We are greatly blessed to have religious freedom in the United States of America. This weekend we will celebrate our Independence Day by singing patriotic songs, eating fun food together at picnics and BBQ’s and enjoying fireworks displays. In the last few days I have been reminded very forcefully of the value and importance of the freedoms we celebrate on July 4th.
Three times this week I have heard news about the struggles of Christians in Pakistan. On Tuesday morning I met with a recently relocated Christian leader from Pakistan. He moved here in May after three pastors were killed in his hometown. A severe blasphemy law has been passed there and any such accusation leads to vigilantism and harassment of the accused. My guest shared his life story with me. His father was a Presbyterian pastor for 65 years and he became a pastor himself in addition to his work as an educator. Many of the best educational institutions in Pakistan were created by Christian missionaries and have now been nationalized.
The second news from Pakistan came through a member of our Bible study. She told the story of meeting a mother and daughter from Pakistan. They too told stories of harassment and persecution of Christians that was so great that they fled their own country. Both these women and my guest Tuesday expressed gratitude for the safety and freedom from persecution they found here in the United States.
Then, Thursday morning, I received a phone message from Parvais. Parvais is an Anglican priest and has visited St. Dunstan’s Church on several occasions. Parvais reports that he has moved from Pakistan to the UK. This is significant for a priest, educator and leader who recently stood for election as a bishop.
That makes three times in one week that I have received news that Christians are being persecuted and forced to leave Pakistan. So, I pass this news on to you, the good people of St. Dunstan’s Church, and ask that you hold the people of Pakistan in your prayers.
As we celebrate our freedom and independence, I pray that we will remember our brothers and sisters in faith around the world who do not have the safety or freedom to gather, pray, and worship Christ. May God bless them and keep them safe. May God bless us and help us to be mindful of the needs of others and mindful of the abundant blessing and freedom we enjoy as citizens of this country, especially on this important national holiday.
Paul tells us that we are no longer subject to sin but are now subject to grace. Paul writes about sin and grace because the church in Rome, just like our own churches today, faced the challenge of turning away from sin and living for God. But what does that mean? How are our lives different now that we have been baptized and are choosing to follow Jesus? If we get stuck on the language and controversy of sin, we risk missing the rest of what Paul is saying. Just what does he mean when he says we are slaves to righteousness?
Paul’s teaching gets at the very nature of freedom. We usually define freedom in terms of the ability to make arbitrary choices without impediment, but are we really free if we can just do whatever we want? Or, does true freedom come when we live out the true purpose of our lives?
This sermon takes a creative look at these questions. In the course of the sermon I try to make an airplane out of a brick. What will happen when I try to launch the “airplane”?
This is a picture of St Mark’s Cathedral seen over the tops of the tents of Tent City 3 (TC3). Right now TC3 is located in the parking lot of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, about half a mile east of St. Mark’s. On Tuesday afternoon, Josef Hinkofer and I visited TC3 and were given a tour. It was a warm afternoon, and there were people sitting in the shade, working in the kitchen, and cleaning their bathrooms. We saw large dorm style tents for men and for women, the communal eating area, a TV tent, and many individual or couples tents. There are about 100 people living in TC3 right now.
Josef approached me recently with a proposal. He told me that he has the skills to cook meals for TC3, St. Dunstan’s has the kitchen and the volunteers to help, and Josef has access to food donations for the majority of the food necessary. If we put all of these together, we can feed the people of TC3!
I have prayed about this and I am convinced that the Holy Spirit has put another opportunity before us to do God’s work. Our Mission Statement reads:
We seek to provide a welcoming environment where individuals can come together to walk in Christ’s love and forgiveness through worship, prayer and service to the community.
This feeding ministry will give us yet another way to live out this mission statement. If you would like to help, please let Josef or me know. We need volunteers to help coordinate the kitchen, do the preparation work for the meals, deliver the meals, and clean up afterwards.
Our plan is to prepare the first meal for Tuesday July 12th. That’s coming up pretty quickly, but we have most of what we need in place already. Each meal will be cooked primarily from donated non-perishable food. We will need to spend about $50 a meal for proteins, fresh vegetables and fruit.
We are very blessed to have this opportunity to serve using the gifts and resources God has given us. See you in the Kitchen!
The doctrine of the Trinity has an interesting and complicated history in the Western Christian Church. From Augustine to Aquinas the Trinity has received a great deal of attention, but ask most people in church on Sunday and they don’t understand the Trinity and don’t think about it much. That may be because in the west the Trinity has been the subject of speculations on the nature of God rather than a guide to the experience of God. This sermon looks at the history of the Trinity starting with Augustine and suggests an alternative.
On Monday evening I stepped into the Narthex and saw the baptismal font glowing with light in many colors. The sun was shining through our new stained glass window directly onto the font. On Sunday, at our Pentecost celebration, we baptized baby Iris in this font, with the light of that window glowing around us. This is a beautiful and vivid sign of God’s Spirit working in and among us.
There are many signs of the Holy Spirit at St. Dunstan’s Church. Some of these signs are mystical, some are surprising, and some are simple and practical. On Pentecost I visited our beloved Marnie in the intensive care unit at the hospital. She was breathing on her own! Spirit is breath
Joe has our full attention!
and wind, and Marnie is breathing again. That is truly the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Marnie is looking forward to seeing the stained glass window installed with her own eyes, and I believe she will. She has been moved out of the intensive care unit and is making steady progress.
The Holy Spirit is what allows us to live with that special quality of life that Jesus calls “eternal life”. We would not have the Church today without the wondrous gift of God’s Spirit. When we work together, as we did to create our new window, we experience God’s presence and guidance. In this picture, Joe Hester is showing us how we will construct the window. Time like this, learning and working shoulder to shoulder, becomes more than fellowship and more than work when we acknowledge God’s presence. We are formed as Christians by our care for one another as we do God’s work together. That is another sign of the Holy Spirit.
Baptizing Baby Iris, with Grandpa looking on.
The life that Jesus invites us to live (Eternal life, life in God’s Kingdom, in Greek, “zoe life”) is participation in the very life of God. Without God, our lives can feel empty and desperate, even when our circumstances are good. With God, our lives can feel full and joyful, even when circumstances are desperate. Salvation is available to us in the form of a life worth living. The path to this life is to follow Jesus. Jesus leads us, through his crucifixion and resurrection, into this new life. That path is not easy. Jesus suffered horribly, after all. We have a choice. We can suffer on our own, or we can follow Jesus and the suffering of life is sanctified and redeemed.
Just a bowl of water.
God does not take our suffering away, but the experience of life’s challenges is transformed. Life with the Holy Spirit is enriched, joyful, and purposeful.
The font in our narthex is just a glass bowl of water, but on Sunday, it became an instrument of new life. On Monday, as the light shone through the window onto the font, that glass bowl glowed with color and beauty. Without Christ, our lives are like that simple glass bowl. With Christ, our
God's light transforms our lives.
lives take on new life and new joy.
With the Holy Spirit, our lives shine with color and beauty.
Today, we will baptize baby Iris. Her baptism is a new birth, a second birth, into the family of God. Her parents have already given her the gift of life. She is perfect, just as she is. She is beautiful. She has all that she needs to grow and flourish as a human being. And yet, her parents bring her here today to be baptized, because they know that there is something more. Her parents, grandparents, and her godparents will stand with her and make promises for her because they know that there is more to life than what we are born with.
We know that there is life, and there is life. There is the life of work, hunger, passions, pain, pleasure and struggle, and then there is eternal life – life in God and life with God.
In the New Testament scriptures there are two different Greek words for life: psychi and zoe. Psychi and zoe refer to two very different kinds of life.
Psychi is the life we are born to. Psychi is the life that we have because we are alive. Psychi life is all that you have by virtue of being a living, breathing human. Psychi is our stuff, our struggles, our possessions, and our bodies. We need psychi life. But psychi life is not enough.
Jesus offers us a different quality of life. He offers us a life that is energized by love. Jesus offers a kind of life that fills the empty spaces in our hearts and makes us whole and complete. Sometimes he talks about this as “eternal life”. In the Greek, this kind of life is called zoe. Eternal life, or zoe, is a life lived in loving relationship with God and with one another.
Zoe life is what Jesus gives to the disciples in that locked upper room. He appears among them and says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He is giving them zoe. Then he breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Jesus is giving them zoe life! Jesus is giving to the disciples, and he gives to us, a quality of life that goes beyond our physical comforts and needs. Jesus makes possible life filled with God’s Spirit of love.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is what makes zoe life possible. God gave to the first disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, and God continues to give us that gift. Because we have the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present and alive to us. The Holy Spirit teaches us and inspires us, so that we continue to learn from the scriptures and we continue to encounter Jesus. We can know God and be united with God because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today we will share that gift with Iris. Iris will be baptized into the family of God. She will share in zoe life with us. Her psychi life will be blessed and she will become a part of zoe life. As a member of this family, she will share in the mission of Christ: She will be blessed with God’s love and she will share God’s love with others. Iris will be born into zoe life and she will be sent, just as Jesus was sent by the father, and just as we are each sent, to bring life and love to the world.
We are also going to dedicate our new stained glass window today. This window was entitled, “The Light of God.” The beautiful branches and leaves and flashes of color in this window remind us of the special, beautiful quality of life that Jesus offers. The colors of this window are a sign of zoe life, eternal life, that special quality of life lived in the beauty of God’s love.
Today’s baptism will take place around the font in the narthex. We will stand under our new window, bathed in the light of God, and we will welcome Iris into the family of Christ. We will move to the Narthex in procession, following the crucifer. The Crucifer and torches will lead the family, then the ministers will follow the family, then each of you in the pews are invited to follow us. Follow along in a line, one or two abreast, and we will form a large circle around the font. The choir will bring up the rear of the line.
If you have trouble standing, you can sit on one of the couches. If you are in a wheel chair, please join right in the procession and position yourself where you can see the font.
We are used to thinking of Advent as a season of preparation for Christmas. We are used to thinking of Lent as a season of preparation for Easter. What if the season of Easter is here to prepare us for Pentecost? We usually think of Easter as a season of celebration, but the 50 days of Easter leading up to Pentecost are full of lessons preparing us for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is more than a remembrance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our worship leads us to experience the renewal of that gift. We intentionally go beyond remembrance because we know that God is continually giving and renewing the Spirit. In our worship last Sunday we entered into the story of the Ascension in which Jesus departs, promising to ask God the Father to send the Holy Spirit. We emulated the disciples by adopting a pose of prayerful expectation. We raised our hands and opened our hearts, confident that God will bless us with the Holy Spirit again and again if we are but willing and ready.
St. Dunstan’s Church has certainly experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the past year. One of the most visible signs is the beautiful light shining through our new stained glass window. Yes, the window is up! This project has brought great joy and fellowship to the many people who have worked to make the window with their own hands. We will dedicate the new window on Sunday during our Pentecost worship.
God fills us with love, strength and courage to go into the world and do the work of Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. Maybe that’s why the season of Pentecost is the longest season of the church year. This is the season in which we live into the reality of the Christmas incarnation and Easter resurrection.
Friday night you will have the opportunity to experience another of the signs of God’s Spirit working through us. We will gather at the Greenwood Food Bank from 6pm to 9pm, June 10th, to sort pallets of food contributions. This is always a great time. We joyfully hustle and bustle around the warehouse, sorting food into bins and enjoying one another’s company. There is a sense of purpose and of joy. I hope you will join me there this week as we live into our mission, walking in Christ’s love and forgiveness through worship, prayer and service to the community.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. There are ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. During that time, the Apostles and disciples devoted themselves to prayer, spending most of their time together in that locked upper room. Jesus had promised them that the Holy Spirit would come.
This was a time of intense experiences. Imagine yourself there: First Jesus enters into Jerusalem with great triumph. Then he is arrested and crucified. Then he re-appears. He is bodily present: blessing, teaching, encouraging and even sharing meals with his followers! But he is different. In some important way, Jesus has changed. His close friends do not immediately recognize him. But he is present. He shows them his wounds. He enjoys meals. He teaches, opening their hearts to the meaning of the scriptures, breaking bread and blessing, and then disappearing. During this time the resurrected Jesus appears and disappears, but he is real. This physical, incarnate, resurrected state lasts for about 40 days and then, Jesus ascends to be at the right hand of God the Father.
The disciples are all there for the event. Jesus is again teaching and inspiring, and after another blessing he is gone again, this time with a clear sense that something new is happening…again.
There is a pattern here: Jesus promises an important change, there is a time of expectant waiting, and then his promise is fulfilled.
Today we remember the final promise. Jesus promised that God the Father would give to the disciples, and to us, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He promised that through the Holy Spirit we will continue to learn, we will continue to grow, we will continue to discover the meaning of scripture, and we will continue to know Jesus as the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is an advocate to stand with us through life’s struggles. As we discussed last week, the Holy Spirit is a paraklete, speaking for us and encouraging us. The Holy Spirit inspires us and gives us the will to do God’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit allows us, and empowers us to receive God’s love and to share that love.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not just give the Holy Spirit to the disciples? The Holy Spirit comes from the Father. In this Lucan version of the story, Jesus tells the disciples to wait, prayerfully, for this amazing gift. The disciples receive this promise and then return to the upper room where they pray and wait, full of anticipation. Jesus has promised a gift from God!
In our own way, that is exactly what we are doing here today. We are praying and waiting expectantly for the gift that Jesus has promised. In just a few days, one week to be exact, we will have a party: A birthday party of sorts. At this party we, the guests, will receive a gift: The very gift that Jesus promised. God the Father will again give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We can expect to be renewed, instructed, encouraged and blessed!
For now, today, in this service, we are in expectant anticipation. We are praying to God and waiting for the renewing of that great gift of God’s Spirit of love.
We are participating in the pattern set by Jesus. Today we hear the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We wait, with expectant and open hearts, confident that the promised change is coming. Jesus will be alive to us. Because he is alive, we will live. That is a great promise, but this time of waiting is important – maybe even vital.
Every time God or Jesus promise something new, there is a period of preparation, expectation and prayer. Before Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth we have the four weeks of Advent. Before Easter and the celebration of the resurrection we have the forty days of Lent. Each of these seasons call us to prepare, prayerfully and humbly, for the new reality.
Today, this week, we prepare ourselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Ascension begins a period of prayerful expectation. I think that this posture of prayer is vital to receive and know and celebrate the Gift of the Holy Spirit. I imagine the disciples, standing with their hands stretched out, ready to receive the gift. Their posture and their attitude of prayerful expectation form them and prepare them for the remarkable, wonderful events of Pentecost.
So, I want to invite you all to join me in prayerful expectation. I invite you to stand with me. If you like, you can put your hands out like this – expectant, ready to receive the gift – both in your hearts and with your body.
Let us pray. Oh Holy Jesus, you promised to the first disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit from God our Father. They waited and devoted themselves to prayer until your great promise was fulfilled. We stand before you today in prayerful expectation that our Father will give us this gift again. Just as he did for those first disciples and as he has done for us in your Church and your family. We pray that you will intercede for us and ask your Father to bless us again with the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit. We want to know you more perfectly, and to live in you as you live in us. We want to be the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. We want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we are inspired and even driven into the world to proclaim and share your love. We stand here before you with our hearts and our hands open. We are in prayerful expectation that the Father will once again bless us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In your holy name we Pray. Amen
The word is out. St. Dunstan’s Church is a lively and engaged congregation, involved in the community, doing God’s work and worshiping God with joy. When I am with other clergy, they ask about our congregation. People have heard. God is at work among us. In a time of economic challenge and social change, when many churches are struggling, St. Dunstan’s Church is thriving. We are discovering new ways to express God’s love and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are doing God’s work in our lives and the world.
We are blessed, in recent months, with an abundance of guests and visitors at both of our services. I have been very pleased to see the enthusiastic welcome we have offered. I love it when one of you introduces me to one of our visitors. The energy at our coffee hour (at both services!) is wonderful.
When I am meeting guests or speaking with other clergy, I love telling people about our ministries. At a recent clergy group I described our Care Teams and four of the five other priests there asked me to send them a description of this wonderful ministry so that they could start similar programs.
Next week we will celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. At St. Dunstan’s Church we are blessed to have many signs of God’s Spirit working among us and through us. I hope you will come to this very special service. You can expect to experience the joy of worshiping God with all our hearts, minds and strength. We will baptize a baby and dedicate our new stained glass window. Come, wear red, and help us give hearty thanks. In the process, you will be renewed and encouraged to take God’s love into your life.