To celebrate Pentecost we walked through the journey we've taken this year- from September through May through the Old Testament on a path that began outside and took us past symbols of all the stories and into the chancel, where we took a "family photo," gathered around the table for communion, and then settled in for a recap of our journey.
|The world - created for a |
peace prayer service
Normally, Pentecost is a great celebration of the Holy Spirit. Which it is. Or it is a birthday party for the church - where it all began. Or it is a recognition that the gospel is for all people and without bounds. It is all of these things. But for us today, it is a chance to lift up the story – the whole story of God – because of Pentecost we, this little group of people – are part of it. Today is a day to stand in Pentecost and look back at the parts of the story we’ve told this year.
So let us begin at the beginning.
In the beginning…we met God. The delighted artist, who created, of all things, LIFE, and then made in God’s own image those to share it with, to nurture life along with God. And all things were in harmony, interconnected and free. And it was so very good. And we declared that God brings life out of nothing, that we belong to this God, and that God celebrates life and rests, and invites us to do the same.
|The tree, where we nailed things |
that separate us from God and each other
And then we watched as in the middle of that creation God put a tree – God’s own vulnerability, the chance to be rejected, chosen against by God’s own image-bearers. And the people did so; and the relationship was broken. But God meets us where we are and we can never drive God away, and so the story continued.
After some generations of people it seemed the world was full of evil and relationship between God and humanity, and between human beings, was seemingly broken beyond repair. So God planned to wipe out creation and start over- but first plucked out Noah and his family and some animals – a sample, if you will.
But by the time the roaring waters receded, the remorseful God repented, and hung the bow in the sky to symbolize that God would never again destroy the world that God loved.
The people may be unable to choose God, but God would never again choose against them. God promises never to gives up on us, no matter what.
And the Story continued.
Some generations later God adapted strategy yet again, to bless the world through one family, and so Abraham was called to be a blessing. But true to form for the God who likes to bring life out of nothing, Abraham and his wife Sarai could have no children.
And we sat here and listened to Sarah tell her story, and watched her grief as she struggled with this deal God had made with Abraham that both excluded her and depended entirely on her. And we shared her joy in the end when God kept the promise and she bore a son, and we bore witness to the God who keeps promises.
As that son grew to be a boy the relationship between Abraham and God changed; the promise had been given and the dynamic closeness had waned. Then God asked for the unthinkable: that Abraham sacrifice the promise, sacrifice his own son. And instead of contending with God as he had in the past, Abraham proceeded to obey mindlessly, defeatedly, leading Isaac to the mountaintop, knife in his bag.
But God had no intention of letting him go through with it, and at the last minute God stopped him. And we wondered together if God had wished that Abraham had fought him on it earlier, and either way Abraham was reminded once again that God is relentlessly for us, and unlike the gods of the day to whom the people gave blind obedience, the true God desires a real relationship with real people. So we learned that God wants us to talk back, we are expected to engage, participate, wrestle.
And the Story continued.
When Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac was grown, he had two sons. Esau and Jacob. And Jacob tricked his father and stole Esau’s, who sold his status and inheritance for a bowl of stew. And it oddly appeared that God preferred the less worthy brother, and the mother helped him get away with it because she clearly did as well.
And Jacob fled. Then years later, when he’d grown and learned and suffered karma and also prospered, the night before he was about to face once again this brother he had deceived, he found himself wrestling, quite literally, with God, and with all the struggles of his life, all night long, and he is injured, and he wins.
Broken down and made whole, he exchanged his swagger for a limp, and as he met his brother again we learned that sometimes newness looks like limping.
And the story continued.
Then we heard the story of Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son, and watched it come to life in black and white and color on canvas as we listened to his dreams, to him being dropped into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers, and sent off to Egypt, and rising in the ranks, and being thrown in prison, and interpreting dreams, and redeeming himself, and becoming the savior of all of Egypt and many peoples beyond, and finally, being reunited with his brothers and father and making peace.
|Story of Joseph, created during worship by artist Susan Hensel|
And instead of seeing God speaking or acting in drama, voice, flood, or overt instructions, God moved behind the scenes, between the people and within the situations, and we know this because all throughout the story we heard the constant refrain, “And God was with Joseph.”
And we saw that God works both within and despite us, and we can actually see God’s work in our lives in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.
And the story paused there so we could enter into Advent, but we saw the story continue in the waiting for a savior, in the stories of the prophets’ cry of honesty and John the Baptist’s wild pronouncements and Joseph’s living in a reality he did not have any choice in, and Mary’s dance and words of hope when she stood before us.
And we watched God move in their lives in very different and eerily similar ways to ourselves, and saw again that this God who made it all and craves connection, and calls us to be part of all this with God is at it again, this time irreversibly, by coming, entering into it, and God is changed as much as the world is.
Then we picked up where we left Joseph and the generations that came from his brothers, Jacob’s sons and their offspring, the twelve tribes of Israel, who had prospered in Egypt for generations until the new Pharaoh was threatened and didn’t remember the story of Joseph, and enslaved the Hebrew people.
They suffered there in slavery for more than a generation until God called Moses from a burning bush and revealed God’s name, Yahweh, I am, and then led the people to freedom. Only they didn’t go right to freedom, remember?
They stopped for 40 years in the wilderness, the liminal space, the space in between slavery and freedom, where what you were is taken out of you, and you learn what it is to be free, to be God’s people instead of Pharaoh’s people.
And we learned that God redefines relationship, life and direction in these in-between places, and that sometimes we have to let go of the old before we can step into the new.
And while they were there, God gave them guidance and direction for how to be free, how to live in a way different than the way of Pharaoh, and we imagined this way together with the kids at St. Joe’s, asking, if we could create a world that was as good as we can imagine, what would it be like?
And they said brilliant things like, all people would feel safe, and nobody would go hungry, and all sorts of other profound and simple things that we discovered were right in the way God had given them to live when God gave them the ten commandments, and that God still delivers us, every single day, if we let God, from slavery to freedom. And the story continued.
Then we met Ruth, and once again, God receded into the background and let the simple, ordinary and extraordinary people’s lives tell the story.
And it was a story of Hesed – that word for which there is no English equivalent but which permeates and indeed drives the whole story of God, Hesed, which brought the world into being and pulses underneath every interaction God has, Hesed, which we saw meant something like “Belongingness” – And in the Hesed of God this foreigner with nothing to offer became a great grandmother of David.
And we saw that an I-will-go-there-with-you God, calls us to be an I-will-go-there-with-you people.
And the story continued...
...with David, the boy who became king after Saul, after the people demanded God give them a king and God complied. And we spent an evening reading David’s journals, his laid-open, bare-naked heart when he’s sick or scared, or proud and excited, when he’s hopeful and despairing, he holds it all open to God and these words from his heart and harp became prayers that people have used for thousands of years, giving us words when we have none or when we all want to share in a prayer together.
And we imagined together the delight of God who longs to connect with us when God hears us share our innermost struggles and joys with God in the words of one long ago who did the same.
And the story continued.
Then we met Solomon, not nearly as nice a guy as his dad David, but who was clearly a politician and statesman, a man who got things done. And under Solomon the people of Israel became a real nation like the others, and wealth and prosperity and security was theirs, (along with things like taxation and forced labor).
And Solomon builds a temple with the plans his father had left behind and it becomes a glorious thing, and even though God can meet them anywhere and always has, God sees that the people need a place to come, where they know they can meet God and God can promise to meet them, and so the temple becomes that place.
And we recognized that our temple is this shared feast, these people, this gathered community of people, wherever and however it happens. Wherever we are on our journey of faith, when we come together God promises to meet us.
|Lord's Prayer in many languages|
And then the story paused once again, but really continued, just differently, so we could spend Lent with the Lord’s Prayer, immersing ourselves in it through many paraphrases and the beautiful unpacking of five different voices and perspectives, and discovered, among other things, that we have some pretty great preachers among us, but also that prayer is all sorts of things and that God listens when we pray.
Then on Palm Sunday we witnessed the people’s, (and confronted our own), expectations that God come the way we think God should, and do the things we think God should, and God comes the way God wants to come and sometimes that looks like suffering and dying for us, and there’s nothing we can do about that but sit back in awe and wonder and gratitude at such a thing.
Then on Good Friday, when we heard the words of God at creation alongside the words of godforsakenness at the cross, and we left in darkness and sorrow.
But on the third day we returned here to resurrection.
And we celebrated. That God who brought life out of nothing brings life even out of death, and desires so desperately to share life with us that sharing death with us became the way life prevails. And so God is redeeming, creating, and entering in every second of every day.
We heard stories of resurrection from living prophets, three among us who shared how they had experienced God bringing life out of death in their own lives and the world around them, and then we returned to the unfolding story and hunkered down with the prophets.
And now for the past six weeks we’ve hurtled through hundreds of years of heartbreaking loss. The people kept forgetting their story and turning away from God and returning to slavery in all sorts of forms, the nation was split up and eventually decimated, and the temple was destroyed and their identity was forgotten or traded away.
And God was angry and hurt and frustrated, and gracious and tender and patient, and impatient and sorrowing and overflowing in love, and it went on and on. And the prophets did their criticizing and energizing thing: criticizing the dominant culture and pointing out and grieving that things are not as they should be, and energizing the people to a future found in God, in the world as God intends it to be.
We watched Hosea embody God’s grief and commitment, and Isaiah tell the truth of God’s future like it is an absolute fact, and Huldah help Josiah help the people remember who they are and who God is.
And we had a potter sit in our midst as we heard the words of Jeremiah who talked about God sometimes tearing us down and creating us anew,
|King Nebechenezzer |
& his golden statue
and we saw how comedy exposes the empire for what it is, and how God’s freedom to be who God will be was upheld in their words, “Even if God does not save us, we still will not bow.”
And then, finally, we arrived at Malachi, and heard within it words from a Christmas hymn and realized that when love breaks in, when God arrives on the scene in the flesh, everything after and before that moment is changed, and every part of this unfolding story, while it stood alone, also led to the moment when God would come in and redeem the past and the future, and never again be separated from the people God loves in the world God adores.
Which brings us to this moment. Pentecost. The celebration of the church. The Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit within and between us. The whole world involved.
|photo taken at the beginning of the service|
This is your story.
And we’ve only told a tiny part of it! There is so much more! – within this book and in the world around us, there is so much more, that, as John says, “all the books in all the world could not contain it.”
So go into the world. Be people of the story. Do what the prophetic community does: remember. grieve. hope. talk about it with each other.
This is God’s world. God isn’t letting go. God is doing something all around you. Go and be part of it. Because this story continues!