Into the Wind: A Sermon for The Day of Pentecost 2013

This sermon draws on the readings for the Day of Pentecost in Year C of the New Revised Common Lectionary. You can find those readings here.

Here is a link to an audio file of the sermon.  The text that follows is a transcription of the recorded sermon with only minor grammatical and syntactical edits.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid.”  He says, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you. “  I will send to you the Advocate, the…

The Advocate?  The Advocate?  That word has caught me up several time s this week.  Shouldn’t he say “Comforter?”  That’s what we just sang, “O Comforter draw near.”  And In fact, if you go back and look in the King James Version it doesn’t say “Advocate,” it says “Comforter.”

Comforter would make sense.  We are reading form the Farewell Discourse as Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, trying to teach them how to live in the world after he is gone, trying to prepare them for life without him.  And so a comforter would be sorely needed.

So why is it that we don’t use that word in our reading today?  In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible which we are now using the word is “Advocate” and then there is an asterisk that says , “or ‘helper.’”  Comforter, Advocate/Helper…  Those words feel very different.  Sometimes I think I would prefer the comforter, but then the kind of comforter that we seem to have heard about this morning is one that bursts into the room with a sound like the rush of a violent wind and sets our hair on fire!  Well… it wouldn’t burn for very long… but that would be pretty uncomfortable!

So what is it about advocates, helpers, advocacy there is a very different feel there.  Comforters, that’s what you need when you are mourning, when you are grieving, when you are hurting, and troubled and what you really need to do is to sit still and be held.  An advocate or a helper implies that there is some sort of conflict going on, that there is motion, that there is movement.  And so what Jesus says is I will send to you something that will set your hair on fire and send you out into the streets speaking words you never imagined you were capable of and doing things that you could never have dreamed were possible.

The piece from the book of Acts that we read this morning preceded this wonderfully long sermon that Peter gives.  He goes on for hours and hours and hours, and hours and hours and hours… and add more than three thousand people to the church that day.

There is something compelling, something impelling about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  She pushes us to move.  Now arriving with a sound like the rush of a violent wind and with tongues of flame… those may be difficult things for us to envision, difficult for us to grasp… so I have been struggling all week for a metaphor to help us to sort of feel where this is.  And this is what I came up with.

Do you all know who Jim Cantore is?  He’s the hurricane guy on the Weather Channel.  And where do you always see him?  He’s out there on the Outer Banks of North Caroline.  And the wind is blowing the rain so that it is flying sideways and the hood on his windbreaker is whipping back and forth and making so much noise that it almost drowns out his microphone and before you know it he’s leaning into the wind like this and he’s saying, “Bill the wind is really starting to blow now.  We’re up to about a hundred and twenty miles and hour!”  And he’s struggling, leaning, working really hard not to get blown away by that wind.

Part of the problem is that he is trying to stand still.  That wind wants more than anything to make him move and he is trying to keep his feet in the same spot and not let that wind change his position at all.

So another part of the visual here…  We are still on the beach.  The hurricane is coming.   And there up on the flagpole at the marina is a flag that somebody forgot to take down.  The wind is blowing a hundred and a hundred and twenty miles an hour and that flag is trying to stay in place up there on the pole… And what happens to it?  It gets shredded.  It gets torn to pieces.

So here we are with this wind, the Spirit of Truth Jesus calls it, blowing through all of creation, blowing through the church and we are at risk of being shredded by that wind.

The way to avoid being shredded is to move.

So here we are again.  We are still here on the Outer Banks.  Imagine what it would be like if when we felt that wind coming we lifted our anchor, we let go our moorings, we pulled in the sheets and tightened the sails, and we pointed ourselves into that wind.  The wind starts buffeting the front face of the sail.  The sail starts luffing a little bit so we pull the sheets in little tighter, and now there’s a vacuum out in front of that sail because the wind is moving so fast in front of it, and we  start moving, pulled forward into the wind.  Into the wind.

The way to avoid being shredded by the wind, by the violent wind, the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, is to be willing to pull up our anchor, to let go of our moorings, and to see where God is calling us.  When we respond in that way, when we risk letting go of what’s familiar, our slip there at the marina where the restaurant is up there on the second floor and the showers are down there around the corner, and we have all the things we need to scrape the hull and keep the boat clean and sparkly, and venture into deep water…  we know that this is the place where we will find God.  That is where God is, at the heart, at the center of that wind.  And when we are willing to point our bow in that direction and be drawn in we will be in a position to help build the kingdom of God wherever that wind takes us.

The wind is blowing.  And you can apply that metaphor to all sorts of arenas in our lives all sorts of settings, all sorts of contexts…  The wind is blowing through the church.  It is also blowing right here in this place.

Think for a moment about where we are.  We are about to welcome a full time Associate Priest.  We are about to celebrate our centennial, a moment when we can look back on our history; to see where we have been, to assess where we are, and choose whether or not to let go of those moorings and move into deep water again.   We do all of this with a gift from a long time committed beloved member of this parish that will help us to go to places that we might not have dreamed.

The wind is blowing.  And God is in the center, in the eye of that storm,  And the wind that is blowing from God has the power to draw us forward, as long as we are willing to move, to pull up our anchor, to let go of our moorings, to shift our feet, and to let God sail the boat.

This is a moment of great excitement… Yea I said that right?  Excitement…  It can be terrifying.  It can be terrifying.   But listen to what Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid.  My Peace I give to you.  And I don’t give as the world gives.

It takes much more energy and it is much more difficult, and it is completely unproductive to work so hard to lean into that wind and not move your feet, to cling to that anchor line, to cling that flagpole and try desperately to hang on.

It is life giving, it is energizing, and it is who we are called to be, to let g, to go with God, who fills our sails and draws us forward, calling us to that new reality that is ours if we dare.

Amen.

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A Sermon for Ascension Day

The readings for this day offer us some interesting images….

In the Acts of the Apostles we read:

“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

From the Gospel of Luke we read:

“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51).

Hmmmm….  Rising up into heaven on a cloud or slowly fading into the mist…  Do either of those images work for you?  How about Albrecht Durer’s wood cut showing the disciples gathered around looking upward, with Jesus’ feet just visible inside the frame at the top of the image?  Does that work any better for you?

There is a real risk that the difficulty that we experience with these images will keep us from exploring the meaning behind them.  That would be very sad because the truth that lies behind the details of today’s readings is incredibly powerful and exciting.

To get to that truth I am going to have to ask your indulgence, maybe even your forgiveness.  It is now the 6th week after Easter, we have had some seventy and even eighty degree days.  We have finally shaken off the snow and things the buds on the trees are beginning to grow.  But to understand the value, the meaning of the Ascension I am going to have to take you back into the dark of winter….  Because we can’t really understand what is happening in the Ascension without also thinking about what happens in the incarnation.  So let’s go back to December and think for a minute about Christmas.

Christmas is filled with images of its won.  Joseph and an expectant Mary traveling to Jerusalem, a young couple bedding down in the straw among the animals, angels singing in the night, and a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.  There are so many truths behind, below, surrounding, buttressing the details of this story that it would take page upon page just to list them and volume upon volume to unpack and explain them.  But there is piece of this complicated event that stands out to us as we look back from our vantage point here at the Ascension.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God Among Us…  God comes into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and our understanding of creation is changed.  God, by definition is holy, set apart, other…  God is light, life, pure.  God is “clean.”  All of those terms serve to set God apart from us.  The world, the place that we inhabit is profane.  It is transient, dark, filled with death, and “unclean.”   There is a chasm that is fixed between us and God that cannot be traversed.

There are religious and philosophical traditions that hold that the world is an illusion; that in order to see the Truth, or to experience enlightenment we have to escape or transcend the veil that is this life and move beyond the profane to the eternal, timeless, the holy.

We have an incarnational faith.  We believe that God is present, manifest in the world.  One of the important truths that swirl around the details of the Christmas story is a clear declaration of the validity, the intrinsic worth, the beauty of this world.  This is the place where God comes to live in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  And whether you believe that the Feast of the Incarnation is a celebration of the moment when the world was redeemed by God’s presence, or that it celebrates the moment when that eternal truth was made evident, manifest through the birth of a child in a manger, the bottom line is the same.  God abides here, with us, in us, in all of creation and somehow, that indwelling, that presence has not sullied God’s nature, has not darkened the light that is God, has not made God unclean.  Instead the world this place, we are sanctified by God’s presence.  Our understanding of creation is shaped and formed by the Incarnation.

 

So why have I taken us back into the cold months of winter just when we are finally breaking free and spring is filling the air with activity, life and growth?   Because the Ascension is the reciprocal movement that mirrors the Incarnation.  In the Incarnation we express the truth that God dwells in and among us.  In the Ascension we are expressing the truth that we dwell within God.

Jesus, in bodily form, ascends into heaven, into the very heart of God.  Our nature, our flesh, becomes a part of God.  And it isn’t some purified, cleaned up, sanitized version of our nature that crosses that great chasm.  Jesus rose from the dead with the wounds, the signs of his crucifixion, still there in his hands and side for Thomas to see and touch.  The truth that this story is trying to help us to grasp?  Our nature and our life, our experiences, our pain and suffering, our brokenness, even our sense of alienation and abandonment are a part of God’s experience!  How do we understand or wrap our minds around that possibility?  God doesn’t just observe our suffering from the sky box, doesn’t just read about it in the book of life, doesn’t listen to dispassionate reports from a host of heavenly angels.  God experiences our lives, our joy and our pain, our successes and our failures, our sense of connection and our loneliness.  That is an astounding proposition.  It would seem to run contrary to those classical definitions of God that I referenced earlier.  So how do we wrap our minds around this?  Perhaps the only way is to explore images like Jesus being lifted up in a cloud, or fading into the mist, or his feet withdrawing from the frame above our heads…  Maybe given our limited language and imagination that is the best that we can do…