Monday, May 21, 2018

Pentecost: Another Easter!

Peace & Grue Lutheran Churches, Ashby, MN
The Day of Pentecost/May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-21

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Christ is risen.   He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Happy Easter to you all!   What a joy it is to gather on this festive day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

What? (you’re you’re maybe wondering)--what’s with this guy?  Hasn’t he looked at the calendar lately?    Easter is long gone.   We celebrated it on April 1st.   Easter is old hat—we’ve moved past it.

Today is May 20th, after all.  It’s the Sunday between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekend….the day after Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding.     

And on the church’s calendar today is Pentecost—not Easter, for goodness’ sake…

But still I say to you:   Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

And I am bold to repeat to you:   Happy Easter.   Happy resurrection day!

I’m saying that, not just because EVERY Sunday is a little Easter (which is true….we celebrate the resurrection on the first day of every week, 52 times a year…)

No—I’m wishing you a happy Easter, because this festival day of Pentecost itself is really “another Easter.”    It’s not so much the start of the long Pentecost season as it is the climax, the culmination of the Easter season.  
Pentecost is itself “another Easter.”

Here’s what I mean:   the Pentecost story in the first chapters of the Book of Acts “echoes” the Easter story in some amazing ways.

First, both stories begin in a tomb.   Both stories start with death.

In the Easter story, of course, it’s Jesus who’s dead--dead as a doornail dead—that’s what “three days in the grave” meant back in the first century.   You’re dead and you’re not coming back.   Jesus was crucified, dead and buried.  His story appeared to be over.   Jesus’ body was lying, stone-cold in a borrowed grave.  Jesus wasn’t going anywhere!

And in the Pentecost story, we also start out in a tomb of sorts—“the room upstairs where [the disciples] were staying” (Acts 1:13)—the hideout where the disciples shut themselves away, in fear and bewilderment, for the ten days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

It was as if Jesus had died all over again.    He had died on the cross—but three days later was raised, walked among them, visited with them for another forty days.   Amazing.

But then, as we’re told in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus left his disciples AGAIN—left them in the lurch.  One minute Jesus was there, speaking with his followers, and the next minute Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

It was as if Jesus had been taken from his disciples twice—once on Good Friday, and a second time on Ascension Day.    It left the disciples dumbfounded.   Acts chapter one tells us that it took not one, but two angels to get the disciples to stop staring off into space, after Jesus ascended into heaven.

These baffled disciples returned to Jerusalem and they waited—waited for what, they weren’t exactly sure.   The disciples sealed themselves in to their upper room.  It became a kind of “tomb” for them.   They turned in on themselves.  They weren’t going anywhere.  Their story appeared to be over.

Both Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday begin in death, both stories start out in “borrowed tombs.”  And then, in both stories, God does something breath-taking (or should I say, breath-giving?) 

On Easter Sunday, God raises up the dead Jesus—puts death behind him.  And on Pentecost Sunday, God raises up the “dead” disciples—gives them all a new lease on life, in the power of the Holy Spirit.    The Holy Spirit (whom we also call The Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene Creed!)….the Holy Spirit moves through the dead bodies and the dry bones of the disciples, and the Spirit animates them, as surely as God animated the crucified Jesus on Easter morning.

Easter and Pentecost are BOTH, you see, resurrection stories!   They begin in the dead-end of the grave, and they end--well that’s just the thing:  neither story really “ends.”   The conclusion to both the Easter story and the Pentecost story--the conclusion has yet to be written.

All we can really speak about is how these stories begin, and how they KEEP ON “beginning” all over again, even today and on every tomorrow still ahead of us!

What we do know is this:   when God raises the dead, God reverses chaos, God undoes confusion, God clarifies his gracious purposes, God re-establishes all connections, God replaces cowardice with courage—with the result that the Body of Christ is turned inside out and set loose in the world.

On Easter Sunday that happened—quite literally—with the body of the crucified Lord Jesus Christ.    Jesus’ corpse didn’t follow the normal route toward decomposition.    No!  Death was reversed—death was “undone” decisively.  

On Pentecost Sunday, the same sort of thing happened with the whole company of disciples.   They were, in those ten days between the Ascension, on their way toward “decomposition.”    They were all bound up in themselves, turned in upon themselves.

But then the Spirit rushed in with a mighty wind and tongues of fire.  These ingrown disciples got turned inside out.   The Holy Spirit goosed them out of their “tomb” by letting them speak in languages they’d never spoken before….languages that others, just outside, were waiting to hear.

What emerged from Jerusalem’s upper-room-tomb was the resurrected Body of Christ, the communion of Jesus’ loved ones, now transformed from disciples (which means “followers”) into apostles (which means “sent ones”).    On Pentecost, the Body of Christ is set loose in the world, once again.    And the members of this Body just can’t stop talking about Jesus!

You could say that Pentecost “completes” Easter.    The body of the crucified Jesus had to be raised first, of course—like the explosion that detonates a whole subsequent chain reaction.  

But not until Pentecost do we see the whole thing.   Indeed, Christ is not fully raised until the entire Body of Christ is raised with wind and fire and prophetic proclamation on the day of Pentecost.   We see, here in Acts chapter two, the beginning of that story…

….and in our own lives of faith, hope and love….as a people sent in God’s mission, you and I are inspired by God to live out the rest of the story, the end of the Pentecost story.

You know what I’m talking about—because our own personal stories echo the Pentecost story, don’t they?

Our stories begin with death—the death of our sin, our waywardness, our brokenness.   Something kills us, and we’re all turned in on ourselves, all locked up in a tomb (usually a tomb of our own making).   We aren’t going anywhere!

And then God in Jesus Christ the Risen One….God in the power of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life…God raises us up, holds our heads above the water, unbinds us, puts a Word on our tongues and gooses us, to get us out into our world.   

The Body of Christ is still being re-animated by the Spirit of the living Lord Jesus.

It happens here in this congregation, in much the same way it happened on Easter and Pentecost.   It starts in dismal death, but moves toward boundless life.    Bracing baptismal water wakes us up.  Nourishing bread and wine revive us.   The Word snaps us to attention.

And we are moved from death to life, from confusion to clarity, from cowardice to courage, from self-absorption to self-emptying love, from dis-connection to re-connection in the Body of Christ.   It’s all here in Acts chapter two
·       The deathtrap where the disciples at first lie hidden;
·       The surprising, reviving intervention of the Spirit;
·       The “these guys must be drunk” confused first reaction of the crowd who hear the disciples’ preaching;
·       And then the clarity of God’s Word to us.   “Let me tell you what’s happening…let me spell it out for you (Peter preaches):   this was all foretold, this was all in the cards, this was, is, and ever shall be God’s work among us….freeing us to speak plainly about God alive and at large in our world.”

You and I, dear friends of the Peace-Grue Parish….you and I are still living out this Pentecost story.  

God is still seeing to it that the story of Jesus, the miracle of Pentecost, the truth of the gospel keeps getting proclaimed, keeps being played out here so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 1:21).

And what will be the outcome of all of that clarifying, courageous gospel truth-telling?   

The outcome will be another Resurrection--the Body of Christ, all of  us!—animated for prayer and praise and service and mission, turned inside out, and set loose in the world!

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Think About These Things

May 12, 2018
Philippians 4:8
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

These words are from the Apostle Paul, and that fact might surprise some of us—that such lovely, lofty, compelling words could come from someone who left behind other passages that puzzle, befuddle and even offend some of Paul’s latter day readers.
St Paul just might be the most psycho-analyzed of all the characters in the New Testament. 

There’s always someone who thinks it would be a good idea if Paul would lie down on a therapist’s couch, to sort out his manifold biases, probe his often self-obsessed ponderings, or untangle his complex personality.   

Though he’s regarded as the author of fully one third of the New Testament writings, Paul always challenges careful readers to wonder just what exactly made him tick?  Where did Paul’s disturbing attitudes toward women, his harsh views on same-sex relationships, his deeply fraught understanding of the relationships between Jews and Gentles—where did that all come from?  And what about that mysterious “thorn in the flesh” he spoke of as both blessing and curse?  What was with that?

Why, despite such wonderment, do we keep coming back to Paul, drinking deeply from the fathomless well of his vision for the life that is opened up in Jesus Christ—crucified and risen for the life of the world?

Perhaps it is simply because right in the midst of passages that some find off-putting we also stumble across passages like this one from the letter to the church in Philippi: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Sometimes the Apostle Paul baffles us or troubles us….and other times his soaring rhetoric, so effusive with the glad tidings of the gospel, stops us dead in our tracks and widens, deepens our vision of all that God is about in Jesus Christ.

I believe there is a particular word here, my friends, for those of us who are called for a season to help this college of the church tend its life and mission.    Paul invites us to ponder another sentence, so dear to our hearts:  The purpose of Concordia College is to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.

This sentence reflects anything but a narrow, constricted definition of Concordia’s mission.   It bespeaks rather an expansive, freeing, beckoning vision….due in no small part to the very nature of the Christian life our college seeks to foster.

That last phrase, “dedicated to the Christian life” opens up more options and opportunities than we might imagine, because (following St Paul’s logic here in Philippians 4) there is no truth that is not God’s truth, no honor whose source is not in God, there is nothing pleasing—no beauty worth noticing--that is not God’s beauty, no justice that does not flow from the same God we know best in Jesus Christ.

We need to be this kind of college of the church….not just because the church wants it that way…but because the world needs us to follow this particular path.   Lord knows there are more than enough narrow, pinched, stifling, tribalistic ways of being faithful nowadays.   God calls us to something richer, wider, more liberating, more embracing.

So, my dear friends, as I take my leave from you, grateful for eleven years of accompaniment on this board of regents, I commend to you both today and in all the days to come…I commend to you these words of the Apostle Paul:  “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Let us pray:   Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges and universities—especially our own dear Concordia College—that they may be lively places for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.  Amen.”  (ELW, p. 78, prayer for “Schools”)