Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tongues of Fire

Mexican Icon
Whitsunday Texts

Humans are meaning making creatures. We have encounters and experiences and attempt to make sense out of the event. If you don't believe me, just think about what you said to yourself the last time you saw a tragedy. It could be any tragedy, or even a near miss of a tragedy. What were the first thoughts that went through your head?  I will bet that one of the first thoughts was something along the lines of "What did they do wrong to deserve that?"  A turn for the worse in our own lives sparks a series of "why me's?" and often begins to look for something to point to as the cause.

Reading the Bible is reading a long continuing saga of some of humanity wrestling with all the events of past, and present in order to create meaning for themselves. In it is woven the people's attempts to name something completely different, powerfully experienced and intrinsic to their own sense of self. Every book has been written with inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but each book has had one primary author or redactor who molded the content to address the issues of their time. Some Christians will say that my view is heretical because I do not claim that "God wrote it", nor that it is infallible or without error. I do believe that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation, and that it provides a wonderful framework for reflecting on what it means to live a faithful life as a member of the catholic (universal-worldwide) Church. The ancient creed says that the Holy Spirit "Spoke through the prophets." That signals a filter to me.

Today is one of the major feast days for the Church, Pentecost. The day marks a singular occasion fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. It also is claimed as the "birth of the Church".

Isn't that a funny phrase? "Birth of the Church".

Having experienced childbirth twice myself, I confess my mind momentarily becomes rather literal when I hear this phrase. Everyone of sound mind and minimal scientific knowledge knows that births occur through the culminating actions of a woman. Mother God could no longer be contained.

Sorry, I mean not to offend your masculine bound language surrounding God. But it just seems to me that the fertile spilling of tongues like flames and all that creative activity has to be more feminine than masculine. The milk of heaven is the Holy Spirit, enriching and strengthening all who call upon the Divine, the Most Exalted One. Julian of Norwich called Jesus "our true Mother" in her inspired showings. Well, that was many centuries before this day, in a time when before the great breaking forth of the Holy Spirit. All this is to remind you that God truly does not have singular gender or form, and that in our describing of God at work in the world we do our selves a disservice to get hung up on attempting to nail God down to a singular gender.

The significance of the day is huge for me. The power and outpouring of the Holy Spirit has been manifested on numerous occasions in my life. Leading worship and preaching on Pentecost is the absolute best! It is Easter Plus!

Invite me into a time of praise that includes Come Holy Spirit and I experience the warmth and joy that can only come from being in God's presence. As John Wesley would call it, my heart becomes "strangely warmed", and although it may seem contradictory, tears flow on many occasions. Tears of shear joy, not sorrow.  

Well to get down to reading the texts for this Sunday, I confess this has been more sermon and testimony than study so far. I hope you'll forgive me today.  But then again, engaging in testimony is exactly the context  which the author Luke was attempting to document for all future generations when he wrote the the account found in Acts 2:1-21. Our present institution sprung forth with rapid speed at the beginning, and continues to grow, in spite of all dismal reports otherwise, because God works in every age to empower people in both gigantic and small ways to draw people into the red hot dance of holy living. That brilliant red hot dance has no equal, no matter what others will try to tell you. It's a barrier removing dance, just as on that first pentecost many of the followers were gifted with the ability to impart testimonies to the dispersed Jews who had made the trek to participate in the Spring Festival and present their yeast loaf offerings of thanksgiving. The significance of the audience is at least as important as the speakers. The text says
"And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs
Those who came to present their offerings according to the ancient customs must have been exceedingly devout men and women. They were descendents of the diaspora, the remnant of the many who were sold off at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, which took place more than 400 years earlier. These who gathered on the day of feast of weeks had retained the teachings of Moses in spite of their isolation from Jerusalem, the temple, and the remaining members of the tribes of Israel. They understood their connection to the long since established history as God's Chosen People and continued to hold fast to the promises and God.

Even more important to the story is the response which took place after Peter placed their experience back into their long story of who they were as people of God. Peter reminded the locals, Judeans and Jerusalemites that this experience was the fulfillment of words from the Prophet Joel.

The prophet Joel indicated that God's way of doing things would change in time. A time would come in which it would not matter that a person belonged to a particular clan, or tribe. It also would not matter the gender of the recipient of power to prophesy.

Herein is a rub for the conventional power brokers of the establishment, both then and now. Women and men would be gifted in the same way. No barriers,  no divisions, and no partiality. Prophesy, and the outpouring of God's Spirit on both men and women. I think that was tough word from God for a lot of people to swallow without choking on.

As a woman who continues to be deeply embedded within the institutional church, I wonder when the men and women of all denominations will finally recognize the fulfillment of the prophet's words are indeed happening when women receive anointing by the Holy Spirit and a call from God to ordination as an elder of the church. Granted, some do. But so many more don't. Even worse, a large number of denominations also approve of forms of abuse from husbands toward their wives, and general dismissive behavior toward women on the basis of their selective reading of scripture. I am so grateful to now be back within the Episcopal Church, which has worked hard to remain relevant to the present age while retaining the beauty of our ancient liturgical traditions and the Apostolic Succession.

So, in this week, I invite you to look again several times at the texts and think now about the significance of the short passage from the Book of Romans. This passage was written by the Apostle Paul. Notice how Paul has, just as Jesus did, refered to God as "Abba! Father!" This is an endearment term, tender and familiar, like "Papa" might be to us. I invite you to take a bold move if you have "Father Figure" issues. Use Amma, or Abuela, Abuelita or Mamacita, if that can connect you to the nurturing and loving relationship God desires to establish with you.

Shalom! Have a blessed week.

No comments:

Post a Comment