Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jesus Takes Up the Sword

Texts:   Genesis 21: 8-21  and  Matthew 10: 34-39

If you were asked to name some sayings of Jesus on the topic of peace, you’d probably quote phrases like “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5: 9), “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39), and “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).  Or you might recall the story of Jesus reprimanding the disciple who drew his sword to defend Jesus at Gethsemane.  What you are likely not to remember is that Jesus also said this: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew’s Jesus goes on to reveal a specific plan: to pit family members against one another.

I can tell you, none of this is material for a feel-good sermon.  I mean, if Jesus does pick up the sword, what will be next? S. betting on dog fights?  R. opposing marriage equality?  T. posting anti-immigrant jokes on Facebook?  D. begging our county commissioners to display at Government Plaza the words “in God we trust” and tacking on John 3:16 for a Christian flourish?  If Jesus picks up the sword, there’s no telling who else will betray their previously professed commitments.

You must be wondering, “What happened to the Jesus who spoke the beatitudes earlier in this same Gospel? He was such a NICE Jewish boy."

Or you might pose this astute question: “Are these authentic words from Jesus?”  After all, no one followed him around with a tape recorder, and each Gospel writer portrays Jesus somewhat differently for a different theological aims, so no one can know for certain how close any of the Gospel portraits is to the historic Jesus of Nazareth.  Maybe this passage misrepresents Jesus. 

Yeh, let’s go with that. Jesus never really said, “I have come to set a man against his father.”  Except that most scholars think the least flattering and most inflammatory passages about Jesus are likely the most authentic. Because the tradition preserving his life and teachings tended to polish off the rough edges to make him more palatable over the years. Bible scholars believe Jesus did say something very like, “I have come to set a man against his father.”

And it’s the undermining of the father’s role in particular that makes these statements so subversive—especially in a highly patriarchal culture. 

Before we go further, let me thank the lectionary gods for not scheduling today’s scripture a week earlier--on Father’s Day.  Even though efforts to empower women, expand images for God, and critique abuses of power should not threaten men, Father’s Day might not have been the ideal day to read Jesus’ prediction that “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” You certainly won’t find that verse on a Hallmark card.

Let’s investigate today’s Gospel reading in two ways. If we 1) attend to overall patterns in Matthew’s gospel and 2) recall its historical context—we’ll better understand why Matthew’s Jesus seems hell-bent on destroying the traditional family.

Once you start looking, you’ll see Matthew’s Gospel is peppered with countercultural attitudes toward fathers. For instance, a disciple asked if he could bury his father, as tradition required, before following Jesus, and Jesus retorted: “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).  Taken as an isolated verse, Jesus sounds heartless. Taken in the context of an oppressively patriarchal culture and as symbolic language used throughout Matthew, Jesus might sound liberating. 

In Matthew, there are only two earthly fathers identified as fathers. The disciples James and John are named as sons of Zebedee, for whom they work as fishermen in the family business. When Jesus called them to follow him, Matthew says they immediately left their boats and left their father, perhaps leaving Zebedee unable to make a living.  Disciples may have to leave their fathers—or what fathers represent—to follow Jesus.

The other father Matthew identifies as a father is Herod—who slaughtered the innocent children in the attempt to kill the child he feared would unseat him.  And indeed it is this larger system of patriarchy that Jesus is working against.  Matthew’s Jesus, whose theme is the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Herod, is reconstituting the family—from a patriarchy ruled by the father—to a new kind of family ruled by God in a new kind of Kingdom/kindom ruled by God. 

Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matt. 12:50). He does NOT include father in that list. Because no one will be Jesus’s father but God.  Because God’s ways must hold sway. Because God is father to ALL, which means all are equally children of God.  Hierarchy ends in this new family.

The writers of Matthew and probably Jesus himself were using verbal shock and awe to expose oppression and domination. Such rhetorical extremism was needed to expose the problems in a patriarchal system so pervasive no one really knew of any other way to construct a cohesive society. Patriarchy so pervaded his culture—in every institution from the family on up to the highest levels of religious and political leadership—that it must have seemed the only way human society could function.  From the Roman Emperor on down to the family unit where the father was, in his own home, the local ruler, Jesus lived in a male-dominated culture and in a pecking order that made some men lords over others.  But Jesus chose to align himself with the outcast, the neglected, the powerless.  Jesus lifted up the lowly.

Jesus was not against fathers.  He was against a pervasive injustice that fathers participated in and fatherly privilege symbolized.   He was against a system that gave power to the “patriarch” while ignoring the plight of women and slaves and children and the poor.  Jesus’s decision to “focus on the family” was a subversive tactic.  In a sense, the current Focus on the Family regime operates on the same assumption Jesus made: that as the family goes, so goes society and all the larger systems of power.  

In Matthew’s Gospel, God is called Father far more than in any other Gospel.  Matthew’s Jesus is saying the only real father is God. The ultimate authority is God. Matthew’s Jesus calls God “father” not to elevate that father image, not to deify the masculine, but rather to supplant the earthly father and create an allegiance to a higher authority.  Unfortunately, the Church over the centuries has gotten that backwards and has used Father God language to give males special status. We, too, get trapped in patriarchy and need to be shocked from our complacency about exclusive language, sexist attitudes, violence against women, inequities in the work place, and rigid gender roles. 

However, today’s shocking Gospel reading should not come as a surprise if we’ve been paying attention to Matthew’s Jesus all along.

And we shouldn’t be surprised by the sword-wielding Jesus if we’ve paid attention to the community for which Matthew’s Gospel was written. Matthew’s first readers were experiencing schisms in their families and in their house churches as Jesus followers gradually became a distinct group of Jews and eventually a distinct religion. The sword Jesus figuratively wielded was slicing families and synagogues in two. The Matthean community needed reassurance that divisions within families might be the consequence of following Jesus faithfully, might be a sign of that faithfulness. 

Some of us deeply understand the distinction between family of choice versus family of birth.  Reread today’s Gospel pericope from the perspective a young adult who has just told his family he’s gay, has been rejected by that family, been told God hates him, but knows somehow that there’s a God above their god who loves this young man as his ultimate Father and Mother.  And maybe if this young man is lucky, he finds a church that can be family by choice.  Does that passage still sound scary to you?

Or what if you are a woman who grew up in a Southern culture that taught you the cardinal virtues for YOU, not for men, were niceness, sweetness, politeness, deference, acquiescence?  But you knew you had a brain in your head and you figured out you had a voice, too, and you saw that wrongs don’t get righted by being sweet and silent.  And though it pained you to say things that deeply troubled your parents and others, you did, eventually. If you’re that woman, does Jesus’s call to love him and his ways more than parents and their ways still sound scary to you?

Jesus envisions a time when the now-powerless will be lifted up, when fathers and father-like authorities will be stripped of their authority, when old understandings of family will be undone. He’s not asking us to castrate fathers. But Jesus uses a phallic sword image to unman the male-vaunting system. I’m pushing the violent imagery here because Jesus did.  I think we are supposed to feel uncomfortable with today’s Gospel reading—and the story of poor Hagar and child, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Jesus’s consistent personal ethic of peace and selflessness and compassion give him credibility to make some shocking statements that ARE frightening and threatening to those abusing power. 

And they are not without cost to those without power.  In the final two verses of today’s lection, Jesus tells the Southern girl and the gay guy that they must take up their crosses to follow him.  We give up the old life to find the new life and that has its cost.  Following Jesus requires tremendous risk and loss and scandal.  Jesus uses his scary voice to prepare us for the cost of followship.  And unfortunately, it’s usually the last and the least who show the way.

If Jesus’s concern is for the last and the least, I wonder how he’d have interpreted the story of Hagar and Ishmael. How might he have provided a Jewish midrash on that quintessential story of patriarchy from his own religious tradition.  Abraham is THE patriarch, the archetypal patriarch. If we could interview Jesus today, I wonder if he’d begin, as he often did, “You have heard it said . . . that the boy must be lifted up, but I say, let us lift up his mother also. You have heard it said that masters control the lives of slaves, but I say let us free Hagar.  You have heard it said that women have value only when they are mothers, but I say, let us love Sarah for who she is.  You have heard it said that children can be discarded, but I say they are dear to me. You have heard it said that there must be a pecking order within the family and the human family, but I say let both Sara and Hagar, let both Isaac and Ishmael be cared for.  The system you inherited is not the system that does justice and loves mercy and helps you follow humbly in the ways of God. There is another way. Follow me.” 

Maybe that’s what Jesus, provocative preacher, outsider’s choice, would say.

God of Abraham and of Hagar, there are economic systems we take as givens.  There are political systems we can’t think outside of.  There are family dynamics we get stuck in.  There are religious institutions that limit our aspirations and longings.  May we be able to carry the ignoble cross and claim our full nobility as your very children.  Amen

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Guided Meditation: Hello. Good-bye. Hello.

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a;  Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 , Matthew 28: 16-20

Our contemplative service culminated in this guided meditation 
followed by a breath prayer and prayer stations.

Today’s Trinity Sunday readings are among the few biblical passages that even hint at the Trinitarian doctrine.  The Bible does not mention the Trinity. Trinitarian theology didn’t crystalize until the end of the 4th century, having developed in response to the problem posed when early Christians began to deify Jesus even as they maintained their Jewish monotheism. 

You can appreciate this “problem,” can’t you? Early Jewish Jesus followers believed in ONE God.  Judaism was distinctive among the other Greco-Roman religions for its monotheism.  But when those same followers came to claim Jesus as a unique revelation of that one God and lifted him up as co-equal with God, they seemed to be revoking their commitments to monotheism.  Some thought they were on their way to creating a pantheon of gods like that of the Romans and Greeks. Eventually, deliberations and battles and compromises and political intrigue and no doubt earnest prayer produced the concept of the Trinity.

The Trinity remains an irresolvable conundrum but, for many including myself, it offers a destabilizing but compelling picture of the Divine.  Until my last year in seminary I smirked at the Trinity. Now I love what it values about interrelatedness and the equality of all persons.  And a sense of time as cyclical rather than linear. 

If you want more on Trinitarian theology, I can point you to one of my earlier Trinity Sunday sermons ( and suggest scholarly works.  But today’s Bible readings aren’t really about the Trinity. I see today’s common theme as beginnings and endings. Whether you think of the Trinity as a contradiction or paradox . . . as a muddled mess or mind-blowing mystery. . .  you can certainly appreciate the way  we can experience the Sacred in times of beginnings and endings . . . and endings that become beginnings.

Today’s Hebrew Bible creation myth attests to the human need to circle back to the very beginning of our beginnings.  In contrast, our New Testament readings speak of endings: Paul’s gentle farewell to the church at Corinth and Jesus’s challenging farewell to the first disciples. We heard a Jewish story imagining the world’s first words: of creativity and affirmation.  And we heard in the Christian scriptures Jesus’s final words:  of challenge and hope.  Our rich Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that God is in our beginnings and endings.

Consider the way our religious rites mark our comings into this good world and our goings from it. The paradox of these demarcations is that our endings ARE our beginnings and our beginnings also hold our endings.  In the sacrament of baptism, for instance, a baby new in this life is “baptized into Christ’s death.”  Yet in Christian burial, you and I will be entrusted to the God of life after death.  It’s hard to separate our good-byes from our hellos, isn’t it?

You’ve surely experienced the paradox where the death of one thing became the birth of the next thing. Call to mind now a time when you experienced an ending that opened you up to a new beginning.  I’ll share an example from my life as you remember a time when saying goodbye to one good thing allowed you to say hello to another good thing.

George shared with you some months ago his perspective about a difficult time in his life when we left the city, the university, the neighborhood, and the church we had loved and served for sixteen years.  Oh, in the great scheme of things, moving is not a terrible trial.  But it was a move we made very reluctantly at the same time our only child left for college.  Overnight we found ourselves in Ohio where we literally knew no one in the entire state. Overnight we were empty-nesters living hundreds of miles from the daughter who had been the queen of our hearts for all of her then-17 years.  Overnight we were separated from our beloved church family.  Overnight I was without a job.  My identity as mother, church leader, teacher evaporated.  Some close friends later told me they’d worried about me—mainly about how I would handle life without Georgia.  I, too, wondered how I could bear her absence from our daily lives. I still sometimes wonder how it’s possible I’m not perpetually devastated!

But if we had not moved from our contented existence in Nashville, I’d have never started seminary, never discovered my love of theology and the Bible, never responded to a call upon my life, never found the joy of pastoring this amazing congregation.  Ironically, our house in Nashville was within walking distance of Vanderbilt’s very fine divinity school.  For years I’d secretly dreamed of starting seminary—and becoming a pastor.  But the voices of my Southern Baptist past would always drown out those thoughts.  Besides, I loved teaching. I was very happy just the way things were.

Moving to Ohio wrenched me free of the old roles and patterns and plunged me into the new.  I enrolled at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, a 90-minute drive from our new home.  I told myself I’d take a few courses to distract me from the pangs of missing my daughter, my friends, my career, my progressive and inclusive church, my comforting home.  Simply staying busy would stave off misery, I hoped.

Life in Ohio would begin each morning for me as I walked our dog Lily in our new neighborhood, and I spent most of that quiet time spotting deer and rabbits in the nearby woods while trying to name things for which I was grateful.  One morning I said to myself, “I’m surprised and grateful I’m not feeling as totally devastated as I expected. Good for me!” Days later I admitted to myself that I found theology courses fascinating. Soon I was making new friends and studying again with my old ferocity and admitting that I really was preparing myself for pastoral ministry.  I had thought I’d never stop lamenting the loss of our old life. But I LOVED seminary. I WANTED to preach. But I would never have started seminary in Nashville—though the seminary was practically in our backyard instead of a few counties from our house. 

When I said good-bye to the life we loved in Nashville, I said hello to incredible new friends, an amazing new church, new learnings, new challenges, and a new pastoral identity.  Soon the new loomed larger for me than the old.
So now it’s your turn.  Maybe you’re in the midst of a farewell.  Some chapter in your life is closing—by choice or chance.  Are you seeing any signs of the new thing that’s next on the horizon for you?  What are you saying “hello” to that has potential for good in your life?  Can you give thanks for the part of your life that is ending (perhaps a relationship, job, home, past time)? Can you summon up a bit of gratitude for the new thing on the horizon?


Think now about our church family’s perennial challenge to say goodbyes graciously and hellos expectantly.  How does a church say goodbye to some ways of doing things?  How might we say gracious goodbyes when some people decide their needs are best met elsewhere?  


How do we say hello?  What’s new on Open Table’s horizon?  Are you ready to embrace the new?

On Trinity Sunday you might think a triangle would be the best symbol for the three-personed God.  But I picture the confounding Trinity as a circle. History may live on a linear timeline.  But sacred time is circular.  Good-bye gives way to Hello which then gives way to Good-bye, and the cycle continues.

            Breathing out reminds us of the need to let go with grace, to say farewell.
            Breathing in reminds us to be refreshed, to welcome the new with thanks.

Prayer station 1:  FINGER LABYRINTH
Take a copy of a Finger Labyrinth on lectern and move to a nearby pew. “Walk” the labyrinth with your finger or a pencil, going in and out again.  Trace the path in a relaxing pace as you journey back and forth to the center. Repeat several times. Try it with your non-dominant hand for more of a challenge. It will help you to give up control and break out of a linear response pattern. As you “walk” this labyrinth, you might repeat a mantra like “To end is to begin again.”

Prayer station 2:  GOOD-BYE. HELLO.
Using the cards on the table, write a brief note on one side to say farewell to something in your life that is coming to a close. Perhaps this is something that you did not/do not really want to end.  Then write on the other side a “hello” note to some new opportunity you can imagine opening up because of this ending.  (“When a door closes, God opens a window.”)  If you’re willing for your card to be read aloud later, please leave your card in the basket.  If not, take it with you.

Walk slowly around this sacred space with gratitude for what we have received here. Pray for the rector and people of St. Luke’s. Stand for a time at a window and know that much lies beyond these walls for our faith community.

First study the Andrei Rublev icon that pictures the Trinity as a 3-personed community. Note the figures give and receive around the Table in mutuality and equality.  Note that the Table seems open enough to include the viewer.  There’s space for you.

Next, prayerfully give to serve others and contribute to Open Table’s ongoing purposes.  In doing so, you end your ownership of that money (and its ownership of you) so that it (and you) can be used for a new purpose. 

Then receive the Lord’s Supper, remembering Jesus’s Last Supper. Give thanks that what seemed the end was in fact a new beginning.  Pray for graceful endings and gracious beginnings in your life. 

Prayer station 5:  PRAYING WITH THE PASTOR
Kneel beside the pastor to share in confidence a particular prayer concern.  She will then offer a quiet prayer for you.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain

I Corinthians 12: 4-13    John 7: 37-39

Fire is the predominant symbol and red the traditional color of Pentecost.  But wind and water are also biblical symbols of the refreshing work of the Spirit. Today’s Epistle reading says we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. And in our Gospel lection, the writer of John says the Spirit that animated Jesus flows like a river from our hearts to others. I’ve seen fire at Pentecost. But today I want to see a gentler element of the Spirit.

As I flew to beautiful San Diego last week, I saw below us at one point miles of treeless, waterless desert: a terrain so hostile and isolated that my soul felt parched. We’ve all experienced desert times in our lives. And when our spirits are dry, we can become susceptible to charlatans who pose as rainmakers. The 1956 film The Rainmaker featured Burt Lancaster as Bill Starbuck, a con artist who promised drought-plagued ranchers that, for $100, he could make it rain. What he actually did was to bring to life the loveless Lizzy, played by Katharine Hepburn. But early on Lizzy’s cynical brother, ironically named Noah, protested: “We don’t believe in rainmakers.” To which Bill Starbuck, the rainmaker, replied, “What DO you believe in, mist’ah?  Dyin’ cattle?”

Which might be a fair question for progressive Christians on this Pentecost Sunday. 

We don’t believe in rainmakers.  Most of us don’t believe that if you put $100 in the collect plate, you’ll get rain for your garden or a raise from your boss or a cure for your illness. We don’t believe in rainmakers.

But what DO we believe in?  Surely we believe in something more than “dyin’ cattle.” Surely we believe in hope and healing, love and meaning.

Here’s what Paul and the writer of John’s gospel believe in:  a vital, loving Spirit flowing through the people.

When your spiritual landscape is dry as desert sand, what do YOU believe in?  If not rainmakers, surely you can bear witness to more than “dyin’ cattle” and “dyin’” victims of the latest school shooting and dyin’ Syrians and dyin’ inner cities and dyin’ species—entire species—on our planet.  We believe these things are happening. Yes.  But what we believe IN is a sacred and saving Spirit.

Pentecost affirms this enlivening Spirit that seemed to flow through Jesus and that, I believe, can continue to flow through the Jesus followers called the Church.  Pentecostal fire is just one image of the Spirit’s work in the world.  I invite you to consider the less popular Pentecostal metaphor found in today’s lectionary texts: spirit as water.

The Jesus we meet in John’s Gospel knows this Spirit. After John baptized Jesus with water, he described Jesus as one who baptizes with the Spirit (John 1: 33). Immediately after Jesus’s own water/spirit experience, he invited the first of his disciples to “follow [him] (John 1: 43), simply to follow him.  But later Jesus must have wondered how they would follow him after his death, which he began to see as imminent.  If he were killed by the angry authorities, how would his followers continue to follow? So Jesus explained—this is my loose summary of today’s Gospel text—“After I’m gone, you'll depend on the very spirit that animates me, that inspires me, that flows through me like living water.  This water is not for me alone.  It will flow like living water from your hearts. This gift is not for you alone.  It's for all.  In fact, it will be found and felt and imbibed when you gather.”

The Apostle Paul likewise spoke of the gift of the Spirit that courses through and to us so all may drink. In today’s epistle reading we hear “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” and “it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” Paul adds that this Spirit from which we "drink" is “for the common good”—like water in a village well intended for all who are thirsty, like the village well where Jesus offered a Samaritan woman living water. In other words, the Spirit is activated by a community and for the common good. The Spirit’s gifts listed by Paul—of wisdom, faith, healing, discernment and so forth—are not given so you can win “American Idol.” The Spirit’s gifts are not talents for individual recognition. I don’t see listed among those gifts any “star qualities” needed for “America’s Got Talent.”  Your spirit gifts are not for you alone.  They flow out for the good of all.

As you review the gifts of the Spirit found in our epistle reading, think how critical they are to our work as a congregation in our perpetual discernment practices to see where God is at work in the world and join in that work. Yet these gifts not only serve the needs of the world but also create and equip a faith community as it engages in the larger work of justice and shalom.  We remain a vital church by listening to those among us who offer us intuitive wisdom and those who share more objective knowledge (verse 8). We will strengthen the church when we as people of faith live as if we have faith (verse 9). We will grow spiritually because of those in our midst who can speak healing words and work miracles of forgiveness and peace (verses 9 and 10). We will thrive because we permit prophetic voices to disturb our complacency. We will be the Church whenever we discerningly tune in to the frequency of the Spirit and tune out the voices of prejudice, fear, and our own self-serving ego. We will be the church whenever we develop skills of listening and speaking in order to understand one another deeply (verse 10). Although these gifts won’t help us win “The Voice” or “Dancing With the Stars,” they will serve this community, be developed in this community, and then used for our work with the larger community beyond us.
The Spirit does not seem to show up (according to Jesus and Paul) when we’re isolated in our aims and seeking individual gains.    

2000 years after Pentecost and despite precipitously declining church membership in all denominations, there are Jesus followers who persist in his ways—not because we believe in a magic-working Rainmaker but because we believe in and sometimes actually participate in a spirit that flows to and through and among us and beyond us. 

I’ve felt that Spirit here—when we’ve heard stories of transformation, when we’ve come together to bring hope. I’ve experienced Spirit with you when, to name just one example, we befriended the ___ family, Muslim refugees from Iraq newly arrived in Mobile. We hosted a baby shower for Omar and painted their apartment and provided furniture and helped them navigate bureaucracies and gave driving lessons to ___ and tutoring to ___ and though they’ve moved to New York, we’ve learned recently that __ will be sworn in as a new American citizen this week. In turn, we came to love a family we’d never have otherwise known and might, if we’re honest, have felt just a bit uncomfortable around if we’d seen them on the street. I think the Spirit of God has been part of our rich relationship with a sweet family who accepted and returned the Spirit gift of friendship.

Look also where we and our denomination find energy.  For the UCC and other expressions of Christ’s church, the Holy Spirit is often in evidence when Jesus followers are galvanized around a common cause—like LGBTQ rights or immigration reform or care for our planet or efforts to end systemic poverty, racism, or sexism.  Open Table will recharge again and again when we use our individual gifts for a common good that moves us out into our community.

To underscore our engagement in the common good, let me share, in this graduation season, a portion of a New York Times op ed by David Brooks on commencement speeches. He begins by bemoaning the typical way most graduation speakers promote an excessive individualism that has become “the dominant note in American culture. 

“College grads," he says, "are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.”

Brooks says that in actuality “most successful young people dont look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. . . . Most people dont form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.”   

Maybe it's also true that most successful congregations are likewise “called by a problem, and the [church] is constructed gradually by their calling."

David Brooks concludes: “Todays grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, theyll discover that . . . fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and cant be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but its nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. Its to lose yourself.”   (

If Brooks is right, then “graduating”—moving on to the next level of maturation—is about using our gifts not for self but for some larger task and losing ourselves in something larger.  Or, to use today’s Spirit metaphor, to be that drop of water that falls trustingly into a mighty river.

Maybe Paul was offering the Corinthians a type of commencement address that would allow them to commence a less self-centered spiritual state. Maybe Jesus was encouraging followers of his way to graduate to a new level of spiritual unity and common purpose.
Friends, as you and I continue to mature together, I look forward to ways we’ll increasingly cultivate our gifts here and use them out there—where those gifts will be further developed. This thing we do here on Sundays is vital but this is mere preparation for the work out there. That makes church church. That’s the work of the Spirit.  That’s what I believe in.  Not in ranting rainmakers.  Nor dyin cattle.  I believe in the loving energy flowing to and through and beyond us.

For those who came hoping for a fiery Pentecostal sermon this evening, let me remind you that even tiny drops of water and the trickle of persistent streams carve out canyons and reshape the planet. We are here for the long haul, dear friends. We are preparing our hearts for long lives and enduring relationships and lasting community.  I’m thankful that, for all the beauty and power in the imagery of a flaming Spirit, there is, for me today, a need to feel my spirit watered by a gentle rain that will slowly sink in and produce deep roots.

God who flows among us, in this moment help us imagine gifts we want to cultivate here, watered by your Spirit. Now bring to our minds the gifts we’ve already received here through a Spirit larger than any one singular life.  Let’s think about ways we’ve learned to care for others more deeply.  Let’s recall ways our own gifts have been called forth.  Let’s remember something we’ve done here that we could not have done alone.  And give thanks.   Amen.