide them into all the truth. (John 15:26 passim) Their Pentecost experience must have felt something like that.

In fact, Pentecost felt like another story they had been told since they were children — The story from the Prophet Ezekiel about the “dry bones.” At just the point when their religion and their faith was about at its lowest ebb, dry as dust, God was expected to breathe new life into those bones, to raise them up, and to renew the people of God.

“That’s what must be happening today” they must have thought. This must be the time when “our sons and our daughters will prophecy, our young men will see visions, and our old men shall dream dreams. For surely, this day, God has poured out the Holy Spirit…and all of us will be prophets!” (From Acts 2)

Well, dear friends, we’re inheritors of that Pentecost promise. If that rag tag group of frightened disciples had not been turned into missionaries and evangelists, you and I would not be here today. We would not be receiving a new person into our church this morning! So Pentecost is important!
But, let’s not just give thanks for that first Pentecost after Easter. Let’s pray today for a “new Pentecost!”

Let’s pray today for God to pour out that same Holy Spirit upon us here at St. Luke’s… throughout the Diocese of Chicago and The Episcopal Church… upon the members Anglican Communion of which we are a part…and indeed on the over 2 billion Christians around the world who are our sisters and brothers by water and the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for that!

In fact, we’ve already prayed for that – in this morning’s Collect. Let me offer it once again with what I’ve said today as background: “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.

Practice Our Kindness Like An Art

May 4, 2015

Good morning! I’m Christopher Epting now serving as Assisting Bishop here in the Diocese of Chicago thanks to Bishop Lee’s kind invitation. I’m the retired Bishop of Iowa and also served on our Presiding Bishop’s staff in New York as the ecumenical officer for The Episcopal Church for a number of years. It’s a joy to be with you today at Holy Nativity and to be able to confirm (and receive) some new folks into a new stage in their Christian lives and in The Episcopal Church.
As you know, confirmation is the time we “confirm” the vows made on our behalf at Baptism. We’ll be rehearsing those vows and promises in the Baptismal Covenant in a few minutes. When we “receive” people into our church, that usually means they came to us from another Christian communion or denomination and now wish to live out their Christian commitments with us here in The Episcopal Church. And we welcome them all!
I can’t think of a better set of Bible reading for this occasion than the ones we had today on the Sixth Sunday of Easter! We began with the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:44-48) and Peter preparing to baptize his first set of Gentiles into the Christian Church. When we confirm and receive people today, as I said, they are confirming or renewing the vows made at their own baptism, and we will be joining them in that by renewing our own!
In other words, we are continuing in Peter’s footsteps in these sacraments of initiation into the Church. Today’s Psalm then celebrates all that by saying, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1) Indeed God has! And we are the recipients of those “good things.”
Then, all the rest of our Scripture today is about love! In the Collect we prayed, “O God…pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above things may obtain your promises…” In the First Epistle of John we learn that “…everyone who loves the parent (God) loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey (the) commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey (the) commandments.” (I John 5:2) And, finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us what the most important commandment is, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
The Christian faith is all about love! Love of God and love of neighbor. We hear that so often that it doesn’t even make the impact upon us that if ought to make. When I was putting together this sermon last week, I was wracking my brain to come up with a way of describing what that kind of love might look like…in reality…in the real world…where you and I live.
And what should pop up on Facebook but a little reflection by a friend of mine, Bishop Steven Charleston. Steven is a Native American of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, but also a former bishop of Alaska, a seminary professor, and a gifted spiritual writer who puts out a daily Facebook post on how to live the Christian life. This is how he says each Christian should face every new day:
“Here it comes again, another gift of time, another number of hours, in which to do something good. Each day opens the possibility, reveals the opportunity for us to practice our kindness like an art. We do not know who may cross our path or what may suddenly appear before us but we will know what they offer us when they arrive: an invitation from the Spirit to share in the work of creation, our chance to make the connections that link one heart to another, that sets in motion the process of change, that begins to heal an old hurt. This is the first step toward doing what we imagined when we first believed we were called to follow.” (May 4, 2015)
Isn’t that wonderful? What if we woke up every morning realizing that we’ve been given another number of hours to do something good? What if we saw each new day as an opportunity to practice kindness…like an art? What if we looked at every person we come across as an invitation from the Holy Spirit to share in the work of creation by making a connection that links one heart to another…that sets in motion the process of change…that begins to heal an old hurt?
That’s what I would pray for you today. Those who are being confirmed and received today and those of you who have been confirmed so long you can barely remember the experience! I pray that you would begin to see each day as an opportunity to do something good…to take a step toward doing what you imagined when you first believed you were called to follow Christ!
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said that we were to love one another. I think that’s what St. John was writing about when he said that everyone who loves the parent loves the child. It may even be what the Psalmist was thinking when he sang, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
I know it’s what we prayed for as we began this service. So let’s pray for it again:
“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever. Amen.