Something New and Something Old

Proper 12, Year A

Matthew 13:31-33,44-53

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In our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven with four short parables. Then, he turns to his disciples and asks, “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

Up to this point, the disciples have not done very well trying to understand Jesus. Jesus told the parable of the sower to the gathered crowds. Then, as soon as the disciples get him alone, they ask him to explain the parable to them. The next day, Jesus is again teaching the crowds and tells the parable of wheat and the weeds. Again, as soon as they get Jesus alone and away from the crowds, the disciples ask for an explanation.

So I’m a little skeptical of the disciple’s answer. I imagine them looking at him with a mixture of confusion and worry.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed? Mustard is a weed that grows on the edges of fields. How can the kingdom of heaven be like a weed?

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast? How can that be? Yeast is consistently used throughout scripture as a metaphor for evil. The yeast Jesus was talking about was not the Fleishmann’s dry yeast that comes in a nice, neat paper envelope. Yeast in Jesus’ time was a rotting mass of flour and oil that would be mixed with flour to make bread. A baker would keep a jar of yeast going all the time, adding more flour, water and oil to the jar to keep it growing and active, and pinching off a lump each time he or she wanted to make bread. Yeast is messy, sticky, smelly stuff. What does Jesus mean comparing the kingdom of heaven to yeast?

Jesus teaches with these short, jarring parables, surprising us and challenging us to hear something new and different. Then he ends the lesson with a final parable that is about the disciples, and about us.

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52)

The scribes of Jesus’ time were the people who dedicated themselves to reading and learning from the scriptures. If we want to understand the scriptures, we have to be willing to find something new along with what is old. If all we do is to learn the accepted interpretations, we are closing ourselves off to learning something new.

There is something about religion that can bring out the most conservative thinking in even the most liberal of people. We hunger for certainty. We want to know the answers. We want to know the rules. We want to know how to pray, how to worship, and how to experience God in our lives. As soon as we find one answer to one of these religious questions, we hold onto that answer like a drowning man holding a life ring. We will hold onto the life ring even when there is a lifeboat floating nearby.

Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven with parables because he wants us to let go of the life ring and get into the boat. The life ring will keep you from sinking, but the lifeboat will keep you from sinking and let you get warm and dry.

The kingdom of heaven is a way of talking about a life lived in faithful relationship with God. The Jews listening to Jesus already knew how to relate to God. The Torah, the 10 commandments and the laws of Moses, the Temple in Jerusalem, these were the ways that they related to God.

Jesus comes offering something radically different. In order to be heard by these people Jesus has to startle them. He has to use the old and familiar images in new ways. Jesus is offering a very new way of understanding the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is offering a new way of knowing and relating to God. Jesus is telling us all these parables about the kingdom of heaven because he wants to teach us how to live in loving relationship with God and with one another.

The traditions and practices of the past are important to us, but Jesus also wants us to be open to learning something new. Jesus wants us to learn to be open to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So he tells us that we should be like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. Embrace the beauty of our traditions, but be open to new inspiration.

I see this at work every time I participate in a Bible discussion group. We will read a passage and then someone will ask a question. Invariably, the first answer will be very much like what we learned in Sunday School. The first answer is often what someone else told us that the scripture meant.

Take the parable of the net in today’s reading. One obvious lesson from this is that in the kingdom of heaven, the good and the bad will be judged. The good will be kept and the bad will thrown out. That sounds like another lesson about judgment after we die and go to heaven. When you get to heaven, you will be judged. You had better be good or you will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If we look at what the parable actually says, and let the metaphor of the net and the catch speak for themselves, we find something more in this parable. First off, there is nothing here to indicate that the kingdom of heaven is somewhere else. There is nothing here about being judged after death. There is nothing here about waiting until we die to be judged or even waiting until we die to experience heaven. No, what we have here is a description of a net that catches every kind of fish and creature in the sea. The kingdom of heaven catches up all the fish, good and bad. God is indiscriminate. Everyone is caught up in the net of heaven. You don’t have to believe the right thing or even belong to the right religion to be caught up in this net.

Yes, it matters what you do. There is judgment. There are consequences for what you do and how you live. The good fish and bad fish are sorted. But there is more to learn from the parable of the net. There is something new for us to learn.

The surprise of these parables is that God yearns for us as much and more than we yearn for God. God is willing to risk everything to find you and to have you. And so the kingdom of heaven is like a net that gathers and includes and welcomes everyone. God’s great net will gather you in because God loves you and wants to be in relationship with you. God’s love and desire for you is even greater than your love and desire for God.

These parables are an invitation to live in the kingdom of heaven now. Are you yearning to be loved? Jesus has good news for you. God already loves you. Jesus is inviting us to live in loving relationship with God now.

 

 

The Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA

July 24, 2011

Living in the Weeds

Proper 11, Year A, RCL

Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

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A while back, I attended a free concert with a friend of mine. We were sitting on the grass, enjoying a picnic dinner and waiting for the music to start. There was an elderly couple sitting in old fashioned lawn chairs in front of us and just as the music was about to start another couple joined them. This was obviously not a planned meeting. They were thrilled to see one another and exclaiming how many years it had been since they saw one another. As this reunion was going on another couple came up and all six of them were thrilled to see one another. They hugged and laughed as they set up their chairs in a circle. This excitement had been going on for a while when I heard a swell in the music and realized that we were missing the concert. We could not hear the music over their conversation.

My friend Greg and I discussed (quietly) whether we should ask them to be quiet or move to another spot on the lawn. This was the moment when we were confronted with a conflict and we had to choose how we would react.

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The farmer finds out that someone has sown weeds among his wheat crop and he has to decide what to do. Now, in the NRSV translation the weeds are not named, but in other translations they are called “tares”. This is a variety of rye grass called the bearded darnel. Tares are indistinguishable from wheat until they are both ready to be harvested. Not only are the almost impossible to tell apart, the tares produce a toxic grain. To have wheat mixed with the seeds of the tares would make the harvest useless.

27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ (Mat 13:27-30)

The man chose to let the wheat and the tares grow together. He chose to live with the conflict, threat and uncertainty of the mixed harvest until he could be sure which was which.

Jesus is a powerful and wonderful teacher. That moment of decision when the man chose not to judge between the wheat and the weeds is rich with meaning. The moment of choice – the moment when we are aware of the weeds, the conflict, or our own fear – that is the moment in which we can learn the most if we are willing to stay there with the uncertainty rather than to rush to act or judge or fix. That moment is the turning point of this parable and the lessons and meaning of Jesus’ teaching emerge from that moment of choosing ambiguity over certainty.

I read a wonderful book by a Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, called, “When Things Fall Apart.” She refers to that same moment, that moment when the man chose to let the weeds and wheat grow together, as a great moment for learning.

Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs.

To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. (When Things Fall Apart, Pg 10)

There’s an old folk story that helps understand the value of living with our fears rather than rushing to judgment and resolution.

There was once a woodcutter who had a beautiful axe. His axe was a work of art with a beautiful gleaming head made from the best metals and a strong, elegant handle. He could cut more wood than other woodcutters in half the time with this axe and he was very proud. One day he went to his shed to get his cart and axe for a day of wood cutting and the axe was gone! He searched everywhere but there was no axe. He was forced to use an old, dull and ugly axe that day and the work took twice as long. That night, tired and angry, he sat in front of his house sharpening the ugly old axe when the neighbor’s boy passed by. The boy laughed at something and that made the woodcutter angry. “He is laughing at my misfortune!” he thought. The next night the woodcutter was making his dinner when he saw the boy pass by with his friends. The woodcutter thought to himself, that boy looks like a thief. He laughed at me. I’ll bet he stole my axe to sell in town and have fun with the money. I should talk to his father. But he didn’t do anything that night. He was too tired from using the dull old axe. This went on for days. Every time the woodcutter saw the boy, the more sure he became that he was a thief and had stolen the beautiful axe. The man convinced himself that he would confront the boy and his father that night about the axe, but first he had to cut more wood for his customers. He went out with the old axe to one of his favorite spots. As he entered the clearing to begin cutting wood he saw his beautiful axe stuck in a stump, right where he had left it the last time he came to this clearing. He was thrilled. The day went quickly and his spirits were high. That night he saw the boy passing by and his heart softened. The boy didn’t look like a thief at all. He just looked like a little boy.

At the concert Friday night, we decided to quietly move to another spot on the lawn rather than confront the noisy group. How can I know whether the 10% of the music that I missed because of their joyous greetings and conversation was more important than their little reunion? I might have ruined, or at least squelched, their enjoyment if I had interrupted them and asked them to be quiet. For all I know, I would have been the weeds in that situation and they the wheat.

We can’t tell the wheat from the weeds. We can’t even be sure we are the wheat and not the weeds much of the time. So Jesus teaches us to be patient, to be compassionate, and not to jump to judgment of others. The path of discipleship, of following Jesus, is a hard one; sometimes staying on that path means living with the weeds.

 

 

The Rev. David Marshall,

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline

July 17, 2011

Burning Sins

Put your sins here.
Put your sins, failures, doubts, and shame here.
Your sins are gone, forgiven, burned to ashes.
Your sins are gone, forgiven, burned to ashes.

Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) And yet, we walk around carrying terrible burdens: Things we have done that we regret, things we have not done that we should have, failures we have suffered, embarrassments, doubts, and more. In this sermon I invite you to live in Christ and experience the freedom from condemnation that Paul promises. I began the sermon by placing a waste bin at the front of the aisle. I finished, after the service, with a fire in the parking lot.

Thou Shalt Not…

Proper 9, Year A

Romans 7:15-25, Matthew 11:25-30

I began this sermon by placing a large, fancy, chocolate cupcake with whipped cream and a cherry on top onto the lectern next to my Bible. The notes below give an idea of what I did with the cupcake while while giving this sermon.

Sometimes we struggle to understand the stories or lessons in scripture. What does that mean? What does this have to do with my life? That is not a problem with today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20)

Uncover the cupcake.

We can all relate to what Paul is saying. We have all eaten that extra dessert. We have all done things we wish we had not. We have all failed to keep promises or commitments to ourselves, or even to God. We do things that hurt others. We say things that maybe we shouldn’t have said. Who has not felt that little guilty thrill of telling one on a friend or acquaintance, or listening to someone else dishing?

I have put this cupcake here to illustrate Paul’s point. There is nothing sinful about a cupcake. But what happens when you decide  to cut back on sweets, or you are dieting, or trying to eat a more healthy diet, and you come face to face with temptation like this?

Hold the cupcake up. Admire it. Describe it. Smell it. Hmmm…Chocolate. Put it down. Lick the frosting from your fingers.

Last week we talked about the purpose God has for each of our lives. As baptized Christians, we are the adopted children of God. We belong to God now. We are subject to God; obedient to God rather than to sin and lustful desires; or at least that is the idea.

I illustrated the freedom that comes from accepting our God given purpose by trying to turn a brick into a paper airplane. When we continue to live as though we are not the beloved children of God we are trying to make a paper airplane out of a brick. The brick has a purpose that does not involve flying, and our lives have a purpose that is about loving and being loved by God.

God’s purpose is what we learn from Jesus. Jesus shows us that what God wants is for each and every one of us to know that we are beloved of God. And God wants us further to know that we are to give that love away; through compassion, generosity, justice, service, prayer, and worship.

There is no point pretending that God does not love us. We are called to be God’s beloved children and to spread God’s love and compassion.  And then someone says something you don’t like, or does something that irritates you, or simply cuts you off in traffic, and all that loving is out the window in a one-fingered salute!

The temptation, or simply the opportunity to sin, can be very subtle. You may be enjoying a chat with a friend, and you start talking about someone you both know, and one comment leads to another, and you are gossiping. You find yourself saying things you would never say to that person’s face. As long as you both agree, it feels all right. There is even a guilty pleasure in talking so freely about someone else.

When we are aware of our calling to be God’s children, and to do God’s work in the world, we want to – we want to be loving, generous, compassionate people – for the most part – but that desire is not enough.

That is the struggle that Paul is talking about. We want to do the right thing, but it is hard.

Casually, without making a big deal about it, pick up the cupcake.

I heard a great story that illustrates the struggle and shows how very normal our struggles can be. This story comes from Professor Rolf Jacobson. Rolf is a professor of Biblical Studies at Luther Theological Seminary and he has two children, a daughter and a son.

Begin to eat bits of the cupcake.

One night his family was having a talk about the Ten Commandments and his son, who was about five, was struggling to understand the concept of “coveting”. So Rolf’s daughter decided to explain. She said, “ Coventing is wanting something that is not yours. It’s like when you wanted our friend Michael’s Lego Battleship.”

“Oh, right. Now I understand,” said the son. Then he turned to his mother, who was keeping his Christmas wish list, and said, “Mom, would you put the Lego Battleship onto my Christmas list?”

In the same moment, Rolf’s son learned what coveting is and immediately coveted his friend’s toy. Coveting and lusting for things we don’t need or shouldn’t have is an easy example of what Paul is saying. Sometimes the things we should do are even more difficult than the things we should not do. In January and February the Gym is full of people keeping their New Year’s resolution to get in shape. By March, the crowds have thinned considerably.

This life that Jesus calls us to is not easy. If we cannot resist a cupcake, how are we supposed to devote ourselves  to following Jesus: to worship, pray, study the Bible, and to serve and love others?

That is where today’s Gospel reading comes in:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

We don’t have to do this alone. Jesus will share the burdens with us and help us. A yoke is meant to allow a horse or oxen to pull a heavy load without chafing or pinching. The yoke spreads the weight evenly across the shoulders. The yoke that Jesus offers, to take on the burdens of his way of life, is well fitted, and the burdens themselves are not great. Not only that, Jesus is right there beside us, sharing the burdens, wearing the other half of a double yoke, helping us with our struggles and burdens.

You are sitting in a room full of people trying to deal with these same challenges. All around you are people who are striving and struggling to follow Jesus, to learn from him, and to grow to be more like him each day.

That is what we are here for. We are all choosing, struggling, failing, and trying again, to follow Jesus. Offer your struggles and burdens to Jesus in prayer and ask him to help. Turn to the people around you here and share your struggles. We are all in this together and we can help each other.

Living the purpose that God has given us as his adopted children is not easy. But we are not alone. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

 

The Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA

July 3rd, 2011

This Brick is Your Life…

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”?

The Experience of God

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.

The Gift of Life

Pentecost, Year A

John 20:19-23

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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.

The Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA

June 12, 2011

Prayerful Expectation

The Ascension, Year A

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Acts 1:1-11

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 Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA

June 5, 2011

Have You Seen the Holy Spirit?

Year A, Easter 6

John 14:15-21

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Have you ever seen the Holy Spirit?

Do you know what the Holy Spirit looks like?

We each have an image of Jesus in our minds. He was a man. We can imagine him, even if we don’t know exactly what he looked like.

We can even have an image of God the Father or God the Creator. If we don’t have an image in our minds of what God the Creator looks like, at least we have the creation itself.

But the Holy Spirit is harder to imagine. The images used in scripture are so poetic and metaphorical. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove to rest on Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes in tongues of fire to rest on each of the apostles. These are beautiful and powerful images, but they are not very concrete.

John’s Gospel can help us with this dilemma. John speaks of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate sent by the Father. In today’s Gospel reading we hear,

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 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. (John 14:15-17)

In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit is referred to as an Advocate. The Greek word is paraklete. I’d like to look at that word for a moment. Paraklete. Para – Klete. Para means along side of or with. For instance, a “paramedic” is a medic that comes to your aide, coming along side you to aide you.

Klete is from the Greek word kletos, which means to call, to speak, to encourage or to inspire.

So, at the root, paraclete means someone who comes alongside you to call you, speak for you, encourage you and inspire you. In its usage, paraklete is a legal term. A paraklete is someone who speaks for you in a trial. The accused stands before the judge and the paraklete speaks for him. The paraklete has the ear of the judge! “Yes, your honor, I know he is guilty, but I have taken care of it. I have paid his debt.” The Paraklete knows something important. This judge already wants to forgive. This judge is already ready to forgive and bless.

So the advocate stands up for us and speaks for us, encourages us and teaches us. That’s certainly more concrete than an image of wind or breath. That’s more approachable or meaningful than an image of a dove descending or tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit is an advocate that speaks for us and lets us know that Christ is with us.

But there is an even more helpful clue in today’s reading that can help us to understand the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if we keep his commandments, the Father will send another advocate. Jesus is the first advocate. So, the Holy Spirit is an advocate, or another advocate, like Jesus. The Holy Spirit will abide with us just as Jesus has abided with us. The Spirit is sent in Jesus’ name and reminds us of what he taught (14:25). In a very real way, the Spirit reveals and makes real for us Jesus’ presence and helps to keep his promise that he will not leave us orphaned and will come to us.

So, The Holy Spirit looks like Jesus. And that means I can show you what the Holy Spirit looks like. Right now. I have something here that will help us see exactly what the paraclete, the advocate, the Holy Spirit looks like. (Hold up mirror. Turn the mirror so all see themselves reflected in the mirror.)

The Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks a whole lot like Jesus. Which means that we’ve actually seen the Spirit lots of times. Anytime, in fact, someone stands up for another…  Anytime someone acts like Jesus… Anytime someone bears the love of Christ to another… we’ve seen the Holy Spirit.

  • When you reach out in compassion and love to someone who is suffering,
  • When you participate on one of our Care Teams, responding to the needs of our congregation and our friends and families with prayer and love,
  • When you bring treats to share in our social time after the service,
  • When you contribute to the financial needs of your congregation,
  • When you help out at the food bank or contribute to Matthew’s house,

These are all the ways that the advocate works with us and encourages us and sends us into the world to be Christ’s heart and hands.

Take a look. (Hold mirror again.) Here is the Holy Spirit. Here is Jesus Christ working among us. Together we continue Christ’s mission. Together we do Christ’s work. Together we advocate for the needy, pray for one another, and go forth into the world to do God’s work and share God’s love.

The Rev. David Marshall, Rector

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline, WA

May 29, 2011