“A Fuse is Lit” Acts 2:1-11

This is the day of Pentecost, and I am a child of the church.   What I mean by that is that my parents took me to Sunday School faithfully and told me the stories of faith in that exquisitely warped fashion of using coloring sheets, flannel graphs, and brightly colored hand-outs like these.

Hey, I know this story!

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

I am however, also a child of the Saturday Morning Cartoons as they used to play, with Chuck Jones giving us Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Daffy, Road Runner and Wyle E Coyote, and so I was fed a steady diet of the antics of those characters.

You don’t see those cartoons around much anymore because they were decidedly violent.   Old Wyle E was always planning how to get that Road Runner, coming up with a  w scheme, trying a different approach, often involving or resulting in explosions of various kinds.

This was burned into my psyche.

So it is, you see, that I could never look at an image of the Day of Pentecost in Sunday School without thinking to myself that it looked very much like a fuse had been lit on their heads.

And now we wait…..

We wait to see what will happen next, but in my adolescent brain it almost always entailed some kind of explosion, and really, that wasn’t too far off.

The book of Acts of the Apostles records the explosion of the church.  Peter, James, John, Philip, Barnabus and Paul, Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla, … story after story of how things “blew up” after Jesus’ ascension.  How the good news of Jesus spread from Jerusalam, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth… which at that time was the city of Rome, for all roads led to and from there.

Maybe picturing those flames on their heads as burning fuses wasn’t so far off after all.

Pentecost Sunday is also the day that we will confirm our youth.   We have three young people who this day will tell us of their faith experience in one way or another, and then make their way up here to have the Holy Spirit stirred up in them once again.

That same Spirit that came upon them in baptism has been at work, as it were, like a slow fuse that had been lit.

The Spirit was at work through their time in Sunday School.

It was at work through the service projects they took part in.

It was at work when they travelled to and stayed at Confirmation Camp, and at work in our times on Sunday evenings as we studied, and did our “highs and lows” and prayed together.

The Spirit was at work in our Hollis retreats, and our time of serving at ReStart.

A fuse was lit in your baptism, and we have been waiting.

We’ve been waiting to watch you explode in faith, and curiosity, and understanding of how God has called you, enlightened you, empowered you, and how God will eventually send you.

So, we pray to stir up that Spirit, and we wait to see what happens.

But in that respect, this Pentecost Sunday is not unlike any other Sunday here, where we gather and invoke that same Holy Spirit upon our assembly, and we lift up prayers, and celebrate the sacrament, and end out service with the commissioning once again, the sending out of the Apostles.  “Go in peace, Serve the Lord.”

So do me a favor today.

Take a look around you and see what I see with my somewhat warped adolescent mind, having seen one too many Wyle E. Coyote cartoons.

I see fuses lit.

By that I don’t mean short fused people, although we can be that at times!

No, I see people who have had the Spirit stirred within them, just as those first Apostles did, as Jesus laid hands on them and prayed for them and breathed the spirit into them.

I see people who, just as those first Apostles were, have also been sent out into this world.

As we pray for God to send our confirmands, this day, and lay hands on them, and send them into the world, so on Pentecost we have this reminder of who we all are.

We are apostles.  We are the “Sent Ones.”

We are the ones now sent into the world for the sake of loving it.

We are the ones that God trusts with the message of his redeeming love.

We are the ones sent to proclaim God’s Kingdom coming near, by telling others what Jesus has done for us, and how we have experience and received God’s love and sustaining power.

A fuse was lit in your baptism.

It is one that is fanned to sparks in your confirmation, and is lit again daily as you live into your baptism and into your call to be sent into this world for the sake of Christ.

And now we wait…..or rather God does, to see what kind of explosion of love comes from it.

“Overheard Prayers” John 17:6-19

There is power in prayers that are overheard, no doubt about it.  You know this if you have experienced it.

Perhaps you have been the kind of parents who have taught their children to do mealtime prayers.  You grab their little hands in the high chair as they are reaching for the food, reciting “Come Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest…” despite their moans and guttural complaints for food “right now.”

Eventually such persistence and modeling pays off, and the pattern is set. The day comes when the prayers they have overheard from you begin to come from their own lips.   Eventually the day even comes when as you are reaching for a roll your child schools you.

“Pray first, Daddy.”

The power in overheard prayer is one that shapes you.

Sometimes prayers overheard move us deeply.  You walk past the child’s room and hear them reciting unprompted the “God bless Daddy, and God bless Mommy, and Grandma…”, and at first think, “How cute.”

But if you listen long enough, you catch glimpses into their little lives that you did not anticipate.  You hear them pray for something you thought you had insulated them from, and your heartstrings tug.   You feel the tear in the eye and the lump at the throat at how trusting they have become, how willing to believe, and you wonder, you wonder where that childlike faith went in you?

Overheard prayers can move you in ways unimagined.  They can bring to mind things you thought were long gone and in your past, and bring them right up close again.

Maybe you have been in the hospital, and the pastor, chaplain, or lay visitor has come to prayer for and with you, or for that very ill family member.

At such times as these a person, even a faithful one, can barely put words together.   In some circumstances when the news is grim and the prognosis is bleak, you aren’t really sure for what it is that you should be praying.  At such times you will tune your ears carefully to hear what that one sent to pray with you has to say.  And just what do you overhear them saying?  Are they encouraging you?  Preparing you with their words?

Overheard prayers often do something to us.  The power of the overheard prayer is sometimes one of confirming your own inner thoughts and suspicions.

Sometimes however, the overheard prayer can be the needed boost to regale against the darkness, not allowing us to go quietly into that good, good, night but rather helping us muster the fight and faith needed for this particular hour; this particular situation.

I mention all of this today because on the last Sunday of Easter we always have a chance to overhear Jesus’ prayer.  John 17 is Jesus’ last discourse, a long and formal prayer lifted up on behalf of the disciples and it is meant to be overheard.

It’s not my favorite bible passage, partly because it always sounds so “un-Jesus-like” really.   It’s rather hard to follow, shifting back and forth between things that what we are supposed to overhear him saying.

But, if you strip away all the “stuff”, the prayer really boils down to just one thing.  Jesus is praying for God to protect. He prays for God to protect his disciples, us really, now that he is not in this world (at least not in the same way) to protect us.

Jesus prays for our protection, but then we wonder just what it is that he is asking God to protect us from?

It’s not the world.  Lord knows none of these disciples are going to be spared hard times, or persecutions, or the onslaughts of the world in any way.   Jesus has been very upfront about that!  So Jesus isn’t praying that nothing bad happens to us at the hands of others.  Sent into this world, we’re told that the world is going to hate us for being bearers of God’s word.

Jesus does pray however, that we would be “one.”

Jesus says that he himself guarded the disciples in that manner while was in the world, but now that he will no longer be in the world physically, and this matter of “being one” will become more difficult.  He says something about us needing protection from the “evil one.”  It’s all very confusing, we’re not sure just what to make of this “overheard prayer.”  It feels so abstract, so disconnected.

But I think that is because we tend to read or to listen to this prayer in isolation.   The prayer makes a whole lot more sense when you put it into the concrete circumstances of history and into our own experience.

In the concrete situation of history, we know that John’s community was a fractured one.  “The Jews” that are identified throughout the gospel are not outsiders, they are your neighbors who are being faithful to the Judaism of their day, which did not include going so far as to follow Jesus.   These are your neighbors who just don’t share your particular belief.  John’s gospel struggles with what you do when your own community is fractured.

In our present day context, it’s little like the most recent Pew Research Center Study on Religion and Public Life.  Perhaps you heard about it this past week.  The “unaffiliated” have risen by 6.7% in the last decade.  These are those who formerly believed and attended church, but who now believe differently, or not so much, or not at all, and who are pulling away from their established religious community.

In the context of John’s Gospel, it is a bit like the followers of Jesus who are pulling away from “the Jews,” those who have their long held beliefs.

In either case, we know what comes next when there is such tension, uncertainty, change and division in a community.  This is what we sorely need that protection from God that Jesus prays that we would receive.

The Pew numbers come out, and in my world at least, and in the mainstream media the boards light up with disagreement about what the numbers mean and what should be done about them.

“The Mainline is in free fall!  Obsessed with social justice and social action instead of personal salvation!  That’s why people are leaving the church!”

“The Catholic hierarchy is corrupt and scandal ridden and has done nothing about it!  That’s why people are leaving the church!”

“It’s the fault of the conservatives!”

“It’s the fault of the Liberals!”

“Religion has been too tied to politics!”

“The Millennials have abandoned institutions!”

“The Baby Boomers have held on to their contemporary music and style over substance for way too long!”

“The older generations have been too inflexible!”

“The young people have no appreciation for tradition!”

On and on the drone goes, of finger pointing and hand wringing and accusations leveled against various populations, factions, and demographics.

We are anything but “one.”

And somewhere in the background of all that noise of disciple against disciple, there is this voice of Jesus praying that we would be protected….that we would be one.

You flip through the book of Acts and you see Paul and Barnabas first the closest of co-workers, and then something happens and they are at odds over how to reach the Gentiles, and the split to go their separate ways.

You watch as James and John steer the church in Jerusalem, and regularly call back, (really call on the carpet,) Peter, Paul, Timothy and Titus.  They are brought back to be questioned about their tactics as they spread the Gospel in Antioch or to the Greek speaking world.  How far is too far, in this matter of grace and freedom?

Stephen is called to take on the task of serving at tables, feeding the poor, so that preaching the good news will not be neglected, but when he oversteps his bounds to actually preach about Christ and him crucified, he ends up being stoned for it, and the stoning comes at the hands of his own community.

And in the background of all of this first century conflict and intrigue preserved for us in the scriptures themselves, if you listen closely, you can hear Jesus praying that we would be protected…..that we would be one…

The Annual Meeting rolls around at any given Christian church, or a Synod Assembly, or a National Assembly, and right after the devotions are given, the hymn is sung and the assembly is opened with prayer; the meeting is summarily handed over to “Robert’s Rules of Order” as per constitutional provision.

It isn’t long before there is tension rising in the room as we encounter factions for and opposed, to this or that, whatever it is.  We leave the world of church order to enter political discourse.

Robert’s Rules are designed to protect the voice of the minority, and some personality types figure that out really quickly and so begin to use the procedures they have mastered to guide and cajole and maneuver until their will is done, or what they oppose is thwarted.

It may be all very legal.

It may often even be faithful, and proper, and the right decision in the end; but there are also often bodies left bleeding on the ground in the wake of it, and feelings bruised, and winners and losers and those in the middle; and somewhere, if you listen very closely, during all that earnest concern over constitutions and resolutions, you just might be able to hear the words of Jesus praying, “protect them from the evil one…so that they may be one…”

This overheard prayer of Jesus is hard for us, for what Jesus is really asking God to do is the hardest thing in the world to do.

He’s asking God to protect us from each other, and often from ourselves, for while we are fearfully and wonderfully made and are children of God, we are also quite often our own worst enemies.   We turn on each other when things don’t go well, and things often just won’t go well in this world into which we are sent.

We forget that above all the other things that Jesus did while he was with us, all the healings, the feedings, and the miracles; his primary task seemed to be to gather the 12 together, and to hold together his community and remind them above everything else they were called to do, their primary task was  to love one another.  That was the point from which everything else was to flow.

We get so wrapped up in serving, or in doing, or in our particular doctrine or dogma or belief systems that we are willing to let bodies litter the ground to in order defend our own “turf,” and sometimes we even do so even in the name of God, or of our faith.

This is what the prayer is for.  We are meant to overhear it so that it will haunt us, or shape us, or tug at our hearts, or make us regale against our own actions when they have made us forget to do the one thing that Jesus commanded us to do above all us.

“Love one another, by this they will know that you are truly my disciples.”  Jesus says earlier in John.

Can you hear the voice of Jesus in the prayer now, for you?

What Brings Joy John 15:9-17

It’s a scene played out over and over again.

It happens in homes.

It happens in schools.

It happens in workplaces.

It will forever change the lives of those who experience it and leave an indelible mark.

What am I talking about?

What do you think I’m talking about?  When you hear me introducing something like that, what are you expecting?

In our “if it bleeds, it leads” culture of 24 hour new cycles we have come to expect that an intro like that can only be a prelude to bad news.  That’s what’s really important, right?

But what if I told you that the scene I have in mind that is played out over and over again is that moment of pure joy, a moment that you only recognize when you see it?

It happens in homes, when a child learns from a parent a milestone event.  Maybe it’s the first time a child uses the toilet on their own.   There they are, parent and child, beaming at each other, “I did it mommy.”  — words of praise and adoration exchanged that few can appreciate as much as the parent who sees at long last the possibility of an end of diaperings .

Maybe it’s a backyard project completed together, a garden planted.  It is a moment when dirt caked hands clasp to look at the freshly planted rows of seeds with expectation, hope and satisfaction that you have created something filled with possibility, pregnant with expectation of new life and bountiful harvest.  A joy that is found in a journey together watching new life unfold.

Maybe that moment of joy comes in the home later in life, when as an adult child you now have that conversation with your aging parent that you never thought you could, or would have to have.   It is conversation in which you both share honestly your feelings, your gratitude for each other, and your thanks for life.     It is a moment of joy found in connection.

It happens in our schools, that moment of joy that is found in passing along the knowledge, the wisdom, the information that changes lives.  It might be “getting” a math problem for the first time

It might be that moment when a choir finally “gets” a song, — when the blend, the intonation, the notes all come together to resonate, and smiles flash and voices rise and goose bumps appear on director and singer alike.  The joy at discovery of a sound never dreamed possible.

It might be the nervous reception of a paper back into the hands of the writer after grading, when the student who poured so much of herself into the words sees the comments of the teacher.  Words of praise are exchanged for her for insight, clarity, grammar, or the work well done.  Hints are given at how this could be made better still, or perhaps that rare moment when it is apparent that the pupil exceeds the teacher and there is a moment of joy when limitations are transcended and people move to whole a new level in life.

It happens in workplaces.   The project finished on time. The diagnosis made that leads to treatment and restoration of life. The employee dealt with gracefully. The problem solved.  The budget met.  The allocation of resources stretched to meet the need.   The co-worker comforted or encouraged.

Every day you see, little moments of joy like this happen. They sometimes slip by without our notice.    It is the joy that is found in doing what God has equipped us, gifted us so to do, and sharing that with others.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” Jesus said, “just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.   I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.   This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Living in joy has to do with being in love, and not the kind of love that this world passes off as most important.   Being in love, abiding in love, Jesus says, is a matter of seeing your connection to God and to one another, and having eyes to recognize joy as it happens.

“I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

If your life does not feel particularly joy-filled it may be because you have been listening to the wrong voice, and maybe the wrong words.  You have probably been listening exclusively to the voice of this culture, the words of this world.

Our culture says that if you’re going to amount to anything you have to make it on your own.   We pretty much accept that as the truth.  Nobody’s going to give you life on a silver platter, you need to go out and make something of yourself!  (Or, so we are told!)

Our culture is quick to draw lines of blame, quick to accuse, quick to find fault and quite often actually seems to delight in that.  From the news to tabloid gossip, this is a culture that is fueled by sarcasm, powered by skeptics, and focused on a “gotcha” mentality. Those actions seep into us, even in the church, until we find ourselves mired in it as well.

Our culture often focuses on problems, on shortcomings, and on keeping score.  We “tit for tat” and neglect the hard work of forgiveness.  We often demand perfection from others, satisfaction for wrongs done, all the while dismissing our own complicity in events.

We focus all of our attention on the brokenness and finding fault as if by naming it, identifying it, revealing it or reveling in it, the brokenness would somehow heal itself.  If we can point out the errors in others, they won’t make those mistakes again.  We endeavor on a project to ‘fix’ others, or ourselves, making sure that whatever happened never happens again.

Then, after fixating on all of that, we wonder why our life seems joyless!

Scripture reminds us time and again that the world is broken. We don’t have to spend extra time pointing that out.

Jesus on several occasions tells his disciples plainly what will happen to him when he goes to Jerusalem, how the Son of Man must suffer many things, be crucified, and die at the hands of the leaders.  It’s a broken world that opposes Jesus. But such predictions about Jesus occupy only a small percentage of the Gospels.

Instead of lifting up the brokenness of this world, Jesus prefers to focus on the joy-filled events of life, and how the Kingdom is all about brokenness healed.   His time is mostly spent in healings, teachings, travel, dandling children on his knee and engaging in conversations that lead people into new levels in life.

Oh, the world is broken all right, but the broken world is not what sets the agenda for Jesus.  What sets the agenda is love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus says.

You don’t really change the world by focusing on its brokenness.  You change the world, you heal and redeem it by showing the joy filled moments when God’s Kingdom breaks in on this world and does the unexpected by healing, loving, and forgiving.  That is what lifts people to a new level.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

It is the last part of that phrase that we really need to hear; otherwise the command to love one another becomes simply one more burden that we just can’t bear.

We are able to love, because God first loves us.  We need to nurture our connection to God in order to find the same moments of joy in life that Jesus could identify.

Notice now, I said, nurture that connection to God, not make a connection to God.  You don’t have to make a connection with God, for God has already found you and made a connection to you in sending Jesus.

Look again at what Jesus says here. “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.’

We don’t have to make connections with God.  We nurture the one already there, and abide in that connection that already exists.  So then, how do we do that?   How do we live a life of Joy, reveling in the moments where God breaks in and does the unexpected?

Well, you won’t hear about what God is up to on the news at 5, 6, and 10 without the eyes of faith, and to get those you will need to position yourself in a place where you can hear God’s promises in worship!  You will be reminding to look at the world with different eyes there, and have the experience of the witness of others who can tell you of the joy they have found. When you nurture the connection to God by helping others, spending time in fellowship, you tune your ears to the voice of God as it comes to you from the lips of friends, neighbors, strangers, and events.  Their actions won’t probably make the news, but they might just make your life, and become a source of joy.

They might be very different things from what you would do, but they also just might provide that moment of joy that brings you hope and love and a sense of God’s presence in this world that will help you love and to serve and give and to bear much fruit, but you must be open to it.

Living in joy comes from living into your connections with these other Children of God who are sent into this world, and being attentive to them.   It is about beginning to see them, and their accomplishments or even their attempts as God’s own activity in the world.   Abiding in the love of God, means we abide with one another, so that when our eyes and hearts are attuned to look for it, we are able to see and experience joy in one another, and it becomes a miracle to behold.

It is a scene that is played out over and over again when you have eyes to see it.

It happens in homes.

It happens in schools.

It happens in workplaces.

It will forever change the lives of those who experience it and leave an indelible mark, moments of joy that come as a gift to you when God’s Kingdom breaks in on this world.

Watch for them!