God is Life

South Coast Convocation Beach Eucharist
August 17th, 2019

The readings for this service are:
Job 12:7-12
Psalm 98
Philippians 4:4-7
Matthew 19:13-15

       We heard a lot about God’s hands this morning, didn’t we? In the Old Testament, we heard how all life, every living thing, is in God’s hands. In the Psalms, we heard how God’s right hand has worked salvation. And in a little bit, we’ll pray together the Prayers of the People, where we will give thanks that God fashioned us and this beautiful place with his life-giving hand. This all reminds me of a song we used to sing as kids: “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.” Do you know that one? As a kid, I imagined this big set of hands, cupped around, and a bunch of people, or even the Earth itself, just sitting there in God’s open palms.

       Now, hands signify something really important in the Bible and for us Christians; they signify the life-giving presence of God. Think about the Bible, where people are always reaching out and touching Jesus with their hands; and when they do, they’re healed. Or that Jesus, and the disciples with him, lay their hands – physically touch – the sick and the injured, the lonely and the destitute, folks no one wanted to be near, much less touch. Some of these people are suddenly healed, miraculously, though others are shown, rather simply, that they are not alone in their pain, that someone cares for them and loves them. For some, that’s healing enough.

And our practices at church continue this focus on hands. At the passing of the peace, we shake hands or hug one another, all in the name of Christ, welcoming them into our hearts and our lives. Or in the sacraments: In Baptism the pouring of water and the anointing on the forehead with oils, or Reconciliation, where at that most beautiful moment, when we are reminded that we are loved by the God of all things, the priest puts his or her hand on the head. Or in the Eucharist, the simple and vast depths of the Eucharist, where a small wedge of wafer or bread, the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, is placed in an outstretched hand. And all this, all these moments, signify something: a presence, a life, a depth within the world that is far beyond ourselves.

       And God, and our church, and our Christian lives extend out beyond the four walls of our worship space, don’t they? I think also of the hands that I have seen in my own life, as well. I think of the hands of my father, who was a woodworker. His hands are like anyone’s hands who works with wood all day: they’re nicked and scratched, they have deep callouses and are scarred, but they’re also deft, able, skillful, and sure. Or I think of my daughter’s hands and my own when we go out to play in the sand. After just a few minutes of building castles and burying each other in the sand, our hands are grubby and dirty, and they most certainly have to be washed before we can eat lunch – but even so, they are full of the life and joy of digging about in the earth. And I think of the hands of Jesus, which I have seen in paintings and statues and in my own heart (and surely you have, too): the hands of Jesus, our God and our Savior, human hands but holy hands as well, as they were lifted to heal and as they were laid on the cross and nailed to its hard wood.

       And all these images – hands in healing, hands full of dirt and grime, hands giving bread, hands bleeding at the palms – these images all point to one thing: not just of some vague presence but the presence of Life and it’s advent into this world. Now, our own hands, our fallen, human hands, can bring other things, too. Sure, we can bring life into the world, we can be God’s hands, but we can also work death, destruction, and pain as well. But God’s hands are different. God’s hands are life. In God’s hands is life, not sitting on the top but deep down inside them, like a bit of salt baked into a cake to enhance all that flavor; or, if you’ve spent some time in the South, you’ll know sweet tea, where the sugar isn’t just added in later but brewed into the tea itself to make it, oh so delicious. And all these are just more small, partial images, because that goodness and hope and life of God’s hands are deep down at God’s core, who he is; because God is Life. God is Love.

       And all this love, all this life, it’s not away on some mountain top. It’s not locked away in secret somewhere so that only smart and adventurous people can find it. It’s not something that only our great spiritual ancestors can find because they were just more special than we are. It’s right here. As St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice!” And why? Because the Lord is near to you, or, as in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is very near to you. This Life, this Hope, this Goodness, and this Love, they are here for us, because God is here among us. Whether we’re under the church roof or out here on the side of the beach, whether you’re in a hospital room or on the other side of the door, waiting in anxiety, God is with you.

       But sometimes, truth be told, it’s hard to remember all this. We live in a troubled world. Each day, it seems, we are met with new tragedies, news that awakens our anxiety or anger or even our hatred. And it seems that we have just two choices: to push it all away and hide from it or else enter into it and risk becoming that pain and anger ourselves. But whether we go out or stick home, whatever we do, we Christians don’t begin there. We don’t begin in pain or anger or despair, but in Life. We begin in Hope, even if (or especially if) there doesn’t seem to be any. We begin in community, in listening to one another, in the seeking out of all people, regardless of who they are and how different their cultures or thoughts or politics are from our own. We begin in Love because God began in Love. God created the world, we believe, not because he was bored and needed something to do, or that God was incomplete and so needs a world; no, we believe that God created the universe, this world, and all the creatures in it, for Love. And that Love is the foundation of all things, from the grains of sand out there on the beach to the planets and stars out there in their courses.

       And we, too. We have been created anew by that Love. It is a Love that we have long yearned for, long hoped for, and that Love found us and is bringing us home. And our work now, we pilgrims on a journey to our true Home, is to shower the world with that Love. To open our hearts when it’s easy and when it’s tough, to listen to those we agree with and those we think are fools, to seek God in all people, no matter who they are. For Love was at the beginning, Love is now, and Love forever shall be the beating heart of Creation and the center of all our lives.

 

Faith

the 9th Day of Pentecost
Proper 14
August 11th, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Click here to access these readings.

        This past Tuesday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. It’s one of the really important days of the Church Year, and so it would be a pity to skip over it without much comment. But, apart from the good Christian work of following the Church Year, the story of the Transfiguration is one that says some important things about the theme of our readings this morning. And that theme is: Faith.

        The story of the Transfiguration is quick to tell: in it, Jesus takes three of the disciples up to a mountaintop with him. There he is suddenly changed: his whole presence, from his face to his clothes, becomes radiant. Standing on either side are Moses and Elijah, and a great voice comes from the sky that says, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” You can imagine the disciples’ surprise and alarm as they witness their teacher suddenly changed so drastically. There’s great light, loud, booming voices, prophets of old, and sight to the true nature of all things. And then, just as suddenly as this vision appears, it fades, and there is Jesus, just Jesus, alone.

        What do you do with a vision like that? How do the disciples go back to their normal lives? Isn’t everything changed? Well, in a way, not really. After the Transfiguration, after they see Jesus in all his glory as the Son of God, the Foundation of the world, the disciples follow him back to their normal lives. Jesus continues on the way, doing miracles, surely, and preaching the Kingdom of peace and love and the Glory of God – and the memory of that vision, of the Transfiguration, becomes, perhaps, just that: a memory. How do the disciples know that they weren’t dreaming when they saw Jesus suddenly revealed? How do they know that it wasn’t just some sort of trick of light, that they only thought they heard a voice, or that the sun didn’t just come out at just the right time? How did they know that what they saw was really Jesus revealed and not just some part of their imaginations?

        I’m not sure if the disciples asked these questions, but Christians have been wrestling with these sorts of questions for our whole history. We read the Bible, and we come to Church. We learn about our traditions and teach them to our children. We talk about God’s love and God’s hope and build up our faith. But then tragedy happens. Pain and suffering come our way, and we may wonder: is all of that true? Is God really a loving God?

        Or, perhaps, we may be gifted with a religious experience, moments or periods of time when God comes right up close to us. These experiences can look different, and have looked different, all throughout our history: they could be sudden flashes of insight, or times of great peace and comfort. I once had one while walking on the campus at the University of Oregon. I felt the palpable presence of God the other day while: everyone in the house was napping one afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table writing a letter and listening to the wind in the trees. Others have had much more dramatic experiences of God. St. Paul got knocked off his horse and was blinded. Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, had visions of Christ on the Cross while she laid dying. Religious experiences can take many forms, but at the end of the day, they always fade away and we return to normal life. How do we know that these experiences were true? How do we know that they weren’t just dreams or, as Scrooge says in A Christmas Story, weren’t just undigested pieces of beef or a fragment of underdone potato?

        These questions, and others like it, are some of the things we find in the letter to the Hebrews. The author, whoever he or she was, was concerned with teaching about Faith, what it is and how we are grounded in it. And what is this thing called “faith”? It’s something we name our girls, sometimes, along with felicity and hope, and it’s something we struggle, at times, to have. Sometimes we use it as a synonym for “hope” or as another way to say “belief.” And sometimes we misuse the word and pretend that it’s a blind acceptance of something that we have no control over or any assurance of.

But faith – true faith – is sight. It’s sight to the bottom of things, that underneath all the changes and suffering and worry and pain that there is something else, something good, something firm and hopeful and trustworthy. Faith isn’t the assurance we might find in direct proof, but it’s not counter to that kind of proof, either. Faith is continued assurance, through thick and thin, through joy and pain. Faith is a lot like what we talk about in our marriage ceremony when we promise to love the other person “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t love our spouses because every day is a rollercoaster of joy and fun. We love them because we love something deeper than times of fun and joy, deeper than times of the snotty noses of sickness and the disagreements, even deeper than that thing that, for a time, parts us all: death. We love, or at least we hope to love, our spouses because of the core of who they are, something that is often, but not always, played out in the world. That “not always” doesn’t speak for who they truly are. We have faith that they are more.

        This faith that we hope for in marriage is an image (sometimes a pale image, sometimes a broken image) but an image of the faith we are called to in God through Jesus Christ. And marriage is an image of faith and a sacrament not because it’s something we can learn like our multiplication tables, or something we can exercise by going to the gym, but because it is a relationship. And that’s one of the points that the author of Hebrews tries to bring forward. All through this letter, the author isn’t trying to define “faith” as a technical term or in an equation but as a relationship. Here in our reading he points to Abraham, and elsewhere in the letter he writes about the faith of other great figures like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Moses. He writes, look at the prophets, (or for us) look at the saints, look at the Church and all those who have come before. We learn about faith through stories about them, through who they are as people, their struggles and their hopes. We learn about faith, in part, but learning about the saints and the Church, in who these people, who once lived and often died, for their faith.

And, from them, we learn that when we ourselves have faith, we don’t have it in abstract principles but in a person, and that person is alive and living and full of life: Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer, who walked around with folks in Israel, who tied his shoes on every morning and ate dinner every night, who hiked up mountains and whose very clothes caught the transcendent light of his Being.

        We live in some turbulent times. After weeks like this, and with a rather contested election coming up, we can wonder how to muster up our faith in a God that loves us and sticks by us through thick and thin. Well, the good news of our readings this morning is that we don’t have to muster it up. There’s no button inside our hearts, or muscle that we can flex, to get more faith. To increase in faith, we are called to live with one another, to live with the Church and the world that we serve, with the light and life and hope that is given to us in the Holy Spirit. And we are to live, quite simply, with Jesus Christ, our friend and our savior, in war and in peace, in sorrow and in hope. For in that relationship, in that companionship and friendship and Daughter- and Sonship, there is where we will find our salvation.

Jesus is the Center

The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
Proper 11
July 21, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Click here to access these readings.

We have before us here this morning a really magnificent reading from Paul’s letters.  I mean, each week we have something magnificent to read here on Sunday morning, as the week begins anew, but today we’ve got something particularly nice.  It’s like that nice, big, shiny apple out of a bushel of really good, juicy ones, or a sandwich that doesn’t taste any different from other sandwiches, but because you’ve used some tomatoes fresh from your garden, and the bread is just out of the oven, and you’re eating it with a good friend, somehow the sandwich just tastes so much better.  Here is one of those good passages from the Bible, and it’s good because it tells us so much about Jesus.

            Now, we often say that we are healed in Jesus Christ.  All the pain we experience, all the hurt or the worry or the despair, all of it is healed in Jesus.  The Bible tells us that we are made whole in him, made fully alive and fully human, when we live in Jesus.  In Jesus we are made who we were meant to be, who God created us to be.  And all this healing happens, all this fullness and wholeness, because of who Jesus Christ is.  Now, Jesus doesn’t heal us as a doctor might.  Doctors work on our bodies – the physical stuff that makes us who we are.  A doctor might give us medicine, operate on us, or tell us to exercise a bit more or eat more fruits and veggies.  And this is good and important to living a healthy life in this body while it lasts.

            Jesus, however, heals us differently than all this.  Jesus is the life at the heart of our lives.  He is the life that helps us heal emotionally and spiritually, the life that helps us forgive those who wronged us, that helps move us from a life of despair to a life of fullness and goodness, even if it’s still tough.  Jesus is that life that brings us away from sin and hatred and into a life where we can see the light of God all around us: in the ground, in the sunshine, in those around us, especially those who we don’t know, and, perhaps most of all, in ourselves. 

And Jesus can do this, Jesus can heal us and make us whole, because of who he is: the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God, the one who holds all things together. Now, this can all seem like theological and mythological language.  It’s all really easy to say, but what does it mean that Jesus is the firstborn of all Creation?  Or that he is the foundation of all reality?  I mean, we all know what a foundation is.  For the past we months we’ve seen that new addition to the First Community Bank go up.  And the first thing they did was dig into the ground and set a firm, flat bed of concrete down.  Then they built up more concrete to create the foundation.  And this foundation is, of course, so very important, and not just so that the building doesn’t sink into the soft mud, but because it dictates all the other pillars and supports of the rest of the building.  If your foundation’s off, your building won’t be straight.  Is Jesus like that?  A sort of foundation to the whole world so that, when we build and live our lives, we won’t get stuck in the mud and our walls won’t fall down?

This is an example, of course, of getting too deep into a metaphor.  I mean, this metaphor of the foundation of a building, it’s a good one, but it’s not enough.  Jesus as the foundation, Jesus as the cornerstone, Jesus as the blueprint – all these metaphors can help us understand how Jesus Christ acts in the world and in our lives, but at the end of the day they’re not enough?  And they’re not enough because Jesus isn’t just some blueprint that you look at everyone once in a while and is important to have.  Jesus isn’t just a rock that gives you a sure foundation.  And Jesus certainly isn’t a set of rules that, if you follow them, you’ll have a happy and comfortable life.  Because Jesus is a person: a full, living person.  So Jesus isn’t just the rules of, say, baseball.  He’s the coach who knows the rules backwards and forwards, who sits with you and teaches you how to play from the time when you’re just old enough to pick up a bat.  He’s the one who watches you and, with a firm and discerning eye, can give you advice on perfecting your swing or change how you’re throwing the ball so that you don’t thrown your arm out.  He’s the coach who, when you win a game, takes the whole team out for pizza; and when you lose, knows why you did and will work with you to improve.  Jesus is the coach who loves baseball so much that he seems like the game itself, that coach you want to impress not because you want to look good but because if you impress him you know that you’re really living the game, because he loves it so much, too.

And this, of course, is just another metaphor for Jesus.  It’s not perfect, but it helps.  It helps us understand what this strange, beautiful, hopeful, founding and grounding presence is in our lives.  Metaphors like these help us to understand that person we encounter in our prayers, that makes our prayers more than just a bunch of requests but a relationship, a communion, with something beyond ourselves.  Metaphors like these help us to understand the fact that helping others, especially those who look and live a lot differently than we do, that helping them is a good in and of itself, regardless of whether we get anything back or not.  And metaphors help make sense of what’s going on in the Sacraments, why we feel the true, reconciling hand of God in the Sacrament of Confession; why a bit of oil on the forehead on Thursday afternoons here at St. James can bring us into the presence of the Almighty God; and why partaking with the whole Church, across time and space, partaking with them in the Eucharist, where we are given the gift of that same Life of Jesus Christ in a little bit of bread and a tiny sip of wine, how all that can continue us on the path to wholeness and oneness with God our Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. 

Because these things we say about Jesus: we’re not just playing around.  When we stand up to say the Creeds, we know that they are speaking to a truth that is deeper and more profound than any of us.  When we live a life with the Sacraments and the Bible and the Church, we find that at their center, at the center of all we do, is the beating heart of all Creation.  When we look to where all the metaphors are pointing, where all our Christian lives are directing us, where all of Church history is singing and preaching and proclaiming about, we find: Jesus Christ.  In him all things are alive, because he himself is alive.  At the end of the day, all metaphors fail me, because it is not in metaphors that we believe, but in our God, living and true, who breathes upon us Life whenever we turn to him.

 

The Trinity

Trinity Sunday
16 June 2019

The readings for this day are:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Click here to access these readings.

       Let’s start this morning with a field trip in the BCP.  Could you grab your red Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 307, please.  It’s right at the bottom of the page, marked with a nice big heading “The Baptism.”  Now, this section is right smack dab in the middle of the liturgy for Baptism.  This is where the actual baptism happens.  The part in italics (called the rubrics) tell us that each candidate is presented by name, then each person is immersed or has water poured over them.  And while they are in the water, these words are spoken: [person’s name], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

       Now, why do we do this?  Why do we, when we bring people into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism, do so in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?  Why not just “in the name of God”?  Why use God’s name at all?  Well, the easy answer is that Jesus told us to do this.  In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  But as we do this, and do it faithfully and joyfully, we may also ask: why?  Why do we baptize in the name of the Trinity and not in some other way?

       We Christians believe that the true nature of God is found in the idea of the Trinity.  God is One, but God is also Three.  And God’s how we might be when we’re in different groups, so, even though there’s just one of us, we act differently with our families, our friends, and out in public.  And it’s not as if God is a set of three identical triplets, each that looks very much alike but, at the end of the day, are really just different people.  No, God is One and God is Three.

And if this makes your brain hurt trying to imagine how God can be both One and Three at the same time, don’t worry.  The Trinity is a very complicated, often confusing part of our faith, and many good, intelligent people have spent their whole careers trying to find different ways to explain something so beautiful.  That said, the Trinity isn’t something big and complicated like, say, the motions of the planets or the tectonic plates, that if we think about them for a long time, we’ll be able to fully understand them.  But when we look at our lives, and when we look at what is revealed to us in Scripture, when we listen with our hearts and minds and souls, we begin not just to understand that Trinity but to live it, breathe it, and walk in it.

Our readings this morning are part of this revelation.  Now, historically, the concept of the Trinity – the idea of it – was not thought up until the fourth century.  Christians in the fourth century were very much concerned with the exact nature of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father.  And one of the things produced from fourth century discussions is the Nicene Creed, which can be very technical at times with its language about “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father.”  But all of these discussions weren’t just vague philosophizing and people making up theories off the top of their heads.  No, these early Christians were drawing the understanding of the Trinity from how God had revealed himself in Scriptures – in what we call the Old and New Testaments – and in the life of Jesus Christ.

We see some of this revelation in our readings today.  We see it in our reading from Proverbs, where the Wisdom of God stands like a master worker at the founding of the world.  And this Wisdom isn’t just being wise but seems to be a person, a being, for God delights in him, and Wisdom rejoices in God and the world that was created, and humanity with it.  And in Romans, St. Paul describes God’s life as being love poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, bringing to us a peace – even in suffering – through Jesus Christ.  St. Paul doesn’t tease it all out for us, or separate all the components of God like a little kid at school lunch who takes apart each piece of his sandwich; but instead he says that the life of the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intricately intertwined.  For the language lovers of you, God is not just about nouns but about prepositions for St. Paul.  God’s about ‘through’ and ‘in’ and ‘with’ and ‘inside’, about poured into and living with and given through, so that God is revealed to be not just some bearded guy on a throne with people at his feet but a being of living, breathed life and who pulls us into that life so that we may be healed and sanctified into that relationship.

And there is, of course, Jesus himself: his words and his deeds and his very being.  Time and time again Jesus speaks, acts, or directly identifies himself with God the Father, and the Spirit together with them.  Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit are, in some way, revealed to be in an intricate relationship with one another.  And it was this relationship that the fourth century councils, through reading and contemplation and prayer, came together to write the creeds.

But we don’t believe only because the Bible and the Creeds tell us to do so.  The Bible and the Creeds are an authority in our lives as Christians, surely, but they themselves live and breathe in the context of our faith here in the present.  For we see, even in our own individual lives, that the God of the Bible and the God of the Creeds is still alive today, grounding us, healing us, and breathing new life into us.  We experience God the Son, God in Jesus Christ, in those times when we find healing and goodness in the most turbulent of times.  When we turn from our own darkness, when we turn from hatred or disdain or sorrow, when we are caught in that darkness and hatred and disdain and feel a steady hand turning our hearts towards light and life and goodness; that it is the life of Jesus Christ born within us doing this work. 

And in this healing, in this turning from despair and darkness, we are not only led back to a sort of status quo but are lifted higher into light.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who won’t let us remain in complacency, but will show us a deeper life, a fuller life, a more hopeful and giving life that is ever the promise of God.  And this life is founded on something strong, something sure, something that will never move, something that is not a “thing” but is the Creator and Guider of all Creation, a being of truth that will never stop loving us; and this being we call God the Father.  And all this work of God, the work of Jesus and of the Spirit and of the Father, all of this is to bring Creation into a fullness where there is no grief or despair, no hatred or resentment, but goodness and love for all eternity.  

We as Christians have dedicated our lives to this Trinity.  In Baptism, whether we were baptized as a child or led into the faith by others, in Baptism, we were all brought into the Church; in the Eucharist we meet Jesus and are healed with his hands of love; in the Sacraments we are nurtured into the Life that was born and is growing within us; and in our mission, our good work as the Church, we bring that Life out into the world that is so deep in hurt and sorrow.  For that Life that we have seen in Scripture, and that the Church has proclaimed for the past two thousand years, is here now in this present day, in this very room, in your very hearts, speaking to the Life that is in the hearts of those sitting around you as well.  For the life of the Church is a Trinitarian life that seeks to heal, to love, and to ground things in the source of all goodness and love, which is God, our creator, our savior, and our light in this world.

The Language of Our Salvation

Pentecost

The readings for today are:
Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-27

Click here to access these readings.

        If you’ve ever spent time in a foreign country, you know that something funny happens with your language.  It happened to me while I was in Japan.  And it was this: suddenly, with any warning (it seemed), I was utterly and completely illiterate.  Signs – they meant nothing to me.  Menus at restaurants, safety information that comes in furniture, my receipts, even my teaching contract; I couldn’t read a thing.  Nor could I understand anything that was said, either.  I sat in teacher’s meetings and only understood a few names.  Every week I bought food at the grocery store and only understood a “please” or “thank you.”  My students, who had about as much skill with English as I had with Japanese, tried in vain to tell me about their studies, or baseball, or themselves, or to ask about the U.S.  And I could understand, or say, a little bit.  Here I was, in a country that I had studied and loved for many years, and I couldn’t interact with it beyond, “Isn’t it sunny today.”

        Now, I always knew that I’d be basically illiterate in Japan.  I knew that my language skills (especially in speaking and listening) were pretty poor.  I know that I’d have a hard time.  But I didn’t expect it to be so frustrating.  I’m a reader by nature.  I like talking to people.  I wanted to talk to people.  I met people my own age, older folks who had lived through WWII, Buddhist monks who had such different beliefs than my own, and even fellow Christians who were about as excited to speak to me as I was to speak to them – and yet, there was that barrier between us.  There was that barrier of language – a barrier that so often connects people together but here it was like the Tower of Babel, and language kept us apart.

        And in all this frustration, there were little havens of calm and grace.  One of these times I was up in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan.  I was on vacation with a bunch of friends, and they went off skiing.  And since I’m horrible at skiing, I wandered around on my own for a bit.  Then, on the train back to Sapporo, this young Japanese guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, are you American?  Do you speak English?”  You see, this guy loved English, just about as much probably as I loved Japanese.  And he had just gotten back from studying in Australia, where he spoke this language he loved day in and day out.  And, really, he was kinda lonely for it.  He wanted to hear it again from a native, and to speak it himself. 

        We were immediately friends.  We told each other about our families, where we grew up, our dreams and excitements and hopes, everything.  In the seat in front of us was another guy, a young man from Korea who was travelling alone, and when he heard us talking and laughing, he turned around and joined in.  His English wasn’t as good as the other guy’s, but he kept on with the story-telling as best as he could.  It was great.  And, for a while, I was home.  Yeah, sure, I was fourteen time zones, 6,237 miles (I checked this) from where I was born.  I was on a train, in a country where I was completely illiterate, talking to people who I had only met just that day, but I was home.  In my language, I was home.

        Pentecost is about being home.  Well, Pentecost is about a lot of things, but one of the big things it’s about is being home.  But it’s not just about being home but about hearing home.  Because on the day of Pentecost, we remember a miracle.  And it’s not just the miracle of the tongues of fire above everyone’s head, as I have pictured on the front of your bulletins.  It’s the miracle that, suddenly, the disciples were preaching the Gospel, they were speaking of the devotion and love and hope of God, not just in one language, but in every language.  But not as if the Holy Spirit were some sort of spiritual Google Translate, where you put in the Gospel and it churns out some wacky translation that makes little sense to a native speaker.  No, the miracle here is that the lonely Parthian over there, far from home that he can taste it in his dreams, suddenly hears the tongue he grew up with; or the Egyptian hears the exact accent of Egyptian of his beloved wet-nurse.  These people hear the Gospel, the Gospel of salvation and love and hope, not in a foreign language that they barely know, or a second language they’re struggling to make sense of; but their own language, their mother tongue, the language they were raised in and in which they were taught who they were, the language they thought in, dreamed in, argued in, and hoped in.  It was in this language, so close to their hearts, that they heard the Gospel.

        And this is a miracle, I think, that we often miss: that God saw fit to say, not “Come over here, I’ve got something to tell you” but “I will come to you.”  Now, there are many things in Christianity to which we need to align ourselves.  We are to die to sin and be risen (not “raise ourselves” but “be risen”) by God into new life.  We are to remake our lives, by the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.  We are to practice the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, faith, hope, and charity.  And all of these things are not in ourselves but in God.  Just as we say in the Baptismal Covenant, we must turn, each and every day, from the powers of evil and to the goodness of the Lord.

        So are we called to live a life to Christ, but the language of this call, and it’s voice, speaks to our heart of hearts.  In the story here in Acts, on the day of Pentecost, this took the form of an actual language, but it’s much bigger than that.  God created each of us not as carbon copies of one another but as distinct individuals.  And God, in raising us up to be his own daughters and sons in the image of Jesus Christ, God does not erase who we are.  We aren’t like those old floppy disks full of corrupt information that God needs to reformat and start again.  We aren’t even like a weedy garden that God has to spend time with in the dirt, yanking out the bad and sticking in new, prettier plants.  We are God’s children, his beloved, and those good things that we love, those things we hope for and yearn for, all those things that we go to in love, these are the things through which God calls us and hopes for us as well.  There’s quite a bit of death before the resurrection, surely, and that death can sometimes feel like being nailed up on a cross, but at the end of the day what God is aiming for is not the death, not the pain and sorrow of loss, but the resurrection, the golden light of the new dawn on all of our Easter day.  And God gave us these things that we love – be they our gardens or our children and grand-children, works of great literature or whatever college football team you root for – God gave us these gifts in love to pull us up towards himself.  Just as the people on Pentecost heard the Gospel in their own tongues, erasing the destruction of Babel, so too do we hear the Gospel in the love language of our own soul, which God made.

        Today is Pentecost, and it’s the start of the season of Pentecost.  We call it Ordinary time, but it’s anything but ordinary.  For the past half-year, ever since Christmas, we’ve been hearing about and thinking about Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection, and about the life that he brought to us in Salvation.  But now, now in Ordinary time, we listen to God’s call to us on Pentecost to help bring that light out into the world.  And what does that look like?  Well, we’ve got six months of Ordinary time to talk about it and discuss it.  But at its core, it’s the same work of Pentecost: for just as God met us where we are, and called us through our joys and sorrows and hopes, so are we called to be present in the lives of others, to speak to them the Good News of Jesus Christ in a language they understand.  In our world, putting ourselves – our own needs and our own path – aside to sit and listen to another, then to preaching a Gospel of mercy, forgiveness, and love; that’s a rare thing in our world.  But it’s the work of the Spirit.  It’s the life of Jesus Christ that we’ve just heard about and walked through ourselves these past six months.  And it is a call from God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier, to love, to love, and to never stop loving.