Friday, May 26, 2023

The Day of Pentecost 2023

Pentecost banner trio
Three from a group of six Pentecost banners I designed a while back:

• Visions / Dreams – Acts 2:17
• They were of one accord – Acts 2:1
• Witnesses to his resurrection – Acts 1:22

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-13

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, 5 and there are varieties of ministries. but the same Lord, 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in all persons.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

8 To one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

11 One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For even as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

The Day of Pentecost

On the fiftieth day of Easter, the third great trinitarian festival of Pentecost particularly celebrates the reign of the Holy Spirit in the world, not simply within the church for a wide slice of a calendar year.

For all Sundays during the Great Fifty Days, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Today's Acts 2:1-21 narrates a now familiar vibrant, colorful, windy, fiery Spirit-filled happening in an upper room. Was it the same venue as on Maundy Thursday, or the same place where John's gospel tells us Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit on Easter evening? To my knowledge, no one knows.

During Pentecost worship many churches have people read portions of the lection in different languages to help bring to life Luke's description of the far-reaching ethnic, linguistic, and stylistic diversity of the event.

The gospel reading is John 20:19-23, Jesus directly granting his followers the Spirit of presence, peace, and comfort. Every year on the second Sunday of Easter the gospel reading is John 20:19-31; this year I wrote about 1 Peter 1:1-9, but here are a couple of fairly recent reflections on the Johannine text:

Easter 2B – 2021

Easter 2A – 2020


Rich, opulent, and worldly, the city of Corinth famously was the site of Aphrodite's temple; Corinth also was a crossroads for international travel and commerce. The church at Corinth was full of competition, jealousy, arrogance, and self-important individuals. The two letters to the Corinthians are among the apostle Paul's seven undisputed epistles: 1 Corinthians is long and fairly continuous; 2 Corinthians is more of a collage or pastiche of separate communications.

• 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 is the earliest report of the "founding meal" of the Lord's Supper. 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 contain one bread, one body, worthy reception cautions and instructions related to Holy Communion.
• The love chapter 1 Corinthians 13 picks up on the quality of love Jesus charges us with in the gospel we received from John's community.
• The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our proclaimed and enacted theology, but so is the resurrection.

Today's Second Reading…

…on gifts of the Spirit with their diversity and variety sets the standard for our life and ministry while we move into (many more) Sundays in Ordinary Time. As apostle-pastor-theologian Paul writes to the Corinthians, either Unity in Diversity or Unity and Diversity could be the buzz-phrase for this scripture—but never uniformity. In his Message translation of verse 7, late pastor Eugene Peterson succinctly describes the purpose of all God's gifts: "everyone gets in on it; everyone benefits." Because of this, humanity flourishes, and so does all creation.

Every ability God graces us with is a gift in the Spirit and of the Spirit, so that would include skills like carpentry, cooking, music, accounting, caregiving, and farming. Today's Pauline list (the apostle Paul LOVES to make lists!) is about ones that can't easily be measured or quantified rather than more tangible, physical abilities, but none of those gifts is free-floating; every gift of grace is embodied.

Whether more spiritual or tending toward the practical; our gifts benefit the commonwealth or common-weal of the gathered community of the body of Christ and the world outside the doors of our homes, workplaces, and churches. In the spirit of pentecost, no class, cultural, education, ethnic, or other boundaries interfere.

alleluia the spirit of life fills the world

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Ascension • Easter 7A

Psalm 47:5,6,7
God is gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises:
sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth:
sing ye praises!
Psalm 47:5,6,7
Luke 24:44-53

44 Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Ascension–Easter 7

The 40th day of Easter, always a Thursday, is the feast of the Ascension. Because most people don't go to church on Thursdays, today for Easter 7 or Day 43 we're hearing about the Ascension.

In easy theological terms ascension, ascendancy, ascent mean reign, rule, power, sovereignty, authority, stewardship. Not domination as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to the needs of all our neighbors—human, flora, fauna, land, waterways, sky… everything that encompasses creation. Unlike in human governments and organizations, Jesus' authority has no checks and balances. It is supreme. It is absolute.

The Heidelberg Catechism tells us we move from Christmas / Incarnation, "with the mystery of spirit in flesh" to Jesus' Ascension, "with the mystery of flesh in Spirit."

The Easter season is a week of weeks, the biblical number of 7 times 7. Next Sunday on the 50th day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the church's third great Trinitarian festival. The pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised as John 14:12 records. We then move into the green and growing season of Pentecost, a l-o-o-o-n-n-g segment of Ordinary Time when the church really comes into its own.

Until Now

During the season of Easter we've experienced Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit on Easter evening from John's gospel; twice in the gospel we received from John's community we've revisited the upper room of Maundy Thursday with Jesus' commandment to love along with his promise of the Holy Spirit (advocate, paraclete, counselor) of comfort and truth.

Three weeks ago on Easter 4, we heard about the apostles' preaching and teaching. It's no longer Jesus as teacher and preacher! We see them gather for prayer in the kind of community that's a true common unity of koinonia where everyone has enough, no one possesses too much or too little. Their meeting includes "breaking of bread," that likely meant regular meals (potlucks, anyone?) as well as the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation of the Lord's Supper.


As we prepare for the season of Pentecost and six months' focus on our lives as Jesus' presence in the world, let's consider the pair Ascension passages from Luke: in the gospel that bears his name, and in the Acts of the Apostles.

• Luke 24:49 "…I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

• Acts 1:5 "…for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

• Acts 1:6 When they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 1:7-8 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When the disciples ask the resurrected Jesus if now he'd finally restore the (Davidic, probably) kingdom to Israel, he replies, "the question is wrong," and tells them to wait. They will receive power (the Greek is our "dynamite") and then they'll be his witnesses everywhere. You won't get reclaimed splendors like the Davidic monarchy or a recycled Jerusalem temple! You'll receive the Holy Spirit so you can live as Jesus' presence in the world; from now on, the world will discover Jesus within the church. In other words, Jesus' disciples (that's us!) will be the ones to restore God's reign of love, justice, mercy, and shalom on earth.

Where We Live

Jesus promises us baptism or literal immersion in the Holy Spirit of life; Jesus promises our lives will witness to him, but we don't do this on our own, by ourselves; we accomplish it with the power of God's life with us and within us. In the global reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we become Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation, as the HS empowers us to walk the talk!

What does it mean to be Jesus' witnesses? Think of courtroom testimony.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Why is the son of God called Jesus, meaning Savior?" Then, "Why is the son of God called Christ, meaning anointed?" And then: "But why are you called a Christian?" Answer: "Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign over all creation for all eternity."

His disciples ask Jesus, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong and replies, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

In the power, discernment, and reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we becomes Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation. Just as Jesus was anointed a Servant Sovereign or King, the Holy Spirit anoints and empowers us to walk the talk in the image of our servant God.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Easter 6A

colorful quilts
John 14:15-21

15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

John's Gospel

Although John doesn't have a year in the Revised Common Lectionary, every year during Easter most of the gospel readings come from John. John is the gospel of God's abiding presence in Jesus Christ. This good news we received from the community gathered around Jesus' beloved disciple John offers ways for us to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action that make a difference in the world through the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive in baptism.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

This sixth Sunday of Easter is day 36 of 50 of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. The third of the church's great trinitarian festivals, the Day of Pentecost, is the fiftieth day of Easter.

• Chapters 13 through 17 of John sometimes are called the Farewell Discourses.

We're well into the season of Easter, but today's gospel account happens in the upper room of Maundy Thursday after Jesus washed the disciples' feet! In this passage, Jesus promises to send "another advocate." Jesus says anyone who loves him will keep the commandments; Jesus promises to love and reveal himself to those who love him. In today's text Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, but on the second Sunday of Easter four weeks ago John's gospel told us about Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on the evening of the first Easter Day: John 20:19-23

Have You Heard this Story?

When Grandma couldn't get to church one Sunday, she asked her granddaughter to listen carefully and tell her what the pastor preached. When granddaughter got home, grandma asked what the pastor talked about. Grandkid replied, "Don't worry! You will get your quilt!"

Paraclete / Advocate

John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever."

Jesus promises to send the advocate or paraclete, a word for the Holy Spirit that's unique to John. Para means beside, next to, alongside. Clesis /clete means call, called. Paraclete in Greek is the same as advocate in Latin: ad means beside; vocare means call, called.

Jesus was the original called-along-side, so he promises to send "another," additional one.

Paraclete / advocate has a legal dimension as public defender, defense attorney. Just as here and now, in Jesus' day if you went to trial and didn't have your own attorney, the court would appoint one. Beyond the legal definition, paraclete is about general comfort, protection, counsel, and guidance—all wrapped up in God's presence the way a cozy quilt or comforter wraps us up.

Relating. Accompanying.

Translations/interpretations include comforter, helper, advocate, counselor, solicitor, attorney… The Message reads "another friend." Friend implies unranked equality, intimacy, a relationship in which one person knows what the other one does. Common English Bible [CEB] says companion, someone we break bread with. Ever notice what a leveling experience sharing a meal or a snack with a person is? How it's often the start of real friendship?

Like a keyboard accompaniment to a vocal or instrumental solo or choir anthem, the Holy Spirit accompanies us. Similar to breaking bread along side a companion (with+bread=com+panion).

• The Comforter will stay with us forever: what does comforter and forever mean for us?

• As people who receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, God calls us to comfort, help, advocate for others. What are some ways that happens? How can we be a cozy blanket or quilt without hovering too closely and smothering the person?

John 17, 18, 19: Worlds and Orphans

Two different New Testament words typically get translated as "world." Here in John 14:17, 19 world/cosmos means this planet, a physical space; it also can refer to people, institutions, and structures that do not know or obey God. John 14:18 – when Jesus promises not to leave us orphans, the Greek is the same as our word for orphan. Orphan is another legal term: a minor without living parents, or someone whose parents have abandoned them.

• What does Jesus promise not to abandon us feel like to you?

Keeping the Commandments

Today's scripture begins and ends with love, commandments, and obedience. The fulfillment of God's promises depends on God's free, unearned gifts of grace; they also depend on our obedience.

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

verses 15, 21 love, love, loved, love = agape, the word for love the NT uses for God's unconditional love. verse 21 appear, make manifest, reveal = same as epiphany

• What does Jesus mean when he tells us he and the Father will love and reveal themselves to those who love him?

• "If you love me…" What is the connection between love and obedience?

You Will Get Your Quilt

We could call today's gospel reading, "You will get your quilt!" Jesus promises to send the paraclete to journey alongside us. Translations include comforter, advocate, counselor, solicitor, attorney… all wrapped up in the assurance of God's presence in the same way a cozy quilt, comforter, or blanket wraps us up.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Easter 5A

1 Peter 2:9 chosen royal holy
1 Peter 2:1-10

1 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter and 2 Peter

Although the historical Peter, the guy originally called Simon that Jesus renamed Peter or Rock (Rocky!) definitely did not write the pair of letters or epistles 1 Peter and 2 Peter, I enjoyed writing this sentence because today's scripture passage says so much about rocks and stones.

By the way, 2 Peter was one of the seven books Martin Luther considered "leftovers" that in his opinion didn't belong in the New Testament canon.

Virtual and Live on Easter 5

Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 times 7. Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter, the 29th day— so Happy Easter, even as this year of grace inclines toward the Day of Pentecost, that's also the fiftieth day of Easter.

Many if not most churches have continued virtual Sunday worship the COVID pandemic forced people to initiate, though almost all have returned to in-person worship in some form, almost all somewhat modified from their former usual.

Rocks. Stones.

Scripture uses many pictures, similes, and metaphors for our relationship with God and for the lifestyle God calls us to. Stones, rocks, bricks, granite, adobe, concrete, and related building materials convey a sense of hard, heavy, solid, and safe. Some actually are quite porous (marble that I'm familiar with), others really are impenetrable. Whether natural stone or composited from natural elements, we sense stability, permanence, of something that won't easily decay.

Building foundations usually are made of these dense materials. This is earthquake country! How does initial construction and possible retrofitting affect how we experience the world around us when the ground beneath us and around us shakes? We can parallel insecurity during an earthquake with insecurities during times our society, family, finances, jobs, income, kitchen and household basics (remember when?)—everything literally is shaky.

The world still remembers the January 12, 2010 M7.0 Haiti earthquake that left the country in shambles; three months later, the M7.2 April 4th Sierra el Mayor / Easter EQ south of the international border in Baja California caused only minor property and construction damage. Contractors in USA and Mexico use rebar that reliably reinforces building materials that to some degree are stable and secure by themselves, but won't endure without added strengthening.

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5

A large sense of this passage from 1 Peter is about our spiritual strengthening—spiritual rebar? Like Jesus Christ, we need to be firmly situated where God has placed us, but we can't stay stable and secure very long without reinforcement from the Holy Spirit and from Spirit-filled, Spirit-led community.

• 1 Peter 2:4 Jesus, a living stone
• 1 Peter 2:5 us, like living stones

What does it mean for us as individuals and for us together as a community of faith to be "living stones"? How about writing a poem?

Chosen – Royal – Holy – God's Own

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people.
1 Peter 2:9

Verses 9 and 10 of 1 Peter often are called a baptismal hymn as they highlight aspects of our baptismal identity. What a time to consider this scripture, with the coronation of King Charles III this weekend!

What are your word associations and/or definitions? I've suggested some approximations; you may have additions or enhancements:

• chosen – select, picked, desired
• royal – noble, esteemed, privileged
• priest – mediator, go-between
• holy – sanctified, set apart, sacred, consecrated
• nation – ethnicity, people, tribe, generation, population

How do you relate to your individual and corporate identity and call as God's own people? KJV reads peculiar people; in an echo of a distinctive Old Testament title for God's people, some translations call us God's special possession.