Year A: The Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 29, 2014)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Genesis 22:1-14
I’ve often wondered why God felt the need to “test” Abraham. I mean, geez, just take a gander back over everything that’s happened to him since God called him in chapter 12. What else does the man need to endure in order to demonstrate his faith in God’s plan?

Okay, there was that little white lie about Sarah being his sister, and the dalliance with Hagar that produced a  soon-to-be mortal enemy of Issac, the child of promise. But, other than that….

I suppose God doesn’t need a reason to allow a little testing in the lives of God’s people of faith; this story certainly sets the bar at the impossibly high level of willing sacrifice of one’s own child. The other thought I have often had when considering this story is that it would have been much more tolerable for Abraham to offer his own life than it must have been to consider placing Isaac on that altar.

There is the issue in this text of violence to children, and it seems awfully harsh to our 21st-century sensibilities. Certainly, I cannot justify a hermeneutic that would make such actions the norm or desirable for “faith-testing” in our day and time. I cannot speak for God on this one.

All I know is that Abraham trusted and God provided. Isaac survived, as did the promise of God.

Sacrifice and deliverance never dwelt more closely together than at the moment God’s command stayed Abraham’s hand on Moriah — that is, until the cry of the Christ at Calvary.

Psalm 13
“How long, O Lord?”

Countless lips have breathed the prayer, before and after the psalmist set this text. There are those moments in life that we feel that God has certainly forgotten about us — or, at the very least, that God is not paying attention!

With darkened eyes and shaken soul, it is still the song of our salvation that lifts from a trusting heart. Is it naive to remember the goodness of God from our past in hopes that God will hear our prayers yet again in our next time of trouble?

Naive, maybe; faithful — certainly.

Jeremiah 28:5-9
“Not so fast, my friend!”

Jeremiah throws down a bit of a gauntlet before his colleague, Hananiah, who was most likely trying to soothe some political feathers with his prophecy about Israel’s soon redemption from the oppression of Babylon. Jeremiah, fit with a wooden yoke about his neck, was all for Hananiah’s optimistic prediction.

But, he knew that there was a lot more to this prophetic gig than fancy words and popular remonstrations against an unpopular oppressor. In order to proclaim, “the word of the Lord, ” it is helpful for one to have actually gotten a word from the Lord!

Preachers, we had best take note.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Sometimes, it’s just good to know the secret handshake and be a part of the club. Verse 15 is one of my new favorites: “Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance….”

Romans 6:12-23
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of “slave and master” language in the Bible. This is just one more bit of biblical anachronicity that tends to make us uncomfortable. But, in this instance, I think it’s worth it to try and get past our cultural misgivings in order to understand the power of the image.

We do tend to offer our allegiance to causes outside of ourselves, don’t we? We can become “slaves” to all sorts of things in life: our work, our play (are you ready for some football?), our desire for success or acceptance.

The Apostle here writes about our slavishness to sin, pretty much a done deal if you accept the theology that underlies the rest of Romans. We’re chained to a sinful lifestyle, and it ain’t pulling us nowhere but down!

In Christ, God offers us the chance to become slaves to righteousness. We “surrender” and “present” ourselves as “living sacrifices” (see Romans 5:1-2, a powerful image when coupled with the Isaac story, above.)

This slavery, however, has a much different result: not death, but instead the free gift of eternal life in Christ.

Matthew 10:40-42
Four sure-fire ways to reap a heavenly reward:

  • offer a cup of cold water to a child (I suppose juice or even Kool-aid might do)
  • welcome a righteous person
  • welcome a prophet
  • welcome the one who comes in Jesus’ name

by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

(Delmer will be back next week!)

It was an old joke long before my pastor ever used it – but he never got tired of illustrating his point with it. “Whenever you see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible,” he’d intone, “you need to be sure you know what it’s there for!

I guess the stunt must have worked, because every time I read a passage like the one from Romans for today – I stop to consider the purpose for the “therefore.”

The Apostle has just concluded a passionate appeal, refuting the logic of some who wanted to argue that God’s grace is faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound – okay, apologies to Superman for that one! Anyhow, since God’s grace always abounds even more than the effects of sin, there were those who argued that we should perhaps consider sinning more so that God can forgive us more!

“No way, Jose!” said the erstwhile Paul – or, words to that effect.

It just doesn’t make sense for a believer in Christ – who has died with Christ in baptism – to continue living in sin for ANY reason, but certainly not in order to receive the grace of God. (James would later write that “God does not sin, and does not tempt any of us to sin, either.” See James 1:13)

So, the “therefore” in v. 12 kicks us back to Paul’s thesis: you don’t belong to sin anymore! That’s why sin needn’t have its way with you (a better translation of “dominion,” if I do say so myself!) After all, we are a people who live under grace!

Now, that’s an evocative phrase if I’ve ever heard one! Living under grace…

I wonder how that’s like living under a roof when the weather turns cold, or walking under an umbrella in a rainstorm? The roof certainly helps to keep you warm – and the umbrella keeps you dry (mostly) until you can get in out of harm’s way.

Maybe grace does function something like that. Sin brings the storms of evil into our lives – grace offers a means of protection and help. What a nifty idea! Here comes sin – I whip out God’s grace, and voila – I’m saved!

I could just go right ahead on and live my life, and never really worry much about the consequences of my actions. Sin – schmin! Grace has got me covered, right?

Hmmm… that’s evidently the way some folks were treating God’s grace, and Paul utters his second “By no means!” in verse 15. This is another way of saying, “Don’t even think about it; just don’t go there.”

God’s grace is not something that is meant to give us a license for living lives devoid of costly discipleship. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer detailed this concept vividly, arguing that if we are not careful, we will make God’s rich gift of grace into something that is “cheap” – received too easily and considered too lightly.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller, rev. ed. (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1960), p. 36.

What Pastor Bonhoeffer was describing – and what Paul is trying to explain to us in Romans — is the process known as sanctification. That’s a big, churchy-sounding word – but one that is important for us to understand. While the call to follow Christ is not a call to come and be perfect, it is a call to “come and die” to our old ways of living, our old ways of thinking and doing and being.

We have received a new life in Christ – and what is old simply cannot stay. Things are different because of Christ – we are different! And difference requires some discipline in our lives.

Again, Bonhoeffer writes: “the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of [men and women] who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.” (ibid, p. 288)

Really living under the forgiving mercy of God means, I suspect, that there are those times when we will mess up; our hearts will hurt because of the harm we have caused to others, to ourselves, and to God. But, God’s mercy will be there to forgive and heal us – and to help us in our efforts to do better, to live in ways that are more like Christ.

Not more sin so we can get more grace – rather, more grace so that sin is diminished, and the life of God that is ours in Jesus Christ grows and abounds and covers us now and for eternity.

Amen? Amen!

Year A: The Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 22, 2014)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Genesis 21:8-21

Does God ever have a Plan B?

I can’t help but think about that as I read about God’s provision for Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac is the child of promise, but God promises that Ishmael will not be forgotten. He will have God’s blessing in his own right.

It could be that we just need to remember that God’s work is always bigger than we know and is going on in more places (and in the lives of more people) than we can see.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

It is helpful, from time to time, to receive a “sign” from God that God’s favour does, indeed, rest on us.

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Verse 9 resonates with preachers, does it not? Just try not preaching!

Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

The Christian church would later read this psalm in light of the actions of Jesus (especially the day he kicked a little money-changer butt in the Temple.)

Both for Christ, and for God’s people throughout time, this has been a prayer for God’s protection and deliverance. It is, after all, God that sets us all free.

Romans 6:1b-11

If grace is always bigger than sin, why shouldn’t we sin a lot so that we can get a lot of grace?

People have been asking that question ever since Paul’s time. The answer is still the same – “Are you an idiot?” Sin just never turns out well – which is why our sins have been crucified with Christ.

Let them go; let God make you dead to sin. You won’t miss it, I promise!

Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus has more than one hard-to-hear saying in this passage. We are reminded that his life was not an easy one, and since we are following him ours may not be, either.

The takeaway is found in v.39 – “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Good enough, good enough.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Jesus says some scary things, some really hard-to hear things in today’s Gospel lesson.

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Let’s be honest, if these words did not have Jesus’ name on them, we would consider them the ridiculous demands of an evil person; possibly the leader of a crazy cult – like Charles Manson, or that guy in Nigeria who captured all those school girls.

All of us are here in church today because in one way or another we consider ourselves Christians and we have some desire to live a good life.  And we believe that part of that effort to lead a good life is coming to church and hearing the Bible read and sermons preached on what has been read and we have to ask ourselves – “Okay, how is all this stuff about wielding swords and family feuds supposed to help me be a better Christian?  Seriously, what’s the deal with this?”

A few years ago a young woman who had an appointment with me arrived a little early and was shown into my office to wait while I finished up a meeting down the hall.  As I came into my office she turned from the wall where she had been examining my diplomas.  She pointed at one of them and said, “What is ‘Spiritual Direction’?”

I fumbled around for an answer and finally said something like, “People come in to see me and I listen to them talk about their life, sort of like going to a counselor but, instead of whatever therapist might say, a spiritual director tries to help people find where God is in their life.”

“That’s funny,” she said, “I should think it would be more important for them to figure out where they are in God’s life.”  (I was tempted to take the diploma off the wall and give it to her – with my name scratched out and hers written in.)

Things change when we turn the question around.  Instead of asking “What is God doing to make my life better, more whole, more spiritual, etc.”  The real question is “What am I doing to involve myself in the work and will of God in the world today?”

Seen in this light, the scary things Jesus said make perfect sense.  If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be ready to go all the way.  If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be prepared to choose the Kingdom of God over your neighbors and your family and most especially over yourself.

It is not an easy choice to make.  Indeed, in both the Gospel and in Romans, it is a choice that is compared to death.  Matthew says, “. . . those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and Paul writes, “(we) were baptized into his death . . .” and “. . . our old self was crucified with him . . “ and

“. . . we have been united with him in a death like his . . .”

Yes, following Jesus is not so much about finding where God is in our life; it is more about finding those places where we are called to be in God’s life, what we are called to do in the Kingdom of God.

Ultimately – the hard, crazy, scary things Jesus has said to us today are still hard, but maybe not so crazy or scary after all.

They are not crazy because they tell us a true thing about life, a thing that everyone needs to learn in order to be truly and completely human. That thing is this, “It’s not about you.”  It’s not about you and how many people like you, it’s not about you and your wonderful family, it’s not about you and your successful and prosperous life; it’s just not.  Paradoxically, the sooner one learns this the happier one is.

Well, the ego says, if it’s not about me, what is it about?  It’s about God and God’s love for the entire world, the whole creation.  From the hairs of each of our heads and the life of sparrows to the fate of the earth and the future of the human race, it’s all about God and God’s will and God’s way and our place in that grand movement into God’s promised tomorrow.  We are called to be a part of the new heaven and the new earth God is actively creating now.

And the things Jesus says are not scary, because they contain within them the promise of resurrection, the promise that we will also be a part of the new thing God is doing.  “. . . those who lose their life will find it,” Matthew says.  And in Romans, we are reminded that “. . . we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus invites us to “take up a cross and follow him.” He is not very specific about what that means; he does not provide a contract or a job description.  Rather he invites us to give up all and follow.

How have you responded to that invitation? Have you taken up your cross?  Have you accepted your place in the Kingdom of God?  Have you turned your back on all else, committing yourself completely to Christ?  If not, why not?  If not now, when?

Amen and amen.

Year A: Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2014)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
In the beginning, before there were any of the spectacular results of creation/order, the ruach — the Spirit/Breath/Wind that comes from God — was moving (or hovering, or even “brooding” as a mother hen) over the stuff of primordial existence. I like the mysteriousness — the ethereal, quasi-substantial, almost eerie beginning of this Genesis passage.

Before anything was solid, well-lit, clearly defined or ordered to the smallest detail — God was there, stirring the pot and sticking God’s finger into the stew, so to speak, trying and testing the recipe.

There is great comfort to be taken from the care with which God sets the world in place; each creature, every cloud, the mountains, the trees, the lakes, the oceans — all get the determined (and, I believe, delighted) focus of the Creator at one moment or another.

That God cares enough to put “our” world in such good order is an assuring bit of knowledge. But, I must admit that I appreciate all the more the fact that, even when life is chaotic — unformed, coming apart at the seams — the Spirit of God is still and always there. 

We can all use a little “brooding over” from time to time. In what ways have you noticed the spirit of God hovering over your world/life, lately?
Psalm 8
IMHO, one of the finest choral settings (ever) of this psalm text is that of Tom Fettke and Linda Lee Johnson, released as “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” in 1978 (see link for anthem here.) 

If you are unfamiliar with this piece — or if you would just like to enjoy a moment of worship thanks to the wonder of internet technology — here is a very nice recording of its performance by the combined choirs of Beymer United Methodist Church, Hope Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, and the Polk Community College Chorale of Winter Haven, Florida.


Notice the “detail work” God does with God’s fingers — not just broad strokes, but the finer stuff. What would you consider to be the “work of God’s fingers?”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
One of the “trinitarian formulas” included in the New Testament, of which there are not many. 

Note the absence of “Father, Son, Spirit” language here — instead, a focus on grace, love, and communion (koinonia) as the outworking of God’s personalities.
How might we need to be open to re-imaging in our understanding of God’s unique three-in-one existence as part of our own theology/worship today?

Matthew 28:16-20
As part of the “Great Commission” — which, in evangelical circles, at least, often focuses mainly on Jesus’ command to “GO” into all the world — Matthew’s gospel records one of the few references to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as part of the injunction to baptize in the name of God.

Commentators differ as to whether this quote is original with Jesus, or was a later insertion by the worshiping community as they worked out what it meant to know” God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” (from the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy by The Rt. Rev. Reginald Heber)

Personally, it matters little to me whether the words came from Jesus’ lips on the day of his departure; they are the truth for our worship and practice today, as they have been for generation after generation of Christ’s followers. 

Let us not strain too mightily at theological gnats in order to swallow doctrinal camels, thereby missing the joy of God’s presence in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people.

As my Bubba mentions in today’s Lectionary Lab Live podcast (see link above) — there are certainly other appropriate ways to name the trinitarian nature of God. Notably, “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” has seen a fair amount of use. What other descriptions of God’s three-part nature can you think of?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

The most difficult course I took in college was “Art Appreciation.”  Not that it was all that difficult in itself, it was simply very difficult for me.  Imagine a southern boy, fresh off the farm, sitting in a dark room with a tiny French woman named Adele Legreue showing slides and encouraging us to, “live into the painting.”  “Let it speak to you,” she chirped, “invite the art to commune with your spirit.”  To say I didn’t get it would be a vast understatement.

I kept asking, with pen poised over paper to write down the definitive answer, “What does it mean?” and she continually replied, “It does not mean anything, it just is.  Experience it with an open mind and see what you see.”  Suffice it to say, I didn’t “commune” with many paintings that semester.  But a few years later, in a seminary class called “Systematic Theology,” her words came back to me and I thought, “Maybe the doctrine of the trinity doesn’t mean anything either, maybe it just is; rather than figuring out how it works, I need to examine it and learn from it.”

Like art, the trinity is a mystery and any attempt to define, label, dissect or analyze a mystery keeps us at arm’s length from the truths it has to show us.  When we try to define the Holy Trinity in clear, crisp, antiseptically clean and philosophical language; we prevent ourselves from being drawn into the relationship with God that the doctrine of the trinity reveals to us. So here are some things I learned “communing” with this doctrine.

It helps us maintain a healthy balance in our view of God and the spiritual life.  Most of us, most of the time, tend to be what I call “closet Unitarians;” that is, although we believe in the idea of God in three persons, the fact is that spiritually, emotionally, practically – we quite naturally relate to one of the three persons mare than the other two.

Some people see God as high, mighty and powerful, the creator of all that is; “immortal, invisible, God only wise,” as the hymn says. We think of the Creator as God and of Jesus as a good friend and the Sprit as that warm feeling one gets at sentimental religious moments.

Others of us center our faith on Jesus the Christ.  We focus on the central story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection; we tend to think of the Creator in terms of the one whom Jesus called Father and the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ among us.

And still others of us gravitate by nature and inclination to the Holy Spirit.  We tend to get impatient with theological discussions or doctrinal debates.  We long to feel God in our lives; we yearn for nudge of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily walk.  The Creator is a bit distant and Jesus of course died for us, but the Spirit fills our life now.

Each of these is an authentic way of experiencing and relating to God, but for a healthy spiritual life, balance is needed, and the doctrine of the trinity helps us keep our balance by reminding us of those aspects of God we do not easily see. The trinity reminds us that the God who created the universe is also the God who lived among us in person of Jesus Christ and is the same God who nudges us and comforts us in our day-to-day lives.

A second exploration is tied to the first.  Simply put, not even God goes it alone.  God needs and lives in community and so do we.  God lives in the community of the trinity – with the Father, son and Holy Spirit all equally God, all individual and yet all unified, all one.  How this can be is a great mystery; yet it is a mystery that speaks to us our need as individual Christians to line in communities of faith; equal, individual – yet one.

Within the community of faith we need those who relate to God ways different from our own.  We need each other, to keep our faith and our community in balance.  We need those with an intense reverence for God, we need those who are head over heels in love with Jesus, we need those who are in tune with the vibrations of the Sprit; we all need each other in order to be complete and whole.  We need each other to be a complete and whole community of faith.

A third exploration has to do with the recently revived question of the gender of God and inclusive names for God. “Recently revived,” because this was a hot topic in the church of the first few centuries.  There are those who have trouble referring to God as Father.  Those of us who have chosen to retain the traditional and Biblical triune name language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must recognize that the issues raised are legitimate, particularly the assertion that God is neither male nor female and that to name God as male undercuts the Biblical teaching that all people, male and female, are made in the image of God.  I found some help on this question in Jurgen Moltman’s book of the Holy Spirit.  He writes,

“If believers are born of the Holy Spirit, then we have to think of the spirit as the ‘mother’ of believers, and in a sense, a ‘feminine’ Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the Gospel of John understands the (spirit) to be, then she comforts ‘as a mother comforts,’ (John 14:26)  In this case, the spirit is the motherly comforter of children . . .Linguistically . . Spirit (ruach) is feminine in Hebrew . . .”

Recognizing the femininity of the Holy Spirit will help all of us restore balance to our view of the mystery of who God is.

I close with a brief story from Disciples of Christ minister who was putting his 4 year old daughter to bed one evening.  She said, “Daddy, I don’t understand life.”  The minister said “I don’t understand life either, but the best part if working it out together.” She smiled and yawned and said, “Yes, and the funnest part if doing it with God.”

I don’t really understand either life or the trinity.  But I am sure of two things.  They are mysteries to be explored and the best and the funnest part is doing it with God.

Amen and amen.

Year A: The Day of Pentecost (June 8, 2014)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for The Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

[If the passage from Numbers is chosen for the First Reading, the passage from Acts is used as the Second Reading.]

Acts 2:1-21
We have mused and bemused over this story for years now; most of you have tried to preach it every which way you could possibly think of. I heartily commend the sermon below by my Brother Bubba, Dr. Chilton, for a fresh take on the activity of God the Spirit in the midst of the believers on this Pentecost Sunday.

It may not be necessary, but I like to point out the miracle of “spiritual hearing” in this text — not the generally-assumed miracle of “speaking in tongues” that is so often accentuated. Vv. 6 and 8 clearly indicate that, no matter where you were from or what language you spoke, if you were in the room that day you heard the gospel proclaimed in your native tongue (I have, at times, wondered if I’d been there, would Peter have begun his address with, “Now, ya’ll settle down…?”)

Numbers 11:24-30
We don’t often think of this way, but Moses and 70 of his friends got together for a little “pre-Pentecost” warmup in the wilderness here in Numbers. God “comes down” to speak with Moses, and the spirit is divided ( whether in tongues of fire or not, we are not told) so that a portion rests on each of the elders.

There were two guys who were lagging behind — Eldad and Medad (I just love those names!) — but they got a dose of the spirit, too! Similarly to the Pentecost experience, all of these gentlemen began to speak the words of God at the prompting of the Spirit.

Three things strike me: 

  1. God evidently feels pretty strongly about God’s people sharing God’s word
  2. The task belongs to all of God’s people, not just the Moses’ and Peters of the church
  3. If God has called you, sooner or later God is going to find you no matter where you are (in the tent or not!)

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
The psalm reminds us of the creative work of the Spirit, echoing the opening passages of Genesis. It was the ruach (“wind, breath, spirit”) of God present in the beginning that brought order to the creation. It is the same ruach that brings renewal to our lives — re-creation, if you will, over and over again!

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
The Holy Spirit brings many gifts into the lives of Christ’s followers; the first gift is the ability (or will or desire, depending on your theological perspective) to say, “Jesus is Lord.” 

After that — both occasionally and consistently — the Spirit gives other gifts of grace that are expressed in the lives of Christians. Some of these expressions are for the purpose of “work” that needs doing; others are for “service” that needs rendering. But some of the greatest gifts are those that simply demonstrate God’s “grace”– unexpected, unearned, just because.

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
We read this snippet from John 20 earlier in Eastertide; sometimes overlooked in that dramatic account that results in Thomas’ profession of faith is the “breathing” of Jesus on his disciples so that they can receive the Spirit.

Is this a separate manifestation from the day of Pentecost? Why are there no “tongues” evident here (the spoken kind or the fiery kind?) What is the purpose of Jesus’ breath on the 10 (remember that Judas and Thomas were absent this day.)

This could be seen as a preparatory movement toward the coming experience of Pentecost; Jesus could be preparing their minds and hearts for the “coming” of the Spirit. Or, this could just be a Johannine quirk or twist in the text. As students of the Synoptic gospels like to say, “Oh, well — that’s John for you!”

The close tie to forgiveness of sins is interesting; but, in the context of the rest of the story, I believe that it is the closeness of the Savior himself that is the real key. Jesus, though different than he was when they knew him before his death, is still with them. He is close enough that they can feel his breath. And with the coming of the Spirit, that’s just how close he will always be.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The earlier cut from John 7 connects with Jesus’ language to the woman at the well in chapter 4; the Spirit is the source for “rivers of living water” in the lives of believers.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Acts 2: 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.

And here’s my question. If the Holy Spirit is indeed like a “violent wind,” like an untamed hurricane or a sudden and destructive tornado, what makes us think we want it in our lives?

In my mother’s Methodist Church they sing a song that goes, “Breathe on me Breath of God.” It’s a comforting image; like a baby sleeping on your chest, or a wife or husband curled up, dozing at your back, breathing a sweet gentle breath.

Or, have you heard this one? Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. That one’s best if you sway and hold your arms up. Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me. Or close your eyes:  Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Or, do you know  this one? There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, And I know that it’s the spirit of the LORD. You know that do you? I wish I could be so sure; then maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid.

For you see, the Bible says that is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, and I think our scriptures show us this fearfulness very clearly. I don’t think the Spirit is always all that sweet and gentle. Indeed I think the Spirit is a lot like my Mama.

When I was a young teenager; Mama and Daddy went to work in the Cotton Mill to supplement the family income. Up until then we got by on just the tobacco crop. They still raised  tobacco, they did it after work and on weekends, and expected a lot of help from their children.

They would leave for the mill around 6:30 AM. They would put a list of things to get done in the middle of the table for the children to see when we got up, some to be done around the house, most in the fields. They got home around 3:30. We tried to figure out how long it would take to get the jobs on the list done, then we always waited until the last possible minute to start working.

One day, we had done nothing on the list. It was about 11:00 or 11:30 AM. We were drinking Kool-Aid and eating peanut butter and cracker sandwiches and watching the Dialing for Dollars movie on Channel 8 out of High Point, NC when: “. . .suddenly, from the kitchen door there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire room where we were sitting . . . “

and the name of that wind was Mama and she was some kind of mad. She had gotten sick at work and came home early, and instead of finding her children busy about the business she had left them to do, she found them sitting around, doing nothing.

Mama roared into the den, the fly swatter she had grabbed off the hook by the kitchen stove in hand. She drove us out of that house, across the yard and up the hill, into the fields where we were supposed to be hoeing tobacco.

We danced into that field – Mama’s hand on the back of our neck, swatting at our legs and behinds, while we stretched our feet and bottom as far away from her as we could get to avoid the switch. Yes, brothers and sisters, I believe the Spirit in Acts, Chapter 2 is a whole lot more like my Mama on a bad day than any sweet, sweet spirit, any gentle breath of God, we might conjure up.

It was fifty days after Easter. And the disciples had done very little in that time but hang out with Jesus, spending some quality time with their Risen Lord. Then he left, really left, ascended into heaven left. And before he went, he told them to get busy, he told them in Acts 1: 8, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended. And after he went up, angels came to them and said, in essence, “Quit standing around. Get busy.” (Vs.11)

But, they really hadn’t been doing anything yet. And as our story opens, they were all together in one place, probably drinking first century Kool-aid, i.e. watered down wine, and munching on fig and bread sandwiches, looking out at the crowded city streets, which are, after all, more entertaining than a TV movie. “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 .”

And, as the rest of the story tells us, that wind gave them a job, and the ability to do the job, and then it drove them out into the street so that they would get busy doing that job.Which is why the Holy Spirit, the mighty and powerful wind of God, is more like an angry Mama than any sweet baby or gentle lover.

And, on this Pentecost Sunday, 2014, that Holy Spirit is after us.

It is after us to get out into the world with the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It is after us to get busy with what we have been called to do.

It is after us to quit worrying about being together in one room and to start worrying about going out together to witness to those in need of God’s love.

It is after us to look around us and see who it is that we know or know about who needs to know about the love and grace and forgiveness of God in Christ.

It is after us, and the only question right now is this:

Are we going to go voluntarily, or is Mama Spirit going to have to make us go?

Amen and amen.