Archive for Pentecost

From Spigot to Rivers

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2017 by timtrue

Water_spigot[1]

John 7:37-39

“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit.

1.

The Holy Spirit, Jesus says, like living water, will flow out of the believer’s heart.

It won’t just be the trickle of a low-flow spigot, he says; but rivers.

However!

Is this what we see in churches today? When we look around, do we see rivers of living water flowing forth from Christians, quenching the spiritual thirst of this parched land?

Yes, our land is parched. Yes, we’re thirsty.

We see spiritual thirst, for instance, in our individualism.

Culture tells me to be independent, self-sufficient, and confident in my own abilities. It’s a tempting message, especially when society is so accommodating to my independence.

I get in my car. I drive to the Starbucks I choose. And I order a café mocha, my favorite drink, except not as it appears on the menu but as I prefer it, with half the sweetener and twice the chocolate! Then I return to my home to watch my TV programs that I’ve pre-recorded to suit my schedule—after I run through my favorite apps that I’ve customized to my iPhone.

Ever wonder why it’s called the “i” Phone?

But, notice. This message is not all it’s cracked up to be. The “i” on the iPhone is lower case. You are actually quite dependent on others, whether you care to admit it or not.

And have you seen what this message does to relationships—or, should I say, to individuals trying to have relationships with other individuals?

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said. And yet that’s all most people seem to want anymore: to be left alone.

In the end, the water that independence sells us leaves us thirsty.

Likewise, there’s spiritual thirst in society.

Perhaps our societal spiritual thirst is seen best in the decline in mainline church attendance over the last four decades. Other spiritual are waters out there—spiritual waters that today seem more attractive than church. Their sellers have done a good job at marketing them, at making them more attractive.

I think we Christians are more to blame for this decline than those sellers though. For, if the unchurched or de-churched could actually see our living water, like the woman at the well, they would want it.

But they don’t see it. Which is our fault. Because—my thinking anyway—it’s not flowing out of us.

Oh, it’s there all right—living water. It’s just not flowing out of us. Instead, it’s bottled up inside our independent selves.

Thus we see spiritual thirst all around us; thirst that can only be quenched by the living waters of the Holy Spirit, by the living waters that we possess. So, let’s get it out there already!

2.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day in the Church when we recall the Holy Spirit descending from heaven and entering all peoples.

This is a big day on the Church calendar, right up there with Christmas and Easter!

Now, God sent his Son to be Incarnate from the Virgin Mary. And we definitely see this remembered and celebrated in our churches today—also in the world around us. Christmas and Easter festivities abound!

But God sent the Holy Spirit too. And the Holy Spirit is a lot like Jesus: another Advocate; God dwelling with us.

So, when’s the last time you walked into CVS and heard Pentecost carols playing from the speakers overhead? (For that matter, just between us, Pentecost hymns in our own hymnal are few and far between–and not very catchy!)

When’s the last time you walked down the greeting card aisle to buy some Pentecost greeting cards to give to your beloved friends and family members?

And why don’t we practice longstanding cultural traditions that involve a big, cuddly dove? A dove to descend our chimneys, maybe, and give us gifts? Doves fly better than reindeer, after all. Or red plastic dove egg hunts in our church courtyards? Doves actually lay eggs, after all, unlike bunnies.

No, by and large, we forget about Pentecost.

Maybe we should just get rid of it then, eh? Time to move on already—get with the times! Maybe we should just give up trying to figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is and just eliminate him, her, or it from our theology, liturgy, and practice.

3.

Who is the Holy Spirit anyway? Or, to frame it another way, what if we were just to get rid of the Holy Spirit altogether?

The Creed tells us who the Holy Spirit is. We say the Creed together most Sundays, including that section about the Holy Spirit: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” and so on.

But what do these words really mean? They all seems rather nondescript.

There’s this line: “He has spoken through the Prophets.” I get that one. Sort of. I mean, there were these fringy people in the Old Testament stories who stood their ground against dictators and despots; and how could anyone have done that unless they were empowered by something divine—or at least something supernatural, or unnatural?

But how do we make sense of the lines that follow?

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. / We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. / We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

What in the world do these words have to do with the Holy Spirit?

Maybe nothing. Maybe they’re just some important bullet points that the Creed compilers felt compelled to include somewhere—like a kind of faith appendix statement.

Anyway, why couldn’t the Creed compilers have been more concrete, like they were with respect to Jesus?

Jesus! He was born of the Virgin Mary, tried before Pilate, crucified, died, and rose again on the third day. Also, he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Yes, Jesus is easy to believe in. It’s all right there in the Creed, concrete, before our eyes.

So why do the words about the Holy Spirit have to be so abstract?

To which I say, yes, they are abstract. The Holy Spirit is a bit confusing—and has been for the entire history of the Church.

But notice this: everything about the Holy Spirit in the Creed has a communal focus.

The Holy Spirit spoke through individual prophets, yes. But why? It was to rouse a collective people, a nation: to pray as a people; to convict a nation of its societal sin; to rouse the nation to justice—which is just the profile of corporate love’s face.

And as for those other statements?

One holy catholic and apostolic Church means our communal faith with all the saints of all the ages.

Our baptism is our entrance rite into the one fold of God.

And as for the resurrection of the dead? Every single person who walks this earth will die. You cannot get more communal than that!

So, what happens if we just get rid of the Holy Spirit altogether?

We lose our prophets, our teachings, our conviction, our prayers, our communion, our baptism, our justice, our love.

You see, a god without the Person of the Holy Spirit is like a swimming pool without water. What’s the point? It has form and function but fails to serve its purpose.

If the Holy Spirit is not flowing from us like rivers of living water, what’s the point? We might testify of God’s form and function; yet what good are our testimonies when we fail to accomplish Christ’s mission?

4.

So, how do we get the living water of the Holy Spirit to flow out of us?

Well, it looks like the stuff I just mentioned—Spirit stuff, I call it: corporate belief, prayer, communion, baptism, justice, and love. Or, to use the words of our patron, it looks like “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”—the things St. Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

And that starts with each of us, as individual followers of Christ.

What? Did I just say individuals?

Yes!

I know many of my messages talk about our salvation, faith, belief, and so on in a corporate way. I’m not waffling on this theme! The Bible is clear throughout: Jesus’ mission is not to save individual souls from a world that is hellbound; but to save the world, the cosmos, all of it, by redeeming and restoring it to its rightful state. He’s already redeemed it, by the way; and now it’s up to us, his corporate church, to restore it.

But here’s the thing.

Do you remember what I said about that spigot? Jesus did not say, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow a trickling spigot of living water.” He said rivers.

But an individual, trickling spigot is better for a dry and parched land than nothing at all.

The living water of the Holy Spirit starts with each one of us. Each one of us would do well to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. See what this looks like in Galatians 5. And to help us, St. Paul also includes a contrasting list, “the works of the flesh,” he calls them, the things that shouldn’t flow from us.

And when this living water begins to trickle from you, even if you are a low-flow spigot, well, hey, at least it’s something! And when a second low-flow spigot opens up nearby, why, its trickle joins yours and the two become a bigger flow.

And a third trickle combines to make the flow bigger still.

And so on, each one of us intentionally committing to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, until our individual, low-flow trickles become a brook; our brooks a stream; our streams a creek; and our creeks, eventually, mighty rivers of living water, to renew and revitalize a parched and dry land.

Come, Holy Spirit!

Grandpa’s Pentecost

Posted in Family, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2016 by timtrue

Emmett-Grizzell-1463384883

John 14:8-17, 25-27

You may or may not know, my grandpa Emmett died this week.  He was one day past 99 and a half years, so we might as well round it to an even 100: born Nov. 12, 1916; died Friday, May 13, at about 7pm.

With him passes nearly a century of wisdom, humor, and selflessness.  He leaves behind his dear wife Peggy (whom he married just seven years ago); his five children (all adopted, by the way); and a vast assortment of grandchildren, nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces, great-grandchildren, and even some great-great-grandchildren.  Quite a legacy!

Emmett’s boyhood brought him from California to New Orleans, where he witnessed his mother—my great-grandmother—navigate her way through a failed marriage to his stepfather.  By adolescence he found himself back in California with his sister and their single mother; struggling to make ends meet in a day when women just weren’t single.

His mother found work building airplanes for the military.  Today we remember her and other women she worked with as Rosie Riveters.

Anyway, something in my grandpa clicked during these adolescent years.  He graduated high school and drove on over to Burbank one day, diploma in hand, inquiring about work with an airplane company called Lockheed.  That airplane company hired him.

Life was now good.  Emmett could now help his mom make ends meet.

But soon—after a certain December day in 1941—he found himself confronted with the possibility of having to join the military.

Instead, however, the people at Lockheed pulled some strings.  Emmett, they said, is involved with a special group of researchers in a place in our organization we call the Skunkworks.

That special group, we know now, was responsible for developing such secret aircraft as the SR71, a plane that for many decades held the record as the fastest of all aircraft.  Lockheed needed Emmett.  He never enlisted.

He then met, fell in love with, and married a woman.  I never learned her name.  Their relationship was fast and furious, like the aircraft he worked on.  In their young, fast, and furious love they decided to adopt a war baby, a girl born March 3, 1945.  They named her Cheryl.

But motherhood and other burdensome responsibilities were apparently too difficult for Emmett’s unnamed wife: he woke one morning to find a note on the pillow next to him; she’d left him and Baby Cheryl forever.

Emmett decided to pool his resources with his single mother.  Together they bought a house and raised Baby Cheryl.

For the next nineteen years, Emmett worked faithfully and tirelessly to provide for this household of three spanning as many generations.  He’d commute from Reseda to Burbank while Granny got Cheryl off to school each morning, picked her up each afternoon, shuttled her back and forth to her cousin Annette’s for play dates, and otherwise raised her.

Then at nineteen, Cheryl moved out and married a dapper, just-graduated-from-UCLA engineer named Dan.

And then—only then: only after he’d faithfully and tirelessly raised his adopted daughter Cheryl for nineteen years and she’d gone off and got married—did Emmett try again to succeed in the realm of romantic love.

Her name was Peggy.  And she brought four children in tow.

Not so fast and furious this time, he fell deeply in love again; and so did Peggy.  They were soon married.  And again Emmett went through the legal process of adoption.  And just like that he found himself with five children, ranging in age from 12 to 22.  Imagine that!

And just like that (!) everything settled into place.  What so recently had seemed chaos was now calm.  And Emmett played no small part in bringing this calm about.

So, by the time Dan and Cheryl had been married for a few years and I was born, this big, happy, stable, functional family was what I knew.

Whatever had occurred in this family’s history didn’t matter to me.  What I cared about was the here and now; and here and now before me (for the next 48 years) was one of the most wise, witty, and selfless persons I’ve ever known, Grandpa Emmett, a calming force, again and again, in our chaotic world.

And you know what else?  He taught me how to wash my eyeball.  Yeah!  Check this out!  <Demonstration.>

So: you know how it is.  We, his family—his five adopted children and all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews and everyone else—we miss his legacy.

Especially now, when the grief is still fresh, we miss him—his teachings, his jokes, his example.

—–

Do you think it was really all that different for Jesus’ disciples?

They’d just spent three years of their lives with him.  They’d listened to his teachings.  They’d laughed at his jokes.  And they’d pondered his example.

Who was this man, that even the wind and the waves obeyed him?  Who was he, that at something so simple as his word armed men fell away?  Who was he, to say that no one can come to the Father except through him?  Who was he to bring calm and order to a chaotic world?

He’d left behind a legacy.

But now that he was going away, now with the freshness of the resurrection still playing with the happy end of the disciples’ emotional spectrum, the thought of Jesus leaving them was almost too much to bear.  Hadn’t they just endured the grief of his death?  How would they be able to cope with his absence again?  How would they be able to carry on his legacy?

It is into this emotional roller coaster that Jesus sends his Spirit.

The world is crazy.  It’s chaotic.  It opposes the truth that Jesus is and brings.  But the Spirit continues Jesus Christ’s legacy, bringing calm to a chaotic world.

—–

Let’s revisit now the idea that John’s Gospel breaks the fourth wall.

If you were here two weeks ago—today’s Gospel actually overlaps some with that one—I talked about how John the Evangelist often comes out of his story into the present lives of his audience to make a point.  I likened John’s story to an imaginary rendition of The Wizard of Oz, where right at the tensest point in the movie, what if Dorothy suddenly turned to the camera with a snarky expression on her face and asked, “Would you get a load of those lame special effects?”

It doesn’t happen, of course; but that would be to break the fourth wall.  And that is exactly what John does, several times in fact, in his Gospel.

He writes to an audience living two or three generations after Christ’s death and resurrection—two or three generations after the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven.  He is no longer with his disciples.  And now they’ve been kicked out of the local synagogue.  What are they to do?

Through the story he tells, then, John breaks the fourth wall and comes into the present-day story that his community is living out.

“Do not be afraid,” he tells his audience directly.  “Jesus has sent the promised Advocate, his Holy Spirit.  And this Holy Spirit will guide, comfort, and teach us.  Do you see what Jesus promised to our forefathers, the first disciples?  And look around us!  That promise is still happening with us, nearly a hundred years later, despite the trials and chaos we now experience.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  The Holy Spirit is with us.”

So, my grandpa’s story is something of a fourth wall for me.  I hope it is for you too.

Grandpa Emmett wasn’t a theologian.  He never taught Sunday school.  He didn’t read theological books or become an EfM mentor.

But when trials and chaos came his way and to those around him, he trusted the same words St. John wrote to his community so long ago.  The Holy Spirit was Emmett’s Advocate throughout his life.  The Holy Spirit brought Christ’s peace to Emmett in times of uncertainty.  The Holy Spirit guided Emmett through the way of truth.

And, Emmett’s century of life tells us, the Holy Spirit is still at work in our lives, advocating, guiding, and comforting us through the chaos of our world.

The promises Jesus gave to his disciples and the promises St. John gave to his community—these promises still hold true today.

Thank you for leaving me with this legacy, Grandpa.  May you rest in peace.


Follow up note: I’ve since learned that my grandpa did in fact enlist in the Army for a short time in 1945.  After boot camp and being sworn in, he was released because of the recent adoption of Baby Cheryl.  He returned to Lockheed something like two months after leaving for the Army.  The war ended very shortly after that.  He was thus a veteran, a thing I did not know until his funeral, when a decked veteran showed up and performed Taps while the coffin was lowered into the grave.