We wish Rev. Jope a wonderful, refreshing Sabbatical…..”See you in September”
Sunday June 23, 2019:
Celtic Christianity for Canadians By Rev. Kelley Warner
A woman who belonged to the United Church of Canada was in Ireland with a group that were enjoying the beautiful antiquities of the country. Another Canadian woman expressed her particular appreciation considering Canada’s brief history. Our UCC woman stepped up and challenged her notion of Canadian history saying something like, “Indigenous people have been in Canada for many thousands of years and there are ancient medicine wheel cairns that rival Stonehenge and other sacred sites.
So, today’s reflection combines my love of Celtic Spirituality and Indigenous wisdom and not surprising they connect with today’s scriptures. Several years ago, I saw Riverdance, an Irish dance performance, and something deep in my DNA ached with a homesickness for a land I have never been to, but that I know my ancestors came from. I have long been interested in Celtic Spirituality and in the past I enjoyed an online course on Celtic Spirituality presented by Carl McColman, some of which I will share with you today.
Next came the awareness that this Sunday is Indigenous Peoples Sunday. For the last four years I have been blessed to sit within circles with Indigenous and Non-indigenous people in working towards reconciliation. It has been difficult at times, as when I have sat in circles where pain and anger were directed at me because I have inherited white privilege as an ancestor of colonial settlers. I have experienced Indigenous people who have raged: at the loss of parents as role models, at residential school conditions and abuses, systemic barriers and oppression, intergenerational trauma, loss of ancestry, culture, roots, and language.
Alternatively, there have been a multitude of times where I have felt transported to another realm sitting in the presence of various elders, as they generously shared their wisdom and traditional knowledge. I have also experienced hope for reconciliation when I have sat in circles where indigenous people have outnumbered non-indigenous people, and many having been educated and employed in professions and committed to the work on reconciliation. My challenge today was to choose which indigenous elders to feature and talk about. Lastly, I was struck by how today’s scriptures, Celtic Spirituality and Indigenous are speaking with similar voices.
What can we learn, especially about spirituality and wisdom, from these ancient cultures? And how can we apply the principles and viewpoints of Celtic mysticism and Indigenous wisdom to our lives here in the twenty-first century? I believe people and all creation benefit from entertaining different perspectives and approaches to life. I will limit my reflection to a few interesting observations of shared concepts I noted between the two these being: ‘Diversity and Mystery’, and connections to ‘All My Relations’. There are other common characteristics, but time constrains our breadth of exploration.
Beginning with “Diversity and Mystery,” both ancient approaches were shared orally, originally, without a sacred book to inform and unify their foundational stories. For both, this meant a great diversity of rituals and stories that developed differently in different regions and communities. McColman shares that, “Celts spoke different languages, worshipped different gods and goddesses, and venerated different elements of nature as they made sense of their lives.”
I was to learn the same holds true for our indigenous people. A group of around twenty-four sat in a circle with a buffalo hide in the centre at St. Mary’s University. We were about to hear stories from Pavlo Russell, an indigenous elder from the Blood Nation. Pavlo explained that the Blackfoot Confederacy, is comprised of many different nations, each with their own ceremonies, traditions, songs, colours and culture. This is important for us to know because too often we see all Indigenous people as being the same. Sometimes their differences lead to conflict even amongst themselves.
Along with this diversity there is an element of mystery that can be thought of in two ways. “First, there is simply so much about Celtic spirituality, especially from the pre-Christian and early Christian eras, that we simply don't know. Even with the myths and legends and poetry, our knowledge of ancient Celtic spirituality is fragmentary,” according to McColman. For Indigenous People in Canada, the transmission of their culture was interrupted and sometimes lost through the efforts of colonization and assimilation into the newly formed Dominion of Canada.
The other sense of mystery is in the sense of awe and gratitude expressed in both Celtic and Indigenous practices. Both embrace what McColman describes as “the idea that God [Creator] is present...God is not elsewhere. God is present in nature. The Spirit is present in the waters of holy wells and the rustle of leaves. We encounter the sacred in the good earth, the flowing water, and the heavenly chalice that forms the sky above us.” Both felt that rather than being distant, that a mystical divine presence was always present and as close as the ground beneath their feet.
We sometimes forget that Christianity began as a deeply mystical spirituality that was later overtaken by creeds and doctrines and moralism. Before this according to McColman, “Their spirituality was a spirituality of inclusion and coming together. For them, wisdom meant finding God present in nature, finding a path to holiness in the ordinary rhythms of life, and enjoying prayer and meditation not as a way of escaping life, but rather to bring blessing into the middle of each and every day.” In the same way, Pavlo explained that “our life’s purpose is a journey to find our soul. To do this we must combine the spiritual with the physical. He goes on to clarify that, “the mind is a dictator giving us negative self-talk, that can interfere with this process convincing us to make choices that are not helpful to us. Most importantly Pavlo says one must strive to be present in the moment and to love oneself. Every day should start with a spiritual practice: a smudge, meditation, yoga, a walk…. And to give thanks to all the relations….relatives, animals, mother sun, mother earth, father moon, for all the good and the bad.”
In both Indigenous culture and Celtic Spirituality there is a deep reverence for the divine, animals, ancestors and all creation. The artwork on the cover of our bulletin was created by artist Christy Belcourt whose art of a buffalo we used for the bulletin. She says, “I am Michif (Métis) artist. My ancestry originates from the Métis community of Manitou Sahkahigan (Lac Ste. Anne) in Alberta, Canada. My people, the Michif people of Manitou Sakhigan, are Buffalo, Moose and Fish people, meaning we owe our existence to the earth and to these animals. We share with other Indigenous Nations an inheritance of a worldview connecting us to all things on the earth and in a lived state of gratitude towards all who sustain life.”
At a recent conference in Winnipeg I listened to Niigaanwewidom James Sinclair an Anishinaabe, originally from St. Peter’s (Little Peguis) Indian Settlement near Selkirk, Manitoba speak about what it is to be connected to “all the relations”. He presently serves as the head of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. He spoke about his young daughter’s passion and commitment for the standoff at Standing Rock where indigenous people were standing up against oil company who wanted to run pipelines under the water on the reservation there. Niigan choked up a little when he explained his daughter whose name means the “light that shines off the surface of the water” wanted to make sure that the waters remained clear and not tainted with murkiness from possible pipeline breaks.” He explained that indigenous people see all things in creation as familial relations. The water is a relation…an aunt, an uncle, a brother, a sister…this is a concept difficult for us non-indigenous to grasp.
You might also be interested to learn that animals, creation and ancestors also play a big part in Celtic Spirituality. Common place is lifting up the names of saints, which include our deceased relatives, at Celtic worship services during prayer time. Human ancestors are believed to be present and involved in the earthly goings on of their loved ones as well as the divine, angels and fairies.
Before we leave this focus, I want you to consider our biblical stories that recall the saints of the past as well as Jesus and then look to today’s scriptures which highlight ancient believers’ capacity to connect creation, God and us. Listen to the poetry of these images of God connected and looked for in nature:
From I Kings 19:1-15:
· “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.”
· “Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”
· “At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there.”
· “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
From Psalm 42:
· “As a deer longs for flowing streams so my soul longs for you, O God.”
· “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts all your waves and your billows have gone over me.”
· “ By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.”
· “I say to God, my rock,”
As I conclude I want to compare our last text from Galatians, something from my Celtic Spirituality course and Indigenous viewpoints:
From Galatians 3:
· “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Consider how this compares with something from my Celtic Spirituality course:
· “Heaven and earth. Spirit and matter. Male and female. Time and eternity. This world and the otherworld. Poetry and silence. In Celtic wisdom, none of these are "either/or's" -- they are all "both/and's.”
Native Wisdom espouses the notion that all living things are connected, to each other and to the Creator, an expression that asserts the basic philosophy of many Native Americans, according to which plants, stones, two-leggeds, animals, sky, earth, moon, spirit helpers, ancestors and—most significantly—the Great Spirit are related; good health results from harmony between all beings. Emily, an Indigenous woman expands on this, “I cannot exist without you and you cannot exist without me. What I do affect you and others and what you do affects me. Everything we do has an effect on others and on our world. It means that everything has a spirit and that’s how we are connected to each other as well as to the Creator. The image of the Creator lives inside of us and we need to recognize it in others. We are all the children of Mother Earth, we are all brothers, sisters, cousins. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, The weak, the strong, the rich, the poor, the young and the old. We are all related. We are related because we share the same breath. We are related because we are from the same place. We are related because we are. What is, is.”
So now, here's the question: What part will you play in carrying on these traditions honouring connectedness? How will you relate to the wonders of the natural world? What stories (of your own, or from the mists of history) will you pass on to others? What artistry shall you give yourself to, to create in some small way more beauty for this world that so desperately needs it? So as in all things we give thanks for Creator who created all relations, Jesus who embraced diversity and Spirit who continues to whisper to our hearts as in ancient times. Thanks be.
Sunday June 16, 2019:
June 16th, 2019 – reflection – Wisdom and the Spirit
Ah! …..there she is ……welcome Sophia …….we’re excited to meet you. Many of you most likely remember her as a woman named Pinkie ……from the Gainsborough painting ……and it is the closest image I could find ………..about what I think Wisdom might look like ……with longer darker hair …….without the hat ……but with a flowing light blue dress ……..and white ribbons ……showing movement from place to place.
In today’s text from Proverbs ……we have a woman standing up and calling for us ……..to come to her. …………….Wisdom cries out …….”up on the hill ……beside the road ……at the intersections …….beside the gates ……at the entrance” ……she seems to pop up everywhere …………calling us to something ……..….. I wonder what blessing ……Wisdom has to offer?
I can see clearly ……..an image of this woman ……..Sophia ……..who is wisdom …..standing there at the gates ……Sophia comes to me sometimes in my imagination ……just the image …..no words …..but a sense of calm …..of the sacred ……of joy and love … …………....There have been times for me …….when Sophia and Jesus are in the same image ……interesting.
Her name is Sophia ……which is Greek for wisdom …….and if you google Sophia – pages of images come up ……she is a common icon ……painting or symbol in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. …………..And to my amazement …….there are images of Sophia and Jesus together.
The lectionary then skips to verses 22-31 …….and once again we hear Wisdom lifting up her voice ……establishing her credentials. ……She tells us of her age ….and constancy. ……She was there at the beginning of creation …...brought forth …….which in Hebrew translates as whirl …..or dance. ………Can we imagine Wisdom whirling …….dancing …………..and then in verse 30 …………Wisdom tells of her time with God at creation …….”I was beside him like a master worker.”
Wisdom says ……you can trust me …….…..…after all ………I have been with God from the very beginning …..in fact I was God’s helper working right beside the Creator. ………Listen when I speak. Then we have her final claim ………...I was daily his delight ……rejoicing ……before him always …………..rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
This is not how we expected Wisdom to look! ……When we say the word wisdom ……we often image a stern person ……like a solemn judge in a black robe. But that is not the picture here ……....Wisdom is joyous laughter ……dance and play. ……….And to top it all off …………Wisdom rejoices in us …..in humanity.
So what do we do with this text? What I understand of from the book of Proverbs is …………that it deals not in shades of gray ………..…but in absolutes …….clear right …….and wrong. ……….For example ……Chapter 7 is about the enticing call of the sinful person …….followed by chapter 8 the call of wisdom. ……….…….A study in contrasts …………..and I could have gone there . ………but I liked the idea of the personification of Wisdom ……..especially powerful for me.
I borrowed a resource from Jope ……and there was an illustration of this idea of personification of Wisdom……….which goes and I quotte
“I went out shopping yesterday, and whom did I run into? Wisdom. ……..Yes, there she was. ……….She called me over and we began talking, Wisdom and I. Then I went down to the courthouse, …………and there she was again ……making a plea for justice in some courtroom …….where somebody had been unjustly accused. …….After that, I dropped by the school, ……….and she had gotten there before me, ……..calling for students and teachers alike to seek truth. ……..Then I went for a walk in the woods, moving along the trail in quiet meditation. ……. Wisdom snuck up on me and said ………..now that we are alone, ………I have something I want to share with you, ……..a present I want you to enjoy. ………..You know, I have been around a long time, ………really before the beginning of time. I have been whirling and dancing with God all along. I am God’s delight, laughing and playing. ………….I want you to know the lightness of spirit and gladness ………..that comes when you welcome me. Will you set aside those thoughts, words, and deeds that make life heavy and sad for you and others? …………..Will you come and laugh and play with me? ………Will you come and dance with me? ………….Will you?” ………..End of Quote
So there I was ……..floating along – enjoying this God …..this wisdom …..Sophia ……this Spirit ………..and then I come to a commentary on the proverbs text …………that how to interpret this text ………… is one of the most hotly contested issues about the book of proverbs. ……….That stopped me in my tracks …….for many Christians this text says things about God ………………that don’t fit neatly into our common images of the Trinity …..as father …..son …..and holy spirit.
So what are we to do with this character? Is she part of the Trinity – if so ……how does she fit? ………….It all comes down to interpretation and you got some of mine today …..but there is a long history of interpretation …..ancient understandings in the church ……interesting and mysterious …….I believe that we can operate with a variety of images and ideas ……….and find ourselves okay with that.
Trinity Sunday – is celebrated the first Sunday after Pentecost and reminds us of the three elements of God in One, ……Jesus Christ ……and the Holy Spirit. It’s an idea that has relationships in mind …….for myself there are times when I really don’t separate God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit ……..but think of them as one unit ……..holy …..sacred ……….with different aspects. …….At other times and situations, …….each part has their distinct role.
The Holy Spirit ……the Spirit of God ……the Spirit of Christ ……or just the word Spirit ……..has a huge impact on our lives ………and is one we often talk about. Yet for some it is the hardest to see. …………..We see the handiwork of God ……….the Creator all around us ………...we see and hear Jesus …………live his ordinary and extraordinary life in the gospels.
But the spirit comes into our bodies as we breath …………....rushes past us like the wind …..then flies away like a dove. ……….Yet the Spirit calls us …..and gives us wisdom …..strength and courage ……….….builds up the community of Christians ………appearing to us most often when we are gathered together in worship. …..Jesus promised that he would send us a Comforter ……….….to be with us after he was gone from the earth ……and we celebrated the arrival of this comforter ……the Holy Spirit …….last week at Pentecost ……...a time when we are all together ……..and a time when the disciples were all together. The birthday of the church.
This week …….I received an email from Naramata ……..and I remembered some of the times I went there ……as soon as I arrived and put my legs out of the car and my feet on the ground ………I felt the Spirit ……a rush ,,,,,…a strong sense of the sacred ……Naramata is a good image for me ………and for the church of places where the Spirit dwells. ………I could be working in the gardens there ……having coffee or a meal at Columbia Hall ……walking the labyrinth ……worshipping in the chapel …..connecting with a friend ……….lying on my bed reading ………...always I felt close to God and to others.
Also …..this week I received a letter from the Moderator of the United Church of Canada talking about the anniversary of church union ….June 10th ……and reminding me of a significant anniversary of my own entry into the Order of Ministry ……how fast the years go by. …….But in reading the letter …..it made me think of all the people who have been in leadership in the church ……in various roles throughout my life …..and helped nurture me in my understanding of God ……of Jesus ….of the Holy Spirt ……wise people who shared their gifts and their lives ……….…and I value them and feel honored to be part of that leadership team throughout the years.
I felt the spirit out there …..during our neighbourhood barbeque yesterday ……people living around here who go to other churches …..came out to support us ……people who have children at Jennie Elliot school and wait for their children in our parking lot. Children and adults who enjoyed the petting zoo. And our faithful people out and about talking with others …..passing the spirit on.
So we come to the gospel of John. As I said before I don’t really understand what the writer of John 16 is saying as he contradicts what is written in the previous chapter ………where he told the disciples that he had made everything known to them ……and yet ……he still has things to say to them ….Oh well. ……..What I do know is that the spirit of truth ………..helps me to think what it could mean for our own times ……how do we listen to the spirit ………and be open to new and deeper understandings of our faith ………and the implications for us today?
The internet ……social media ….and the 24 hour news cycle give us a more immediate awareness of local ………..national ……..and global crises …………. that challenge us for a Christian response ………...on refugees and immigration ….and racial disparity in police treatment …….I’m thinking of the murdered and lost indigenous women …….the LGBTQ gay straight alliances ……what response is more true and faithful? ……Can we ……like John …….trust the Spirit to guide us in discerning ……what it means to live out our faith today? …. Can we work with wisdom and discern the way? ……I think we can.
The Spirit’s greatest gift to us is community …..the communion of saints ….we can help one another recognize our gifts ……..and where we can encourage one another’s growth. ……….We are promised wisdom …..strength and courage. May we continue this journey together. And the people said ……Amen.
Sunday June 9, 2019:
"God's Desire is for Uniformity or Diversity?"
By Rev. Kelley Warner
Before we delve into our scripture verses for today I want to give you some background information about Pentecost Sunday. It has been seven weeks since Easter. If we include Easter Sunday the number is 50 and that is exactly what Pentecost means in the Greek, pentēkostē. In Judaism this was and is the celebration of the festival of Shavuot or the Festival of Weeks. It was a joyous time when the first fruits of the harvest would have been given to YHWH and it was also a time to commemorate the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinaii. As you can see by our banners the Christian liturgical colour is red which “symbolizes fire, spirit, energy, passion, strength, power, intensity, courage and determination,” according to our Gathering Resource. Some visual symbols of Pentecost are flames, wind and a dove.
Two of our scripture verses, at first glance, seem to stand in contrast regarding God’s desires for humanity. The Genesis text seems to promote cultural differences and the Acts text seems to promote uniformity. After my initial reading of scripture, my research began with looking at Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. I use this resource so often I thought I might say just a few words about it.
Every Sunday the lectionary gives us certain scripture passages on which to focus. Some ministers choose to use some of the passages for their reflections and others choose not to. The book includes commentaries by four different theologians on each of the given scripture verses for that week. What I particularly enjoy is their different and sometimes diametrically contrasting takes on the scriptures in question. Thus is the case today and unless otherwise noted the authors I quote, come from this book.
The scripture from Genesis is part of the ‘prehistory’ of the Bible, used by ancient believers as an explanation for the existence of different languages and peoples according to Jeff Paschal. Ralph W. Klein comments that “the goal of the building project was to keep the community in one place, lest they be scattered over the surface of all the earth.” I believe the desire to be with those we know and who know us is a normal attribute and I also recognize the possible fear of encountering others who are different from ourselves.
Some scholars interpret the passage as being about the pride of human beings and God’s reactionary punishment of dispersing the group across the planet. I prefer Douglas M. Donley’s take that “God saw that they were one people and had only one language and was concerned about the possibility of the people not learning anything new, since they already seemed to be a nice homogenous community.” Donley goes on to say, “Babel has come to represent individualism, our Babel component is our First-Worldness, our materialism, our economic and military domination. Our Babel component is everything that builds up the Berlin wall, the Israel/Palestine wall, the US/Mexico wall, the disputes between Pakistan and India, the former rifts in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the plethora of denominations that seek unity only by throwing the “other” out. Our Babel component is that most [of us] speak only one language and we expect others to learn ours. Babel is also what makes injustice thrive, makes distinctions between rich and poor, makes people think they can own other people, makes people think they can condemn other people, makes enemies of other, makes wars happen.” The positive consequence from this story is that God creates cultural diversity and in so doing we get to push ourselves outside of our own understandings.
I also want to talk to you about a couple of things I watched this week that got me thinking and asking what DOES God desire for humanity in this modern-day scenario, uniformity, diversity or some combination of both? One of the things I watched this week, was a very compelling You Tube Podcast on a talk given by Tim Wise. His talk was entitled Race and Whiteness in the Era of Trumpism.[i] I am always seeking to understand what is going on with people south of the border and this podcast helped. Tim Wise is an American anti-racism activist and writer. Since 1995, he has given speeches at over 600 college campuses across the U.S. He has trained teachers, corporate employees, non-profit organizations and law enforcement officers in methods for addressing and dismantling racism in their institutions,” according to Wikipedia. I would highly recommend checking Tim Wise out because he delivers a serious message but with a sense of humour. I include it in my reflection because although we are Canadian there is wisdom to glean for us as well.
Wise begins by saying and I am paraphrasing that “he wants to present a silver lining from an incredibly dangerous storm that the American sense and feel at this moment.” He goes onto say that “for the last eight years he has been trying to convince people that racism still exists. Here is the silver lining since this latest political administration, he doesn’t have to do that work anymore.” He goes on to say that the last eight years was but a blip in a reality that has existed since the mid 1700’s. This is good news Wise claims because it is “a monster” that has been dealt with before it is not a new and unique deviation. Wise states that “what is happening is not about a man but about a movement that is predicated on three attitudes: 1)nostalgia about a time of innocence and simplicity where everything was wonderful and 2) a concerted and deliberate backlash towards any progress or actions created to benefit people of colour and 3) a divide and conquer mentality promoted by rich white men convincing not-rich white people that black and brown people are their enemies.
How did this happen and why did it so profoundly affect the trajectory of American history? Wise explains that up until the mid 1700’s there wasn’t an awareness of white race but at a certain point the “elite” made up of rich white men recognized that they were out-numbered by the Afro-American slaves, the indentured Europen servants and peasants that were there. Wise outlines that this was the beginning of the psychological wage of whiteness in cross-race relation tensions in order to secure the elite’s status quo and so it continues to this day. What resulted was an expectation by any white person that they were superior and there were promises and privileges attached to their skin colour. Repeatedly Wise points out that if the working-class white poor had listened to and worked with people of colour, systems might have changed, and more equality may have been the result. I believe this also would have been the case if we had worked with our indigenous brothers and sisters from the time of colonialization.
A few days ago, I watched an interview during the Morning Show on Global Television with author Irshad Manji on her book Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation in Divided Times. Irshad Manji is a Canada-based Muslim author, who is also a feminist, journalist, and activist. I must say the first thing that struck me was the T-shirt she was wearing that had several ethnic designations with boxes to the left for someone to indicate how they would identify. The categories were Hispanic, White, Black and Asian but the box checked on her shirt was “human”. She cautions on the popular present practice of labelling ourselves and others and says that by doing so we reduce ourselves and others to something less than ourselves. She points out that politicians are in the game of delineating us versus them in their strategies. What is scary is that too often it comes with a willingness to invoke violence against their opponents according to her research. Instead she suggests we learn how better to disagree on certain topics but also to find the common values we all share.
So what light can the Pentecost story shed on this idea of commonality or uniformity? Many scholars suggest that the story stands in stark contrast to the Genesis story. Linda E. Thomas highlights the contrast by saying, “although they were dispersed they decided to gather early in the morning to worship. They wanted to support each other because they were a religious minority and lived a faith that the majority in Galilee did not.”
Margaret P. Aymer claims that “careful attention should be paid to those involved in Luke’s narrative. There are two large groups, the first designated by the words “they were all together in one place (Acts2:1). By all “it is likely that the author is referring to the entire community of Christians, which at Pentecost numbered “about one hundred and twenty persons (Acts 1:15). The second large group is those “living in Jerusalen” (Acts 2:5,14) These were immigrants (not pilgrims as is often preached) who had emigrated from areas of the Roman Empire to the north, east, south and west of Jerusalem. This is refuted by many scholars that assert there WOULD have been an influx of pilgrims for the festival. Regardless, on the day of Pentecost, Christianity became a religion with a divine sanction where power was given to the band of Jesus followers to speak the languages of the world, to tell the gospel in every language
and to show the Holy Spirit is not discriminatory for she comes to everyone regardless of differences.
“Pentecost represents the inbreaking of God’s purpose for all humanity, bringing humanity together in understanding, despite their differences,” says Michael Jinkins. He goes on to say, “the Spirit that animated [Jesus’] life, that united him to God the Father and empowered him to be the fully human image of God is now shared with us. Thus, the cacophony of voices becomes a chorus of praise, babble becomes communication, and community is fashioned out of potential adversaries.”
Donley holds up that, “right after Pentecost, the early church changed the way they did things. They got rid of their class distinctions. They held all of their money together and gave it to out as people needed it….The Spirit moved among them and they no longer saw each other as people to be suspicious of, but as fellow children of God. They had a new freedom and a chance to be a different kind of community. They did not have to go back to Babel.” [Sadly] it would not last.
We must continue the struggle for according to Jinkins for, “[we] can never fully live in in God’s image until we live in communion. Communion assumes difference –…not conformity to a single idealized form of life, or nationality, or ethnicity, or tribe” but uniformity to a vision of God’s kingdom on earth. So as in all things we give thanks to God who encouraged diversity, to Jesus who embraced unity and to Spirit may she continue to empower us to make change. So may it be.
[i] Race and Whiteness in the Era of Trumpism at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Texas on Sunday, April 30, 2017.
Sunday June 2, 2019:
“The Courage to Speak Out”
By Rev. Kelley Warner
We will hear three scripture passages this morning and they tie together beautifully. Each scripture reinforces the ideas of being one with God in our service, healing towards being one with our true selves and that there is a larger narrative at work that is bigger than our individual stories. Let us begin with our gospel message:
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
This is the final prayer Jesus lifts up just before his arrest by the Roman authorities, who are accompanied by the religious leaders. Peter J.B. Carman in Feasting on the Word surmises that most likely, “Jesus foresees that their circle will some day expand to include many others. His words anticipate a tough dilemma.” Carman asks, “Will later generations of Christians, who were not part of the circle who first encountered Jesus, be able to experience the same kind of unity with God and with Christ as those through whom they came to faith?” This prayer from Jesus reveals his deepest desire that this be the case.
Oft repeated in the gospels, this idea continues to remind us that we are to be one as community, united in our purpose just as the triune God is: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We hear this again in our first passage from Acts 1 which speaks about the ascension of Jesus up into the heavens to be with God. He has been with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection and has continually talked about the kingdom of God. Instead they asked Jesus about the kingdom of Israel for they furtively hoped, with God’s help, that Rome could be overthrown. They continued to set their sights on worldly things and missed the bigger picture. Redemption might look different from what the disciples expected.
The reality is that Jesus will once again leave his disciples behind. He will no longer be bodily present. Richard M. Landers in Feasting on the Word says, “the absence of the earthly Jesus leads us to search for a God who is nevertheless present in the world.” Landers goes on to say, that “deeds of power, miracles and wonders had marked the experience of the community of faith, but these were gifts of God not subject to human command.” We are repeatedly reassured in scripture that we are loved and that God is with us.
Ronald Cole-Turner says in Feasting on the Word, “the story of this outreach stretches from sending Christ to this ascension. From there the story of divine love goes on to include the [promise] of sending of the Holy Spirit, whose work is the transformation of the creation until all things are gathered up in the endless fellowship of the living God.” If we do not have all this how do we know that God is still at work in our world?
The last scripture verse cleverly reveals metaphorically how God intervenes in the world towards bringing about redemption. David G. Forney in Feasting on the Word, says “in today’s text from Acts, we have two interrelated stories that provide us with two different manifestations of God’s aim. In the healing of a slave girl and the salvation of a jailer, we witness how God brings about healing, wholeness, and unity in two particular lives, witnessing what it means to move toward becoming completely one.” These stories come on the heels of last weeks healing of Lydia a wealthy Christian woman. The story reveals the invitation for all to come to God.
It is heartening to see that God uses imperfect human beings, even cranky ones like Paul, to bring about healing in the world. We are told that Paul orders the demon out of the slave girl not out of any sense of compassion but because he is annoyed by her. He can not fault her words for they are true, “These men are slaves [also rendered servants] of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Was it her tone? her voice? Was she constantly interrupting? What we are not expecting is that this healing brought about some unexpected consequences. When the girl’s owners realized that she could no longer be exploited for money, they retaliated by dragging Paul and Silas before the magistrates. Paul and Silas are accused of disrupting the Roman social order by advocating Jewish customs. They were then stripped, beaten and then thrown in jail. Landers shows us that we often cannot see God’s bigger picture.
Being put in jail provides an opportunity for Paul and Silas to create Sabbath time and to preach to the captives. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God when there is an earthquake and all the doors of the jail are opened. The jailer is about to throw himself on his sword because his perceived failure at his job when Paul yells out, “Hey buddy it is okay because we are all still here.” [or something like that]. Now what the jailer asks next is a pivotal piece, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” Cole-Turner expands on this by asking , “What must I do to be saved from what destroys me? What must I do to be saved from my particular bondage, my oppression, addiction, emptiness or boredom? There are countless ways to lose our way in this world…” Paul’s answer is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not to deny that there are things, programs and ways to help ourselves but once again there is a larger narrative to consider. The larger story is that God continues to act in human lives, in the world and Christ is still saving. The presence of God’s Spirit is the occasion for freedom, including the liberation of our true selves. Cole-Turner says, “believing this means tuning into the highest level of the story line of what is going on. It means becoming decisively aware that our small lives are swept up into a greater drama, God’s story line.”
What does all this mean in our modern world? I personally have had very few moments of divine encounters but I have learned to pay attention to ordinary times. There are God moments that happen in the ordinary: a conversation with a grandchild, watching wildlife, being in nature, meeting people from other cultures, reconnecting with old friends, walking with someone in challenging times, weeping with others when they share their stories. Sometimes when I reflect on such occasions, I sense that God was there. I sensed Sabbath time when in Africa, the grandmothers told there heartbreaking stories and afterwards broke into song praising and trusting God’s goodness.
To reiterate we are called to be one in being available to God to bring about a better world. We need to be courageous in speaking out against the injustices in the world despite the risks. Martin Luther King knew what the meaning of these words was when he wrote from a Birmingham prison,
I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.
You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.
I believe God continues to call us to the work of justice towards creating a world where everyone is valued and where everyone has enough. Everyone can do something. To illustrate this I want to share two very brief stories. The first is about a about a couple in their nineties that attended this very church. Many will know this story and forgive me if the details are not perfectly accurate. Every Sunday they would arrive in a taxi driven by the same driver. The couple were curious to hear about his life. Over the course of time they began to hear the driver’s story. Sadly, he had not seen his wife and children, in several years, because his attempts at trying to get them to Canada had failed. The elderly couple after hearing a sermon about service and that everyone can do something…took it to heart. They decided to meet with their MP to plead on behalf of their new friend. Amazingly immigration arrangements were expedited, and the family arrived in Calgary a few weeks later. It was powerful proof of our call to service when the family came to the church and shared their gratitude for the actions of this couple.
The second story was shared to me by a friend of mine. She was downtown when she came a man berating and yelling abuses at a woman wearing a hijab while she sat at a bus stop. My friend shared that despite her shyness and fear, she thought there was something she could do. So she sat beside the woman, took her hand to reassure her and she waited with the woman until her bus came. The work of justice does not always have to be big it can be in the smallest acts of kindness in a world badly needing it. And so as in all things we give thanks to the God who calls us, Jesus who worked to make change despite the danger and lastly to Spirit who inspires and strengthens us. Amen