Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sometimes a Little Fire Is a Good Thing

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.       Genesis 11:1-9

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”        Acts 2:1-12

Today’s scripture is a funny balance: Pentecost and the Tower of Babel.

One represents the birth of the Church and the other the defining event that separated the nations from one another.  Both are acts of God.  At least, Scripture represents both of these events as acts of God.

I’m not sure I buy that idea when it comes to the Tower of Babel.

Do you really believe that God looked down on humanity, saw us doing something massive and accomplished, and utterly freaked out?  I have trouble believing that God, who created us in imitation of His very powerful self, would get weird over humanity doing incredibly powerful things.  Especially when you consider that the Tower of Babel was essentially a very tall building, not something like the hydrogen bomb, or unraveling the mystery of DNA, or cloning sheep.  If God is going to get His panties in a bunch over something, I’m guessing that nuclear bombs would have trumped a giant building, hands down. (There is no veiled reference to the presidential candidate there, I promise. No. Really.)  So I’m calling BS on this story in the Bible.  Sometimes you read the scriptures and you realize that the writers cannot possibly be describing God’s action as much as they are trying to explain why things are such a mess here in Humantown—and things are a mess here in Humantown.

Humans have been struggling with division from our inception, and I think that’s because God divided His image into two genders and created us male and female. Having two separate genders in humanity has created so many problems all by itself that I’m pretty certain that God did not expect unity to exist naturally within humanity…ever.  Add in a few more divisions like race, nation, culture, sexuality, and socioeconomic situation…holy smoke!  Trying to squeeze unity out of all that division is a fine task indeed.

Before you get all twisted up about how I’m accusing God of causing all our political and racial problems, let me point out that the same God that created us to be different and experience conflict and division also created us to have moments of clarity, unity, and profound experiences of connection with each other.

Today’s evidence of this is that God created Pentecost.

This is the point is when I would normally blather on about how Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit is a powerful sign that we are empowered disciples of an Almighty God who builds the bridge that helps us cross the barriers that separate us so that we can spread the Gospel.

But that is a post for another day, because today, something else popped out at me.

When I read about Pentecost today, I suddenly focused in on the verses starting at Acts 2:5, where the “Jews from every devout nation under heaven” suddenly start asking how it is that they are hearing the Gospel in their native tongue.

Simulcasting is cool, but it isn’t the point of this passage of scripture.

What I realized is that at that moment, a group of very diverse people were suddenly having the exact same experience at the same time.  A very diverse group of people—a group that probably included women and men, adults and children, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free men—all heard the Gospel at the same time, in their own language, and the scripture says that “all were amazed and perplexed.” (2:7)

Another thing you may not have noticed is that while the disciples were “all together in one place” (2:2) that the diverse crowd of people who witnessed the event were not gathered in any way at all before Pentecost started.  As the tongues of fire appeared and the disciples began to speak, “…there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (2:5-6)  In other words, the group of observers were going about their own business, totally uninvolved with each other, until the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and then suddenly the people began to draw together, drawn in by the Spirit.

Well, hot dog!  There it is!  Unity in the midst of total diversity, created by the Spirit.

God didn’t create humanity as a unity.  Our very creation makes us divided because we weren’t created like cookie cutter people.  We were created to be divided and to be divisive.  And yet at the very same time, we were created in God’s image, bearers of our own spirits and the spark of His Spirit, and therefore so very succeptible to the movement of the Holy Spirit and its unifying power.

And this is the best news ever.

Today, this news is giving me hope. Lots of hope.

Because I believe that the Holy Spirit will always be more powerful than the details that divide us.  

It gets easy to get lost in the details of our identity and our daily lives, but the Holy Spirit always has the power to sweep us up in experiences far greater than our individual details.  It only takes a moment to remember experiences like the 9/11 tragedy and the Paris bombings, and suddenly you know without a doubt that nation, culture, and race all fall away and we find ourselves in solidarity with victims we cannot know and have never met.

The Holy Spirit will always be more powerful than the details that divide us.

This is the gospel/good news for today.

 

On a personal note: Lord God, as the worldwide United Methodist church meets in Portland, may the spirit of Pentecost come to each and every delegate.  May the flame of your Spirit create understanding and respect where division once existed. May the flame of your Spirit illumine minds and create clarity, so that the Church may follow Your will.  Unite us Lord, for we cannot do it on the strength of our will alone.  Amen.

Advertisements

The Once and Future King of America

Psalm 47
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.  God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm. God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

I was stunned this week when both John Kasich and Ted Cruz pulled out of the race for the Republican candidate for president; suddenly I felt my choices had been removed from me and I was faced with a very limited and unsatisfactory set of choices.  I was, in a word, incredibly disappointed.

I get really caught up in this political stuff. It is easy to think of the presidential elections as some sort of barometer for the nation.  I recently saw a post on Facebook targeted at my age group (sort of).  It had to do with my generation’s opinion of the presidential candidates.  I suppose I should explain the generational thing first. I was born in 1964, and technically my birth year falls in the sociological cohort of the Baby Boomers.  You might notice that I refer to science when I describe the ‘group’ that I belong in, because while sociology might identify my birth year as placing me in the generation of the Baby Boomers, I don’t quite relate to the Baby Boomers.

Part of the problem for me is that my mother was born in the very first year of the baby boom: 1947.  She married young and immediately became pregnant, so my birth year falls inside the set of years defined by Sociologists as the Baby Boomer Generation.  However, I don’t really identify with the Baby Boomers, mostly because I needed something to rebel against as a teenager, and that something is my mother and father.  My father was born in 1941, the generation preceding the baby boom, and my mother was born in 1947…as I said, the first year of the Baby Boomer children.  If I am going to successfully rebel, I can’t be a Baby Boomer!  So I fall into that nebulous group loosely termed the Baby Busters—kids born from 1962 to 1981, a generation too young to be Baby Boomers and too old to be Slackers.  We’re kind of boring, but at least we aren’t Baby Boomers. (It’s a joke…lighten up!)

Back to the Facebook post. I recently saw a post of Facebook targeted at my age group (sort of) and it was titled ‘Stop Scaring The Children!!’  The post was a video of Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Community Church, preaching to his congregation. Andy Stanley was reminding the older adults of his congregation (mainly Baby Boomers and Busters like myself) to lighten up when it came to the election; he wanted us to stop making dire predictions about the end of American culture as we know it, to stop predicting the rise of American facism.  Andy wanted us to stop declaring candidates like Trump, Clinton, or Sanders as ‘the destruction of everything America stands for!’

I have to admit that Andy Stanley a point.

I am terrified of what a Trump presidency could do to our nation. I fear that a Clinton presidency would be another eight years of lots of promises and not enough change, and I fear that a Sanders presidency would be fiscally unfeasible.  I am faced with choices that I don’t want to make, and no option seems like the right one.  My children’s futures depend on my choice, on my husband’s choice…and we don’t appear to have any good choices when it comes to our presidential candidate.  This is not a comfortable position to be in, and I fear what will happen in the next four to eight years—crucial years for my children who are young adults.

And yet…

When I read the scriptures for today I am reminded to lighten up.  I need to seriously lighten up!

Our nation has faced a civil war, two world wars, two wars overseas that had to do with the rise of Communism, the threat of nuclear war, three more wars overseas that had to do with the rise of extremism and terrorism, the threat of terrorist attacks and insurgence, and the ugly specter of racism, sexism, and fascism… and most of the wars I listed happened after 1940!  As a nation, we have been beset by threats on every side.

And yet we stand, strong and proud, free and brave, American to the very core.

Just one look at today’s scriptures makes it clear.

“For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…He chose our heritage for us…Sing praises to God, sing praises…For God is the king of all the earth…God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne…for the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.”   Psalm 47

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.    Ephesians 1:17-21

What am I so afraid of?

I keep forgetting that although my nation might go astray and do stupid things, I still have the power to follow Christ!  I still have the power to do those things that bring glory to God and grace and mercy to the people I serve.  Nothing can stop God’s power!  Nothing can stop God from extending His mercy and provision to those who are in need if I am willing to serve Him as He calls me.  In the end, all my fears of what will happen in this presidential cycle boil down to me forgetting that nothing can stop the people of God from serving God. There is no one that we can elect who can stop us from feeding and clothing the poor, from building houses and clinics, from reaching out to the homeless and the prisoner, from doing the work of God in the name of Jesus Christ.

No matter what person…or idiot…the American people might elect to the highest office in our land, God alone is King.  God alone leads this nation to do what is right, and if (or when) our elected officials stop listening to God’s guidance, nothing stops the people of God from soldiering onward, even if it is in the face of political opposition.

The people of God have nothing to fear. Nothing at all! Andy Stanley is right—we need to stop scaring the children. We need to stop telling them to fear who is elected, and start telling them to serve the one and only King of all that exists: God Almighty.  If God is our King and we follow His will, nothing can derail us, destroy us, or bring us down.

Our God is King.  Follow the King.