RISK HOPE

Hebrews 10:19-25

Jeff Davidson

Ming, one of our cats, and I have a ritual. When I get up I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, take a shower, and get dressed. When I come out of the bathroom to get dressed, Ming lays down in the middle of the floor, between me and my dresser, and exposes his tummy. I tell him that he’s a good boy and that he has a fine tummy, and I lean down and give him a tummy rub. Every day.

I don’t remember when this started. Ming has always been a friendly cat, and when we brought him home from the rescue group he’d been with he adapted pretty quickly, but I just don’t remember when the ritual started. Whenever it began, though, there was for Ming an element of risk and an element of hope.

Cats don’t typically expose their most vulnerable parts. Cats don’t just routinely roll over and say “Here’s my belly. Do with it what you will.” I’m sure Ming knew me well enough by then to be reasonably sure that I wouldn’t kick him, at least not on purpose, but he didn’t know for sure. The first time he did it, whenever it was, there was an element of risk that I might hurt him or take advantage of him in some way.

There was also an element of hope. Ming wanted his tummy rubbed. The first time he laid down and exposed his belly, his hope was that I would rub it. I might have kicked him, I might have ignored him, our other cat might have jumped him – there were some possible negatives. But Ming’s hope that I would rub his belly outweighed the risks involved. (Ming’s a big boy.  His belly outweighs a lot of things.)

There were risk and hope involved for me as well. Not as much risk as for Ming, but there was risk nevertheless. When they play cats, like to grab whatever they’re playing with by their front paws and scratch it with their back paws. This is what they do with birds and things that they catch in the wild. I was running the risk that Ming would grab me and scratch my arm to pieces. He’s done that before in other contexts. It was a real risk.

But I hoped that I would get to rub his tummy, that he would purr really loud, that we would have a nice bonding moment, and that it would be a nice way to start the day. And for both Ming and I, our risks paid off and our hopes came true. And now we repeat the ritual every day.

“Risk Hope” was this year’s Annual Conference theme. We don’t always think about risk and hope going together, but they do. Think back to the Exodus, the children of God leaving behind their slavery in Egypt. The armies of Egypt are behind them. The Red Sea is in front of them. The Israelites are trapped. And God tells Moses to stretch out his hand, and the sea will be parted.

Now there’s not a lot of risk here for Moses. If he stretches out his hand and nothing happens, they’re no worse off than they were before. So he stretches out his hand – and the sea parts! Exodus 14 verses 21 and 22: Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”

Now there wasn’t a lot of risk for Moses, but how about that first Israelite who stepped onto the newly dry land? That man or woman was risking hope. They were hoping that this wasn’t an optical illusion of some kind. They were hoping that the water would stay parted, that the land would stay dry. They were hoping that God wouldn’t change his mind.

To have this hope is one thing. To act on that hope, to risk that the hope is real and well-founded, is another. I don’t know how long it took, but eventually someone risked their hope, someone acted and stepped out into the parted sea. Eventually someone else did, and then another and then another, until finally all were safe on the other shore.

Hebrews 10 verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” Hold fast to our confession of hope. Do we do that? Do we risk our hope? Do we live in such a way that we must truly rely on our hope in God? Or is our hope, our faith, something that maybe informs our lives or our politics or something, but doesn’t really require risk on our part?

At Annual Conference we heard from the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, the Church of the Brethren in Haiti, the Church of the Brethren in Spain, the Church of the Brethren in Brazil, and other international guests. As I listened to them I was struck once again by the very real risk that hope requires in many of these settings. In parts of the world where Brethren and other Christians literally risk their lives and their livelihoods, or risk the mockery and disapproval of a very secular society, what do I risk here in the United States?

This is something that I come back to a lot, and I don’t know that I have a lot of answers. I don’t mean to give a hard time to American Christians and I don’t mean to sound judgmental; I’m sure we all risk a variety of things in a variety of ways. I find myself wondering if I really risk hope in God, if I really risk acting on my faith in Jesus in all the ways and places that I could. I say I’m wondering but I’m not really wondering – I know that I don’t. I guess what I’m wondering is where and how am I called to risk? Where and how am I called to act on my faith, to believe that God will sustain me, to trust that Jesus really is my savior in this world and in the next? I don’t always know the answers, so I keep asking myself the question.

I don’t always know the answers, but I know what the Bible says. “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let us as a congregation and as a denomination sing together, pray together, worship together, talk together, discern together, and risk hope together. Amen.

O PRISONERS OF HOPE

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Zechariah 9:9-12, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Nate Hosler

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.

O prisoners of hope! You will likely recognize the Messianic strain. This riding triumphant and victorious—humble and riding a donkey shows up again. Matthew 21 references the first part as Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphant and humble on a donkey in fulfillment. The hope of the prisoners of hope is pinned on him. Jesus, the Messiah, the revelation of God, rides in ushering the kingdom of God, which is not the same as others. “He shall command peace to the nations…Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.” Jesus is the revelation of God. The revelation of God changes things.

When standing on the Mt of Olives, the direction from which Jesus road this donkey one can see a gate blocked shut. The Ottomans recognized that the entrance of the Anointed One, the Messiah, would be through the Golden Gate, and it is thought that for this reason it was sealed for the third and final time in 1541. This is taking the revelation seriously—perhaps not appropriately, but seriously.

Sarah dies at 127 years old. Abraham wants to bury her and there is a back and forth about him paying or not paying for the land. In the end, he pays and buries her in Hebron. This place is still revered as the “Tomb of the Patriarchs” – This site has been a place of struggle. The structure is a divided worship space. Massacre of worshippers in of 1994. Occupation of Hebron from the Six-Days war of ’67.  Christian Peacemaker Teams have been working there for years. History, particularly religious history—the sites of revelation—continue weigh down on the land.

Abraham then calls a servant and says go get my son a wife but from among our people—which, since he followed God’s call to go from his homeland, is not just down the street. The servant loads camels, which are either included in the text anachronistically, or were some of the earlier domesticated camels (At least according to the archeological notes in our Archeological Bible) and sets out on his mission.

There are several verses that would seem to fit a particular pious/romantic sort of genre. A sampling of these verses:

“ I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’

15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, … coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very fair to look upon..” 

The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.”

 While describing the passage at dinner to our neighbor Fabian on Friday—Jenn described the servant’s asking for water and Rebekah’s response—Fabian, nearly unprompted, noted that it sounded rather suggestive.  Our college had version of this. At least the joke was that people went there to find a spouse and since everyone was there training for ministry there was a particular way of talking. Now of course, many of you know that Jenn and I met almost immediately and even got married while still in college—so given this reputation and how it went for us, we (at least for a while) felt the need to say that this stereotype was not us. For one, when I came to school I was dating someone back in Pennsylvania. She even stayed in Jenn’s room while when she came for a visit the first semester. Additionally, upon arriving on campus I was feeling rather grumpy about needing to meet an entirely new group of people after shifting communities about 4 times in the two years between high school and college (being an introvert and having lived in the same spot my entire life up until this point made these moves quite tiresome).

So, my first (joke) point is–Pious romanticism is biblical-what I hear in this passage in some way  feels like a pick-up line or TV drama but inflected through a very particular spiritual vocabular. This was the joke—which had some truth in it from college—so instead of a questionable line about ___it was about prowess in biblical interpretation or perhaps instead of a cheesy line about destiny it is about God intending for us to be together. More generally (and more seriously), however, the narrative does two things. It gets us further along the journey of God fulfilling the promise to Abraham and Sarah that they will be made a nation (ya’ gotta have babies) and more specifically God revealing and leading the way into finding a wife for Isaac—which is the next step in this promise after the birth of Isaac. God reveals the way forward.

God reveals the way.

God reveals the way but we don’t always (often?) hear it.

Our Matthew passage has always felt literarily pleasant or at least brings up a nice if somewhat cryptic mental image. A group of children in a market place fluting and urging to dance. It would seem odd that I’d never quite focused on it but as I focused on it this week the very simple teaching became clear. The passage reads,

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

The response of the hearers did not match. To fluting or piping one dances. To dirging one mourns. The next section lists cities where teaching happened, noting that even the most infamous example of Sodom and Gommorah (which were burned by fire from heaven for not listening in Genesis 19), saying that if the things done in these cities were done there, they would have listened and repented.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 

God reveals.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus is the revelation of God. God reveals. This is not general insight. But, as seen in Genesis, it is not necessarily only in some sort of esoteric subject matter. There have been a number of books and articles written in the past 10 (?) years considering the creative process. Though I was quite interested, I was apparently never quite interested enough to get around to reading any of the actual books but merely hit a few articles. What seemed to be a central debate or fascination was the possibility that there was either something inside certain people (say a type of creative genius) or that there was a type of “secret” trick to having a sudden flash of insight versus those who asserted that the “insight” came from focusing on a problem or subject matter for a long time. Though the insight might come in a particular moment it is because one has become intimately connected to the situation, subject, or problem.

There is a fine line between persisting through challenges and stubbornly not changing or stopping long after this or that is no longer viable, feasible, or a good idea. Of course, the insight might be seeing that in fact hope is not lost. Or recognizing that we are now just burning our last bit of resource. In a movie, it would be the hero pushing through and in the end, being victorious—in real life this might just be failure.

But what does the Spirit factor into this? How does God’s revealing play into this?

A few weeks ago Micah suggested and then invited those who take part in planning worship to meet to discuss and think about next steps as a church. We met on a Saturday morning and I was not feeling it. He rightly noted that there had been some definite changes in the past months and that though we have been getting to a more stable place it seemed critical to take a step back and reassess. I went into it feeling tired and discouraged. Afterwards I felt a distinct lightness of spirit.

On Tuesday night we embarked on a heavy conversation about the future of the soup kitchen. I began feeling extremely tired and discouraged. Again, as we finished, I felt a distinct lightness of being. Was this the Spirit nudging? Was it the simply the prospect of relief from something or a decision that creates anxiety? Was it clarity after looking a “problem” for a long while? In Zechariah, the coming of the humble king—who we now know as Jesus—reveals. In Genesis, the servant of Abraham is sent to find a wife for Isaac, and Rebekah is revealed through her answer to his request for water. In Matthew Jesus exhorts paying attention and responding rightly to the revelation of God. God reveals. Let us wait and listen. The passage concludes,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

FROM DEATH TO LIFE

 

God told Abraham to take his son up to the mountain top. He told Abraham to take wood, and fire. He told him to kill Isaac and burn his body as an offering. This was the command of the Lord, and it’s clear that Abraham would have gone through with it.

If you google “Isaac and Abraham sacrifice” and do an image search, there’s no shortage of paintings and drawings. Renaissance art is full of paintings depicting this scene, the moment that Abraham lifted the knife to take the life of his son, only to have God intervene.

Some of this art is better than others. The best of these images focus on the drama unfolding between Abraham and his son. Isaac, laid out on the pyre. Abraham, holding the knife and gripping his son by the back of the neck. There must have been a struggle.

Our text this morning leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s not very detailed, and you can read it a lot of different ways. It’s possible to read this story and imagine Isaac as innocently confused, but obedient. His father told him to lay down on the wood, so he did. His father pulled out the knife to take his life, and Isaac accepted it. Abraham, for his part, conducted himself with simple obedience and calm. He didn’t start crying, he didn’t lose control. He didn’t shout or lay hands on Isaac. He just obeyed the command of God, and so did his son.

But I know that’s a lie. Or, at least, I hope it is. Because if that were true, if Abraham was psychologically prepared to murder his son with no displays of emotional conflict, that would make him something less than human. And Isaac – what young man, what human being accepts a violent death at the hands of a loved one without a struggle? Without horror? Without desperate cries for mercy and tears of disbelief?

There are images that present Isaac and Abraham as dutiful pawns in God’s strange chess game. In these paintings, the two of them are placid, serene, looking only to God.

I know that these images must be false. I can feel it in my bones. When I look at these peaceful depictions of this violent event, there’s no soul, no humanity. Abraham becomes a monster, and Isaac a bovine creature with no real human spark. Lost is the Abraham who argued with God over the fate of Sodom. He convinced God to spare the city for the sake of just ten righteous people. Couldn’t he be bothered to argue for the life of his own child?

And not just any child. The heir of the promise. This was the child that God had promised Abraham for decades. The miraculous boy who was born when his parents were far beyond the age of child-bearing. Isaac was the living proof of God’s faithfulness – his intention to make Abraham into a great nation, to make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Isaac was the tangible substance of God’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah.

But more important than any of this, Isaac was Abraham’s little boy. He wasn’t just a means to an end. He was a real person, a child. And Abraham loved him.

I think of my son, George. I think of what it would mean to me if I thought God was asking me to kill my son and burn his body. Forget the promise. Forget great nations and offspring as numerous as the stars. This is my son, whom I love. I’d rather die than do to George what God told Abraham to do to Isaac.

What kind of psychopath says “yes” to a request like that? But more importantly, what kind of God would ever make such a request?

And for what? To test Abraham’s faith? To be sure that he was really committed? What kind of friend would test a relationship like that, much less the most high God, creator of the universe?

There’s a long tradition of not taking this story literally. And that’s good. Because honestly, it’s just too horrifying. Who could worship a God like that?

So this morning, I want to continue in that tradition. I want to invite us to experience this story as an allegory, as a narrative that opens up a moral dimension to us that is simply not accessible through anything less than a shocking but true story.

None of this diminishes the horror of the story. What God asks of Abraham is unfathomable. But in this ancient horror, we are also given a mirror into our own spiritual condition. We can find ourselves in the experience of Abraham, and that of Isaac. We can recognize in them our own challenges, our doubts and fears. The existential dread that stalks us.

When I heard this story, I’m forced to ask myself: What does it mean to sacrifice my Isaac? Because again, for the purposes of this allegory, Isaac is not merely a beloved child. He is the instrument of God’s promise. He represents everything that Abraham understands about who God is and how he is in relationship with God. Isaac is the most fundamentally important thing in Abraham’s life. Without Isaac, Abraham has nothing to hold onto, nothing to assure him that God really cares for him and has a plan for him.

So for God to demand that Abraham sacrifice Isaac – well, it just doesn’t compute. It’s like a snake eating its own tail. How can God ask Abraham to end the very life that demonstrates their relationship? It’s as if a husband said to his wife, “if you really love me, you’ll throw away your wedding ring and move to another city.” This request doesn’t make any sense.

But the incomprehensibility of God’s request is exactly what makes it so important. When God tells Abraham to kill his son Isaac, he’s essentially asking Abraham this: “Do you trust me enough to let go of everything in this world that connects us? Do you love me more than my gifts, more than my promises, more than my presence in your life?”

That’s pretty deep. Because to be honest, most of the time, I want God for his gifts. I want him for his presence and power in my life. I want him because he helps give my life meaning and purpose, a sense of perspective beyond myself.

But that’s not what God wants. The kind of relationship that God desires with you and me doesn’t hinge on reasons or benefits, outcomes or external validation. The relationship that God is seeking with you and me is one that stands beyond all incentives or proofs. It’s the relationship that Jesus demonstrated when he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The story of Abraham and Isaac has often been taken as an analogy for Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross, in submission to God’s will. In this view, God is often seen as represented by Abraham – the sacrificer – while Jesus is represented by Isaac, the sacrificed. But this is a backwards view of things. During his struggle in Gethsemane, his torture by the religious and imperial authorities, and his death on the cross, Jesus found himself in the position of Abraham. Like Abraham, he was forced to abandon everything in this world that gave him assurance of God’s love. Jesus had to accept absolute risk.

On the cross, Jesus sacrificed the “Isaac” of his earthly ministry. He experienced terrible grief and failure. He experienced the absence of God, the loss of the promise. In that moment, all of his work was for nothing. It all ended on that nihilistic cross of suffering and shame.

In his Letter to a Young Activist, Thomas Merton writes about this journey into loss and unmooring, which is essential to the path of Christian discipleship. He speaks about how we often use our God-given work “to protect [ourselves] against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of [the] work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.”

We’ve heard a terrible story this morning. It’s a story of a father’s love for his child – his hope, his future – being overcome by his greater desire to be in relationship with God. It’s a story of cutting loss and heartbreak. It’s a story about how each one of us must move beyond assurances and guarantees if we want to experience the full depth of relationship with God.

This is a story about Abraham seeking a truer, more authentic faith. Beyond pleading and promises. Beyond rewards. Abraham gives himself to God unconditionally – even if it means the loss of everything else, including his ideas about God.

Our scripture this morning is an invitation to self-examination. What are the ways that we have turned our faith in God into a transaction, rather than full submission? Do we love the gifts God gives us more than we love God himself? What are we being called to surrender, so that we can be more fully embraced by God?

What does it mean to be like Jesus, who let go of every guarantee, every promise – even the promise of God’s presence and protection – in order to live in the naked reality of God’s kingdom?

ROOTS

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Monica McFadden

While I was studying abroad in London this past year, I got completely hooked on the Netflix series “The Crown.” If you haven’t heard of it, the show follows the newly coronated Queen Elizabeth II and her experience acclimating to her role as Queen, including the many struggles involved with politics, the royal family, her marriage, and the country as a whole. Watching it as an American, someone coming from a background where the idea of a monarchy seems so foreign, a concept that goes against the very nature of the founding of our country, was pretty fascinating. The series touches on many aspects of the monarchy that aren’t often discussed, one of the most intriguing for me being the relationship between the Sovereign, or the reigning monarch, and Parliament. The Queen and Churchill would have conversations where he would reference her duties as the Sovereign and how she was appointed by God to her position. The viewers can see the weight of this responsibility in her wide-eyed gaze.

Of course I, being extremely curious about all of this, turned to my flatmates, classmates, any native Brits I could, and asked them about their thoughts on the monarchy. I got a variety of answers, ranging anywhere on the spectrum from “no one cares about the monarchy” to “I absolutely love the royal family.” Most people in my generation in the United Kingdom seem to fall somewhere in between—they kind of see the cultural significance, but for the most part, it doesn’t play a role in their day-to-day lives, and it feels a little outdated and pointless. However, one person I asked had a different opinion. Partly, perhaps, because he held some more traditional beliefs about these types of things, but he had a deep respect for the Queen, somewhat mirroring that of the older generation.

Basically what he said was this: the reason the Queen means so much is that she, a woman who has been raised to be an expert in her role, has seen the fluctuations throughout multiple eras of political turmoil, from the aftermath of WWII through Thatcher, and even Brexit; she’s the constant through all of it. When I asked if he believed she was appointed by God he said, after a moment of thinking, that no, he didn’t, namely because he didn’t believe in God, but that she may as well have been. Because she has a incredible wealth of knowledge, and although she has seen political waves come and go, she must remain unbiased and solid.

There was something mesmerizing about hearing it described this way. The American tradition has nothing like this, which makes the monarchy feel like living relics bearing the shiny worth of an ancient history.  The United States has somewhat of a fascination with the British monarchy and the royal family; millions of people tuned into William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. I think this fascination has a lot to do with the lack of a type of sacred history in many American traditions—the thing that makes the monarchy so enchanting is its promise that it’s something bigger, connected to God, these people tap into a larger knowledge, they’ve been trained for this since birth, they’re mysterious. It can feel like a massive, sacred thing, even if, in reality, it’s mostly political and carefully crafted.

In many ways, I think our generation and our country has lost touch with the sacred. But people seem to be searching for it, grasping at experiences and traditions of other peoples to get back to some sort of root, something to reach out into the earth and connect with our past and with others.

Many people have taken to using the phrase “spiritual but not religious” to describe their faith. Scholars and theologians have spoken about why this concept is inadequate, and I agree with many of these arguments, but it’s understandable why people feel more comfortable with this phrase at times. Being frustrated with the church, being frustrated with God, isn’t just normal, it’s basically required for being part of the church—frustration is laced throughout the Bible, and sometimes just identifying as “spiritual” is easier, less of a commitment to a specific history that you may or may not agree with.

In this passage from Jeremiah that was read this morning, the prophet’s lament can feel quite familiar. Not because of any similarity in circumstance—I’m not exactly overwhelmed with the word of God “like a burning fire shut up in my bones” attempting to warn people about violence and destruction—but instead, it feels familiar because he’s upset with God, which is quite relatable.

My relationship with religion and with the church is largely characterized by doubt, frustration, or confusion. I spent the majority of my teenage years identifying as agnostic, something I often still relate to. But after a few years, I realized that, growing up in the church, regardless of my wavering beliefs, I still had a home and a community there; I still felt very Brethren. The sacred things I grew up with were still sacred.

There is a deep comfort in knowing that no matter where I am in my faith journey, anointing will still be there to bless me at important times, the hymns will still be there to offer words of courage and beauty, Love Feast will still be there to surround me with a strong community. These things don’t change, and that’s what the church is about. Providing roots, sacredness, a history, to a spirituality that is ever-fluctuating. It requires a community to support you and hold you accountable, to be challenged, part of something larger than just you.

Hearing my friend talk about the monarchy felt like reaching for something like this—it’s bigger than you, older than you, has seen more of the world than you, generations upon generations, and has withstood the test of time. There aren’t many histories like that in America anymore, and people are desperate to find one. Some look to the monarchy, some look to other cultures and religions, many end up with Frankenstein practices stolen from a variety of places: “I have the ohm symbol tattooed on my wrist, I’m really into crystal healing, I have a Buddha head on my shelf…” None of these practices are wrong on their own, but it becomes clear that many are missing a deeper connection, a true recognition that each of these have sacred beginnings.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in this—go to Urban Outfitters and buy yourself a sacred starter kit, if you will. Especially when we’re disillusioned with the church or with God.

Jeremiah’s lament to God eventually evolves into praising him, as he works through his frustrations. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers,” he says at the end of the passage. I may not be very good at this part, I’ll admit. I don’t work through my doubts very quickly, and often times “singing praises” can feel very foreign to me. I tend to quietly mull things over, notice the sacred begin to creep in again.

Last year at Annual Conference, a place that can be too often filled with anxiety and anger, there was a moment during worship when a video played, mostly overlaid with a pretty, anonymous piano song. In the middle of the stock music, the song transitioned into a few verses of the old hymn “It is well with my soul,” and slowly, quietly rising out of the congregation, people began to hum and sing along. It happened naturally and spontaneously, and soon the whole room was singing. We, who had spent business sessions frustrated and speaking across a chasm, were reminded of what we had in common; why we were really there together.

Sometimes, this is what sacred means. Sometimes, this is what it means to have the same roots.

Sometimes, it means rediscovering old traditions and old tales in new ways.

And so I leave you with this: a reimagining of a familiar story, something I wrote my senior year of high school, a reminder of our sacred roots together.

Beginning

The darkness, the great wind, surrounded her in the open air. Her hands were vast and set the sun, tweaking out the rays and coaxing the hydrogen into helium; her hands were delicate and stenciled in the constellations. She slowly crafted planets, small and cold, gargantuan and swirling with gases. She painted nebulas onto black velvet, the blueprints captured from her eyes.

A light breath rolled back seas, revealing a rich black earth beneath, laced with the seeping aroma of a musty rain hanging in the atmosphere as a simple vapor. Her baton flicked swirling symphonies of emerald, magenta, and gold, the deep bass notes crawling in as indigo and sienna. Fluttery mint and whispering ivory petals burst along the ground in a smattering of marimba strokes, the lowest spreading ivy up timber fortresses.

The tiny, intricate beings of the waters grew before her eyes as millennia passed. They emerged onto the land as new creatures admiring each other’s gleaming limbs. They threw out newfound feathers and bones of air and leapt onto eddies of passing wind. From an alto melody of her lips sprang legions of lithe, galloping beings.

Many of her creations fell back to the soil. New ones took their place.

She had not created anything that had the same stars fueling her being as she did. None to search the azure above for her and to sing back her arias. She tried many times to assemble these new creatures, basing them from the ones that already graced the earth. She became frustrated and sailed to neighboring galaxies. She gathered dust and particles from the dying stars and from the newest stars and with the same elements formed the wise, with skin like the earth they tread on. They spoke to her among the trees and dreamt of her in the wind. They saw everything on the earth for its origins and its future; every particle.

They took control of the flames that flowed through volcanoes and forests. They painted as she had before, preserving all her work. They taught her new things she had not predicted; stories sewn together as she had never known before. She had formed the mind for thought, but emotion came where she had not foreseen. Their veins pumped their hearts with roots, tying them to one another.

Slowly, one followed by another, roots were torn out, some with vigor and others accidentally cut away in pruning. For the first time, she saw stars go out of their eyes, the first thing in her universe that felt truly dark. They began to tend to these roots very carefully, adjusting their footing, and gave the soil sweet river water to drink. Those with too-dark eyes sometimes disrupted these delicate ecosystems but, if one opened them up, they’d find equally mangled roots threaded into their veins. If these roots were untangled and cared for, the stars crept back into their irises, softly blinking in violets and blues. 

Prayer

Please pray with me.

God, who crafted the deepest parts of the Earth and the furthest reaches of the stars,

Help us to come to you with our frustrations and anger, sifting through our everyday lives to see your sacred, holy touch.

Roots, hold us close, show us our shared histories and our shared futures together.

Amen.

Benediction

May you see God’s ancient roots in traditions old and new.

Go in peace.

THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL

This morning, I want to tell you a story about Stephen Grellet. Stephen Grellet was a French-born Quaker minister, one of the best-known Quakers of the early 1800s. He traveled extensively and preached to thousands.

One day, as he was in prayer, he felt that God was calling him to take a long journey into the American backwoods, to preach to the woodcutters. Wood cutting was an isolated profession, like working on an offshore oil rig today. And Grellet heard God’s voice speaking to him, “Go back there and preach to those lonely men.” Filled with compassion and a sense of the Spirit’s guidance, Grellet left his family to visit the backwoods.

Grellet felt drawn to a specific spot in this backcountry. It was a place he had visited before, and he felt certain that God was calling him there again. He felt a flood of peace and assurance when he arrived at the woodcutter camp. But as he looked around, he soon realized that the camp was totally devoid of human presence. It had been abandoned days ago. The woodcutters had moved into the forest and might not be back for weeks.

Grellet considered that, perhaps he was mistaken. Maybe he was at the wrong location. But a voice within him said, “no, this is exactly where you are supposed to be.” He prayed silently, asking God for guidance. The response was: “Give your message. It is not yours, but mine.”

In this abandoned encampment, there was one large wooden hut that stood out. Grellet stepped inside and made his way to the back of the structure. He turned around facing the entrance and began to preach. He preached as if the place were packed with hundreds of people. He spoke about how the love of God is the greatest thing in the world. He spoke about how sin builds a wall between human beings and God, but that this wall is thrown down in Jesus Christ. He spoke about how the love of God triumphs over all.

After preaching his message, Grellet was exhausted. He drank some water from a nearby stream, ate a bit of bread he carried in his pocket, and then began the long journey back home. He never saw any woodcutters. Yet he felt peace in his spirit. He felt certain that he had been faithful in what God had given him to do.

Years later and a continent away, Stephen Grellet is crossing London Bridge, wearing his distinctive Quaker outfit and broad-brimmed hat. All of a sudden, someone grabs him by the arm and says, “There you are! I’ve found you at last!”

Grellet is surprised, and probably a little nervous to have this gruff stranger grabbing him and making accusations. “I think you must have the wrong person, friend.”

“Absolutely not!” said the stranger. “I’ve been looking for you across the globe, and I’m not mistaken. You’re the man from the woods!”

It turns out that Stephen Grellet wasn’t entirely alone that day when he visited the woodcutters’ encampment.

The man standing before him tells him about how he returned to the empty encampment, looking for a tool he had left behind. As he was retrieving it, he heard Grellet’s voice booming from the wooden hut at the center of the camp. As Grellet spoke, the lone woodcutter watched through the cracks in the walls. And he found that the gospel message shone through the cracks in his heart.

By the time Stephen Grellet left the camp, this man’s life had been changed forever. After hearing Grellet’s message, he felt miserable, convicted of the sin that was separating him from the love of God. But eventually he got a hold of a Bible and began discovering the way of Jesus.

At first, the other woodcutters made fun of him, but the man’s faith was infectious. “It’s share and share alike in the forest,” said the former woodcutter standing in front of Grellet on London Bridge. “I told the men all about the gospel, just like you. I gave them no peace till everyone was brought home to God. Three of them went out to preach to other districts. At least a thousand have been brought home to the good shepherd by that sermon of yours which you preached to nobody.”

In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to teach, heal, and preach the good news of the kingdom of God throughout the villages of Israel. As he prepares them for their journey, he says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Who are the laborers, and what is the harvest?

Jesus and his little community of disciples were very small. They lived on the margins of society. Yet the crowds flocked to them, eager to hear the good news of the kingdom. Like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs, or a little bit of yeast causing the whole loaf to rise, God used these handful of disciples to have an astonishing impact on the world.

God’s story is one of continuing surprise. It’s a story that goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who were in their eighties and still childless. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, but here they were, still without children at an age where child bearing wasn’t just a long shot – it was physically impossible!

But God had promised it. Multiple times. God insisted that not only would Abraham’s descendants be as numerous as the stars, but that he would make a covenant with Abraham’s son through Sarah. Sarah, who realistically hasn’t been able to bear children for several decades at this point.

One day, Abraham is sitting by the oaks of Mamre, around Hebron. He’s sitting there at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He’s probably about ready to take a nap. But then, he looks up and sees three men standing before him.

Now, for those of us reading today, it’s a little ambiguous who these men are, exactly. But as the text goes on, it seems that two of these men are angels, and the third is the Lord himself. Whatever the specifics, Abraham seems to know who has come to visit him. He immediately bows down to the ground and asks the men to accept his hospitality. They agree, and Abraham rushes back into the tent to tell Sarah to make pancakes and cook up a goat for their guests.

A little while later, the visitors are sitting under a tree, eating their food. They ask Abraham, “Where’s your wife, Sarah?” When Abraham says that she’s in the tent, one of the men says: “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.”

Now it isn’t proper in ancient near-eastern culture for Sarah to hang outside with the men, but she was very interested in this conversation. So she is hiding just behind the entrance to the tent, listening to everything that was happening. And when Sarah hears the visitor say that she will soon have a son, she laughs to herself.

And the LORD says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? Count on it. It’s going to happen just like I said. When I return, Sarah will have a son.”

Now I guess at this point, the jig is up and Sarah comes out of the tent. She says, “I didn’t laugh!” But the visitor says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

This is one of my favorite lines of Scripture. What a weird story! And it feels so true to me, about how God is. God knows us, God understands us, even when we’d prefer he didn’t. And God accepts us, even when we can’t quite believe him. Sarah sees the whole situation as ridiculous, and she’s right. It doesn’t make any sense. But God responds by insisting, “I will make something amazing out of this ridiculous situation. And you will know that I did it, precisely because it is impossible.”

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I think back to Stephen Grellet, with his apparently pointless sermon to an empty wooden hut out in the backwoods. I remember the twelve disciples – a band of misfits, living on the margins – the last people you’d expect to change the world. I think of Abraham and Sarah, people who should have been great-grandparents but who instead are expecting an infant child.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. When I’ve read these words of Jesus before, I always thought that Jesus was complaining about the lack of laborers. But what if the shortage of laborers isn’t a bug in God’s program? What if it’s an intentional feature?

Throughout God’s story, he has always used the most unlikely people in the most ridiculous ways. He chose a barren couple to be the parents of many nations. He picked a wimpy kid to be the king of Israel. He selected a family from the backwoods of Galilee to give birth to the Messiah. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. And maybe that’s the way God likes it!

I think of Gideon’s army, which God whittled down to just 300 men. In the eyes of common sense, they had no chance at all. But through God’s power, they were able to defeat the enemy.

I think of Stephen Grellet, who listened to God, even when it was ridiculous. By preaching to an empty room, he turned a thousand lives to God.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. What does it mean for us, as a tiny congregation amidst the great city, to be faithful? How can we endure in the unlikely – even ridiculous – work that God is calling us to? What does it mean to claim the hope of Abraham and Sarah, Jesus and the disciples, Stephen Grellet and the man whose life he changed forever? What does it mean to be the few laborers, steadfast even when we can’t perceive the harvest?

As God said to the prophet Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; human beings look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Holy Spirit, speak to our hearts. Show us how to be faithful to your guidance, your mission, your love – even when we can’t help but laugh.

THREE. ONE.

Genesis 1:1-2:4, John 1:1-5, Psalm 8

Nathan Hosler

A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a session of Christian Citizenship Seminar to start. We were holding the event at a church downtown but the door was still locked and they didn’t have any bench or place to sit, so I sat on the front steps of a church across the street. CCS is a youth event and we were in an informal session so I was neither dressed in formal office cloths or anything particularly clergy-esque or in the mode of theologian (no robe, collar, big cross, or theological tome nor theological hat). I sat on a church’s stairs to do a little work on my laptop—which though connected to Google is not particularly authoritative. While there, I heard two people in a fairly energetic but not necessarily angry argument coming down the sidewalk. Since I was sitting on the front steps of a church I apparently was imbued with a fair amount of authority and theological know-how. The two arguing people passing by came up to me and the young man asked—“Are God and Jesus the same thing?”

We have a sign on the fence next to our church yard saying something to the effect of enjoy the yard but don’t sue us if you trip. My experience on the stairs of the random church lends an entirely different layer of concern. Perhaps not only should our sign say—if you trip don’t sue us but it should say “You may sit on our stairs but don’t make definitive statements on theological, spiritual, or ethical matters on our behalf to passersby.”

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. A Sunday dedicated to what many would say is one of the most significant and argued about theological points of the last two millennia. Mike Kuhn on the blog of the Institute for Middle East Studies of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon writes of the historic arguments about the divine nature of Jesus between Christians and Muslims noting, “Of course, Christians responded, attempting to defend the Trinity rationally and philosophically. The polemical interaction bears all the marks of “ivory tower theology” with its impenetrable terminology and arcane argumentation.” 

https://imes.blog/2017/06/08/getting-the-trinity-out-of-the-ivory-tower/#more-5563

So, this Sunday, before noon, we are going to attempt to make something of the Trinity which has often been characterized by “its impenetrable terminology and arcane argumentation.” 

And though brunch would have been perhaps less taxing and though theology matters, I am not sure that impenetrable terminology is precisely what we are needing this morning. In addition to what we may or may not feel inclined towards this morning, the Brethren have tended away from such theology and towards the practical.

We only read two of our lectionary passages so far. I’ll read the other two short ones now. I find this selection of passages exceedingly fascinating. This is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity has been a big deal theologically since the beginning of the Church. We could probably fill at least a few pews with the books written on the topic. However, when we come to the Bible it seems that we are left with pretty meager pickings. At least the passages with all three persons of the Trinity present at the same time are pretty slim. While there is much on Jesus, or the Spirit, or the Father on their own–on the same stage at the same time is a different matter. The passages we have are not really teaching about this but seem to incidentally mention the three as part of a larger narrative or teaching. Matthew 28, for example, is about going out in mission—what we call the Great Commission. As part of this sending the three show up in the instruction on baptizing. It reads:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

“Baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And 2 Corinthians 13:11-13:

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Both of these seem to list the three. Neither are speaking about the “Trinity” but they do assume three persons (though don’t immediately comment on this). However, this is also part of the scriptures which include the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. This is a central proclamation of the Jewish people and also part of the Christian canon. In the context of this monotheistic statement Jesus shows up and claims to be one with God. For example, in John 13:19 explicit linking with God through “I am who I am.” Mirroring Exodus 3:14 when God defines Godself. Typically, when Jesus says this sort of thing people try to stone him for blasphemy. Additionally, when Jesus is about to leave his disciples after the resurrection the Spirit is sent to fill and empower his followers.

On almost every page of the Hebrew Scriptures “GOD” is referenced or referred to or is the assumed reality of the world. Additionally, in the Genesis creation story there is hint of plurality. In “creating in our image.” Micah commented on the presence of the Spirit last week. The version of Genesis we read says a “wind” from God went over the waters. In others is says “Spirit” or some variant of breath. Also, there are Psalms which are, from the perspective of the New Testament, Messianic and referring to Jesus.

In the New Testament, almost every passage refers to Jesus or the Father or the Spirit. Though this is the case the reason that these seemingly out of place passages in Matthew and 2 Corinthians were chosen is that in very few places do they all show up on stage at once or are they listed as three distinct persons. Now the early church after the writing of the New Testament noticed this the presence of these but also the ambiguity of the mechanics of it all and sought to make sense of it or at least define the theological parameters within which the passages should be understood. Not only are there reams written on this but the church spent great energy trying to codify this in creeds. The creeds were then used as a bench mark for what is consider “right belief” –or orthodoxy.

As you may have heard, however, the Church of the Brethren has stated that we have “no Creed but the New Testament.” What this does is open up the conversation but also seek to reorient the Christian faith back toward discipleship, formation, and theological ethics—or orthopraxy—right practice. Brethren will note that the creeds jump from assertions of Jesus birth to death and resurrection as if the interim ministry of healing, feeding, teaching, reconciling, challenging oppression, and challenging religious practices done without the right motivation are of little or no importance.

When we read of these three divine persons which are also claimed to be one we are rightly left at least a bit perplexed. How does this work? What is their relationship? Are they three manifestations of the same thing—like three sides of some curious coin? The same actor wearing answers to these questions and answers judged heretical and damaging sparked debate almost without end. It also sparked political rivalry, and even violence at times.

If the New Testament is our Creed what are we to make of the Trinity? I was tempted to try analogies or illustrations. However, it was precisely this sort of effort that ended up getting so many theologians and preachers in trouble. I was then tempted to drop in a fancy quote but even these tend to feel inadequate and when read or heard aloud are likely more incomprehensible than illuminating (I at least have trouble hearing and making sense of something better read slowly.)

Perhaps better than seek to perfectly explain it is better to allow mystery. The witness of scripture is both thorough and fragmentary. It tells of a mystery that requires a response. An Orthodox Theologian writes, “The Trinity is not a philosophical theory but the living God whom we worship; and so there comes a point in our approach to the Trinity when argumentation and analysis must give place to wordless prayer.” (Ware, The Orthodox Way)

Wordless prayer should probably be service—perhaps dragging and pushing a wagon full of dirt across Capitol Hill to make a garden to feed our neighbors and celebrate God’s good creation—perhaps in leading music (which I guess admittedly has words)—perhaps as watching a freewheeling toddler—or writing a blog which considers the work of peacemaking in relation to international conflict—perhaps in patience—perhaps in kindness—perhaps in welcoming a neighbor—perhaps in welcoming a homeless neighbor or Muslim neighbor—perhaps in____, perhaps…perhaps, perhaps.

Perhaps these things are the wordless prayer when done in response to the work of the Spirit in our lives, the love of God made manifest in Jesus—in short when done as worship. Of course (at least for me) the Trinity as a formal theological idea does not usually come to mind when doing this sort of thing—But the love of God which has begun reconciliation in us, the calling of Jesus to follow in the way of peace, and the filling of the Spirit which gives new language and empowers beyond what we can ask or imagine—this is the work of the Trinity. As we go, let us worship.

WE ARE PEOPLE OF THE SPIRIT

Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21, & 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Micah Bales

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Before the light. Before the day and the night. Before the teeming life in the sea and on the dry land. Before anything we could see or imagine, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There’s a long tradition of Christian thought that imagines that the Holy Spirit was somehow not present, not a tangible reality in the world, until after the resurrection of Jesus. To be fair to all those Christian thinkers, there are some passages in Scripture that point to this idea. In chapter seven of John’s gospel account, he writes that Jesus taught his followers “about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

I’m not quite sure what John meant when he said that at that time there “was no Spirit.” But I have to be sure he didn’t mean that the Spirit didn’t yet exist. Because we know that the Spirit of God has existed since before time began. This Spirit, this breath, was what hovered over the waters at creation. It’s this breath that God breathed into Adam when he gave life to our species. This breath was present with Moses in the wilderness and with Elijah up on the high mountain when he heard the still, small voice of God.

We know from our readings this morning that the Spirit of God did not somehow come into being after the resurrection of Jesus. She’s been with us all along. But scripture does teach us that our relationship with the Spirit of God has changed over time. It hasn’t always been the same.

In the beginning, at the time of our creation, we were children of God in the garden. We stood innocent and simple-minded before God. We didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil. The presence and breath of God was always with us, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Back in those first days, the spirit, breath, and presence of God wasn’t something we even thought about consciously. It was just reality. To live as a human being was to be immersed in God’s presence, awake to his life.

But as we all know, things changed. We got into deep conversation with that very reasonable, very convincing snake. He told us that we could be like God.

We could be like God. It was such a perfect lie – such a characteristic lie of the Devil, wasn’t it? Because of course, we were already like God. That’s how God made us. We were created in the image of God. We were filled with every good thing. We lived in unity with our creator. We reflected his beauty and love. The only thing denied to us was separation from God.

And that’s the great irony. The serpent sold us the thing we already had: The life of the Spirit. The living presence of God, hovering over the waters of our lives. We grabbed that fruit with both hands, only to realize too late that to grasp at God – to try to control God – is an act of separation from God.

So from that time onward, our relationship with God changed. We experienced separation for the first time. Our breaths were no longer his breath. The Spirit of God became something distinct, apart, distant from us. In our shame we turned away. We made clothes to hide our nakedness, to hide ourselves from the radiance that we had once experienced as totally normal.

Many years passed. Thousands of years. So long that human beings had almost completely forgotten our original connection and unity with the Creator. We forgot that our breath used to share the same character as God’s breath. That he breathed in us and gave us life as children of God.

By the time Moses came around, the Hebrew people had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. The Hebrews had forgotten everything. Like the rest of humanity, they were spiritual amnesiacs. And this is what I think that John must have meant when he said that in the days before Jesus’ resurrection “as yet there was no Spirit.” For all practical purposes, that was true. The Hebrews, the Egyptians, all the people of the world had so thoroughly forgotten who God was, forgotten what it felt like to live in unity with the Creator, that it was as if the Spirit did not even exist.

Moses had forgotten, too. It took a dramatic intervention in the form of a burning bush to get Moses to wake up to who and whose he really was.

For a while, this kind of revelation was just limited to Moses. The Spirit of God hovered over Moses. Moses spoke to Aaron, and Aaron spoke to the people. It was always three degrees of separation. When Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God, he didn’t have to convince anyone to let him go up there alone. The people begged him to leave them behind. “Hey, Moses, why don’t you go up there and talk with God in the storm cloud? We’re just gonna stay down here and try not to get struck by lightening!”

For years, Moses was the only one to talk to God. Moses was the only one experiencing the presence of God’s Spirit.

But the Spirit wouldn’t stay constrained to being in relationship with just one man. As cool as Moses was – as stylish as his wild-man beard might have been – the Spirit was gonna hover. She was gonna keep hovering wherever she wanted to hover.

And so, as we read in our Scripture this morning from the Book of Numbers, it’s not too long before the Spirit starts to break out from her relationship with Moses and starts involving more people. Moses is tired, and God knows that no one person is meant to carry the burden of God’s message all alone. And so Moses called together seventy elders of the people and laid hands on them, so that they would receive a share of the Spirit, too. And it says the Spirit rested on them, and they prophesied.

But there were a couple of guys who missed the meeting. I guess they missed the memo or something, because they didn’t show up for the ceremony. But the Spirit didn’t seem to care at all. After all, the Spirit hovers wherever she wants to hover. So while the other sixty-eight elders were up at the tent revival, getting their Holy Spirit on, Eldad and Medad started hollering and breaking out in prophecy in the middle of the camp!

Now Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, saw that Eldad and Medad were speaking out of turn. They were running around, exciting everyone, and drawing a lot of attention to themselves as they praised God in the Spirit. So Joshua ran back to the Tent of Meeting and told Moses: “Eldad and Medad are running around prophesying. You’ve gotta stop them!”

Moses couldn’t believe what Joshua was saying. How could it possibly be a bad thing for more people to receive the Spirit of God? “Are you jealous for my sake?” he asked Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

So throughout the Old Testament we see this pattern. Human beings try to corral God into specific times and places and rituals. We try to confine him to a tent, a temple, a holy-of-holies. We say that he can only show up in certain ways and to certain people. Can the high priest talk to God? Maybe. Can an ordinary person? No way. God is too holy to touch the sinfulness of ordinary human life. Let’s leave this one to the professionals.

But the Spirit isn’t afraid to touch the creation. Throughout the Old Testament, God chooses all sorts of people to breathe his Spirit onto. Some of them are the people you’d expect – kings and priests. Others – like Amos, Micah, and Elijah – not so much. God shows up in ways and people that are unexpected.

The prophet Joel foretold something even more spectacular. For so long, the Spirit of God had only appeared to some people, some of the time. But there was a day coming, said Joel, when God would pour out his presence on everyone. Just like in the old days, the Spirit of God would hover over the whole of the creation, leaving nobody beyond the reach of God’s love.

Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost. As Christians, we remember one specific Pentecost more than 2,000 years ago. It was a day when the Holy Spirit came with such power and universality that the early followers of Jesus said: “This is the fulfillment of Joel’s promise. God has poured out his Spirit on everyone!”

On that day of Pentecost, after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended into the sky, all of the disciples were gathered together in one place. And the breath of God started to hover like she hadn’t hovered in a very, very long time.

It says, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

The prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled that day, as God created the church of Jesus Christ. Through his breath of life, thousands of people were knit together into a new creation, a new community, a people who walked together with God in the garden. In the midst of this fallen world, the New Jerusalem had appeared.

As followers of Jesus today, this is a reality that we are invited into. When we gather in Jesus’ name, the Holy Spirit hovers over us. The breath of God covers us, comforts us, and leads us with boldness and power. The same Spirit that created the cosmos is at work in us, revealing a new creation that heals the ancient separation.

It’s significant that the apostle Paul speaks about the life of our community in terms of the movement of the Spirit. Our faith in Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit, dwelling within and among us, that we are able to manifest God’s love to those around us.

This happens in many ways. There are many manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, and none of us has all of them. But each manifestation – whether it be wisdom or knowledge or faith or healing or prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues or interpretation of tongues – all manifestations of the Spirit are given to us for the common good. The Spirit is still creating – guiding and empowering us to heal the world.

We are so blessed. We live in the age of the Spirit, in a time where the Spirit of God is once again hovering over the waters. She’s hovering over our lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. She’s present in our midst as we gather here, in our homes, or in any other moment when we need to be knit together in God’s love.

It’s easy to miss it. It’s tempting to think that the Holy Spirit is only showing up in the most spectacular, high-energy moments. I’ve often doubted the Spirit’s presence when there weren’t tongues of fire and obvious miracles. But I’m reminded that throughout Scripture and throughout history that the breath of God shows up in many different ways. As a whisper, as a rushing wind, as encouragement, as sudden revelation. The breath of God blows where she will.

Let’s welcome her this morning. Holy Spirit, come.