Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday - May 20th 2018

So? How many of you watched the Royal Wedding? How many of you have watched the Rev. Michael Curry’s amazing sermon that was part of the wedding?
          I did not watch the wedding, but by lunchtime yesterday I had read enough comments on line that I KNEW I needed to watch the sermon … and I was NOT disappointed … That was one of the finest Pentecost Sermons I have ever heard … it was one of the best sermons I have ever heard.
          It spoke of love, but it also dripped with a powerful social justice message that was delivered in the heart of the rich and powerful from around the world … and it was delivered by an American preacher from the Episcopalian Church, a church that is no longer in full communion with the Mother Church of England because the Episcopalians keep doing things like ordaining women, ordaining gays and lesbians and recognizing same-sex marriages as a sacrament blessed by God … so the homiletic arrow the reverend curry launched yesterday was directed at the heart of our society and said clearly – we can do better.

          That he spoke of love hearkens back to that heart wrenching day when a young Prince Harry watched his mother’s funeral and heard the immortal words of St Paul speaking of Love, eloquently offered by Tony Blair … words that Rev Curry picked up when he said:
Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish sacrificial redemptive love, changes lives and it can change this world.
If you don't believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of god's children because when love is the way, we actually treat each other well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that god is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of god. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.
          That in an eloquent and beautiful nutshell is the guts of Pentecost!!
          And Curry knew this as he spoke because he went on to speak of the importance of FIRE to humanity … how fire allows us to do all that we do today from live in cold frost places like Canada, to flying across the ocean, to doing things we do every day without even considering them … and he challenged his listeners – those in the chapel and the BILLIONS who have listened around the world to consider that we MUST discover for a second time the gift of fire – but the fire this time is LOVE …
          The redemptive power of love – and when we rediscover it we will, as he says, make of this old world a new world …
          In our readings today we hear of the spirit coming upon the disciples of followers of Christ like tongues of fire … fire … love … the redemptive power of love falling on the disciples – the church – you and I – as tongues of fire. And what does fire do? It either sputters out and is extinguished, or it grows and strengthens and spreads …
          Yesterday, we were challenged to celebrate love by encouraging that fire to spread and to transform the world with its power … it is, as poet Ann Weems observes of Pentecost:
The church is Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us
and sends us out together
aflame with new life,
inheritors of the wealth of God:
life abundant.
We are liberated from the prisons of pettiness,
jealousy, and greed,
liberated to be the church.

We are freed to free others.
We are affirmed to affirm others.
We are loved to love others.
We are family;
we are community.
We are the church triumphant—
you, me, anyone who would come unto the Lord—
renewed, redirected, empowered
to change things and lives
together in love and wholeness.
We are the Lord’s church,
the church of justice and mercy,
the people sent to open prisons,
to heal the sick
to clothe the naked
to feed the hungry
to reconcile
to be alleluias when there is no music.
The mantle is upon our shoulders.
Joy is apparent in our living.
We have been commissioned to be the church of Jesus Christ

          For me, this weekend I have rediscovered my flame for preaching … in the fall of 1990, I remember going into the Anglican Book room in downtown Kingston – we called it “Maria’s” because the lady running it was named Maria and even though it was an offshoot of the Anglican Diocese in Kingston, it was very much Maria’s bookstore … it was where we theology college students went to get our text books, and where we could go to just browse and make purchases on an account we could carry until we graduated three or four years later … I know my library expanded exponentially in my three years at Queens’ and I’m also sure I’m not the only one … but some purchases stand out more than others … I can still remember the grey rainy September day I discovered the works of Ann Weems … her book “Reaching for rainbows” was like a theological bomb for me … her use of language, her insistence on focusing on pushing the boundaries and celebrating the joy that is within the church touched me deeply and radically altered my view of church and ministry and life … I have all of her collected books of poems and liturgies, and I have used them over and over and over …
          But to be wholly honest … after 28 years, I had grown weary and her words didn’t resonate with me like they once did … I was approaching preaching my 27th Pentecost wondering what I could possible share or reflect on that was new and that could revive that fire …
          And so yesterday I listened to the preaching of Rev Curry on love and fire, and I felt a stirring … Listening to rev curry, I was reminded of the power that we hold as people of faith when we take the message we hear over and over seriously … I was blown away as he quoted Solomon, Martin Luther King, Pierre De’ Chardin, and pulled it all together with a POWERFUL proclamation of love and its power to transform not only the world, but those who open themselves to it …
          The backstory of this weekend is how Prince Harry’s life is framed by the words LOVE … as a young boy we ALL saw beautiful pictures of he and his brother with their mother Diana, and there was clearly deep love shared between them … at her memorial the words of Paul spoke of the kind of love we all saw reflected in Diana, and our hearts broke for young William and Harry at their loss … and I’m sure many of us prayed that they wouldn’t simply fall into the clutches of the grey men made famous by their mother … then as a teen Harry had a wild reputation, but as a young man joined the British Military and served in combat – a first for a Royal putting himself in harm’s way as part of a larger whole … then with his discharge he truly embodied love by being one of the forces behind the Invictus games that celebrates the accomplishment of men and women damaged by combat, allowing them a place to bring their best and achieve more than perhaps even they thought possible … and now, this weekend as a young man becoming a husband, we celebrate the presence of love and ALL that it has done in his young life and we wish he and Megan well in their life together … it is as we were told – power in love, and where true love is found, God is there.
          The message that falls upon us today – Pentecost – as we leave this place is the message that tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves – and everything hangs on that love of God and our neighbour – EVERYTHING …
          And so, what shall we do with this? How shall we nurture and sustain and grow the Pentecost flame that rests within each of us?
          Shall we allow it to sputter out and die? Or shall we fan it and help it grow and strengthen?
          Today is the birthday of the Church – the day we as a church universal and catholic came into being … the day, like that of the tower of Babel, when we were sent into ALL the world to proclaim and live the Gospel … and what was the message?
          One simple inalterable, accepting, welcoming, and transformative word: Love … our message is love, and now it rest upon us to share it in all that we do and say and think … and it isn’t as hard a task as we may think.
          I would like to end by sharing some of the powerful words by the late Ann Weems that helped propel me into the last 25 years of ministry … she once wrote:
          (This Church
          We don’t pretend to understand
                    the mystery of what goes on in God’s church.
          We just know we feel a pervading spirit of love
                    that reaches into the niches of all of us
                    and pulls us out into the open, free and alive and belonging.
          We believe this spirit of Love exists
                    because God’s spirit lives within this Church,
                    this unity of persons trying to be the Good News.
          We see this Church as a circle of people …
                    … holding hands … and dancing … supporting each other,
                              accepting each other, loving each other …
          Each person in this dancing circle is facing outward …
                    reaching into God’s world,
                              listening for the whimpering,
                                        watching for the hurting,
                    willing to offer a cup of cold water in God’s name …
          Sometimes they need the water …
                    Sometimes you need the water …
                              Sometimes I need the water …
          Being a part of the Church means knowing
                    that the cup is always filled in GOD’S name …
                                                                      (searching for shalom pg 54)

          May it be so … thanks be to God … let us pray … 

Our communion liturgy for May 20th 2018 - Pentecost Sunday


by Ann Weems

I took to church one morning a happy four-year-old boy
Holding a bright blue string to which was attached 
his much loved orange balloon with pink stripes...
Certainly a thing of beauty
And if not forever, at least a joy for a very important now.
When later he met me at the door
Clutching blue string, orange and pink bobbing behind him,
He didn't have to tell me something had gone wrong.
"What's the matter?"
He wouldn't tell me.
"I bet they loved your balloon..."
Out it came, then -- mocking the teacher's voice, "We don't bring balloons to church."
Then that little four-year old, his lip a little trembly, asked:
"Why aren't balloons allowed in church? I thought God would like balloons."
I celebrate balloons, parades and chocolate chip cookies.
I celebrate seashells and elephants and lions that roar.
I celebrate roasted marshmallows and chocolate cake and fresh fish.
I celebrate aromas: bread baking, mincemeat, lemons...
I celebrate seeing: bright colors, wheat in a field, tiny wild flowers...
I celebrate hearing: waves pounding, the rain's rhythm, soft voices...
I celebrate touching: toes in the sand, a kitten's soft fur, another person...
I celebrate the sun that shines slab dab in our faces...
I celebrate the crashing thunder and the brazen lightning...
And I celebrate the green of the world...the life-giving green...the hope-giving green...
I celebrate birth: the wonder...the miracle...of that tiny life already asserting its selfhood.
I celebrate children
who laugh out loud
who walk in the mud and dawdle in the puddles
who put chocolate fingers anywhere
who like to be tickled
who scribble in church
who whisperin loud voices
who sing in louder voices
who run...and laugh when they fall
who cry at the top of their lungs
who cover themselves with bandaids
who squeeze the toothpaste all over the bathroom
who slurp their soup
who chew coughdrops
who ask questions
who give us sticky, paste-covered creations
who want their picture taken
who won't use their napkins
who bury goldfish, sleep with the dog, scream at their best friend
who hug us in a hurry and rush outside without their hats.
I celebrate children
who are so busy living they don't have time for our hangups
And I celebrate adults who are as little children.
I celebrate the man who breaks up the meaningless routines of his life.
The man who stops to reflect, to question, to doubt.
-- The man who isn't afraid to feel....
The man who refuses to play the game.
I celebrate anger at injustice
I celebrate tears for the mistreated, the hurt, the lonely...
I celebrate the community that cares... the church...
I celebrate the church.
I celebrate the times when we in the church made it...
When we answered a cry
When we held to our warm and well-fed bodies a lonely world.
I celebrate the times when we let God get through to our hiding places
Through our maze of meetings
Our pleasant facade...deep down to our selfhood
Deep down to where we really are.
Call it heart, soul, naked self
It's where we hide
Deep down away from God
And away from each other.
I celebrate the times when the church is the Church
When we are Christians
When we are living, loving, contributing God's children...
I celebrate that He calls us His children even when we are in hiding.
I celebrate love...the moments when the You is more important than the I
I celebrate the perfect love...the cross...the Christ
loving in spite of...
giving without reward
I celebrate the music within a man that must be heard
I celebrate life...that we may live more abundantly...
Where did we get the idea that balloons don't belong in the church?
Where did we get the idea that God loves gray and Sh-h-h-h-h
And drab and anything will do?
I think it's blasphemy not to appreciate the joy in God's world.
I think it's blasphemy not to bring our joy into His church.
For God so loved the world
That He hung there
Loving the unlovable
What beautiful gift cannot be offered unto the Lord?
Whether it's a balloon or a song or some joy that sits within you waiting to
have the lid taken off.
The Scriptures say there's a time to laugh and a time to weep.
It's not hard to see the reasons for crying in a world where man's hatred for
man is so manifest.
So celebrate!
Bring your balloons and your butterflies, your bouquets of flowers...
Bring the torches and hold them high!
Dance your dances, paint your feelings, sing your songs, whistle, laugh.
Life is a celebration, an affirmation of God's love.
Life is distributing more balloons.
For God so loved the world...
Surely that's a cause for Joy.
Surely we should celebrate!
Good News! That He should love us that much.
Where did we ever get the idea that balloons don't belong in the church?

Church … where:

Ordinary bread made by ordinary people is holy
          when we take and eat and remember …

Ordinary grapes taken by ordinary people
          Made into ordinary wine is holy
                    when we hold it to our lips and drink
                              and remember …

This bread … remember His body was given for us.
This cup … remember his blood was poured out for us.

Bread and wine, from ordinary to holy … Remember.

and then we broke bread, shared the cup and celebrated communion ...