Saturday, May 30, 2009

Recalibrating the Compass

Aspelund Lutheran Church, Flom, MN (Wild Rice Parish)
May 31, 2009/Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Moving from A to B can be disorienting.

If you’ve ever had to pick up stakes, load all your possessions into a moving van and travel to a new home--you know what I mean. Moving from A to B can be disorienting.

Six years ago my wife and I moved from southern Minnesota where we had lived almost all of our lives. We’d moved a few times earlier, but this was different. Moving from Redwood Falls (where we’d been for over 12 years) to Moorhead forced me to reset my internal compass. I knew what it meant to go “up north” for a vacation, or for some camping, or to fish…but what did it mean to LIVE “up north”?

It took me several years to settle into my new home, re-calibrate my internal compass, and feel “centered” again.

Moving from A to B is disorienting.

That was certainly true for Jesus’ closest companions following his Resurrection. Talk about “recalibrating the compass!”

The disciples had grown up in a Good Friday world. They assumed that life is hard, we’re stuck in sin, and death is the end of the line.

And then Jesus died, and with him all his followers’ hopes and dreams quickly faded. What more could they expect in a Good Friday world? It was just business as usual….

….until three days later, when Jesus burst forth from his grave! Easter plowed into their Good Friday world like a gigantic earth-moving machine, permanently altering the landscape of their lives. Now Jesus’ disciples were a bunch of Good Friday guys…trying to inhabit an Easter world.

Talk about disorientation! And it shows, I think, in all four of the gospel accounts of Easter. The disciples, the women who traveled with them, the whole lot—were simply thrown off--knocked loopy by the reality of the Resurrection.

It shows in the first two chapters of the Book of Acts, as well. The disciples are trying their darnedest to catch up with where God is taking them….but the effort leaves them breathless and dazed.

For example, in Acts, chapter 1, the disciples ask the risen Jesus dumb questions like: “So, Jesus, is this pay back time? Now that you’ve beaten death, Jesus, are you going to send the Romans packing, and restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

The Resurrected Jesus has other fish to fry, though. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority,” (Acts 1:7) Jesus tells them. “Pay back and peering into the secret purposes of God—that’s way above your pay grade, my friends. Focus on this instead: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Then, just as Jesus was saying this to his disciples…he “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9) Poof! Jesus disappeared from their midst. No wonder the disciples just stood there--slack-jawed, staring off into the wild blue yonder. If took two angels to make them “come to” and return to Jerusalem. If those angels hadn’t shown up, the disciples might still be standing there on the Mount of Olives, gazing up into the sky!

That’s because the Resurrection is so jarring, so disorienting. We’re born into a Good Friday world….but now Easter is here, and all bets are off.

And it gets even crazier on this day, Pentecost Sunday. Because if Easter marked the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, Pentecost marks the resurrection of his followers, you and me, into a brand, spanking new life of witness and service in a world that has changed right under our feet. For this old Good Friday world has been overtaken by, over-run by, re-oriented by Easter.

Pentecost, you see, is “another Easter,” and we see that writ large here in this morning’s lesson from Acts, chapter 2.

Pentecost begins, as Easter begins, in a graveyard: the upper room where the disciples had gathered together, in safety and security (so they thought) behind closed doors.

They were as good as dead when Pentecost happened to them. All the disciples could do was wait and pray in the darkness.

Pentecost begins in the tomb of the Upper Room, with disciples who are dazed, confused, as good as dead…

And then God acts once again. God’s resurrecting power cuts loose. Three powerful signs that God is launching a New Creation all burst on the scene when the day of Pentecost arrives.

First there is “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” (Acts 2:2). This is a re-creating, resuscitating wind…the breath of God….the Spirit invading the house of death, reviving the disciples. God breathed into their nostrils the breath of life once again…just as God had done eons ago in the garden with Adam, and as God did in that other garden, when God resurrected Jesus his Son.

Second, fire breaks out, as well—wind and fire, a deadly combination in a Good Friday world….but in the new world of Easter, this fire brings life. No longer is the fire of God’s presence confined to the altar in the Temple. No—but rather now this fire burns in every believer. Tongues of fire mark each disciple as a living, moving “altar” in the world—announcing that God is alive and well, in Jesus Christ, and everything is being made new.

But there is more. To the miracles of the wind and the fire, God adds the greatest miracle of all: the miracle of human speech….not the babbling of people talking past one another….but a speaking that births a new community, a telling that brings people together, miraculously hearing “each of us, in our own native language” (Acts 2:8)

And suddenly the audience, all those wayfaring strangers in Jerusalem for the High Holy Day…now it is all of them who are disoriented by the goings-on—disoriented by the Resurrection breaking out among them.

Who taught these backwater hicks from Galilee all these languages? How did they learn to speak in our native tongues? Are these guys for real—or have they simply had too much to drink?

Do you hear it—the disorientation of the Pentecost Day crowd, as they move from A to B, from Good Friday to Easter?

First God raises up the crucified Jesus on Easter Sunday.

Now God raises up the dazed and confused followers of Jesus on Pentecost Sunday.

And the world will never be the same again. You and I will never be the same again. God is hitting the re-set button of the whole creation. God is enlisting all of us—every single one of us—to be a witness to the resurrection…to coax folks from their dark, dank Good Friday worlds….into the bright sunlight of the Easter world that is our future.

It’s enough to make your head spin, isn’t it? But this is where you and I live, dear friends. This is the world, the real world that God has opened up before us. We have a living God on our hands!

And because Jesus refuses to live in the Easter world by himself, he catches us up in his new life. That’s what Pentecost is all about—Jesus’ unending life washing over us in baptism, Jesus’ “forever and ever” life flowing into us whenever we eat the Lord’s Supper. It’s the life that I’m preaching into your ears right now. This is your future: life, life and more life in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost catches us up in that, births us as the church, to embrace our true calling. And that calling is to take the burning fire of Christ’s life off the altar and out into the world, to perform this crazy, Christ-powered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the gasping, dying souls all around us….to beckon everyone we encounter into the dawning Easter world.

And this isn’t something that just a privileged few are called to do, either. No! As Peter declares in his Pentecost sermon: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:17, 21)

What a master-stroke of genius! Jesus could have done it all by himself…but instead he left us physically, in order to come back to us in the power of his Spirit…filling our lungs with the oxygen of Easter, igniting us to glow in the darkness of this Good Friday world, speaking through us the promise of a New Creation. That’s what Pentecost is all about---the Spirit’s surprising empowerment of us to be his breath, his fire, his Word…setting the whole world ablaze with God’s love.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2009

You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat
Opening Worship
Northwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly
May 16, 2009
Revelation 10

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When I was studying Hebrew at Luther Seminary in the summer of 1977, I befriended a fellow named Peter who had grown up Lutheran but was now a Greek Orthodox priest.

One evening at supper, Peter blurted out: “You know Wohlrabe, I don’t get it! You grew up in the Missouri Synod, but you actually know what’s in the Bible. You don’t just thump it!”

We can, of course, do many things with a Bible.
· We can thump it.
· We can use it as a projectile weapon—as in “throw the Book at ‘em!”
· We can mine the Bible for ammunition in debates.
· We can venerate the Bible as a relic or lucky rabbit’s foot.
· We can even read the Bible--regularly, faithfully, pondering its claims…

But who among us really, now—seriously, now—would want to EAT this Book, bite off, chew, swallow and digest the Bible?

And yet that’s precisely what John the Seer, is commanded to do here in Revelation chapter 10.

Revelation is one of the Bible’s most puzzling books. Like a kaleidoscope, it reveals cascading images of God’s victory, God’s final future in Jesus Christ….and this tenth chapter offers one of the most intriguing images of all.

Picture this scene: An enormous angel, so huge he’s wrapped in a cloud, wearing a rainbow on his head, descends from heaven to straddle the earth—one foot on the land, the other foot in the sea. And from this globe-spanning “pulpit” the angel proclaims the Word of God in peels of thunder.

John the Seer is so awestruck by this experience that he feverishly tries to scribble some sermon notes about it, get it down in writing…

But God stops John dead in his tracks, commanding him NOT to write down what he is hearing and experiencing. God has a better idea! “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land….take it, and eat.” (vv. 8-9)

Eat this scroll. Chew up and swallow this book. Take this Word deep into yourself.

Don’t just read it—don’t just take notes on it! Get it down under your skin, get it into your digestive track, get it into your soul, mind and body.

We are here today and tomorrow not just to read or learn or understand the contents of God’s Word….but to eat this Word, to drink it in, to take it into ourselves and “metabolize” it in lives of trust, sharing, generosity and action.

That’s because our ELCA Book of Faith Initiative is about so much more than “biblical literacy.” It’s about gaining, or perhaps regaining, our gospel fluency in the Word of God as the first language—we might say the “heart language”--of Christian faith and life and mission.

And what better way to picture that, than to EAT this Book, just as we consume carbohydrates and fats and proteins—metabolizing those foods into energy and action?

A member of our synod staff was given a plaque that reads: “If ‘you are what you eat,’ then I must be fast, easy and cheap!”

How true! What do we eat nowadays? It’s not a pretty sight, is it? We toss down fast food, hurriedly rustle up easy food, chow down on way too much cheap food.

Revelation 10 invites us to consume the good stuff, the stick-to-your-ribs, life-changing nourishment of God’s precious Word--our finest food.

John the Seer is told that when he eats the scroll, when he eats the book, he will experience two things.

“So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth…” (v. 10) God’s nourishing Word is first of all, sweet as honey in our mouths.

The first thing John the Seer experiences is that the Word of God is sweet—the sweetest thing we’ll ever taste.

The Book of Faith is delicious—“scrumptious Scripture,” we might say. All the junk food we’ve been gorging ourselves on pales in comparison.

Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful volume Eat This Book, talks about this spiritual junk food that in our waywardness we hanker for—all the “other texts” by which we feverishly try to live our lives. Peterson sums up our lives without Christ as lives lived around another “trinity”—our Holy Needs, our Holy Wants, and our Holy Feelings.[1]

God’s Word, though, is like honey in our mouth—it’s oh so sweet, because it brings Jesus to us. The Bible is, quite simply, the Jesus Book…the getting-ready-for-Jesus Old Testament…and the living-out-Jesus New Testament!

When we consume God’s Word, when we eat Jesus, when we drink in the proclaimed gospel, when this Book of Faith washes over us, “marinating” us in God’s love…it is so very sweet, like honey in the mouth.

But there’s a second thing that happens when we eat this Word, this Book of Faith. It can, it will, it must upset us.

John the Seer did as he was told. He ate the scroll the angel handed to him, “it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” (v. 10)

Watch out. This is not bland, white, comfort food! This isn’t the sort of safe, stomach-calming food you nibble at when you’re getting over the flu.

No, this Book, this Word, that tastes so sweet in the mouth causes our bellies to churn. Eat enough of the Bible and you’ll always need to keep the Pepto Bismol handy! As we take it in, we grow unsettled—unsettled with the world as it has come to be, troubled by the wreckage of sin in our lives.

All of which is to say: the Book of Faith gives us what we truly need, not necessarily what we want. Lutherans have always said that the Word of God cuts in upon us as both Law and Gospel, threat and promise, death and life.

If you are lucky, if you are blessed, God’s Word will make you sick. Sick of the devil. Sick of death. Sick of sin. The Book of Faith will upend you and cause you to lose your appetite for all the other stuff, all the “fast, easy and cheap” food you thought would sustain you—your holy wants, needs and feelings.

And that will be good. Sometimes, friends, we’ve got to clean out our refrigerators—you know: throw out all the leftovers, all the stuff that’s turning green on that back shelf, toss all the stale Christmas candy, purge ourselves of all the junk food that’s killing us. We clean our pantries to make room for the good stuff, for the “road food” of God’s Word that unsettles us, saves us, and sends us.

And it is road food, mind you! More and more I’m noticing in the Scriptures—and I hope you are noticing, too!—that there is always a sending going on here. God is always steering us into a missional turn, sending us back into the world in the strength of God’s food, God’s Word.

It’s here, too, in our text from Revelation 10. After John the Seer has heard the angel proclaiming the Word, after he’s been told not to take any sermon notes on it, after he’s been commanded to eat this word, after he’s found it sweet on his lips but unsettling in his gut—what then?

In the end, John the Seer is sent back to the world, the world where cheap food, fast food, and easy food is all-too-often mistaken for soul food.

John is turned back to the world, as you and I are turned back to our world. “Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’” (v. 11)

And here’s the payoff, for you and me as well, dear friends. This food, this Word, this Book of Faith always, always, always gets us moving somewhere. It always drives us back into the world, it always sends us toward our neighbors, it always calls forth the missionary inside of us, yearning to breathe free.

All that God in Christ has done and is doing and will yet do in us is not just to save us, but to send us. God’s ulterior motive isn’t that you’re safe, but that you are sent.

One last time, in the words of Eugene Peterson: “Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”[2]

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 32
[2] Peterson, p. 18.