Tag Archive for mission

The Bishop’s Address: There is Already a Revolution Going On

Delegates to the 118th Diocesan Convention

Thank you for all your dedication to Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. Thank you for the time, effort and love you put into the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it. Thank you. Your work and prayer means so much.

In June I was at the Tri-annual gathering of deacons throughout our country which was being held in Providence. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was there and, as always, he rocked the house with his keynote address. At one point he was talking about St. Paul and how everywhere St. Paul went with the message of Jesus, there was a revolution. The crowd was riveted as Michael brought that revolution of love and resurrection to the present day.

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry preaching at the Triennial for Deacons

He started shouting out, as only Michael can, to the bishops in the gathering. He would shout out the name of a bishop and say “can you imagine what a revolution would look like in …and then names the bishop’s diocese.” He did this for several bishops –“Bishop- name- can you imagine what a revolution would look like in – name the diocese.” The he gets to me. “Doug, can you imagine what a revolution would look like …wait, there is already a revolution going on in Western Massachusetts.”

When I die, please put that on my tombstone.

Michael never did go on to describe what is revolutionary about Western Mass. That leaves it open to me to speculate what he meant in this convention address.

Could it be the day to day commitment you all make to following Jesus? Could it be the hospital visits, the hours of sermon prep, the choir rehearsals, the bible studies, the pastoral counseling, the millions of prayers you say privately and publically, the loving care of church property, the reaching out to the lonely or hurting neighbor, the generous financial commitments you all make to the mission of the church? Faithfulness in this era is revolutionary. You inspire me.

Here is some other revolutionary activity in Western Mass. This is not an inclusive list. You will see other examples in the videos throughout the day.

In Western Mass, we dare to go where the people are and where the need is. We have chaplains to the Appalachian Trail – because if people are coming from around the world to walk from Georgia to Maine (or some part of it) you know they are searching for something.

We go to the challenged Main South neighborhood in Worcester through our Walking Together ministry – addressing the opioid crisis and addictions through Twelve Step programs, providing counseling and getting people the help they need, which includes a lot of prayer. And, sometimes, it includes saving lives with Narcan.

Our chaplains for the Women’s Correctional facility in Chicopee and to the Worcester House of Corrections fulfill Jesus’ revolutionary statement; when we visit the imprisoned we visit him. And we do that in another way with Reconciliation House in Webster – a facility for men coming out of jail with addiction issues.

Some revolutionary ideas are simple – like gathering veterans for lunch. A number of our churches do that once a week. Together we serve 500 vets every week. Some of those vets are doing fine and they come for the companionship. Others are literally living under bridges. And some suffer from PTSD and Moral Injury. I’m studying both those afflictions and I invite other church leaders to do so as well that we might listen with understanding and compassion. It is where our church is called to be.

There are many other revolutionary ministries that change lives like Lawrence House, outdoor liturgical communities, Laundry Love and others you will hear about in this convention.

But perhaps Michael Curry was referring to the revolution of his Revival with us last year. It was a phenomenal day with our celebrations in Pittsfield and Worcester – marked by inspirational music, witnesses to our faith and of course Michael reminding us that “if it is not about love, it is not about God.”

2018 video captures the spirit of #wmarevival

That revolution was not a one day event. We followed up on that day in many ways with Revival Year 2. And one of the lasting effects of Year 2 is a new spirit of collaboration in our diocese. For Easter Vigil this year, all the churches in the Berkshires got together in Lenox for one glorious service. The Church was packed and we had baptisms and confirmations and receptions. And then in Pittsfield on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, over 100 people from many different parishes gathered to put together 20,000 meals (yes, 20,000 ) for the hungry.

I invite you to consider continuing the revolution of Episcopal churches working together. This is not about mergers or closing churches. It is because we are stronger together. And it is a lot more fun. Christ Church Rochdale, Grace Church Oxford and St. Thomas Auburn are doing this right now. In the last few years the churches in Chicopee, North Grafton and Sutton, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Greenfield and Turners Falls have come together with their neighbors and it all looks like Resurrection.

A great example of this is the Small Church Summit which has had two very successful meetings of devoted followers of Jesus who have come together to share the challenges and opportunities of being small churches.

As a sign of my commitment to collaboration, how about this idea? For any neighboring parishes that want to do this, I volunteer to walk from one parish to another, ending with Evening Prayer, a meal and a discussion as to how those two parishes can work together. After all, you are in walking distance of each other!

Another collaboration that came out of revival is our Pilgrimage Project. Members of our Diocesan Council called every church in WMA and asked them about a ministry they are particularly good at. They range from food pantries to farmer’s markets to Celtic liturgies and many others. If your parish is considering a new ministry and want to know how to do it, you are invited to a Pilgrimage to one of the parishes that is already doing it. It is part of an ancient tradition – go to a holy place and grow in mission and spiritual depth. Those holy places are right here in revolutionary WMA. You will hear more about this in the next issue of our diocesan magazine.

I’m excited to announce here that Bishop Mark Beckwith is our new Missioner for Spirituality and Leadership. Mark brings great gifts to our diocese. He is spending time in our congregations, preaching and teaching.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith
Photo: Diocese of Newark

This is all part of a big commitment we all have to parish renewal. In past Convention Addresses, I have invited us to “double down” on social justice, and to “double down on prayer.” Let’s add to that “double down on parish renewal. We have a whole range of ways to make this happen. Already 10 of our parishes have done Renewal Works, 5 are enrolled in the College for Congregational Development. One is doing Natural Church Development. 7 parishes are working with Peter Swarr and Sue Schneider in “Explorations into Christian Leadership.” And we have 11 coaches to work with parishes leaders to fulfill our hopes and dreams for the holy mission Jesus has given us. If you want to know more about any of these programs see Pam Mott. Yes, let’s double down on parish renewal.

Let’s collaborate with Episcopal Churches and with the Lutherans, Congregationalists, Methodists and anyone else that wants to share prayer and mission. Recently I was at a meeting with other “heads of churches” brought together by the Mass Council of Churches.

Heads of denominations gathered by the Massachusetts Council of Churches

We told stories of parishes working together across denominational lines. One example is that this year we are merging our popular Leadership Day with the UCC’s “Super Saturday” where there will be dozens of workshops that can be helpful to any UCC and Episcopal church and there will be a few particular to our Episcopal Church. When so much in our world is coming apart, we are coming together.

Michael Curry has given us a clear definition of the Church. I mentioned it earlier. “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the Dream God has for us.” Could our humble efforts at that be what he means by revolutionary?”

Religious scholar Thomas Cahill has written several books about key moments in the history of Western Civilization and how different communities contributed. He wrote The Hinges of History series, and The Gifts of the Jews. Twenty-five years ago he wrote, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. He tells the stories of how monks formed communities of peace and prayer, with farms to feed the poor displaced by the many wars. Monks spent their lives copying the bible by hand to preserve God’s word for future generations. Without the efforts of the Church, what was known as the “Dark Ages” might never have ended.

The Church responded to the needs of the time. We have not always. When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in 1860, they said nothing about slavery or the impending Civil War.

We now have another “hinge of history” moment. We face a climate change crisis. And as the monks saved Western Civilization, it is our challenge to save the earth. Listen to the words of our Michael Curry and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Archbishop Jackelén, head of the Church of Sweden:

“…the link of unprecedented climate change to human action rests now on insurmountable scientific evidence. In human societies, these climate changes compound social injustices, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable among us. Yet the burdens are not borne by humans alone: acceleration in the disappearance of species of plants and animals underlies the intertwined struggles of all life on Earth, and the destructive exploitation of resources leaves a diminished planet for all time to come.”

A Call to Join in the Care of Creation From
The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Sweden (Lutheran)

These religious leaders go on to say, “We claim the deep resources of our Christian faith to meet this challenge. We worship a God who created all that exists, who rejoices in its flourishing and blesses its diversity.”

They issued a call to action which involves: advocacy, education, prayer and collaboration. That sounds like the work that our Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has been doing for so long.

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas giving a workshop on the spirituality of creation care

Now I invite us to make a commitment to joining her in this earth saving work. One way to do that is for all our clergy and lay preachers to make a commitment to preach about creation care.  And to do so in the spirit of Michael Curry who says, “We acknowledge the dire urgency of this moment not through the lenses of despair, but through lenses of hope and determination.” We will be providing resources on how to do this.

We have a public health crisis of gun violence in our country. Over 100 people a day die from gun violence in our beloved USA. Our diocese is acknowledged by the network called Bishops United Against Gun Violence as a leader in this cause.

Bishops Beckwith, Fisher and Gates standing with youth at Smith & Wesson corporate headquarters in Springfield, MA

One of The Episcopal Church’s top priorities is racial reconciliation. Our Beloved Community Committee is working hard at education about white privilege. Several of our churches had services marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in our country. They came from Ghana where we have a companion relationship. Friends, we have a long way to go in this work before we can be anywhere near revolutionary, but we are committed.

And we have a long way to go in being revolutionary in standing with immigrants and refugees – check all the references in the Bible about “welcoming the stranger” for why we do this. A shout out to Grace, Amherst for their embrace of a refugee family and for their support of the Congregational Church as they provide sanctuary for Lucio Perez, a father of four who has worked and paid taxes here for over 20 years. I went to the ICE offices with several UCC ministers and a rabbi to advocate for him. Thank you to our many churches that have signs saying “immigrants are welcome here.”

The mission before us is daunting which is why we need prayer and one another. Rachel Held Evans, a wonderful young Episcopal writer who died all too soon this past year, writes “The only way to work for justice in a sustainable way is to be rooted in the nourishing soul of contemplation and community.”

When we do that, really do that, we recognize God’s presence among us. And here I want to thank our brothers and sisters who tell me I am too political. They tell me we should be about saving souls. In my heart I believe this work IS about saving souls. But I do thank you for faithfully calling us to a life of prayer. If we lose our center in Christ, our work for creation, addressing gun violence, welcoming immigrants and refugees, promoting racial reconciliation becomes about power instead of following Jesus who has merged loving God and loving neighbor.

A few weeks ago a video about a boy anxious about school and what his parents did about it went viral. They dressed him up as a different super hero every day.

@ Ke and Lo Toys and Trips

I think St. Paul would like that video because he had a similar idea. He told the early Christians to “put on Christ.”

Galatians 3:27 “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God.”

Romans 13:14 “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”

And 75 times we are told we are “in Christ.”

Prayer, deep, sincere prayer leads to a resurrected life. We know this from theologian Bruce Springsteen. You knew I was going to get Springsteen into this address somewhere. In “My City in Ruins” he sings:

Now with these hands, with these hands, with these hands, I pray Lord.

I pray for the strength Lord.

I pray for the faith Lord.

I pray for your love Lord.

I pray for the strength Lord.

I pray for your Love Lord.

And then he sings “Come on, Rise Up.” Eleven times. “Come on, Rise up.”

You see, praying leads to resurrection – for our souls, for our society, for God’s creation.

My spiritual director often says to me “Doug, you are capable of more than you think you are.” And I say to all of us in the revolutionary diocese of Western Massachusetts – “We are capable of more than we think we are.” And if you don’t believe my spiritual director, believe Saint Paul, who in his second letter to Timothy wrote, “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and power.”

We say that every time we pray Evening Prayer. It’s 9 am but let’s pray these words.

“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.”

AMEN.

DACA + TPS = community over chaos

A few weeks ago, Bishop Alan Gates of the Diocese of Massachusetts and I signed an Amicus Brief on behalf of our dioceses joining 85 other religious organizations in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Yesterday Alan and I joined with Episcopal City Mission in supporting Centro Presente in a witness at Boston City Hall. We heard from immigrants here in this country through Temporary Protection Status (TPS) and from their children.

The Rev. Arrington Chambliss, Executive Director of Episcopal City Mission, Bishop Fisher, Bishop Alan Gates of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Photo: D. Fisher

These are two separate political issues relating to immigration, but my participation in both is rooted in one theology. Biblical imperatives about welcoming the stranger abound throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Here are just a few:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you (Leviticus 25:35).

You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:1-2).

At a prayer service before going to City Hall, Natalie Finstad of Episcopal City Mission described a key aspect of the early Church as she understands it from the book Transforming Mission by David Bosch.

“The nature of the early Christian mission manifested itself from the new relationship that came into being in community. Jew and Roman, Greek and barbarian, free and slave, rich and poor, woman and man, accepted one another as brothers and sisters. It was a movement without analogy, indeed a ‘sociological impossibility.’ Small wonder that the Christian community caused so much astonishment in the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, the Christian community and its faith was so different from anything known in the ancient world that it often made no sense to others.”

Community. At City Hall, Mayor Marty Walsh took up that theme.

“They (immigrants here through TPS) are our neighbors and coworkers. They’re members of our faith community. They own homes and businesses. Taking this protection away these young people and family members will not make our community safer. To the contrary, it’s going to introduce chaos.”  (Cristela Guerra for The Boston Globe)

Chaos. Ten-year-old Gabriela Martinez of Leominster contrasted her dreams with chaos. She told the crowd that she wants to teach English as a second language to help immigrant families. She said that she doesn’t want to see families destroyed or divided. “In order to accomplish our dreams, our parents and family need residency, not just TPS,” the fifth-grader said. (Boston Globe)

Much of recent theological reflection has centered on finding out what God is up to in the world. We have a dynamic God, a community of divine Love always active, and not confined by, the church’s walls. I see God acting in the work of Amy Grunder, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). We had a long conversation in which she said she needs more allies in Western and Central Massachusetts. I see God acting in the testimony of Centro Presente and in the support of Episcopal City Mission and continuing collaboration of our two Episcopal dioceses. And, I see God at work in our Church, The Episcopal Public Policy Network is following these legislative developments closely and provides us with everything we need to advocate.

Protect Immigrant Youth: Support the Dream Act

Defend TPS

 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has given us a working definition for the 21st century. “We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.” Some of the change will come about if we resist the forces of chaos and become the community God intends for us to be.

+Doug

After Alabama: a Path of Action for Justice

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I have never visited the Holy Land. Friends who have, tell me they never read the Scriptures in the same way again. Even though they knew the stories, being physically present to the sacred places gave them a whole new appreciation. My participation this week in a pilgrimage through Alabama, visiting key places in the Civil Rights Movement, as part of a group sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School,  brought me to a similar new depth of understanding. I was a child during those history making days of the 1960s but I studied that era extensively as an adult. I was especially taken by the story of Jonathan Daniels, the Episcopal seminarian who gave his life in that struggle. Although I never made the commitment he did, I shared his idealism, his hope that Jesus’ dream of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven could be realized.

Slide1

I entered the journey knowing the stories, but hearing the stories where they took place helped them enter my soul. Walking in prayer through Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, where Sheriff Bull Connor had his police attack protesters with vicious dogs and where he had water canons turned on the marchers, gave me a sense of witness to the horrific events, as did entering the 16th Street Baptist Church where a bomb killed four children getting ready for Sunday School. Walking over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, knowing that “Bloody Sunday” occurred at the end of that walk, was prayer in motion. When I knelt on the ground in Haynesville, where Jonathan was gunned down by Thomas Coleman, taking a bullet intended for 16-year-old Ruby Sales, I felt the spirit of one who had followed Jesus all the way to the cross. Our multidimensional souls allow us to be horrified and inspired at the same time.

Slide1

There is another Holy Land/Gospel similarity. The Gospels were written about fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Most scholars date Mark to around 70 A.D., Matthew and Luke to 80-85, John in the 90’s. The Evangelists wrote to preserve the community’s memory of Jesus and to keep the message and Spirit of Jesus alive and vibrant in a new time. The new time was living the faith without the Temple, which had been destroyed by the Romans in 70. Could it be that we are retelling the Civil Rights stories fifty years later, not just for history’s sake, but so that we might embrace the message of that time – be inspired to work for justice in a new era? Our society does not look like it did in the ’50s and ’60s, just as the Judeo-Christian faith expression did not look like it did in the Temple era – a time in which they expected the imminent return of Christ. The Gospels invited believers to “be” the Body of Christ.  The sacrifices of so many, fifty years ago, did achieve so much. But the work of the Civil Rights Movement is far from done, even though some may have thought it was. The attempt to roll back voting rights, the mass incarceration of black men (The New Jim Crow), income inequality are just a few examples. Bishops Against Gun Violence speak about the “Unholy Trinity” – poverty, racism and guns.

Telling the stories of Jesus and the Prophets has never been viewed as interesting stories from long ago. They are the Living Word because they comfort and challenge us now. They require a response. In the same way, the stories of the Civil Rights Movement ask something of us beyond historical study. They invite us first to an awareness of the reality of the present time, and then to action for a world where Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope is not reserved for Heaven.

We should not assume the church is answering this challenge.11174553_1622055841339693_634232376384023980_o

A few months ago I was on a panel with Ruby Sales – the woman Tom Coleman aimed the gun at. I was saying the fight against climate change was not making progress because churches were not getting behind it, as they did in the Civil Rights Movement. Ruby leaned in to me and said “the churches failed to lead in the Civil Rights movement.” I heard her but that was not my understanding of history. I grew up with priest mentors who were all about social justice. On this pilgrimage I learned Ruby had the facts and I did not. Far less than 10 per cent of the churches in our country overall and in the South as a region took part in the Civil Rights Movement. We have outstanding saints who acted on their faith – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jonathan Daniels, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rosa Parks and thousands of others. As powerful as that witness is, the fact is that most churches sat out the Civil Rights Movement. May we not sit on the sidelines this time. I say that not knowing exactly what that participation looks like, but knowing it begins for me with awareness.

And maybe if you and I can grow in awareness, and hang on to the idealism of Jonathan Daniels who remains forever young, a path of action for justice will be revealed to us in the “beloved community” that Jonathan described in a Bible he gave to friends on Easter Sunday 1965: “We dream of a beloved community in which white men and black men, old men and young men, whole men and sick men, will join hands in the way of the Cross and find there the life broken, shared and renewed for them all, the unspeakable glory of God.”

+Doug

Expanding the Apostolic Imagination

HOB Fall Meeting, 2014

HOB Fall Meeting, 2014

September 21

I had my mind and heart opened to a new way of understanding God during a presentation at the House of Bishops gathering here in Taiwan. The speaker was a British theologian who now teaches at the seminary in Hong Kong. He described doing a bible study a few years ago among seminarians in Africa. The text was Genesis and the story starts after Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree. They hide from God in the Garden of Eden “in the cool of the evening” because they fear God. And God says “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

For many readers, this is a morality tale. This is the big break between God and humanity – Original Sin. But for the professor’s African students, they interpreted God’s question as one of longing, of desire to be with humanity. “Where are you? I created you because I want someone to love. Where are you?” And then that same desire gets played out in another Garden – the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus longs for God’s presence. And that longing gets repeated on the cross by Jesus with the psalmist’s words “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” It is a cry for relationship, a longing to be together with the source of all that is. And that longing comes from both “sides” of the relationship, which is all One.

For a moment, think about how that insight got to me. A theologian from England learns from students in Africa, goes to Hong Kong to teach and makes a presentation in Taipei to a gathering of bishops that includes an American from Western Massachusetts. The imagination that is grace, God’s revelation to us, knows no boundaries. It is never limited and it is always multidimensional.

I’m telling you that story because it may help to illustrate the theme of this gathering of the House of Bishops: Expanding the Apostolic Imagination. We have gone halfway around the world to gain a better understanding of our God who can never be contained in one culture or one context – or in one dimension. In a brilliant sermon at the opening Eucharist, our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts – Schori, preached about Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century mystic and scholar who discovered God in creation and in science and who dared to take on the political leaders of her time. She wrote a liturgical drama “Ordo Virtutum” in which the personified virtues sing their parts. But the devil can only speak for he is condemned to live without music. He lives in only one dimension and without imagination, without newness.

Our time together in Taipei has featured a lot of “newness.” We have heard from church leaders in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Pakistan. We will hear from speakers representing Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Their context gives them insights we need to hear.

We have also spent time visiting cultural landmarks and churches. Betsy and I joined groups that went to St. James in the city of Taichung and Good Shepherd in Taipei. In a country that is less than four per cent Christian, these churches are growing. Not only do their little faith communities grow, but as they do, they start other faith communities. St. James, started in 1971 with a donation from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, has started or renewed eight churches in the Philippines. They are not huddling together, trying to figure out how to survive. They are going “out” with the good news. I believe there is an insight here and spiritual energy for the church in our culture.

These speakers and these trips are expanding my “apostolic imagination.” Betsy and I are blessed to have this opportunity.

And I had my “civic imagination” expanded as well. When we visited St. James in Taichung, we went by “high speed rail.” The train attained speeds of 180 miles per hour. We made the 130 mile trip from Taipei (the biggest city in Taiwan) to Taichung (the third biggest city) in 55 minutes.

What would happen if we had a high speed train going to and from Boston (the biggest city in Massachusetts) to Springfield (the third biggest city)? It has been proposed and not acted upon by political leaders in the past. What would that do for the challenged city of Springfield? It could create new possibilities that will never happen with the dead end idea of casinos. The technology is available. Could we have our civic imagination expanded – by Taiwan?

Thank God we have a God that is always creative, always offering new possibilities, and always longing to be with us in the relationship that gives life.

+Doug

Pentecost

Sermon given at St Stephen’s in Pittsfield, June 8, 2014pentecost

Our youngest child, Grace, just celebrated her 21st birthday. Where did those years go? I remember when she was little and when she would eat something she liked a lot, she would throw open her arms and exclaim, “mmmm…peace be with you!” That’s what happens when both your parents are priests, I guess.

As we celebrate Pentecost today, the lectionary gives us two different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit – because one account would not do it justice. In John’s Gospel, Jesus enters the upper room on Easter night and says, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” I can imagine him saying “peace be with you” with the same enthusiasm Gracie did. What I am giving you now is something great! It is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the power to change your life and you have that power now.

I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon on the way St. Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles because the special effects are just too good to pass up. The violent wind from heaven. The tongues of fire. Speaking in other languages. Let’s look at each of those special effects. But before we do, let’s remember what is most important is not the special effects, but what that wind and fire and intense language immersion brought about to those that experienced it. I can’t say it any better than Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor- recently on the cover of TIME magazine- so I won’t try. Here are Taylor’s words:

“Before the day was over, the church had grown from 120 to more than 3000. Shy people had become bold, scared people became gutsy, and lost people had found a sure sense of direction. Disciples who had not believed themselves capable of tying their own sandals without Jesus discovered abilities within themselves that they never knew they had. When they opened their mouths to speak, they sounded like Jesus. When they laid their hands on the sick, it was as if Jesus himself had touched them. In short order they were doing things they had never seen anyone but him do, and there was no explanation for it, except that they had dared to inhale on the day of Pentecost. They had sucked in God’s own breath and they had been transformed by it.”

Back to the special effects. First comes the “violent wind.” In other passages of scripture we hear that God speaks in strong winds. Only at Pentecost is it described as violent. But there is another passage in the Bible that contradicts this. It is in the First Book of Kings and we hear that the prophet Elijah is told to wait outside his cave for the word of God. He stands there and suddenly a “terrible wind” arrives. But God is not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was fire. But God was not in the fire. And then there was silence. All was still. And God was in the silence.

Ok, so what is it? Is God in the wind or in the silence? The answer is not either/or. Because God’s Spirit is wild and free, we know the answer is both/and. God is in the violent wind and the silence. And here is why that is important for you and me – God is going to be in everything between the violent wind and the silence, including our noisy and messy lives. So don’t be afraid.

Next special effect – fire. But it wasn’t really fire. It was “divided tongues, as of fire.” Now we have created a whole church culture around this “as of fire” and the associated color of red. Red doors, red vestments. So it must be important. Let’s get to its importance by way of a story about Phillips Brooks, like Barbara Brown Taylor, another great Episcopal preacher. Brooks was the bishop of Massachusetts in the 1890’s when the diocese was the entire Commonwealth. I don’t know if he ever made it here to Pittsfield. He was only bishop for two years before his death and many blamed it on the extensive travel he did. When the next bishop only lived two years, that is when they decided to divide the one diocese into two. I appreciate that decision.

Before becoming bishop, Brooks was a priest in Boston. One time a Harvard professor, troubled by some recent events in his life, was in the congregation. Hearing Brooks preach, he decided to go and see him and get some advice for his troubles. He made an appointment and, after a one-hour meeting with Brooks, he came out a changed man. But he later wrote that he realized in that hour he had forgotten to tell Brooks about the specifics of his “issues” and what he should do about them. The Harvard professor wrote: “I did not care. I had found out what I needed was not the solution of a specific problem, but the contagion of a triumphant spirit on fire.”

“The contagion of a triumphant spirit on fire.” St. Theresa of Avila said the same thing four hundred years earlier: “If you become what you should be, the world will be set afire.” Those who designed the red doors and the red vestments knew what they were doing – giving us reminders of what we are called to be in Christ.

Last special effect. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.” And yet, when they did that they were accused of being drunk at 9 am. Why would anyone call a person drunk for speaking another language? I call people who speak more than one language “smart.” Why this accusation of being filled with new wine?

The best explanation my study has revealed is this. The disciples were taking the language of the Temple and bringing it out into the streets where people could hear it in their own context. Think of it this way. We are so comfortable here in this beautiful church saying “The Lord be with you.” What would happen if you said that outside of this building, in the streets of Pittsfield. “The Lord be with you.” The response probably would not be “and also with you” but rather “are you drunk?”

And yet that is exactly what we are called to do. Bring Jesus’ mission of mercy and compassion and hope to the streets where we live and in a language people can understand.

Betsy and I went to London last year to visit the aforementioned Gracie as she studied abroad. Whenever we were in the subway (the “tube”) and the train would stop at the platform and the doors would open, a voice from the loudspeaker would remind us to “mind the gap.”

Perhaps we could use that language of London in union with the intensely religious language of our church services and give this prophetic language to our society. Mind the gap between the kingdom of peace that Jesus wants and the gun violence that is running rampant in our country. Maybe we could remind us all to mind the gap between the creation God wants us to live in and the climate changed creation our children and grandchildren will inherit if we don’t do something about it. Maybe we could mind the increasingly huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else in our society. The list goes on. But the Spirit given at Pentecost compels us to speak Jesus’ vision of a world of mercy and compassion and hope to every corner of this earth – the place where the kingdom of heaven is coming.

On Pentecost the disciples breathed in the breath of God. Let’s end this sermon with an experiment. I’m going to invite everyone in this congregation to breathe in and, if you dare, say in your mind “Come Holy Spirit.” Are you ready? On the count of three. One, two, three. Breathe in…now exhale.

Do you know the word “conspire” means to “breathe together?” That means you are now part of a conspiracy. God’s conspiracy to “fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in them a fire of your love, and renew the face of the earth.” It’s a big plan but we have a big God. Amen.

+Doug