The Kingdom of God has Drawn Near

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 9
July 7th, 2019

This Sunday’s Readings are:

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Click here to access these readings.

            Last week I spoke a bit about “mission.”  We read a section of Luke’s gospel, as we’ve been doing all year since the start of Advent, and we heard a few stories that Jesus told about going out into the world and doing God’s will.  And, last week, we talked about how doing mission isn’t just about going to the four corners of the world or to the most dangerous parts of a country, but it’s also about seeing the person in front of you, whoever it is, and bringing to them the hope of God.  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks backwards is fit for the Kingdom of God.  Or, in other words, look in front of you.  Minister to the people in your life, whether they’re out on your doorstep or a thousand miles away in Tanzania.  And, whatever you do, be present with the person who you are with.  Be present with the Life of God in the life of others and the world.

            And now, in our gospel reading this week, we see a bit of what Jesus thinks that will look like.  For here he is the sending out of the seventy, who will go into every town and every place that Jesus was thinking of going to as well.  And, in a way, Jesus is teaching these seventy how to say hello and how to say goodbye.  It reminds me of how we teach children to say thank you.  Kids don’t know how to be polite, so we kinda have to prompt them, right?  When someone gives Gwendolyn something, whether it’s a gift on her birthday or her dinner when we go out to eat, often she’s so consumed with the joy of the gift or a plate of yummy food that Helene and I have to say, “Gwendolyn, what do you say?”  And she looks up at the person and says “thank you”, then goes back to the gift.  Jesus is doing some of the same stuff.  When you enter a house, he says, make sure to say, “Peace to this house!”  You seventy might be so ready to do the fine work of the Lord among these folks, you might be all excited and rearing to go, but don’t forget to say hi first. 

            Now, Jesus doesn’t say this just because he wants the seventy to be polite, but because the way a person says hello and goodbye matters.  I don’t want Gwendolyn to say please and thank you because they’re just empty gestures that make social interactions more smooth.  I want my children to say please and thank you because I want them to be gracious and thankful adults when they grow up.  You know, in the U.S., when we meet someone, we often say, “how are you doing?”, but there are those people who, when they say it, they actually mean it.  Not that they’re pushy or nosey and want to get into your business, but that when these people say, “how are you?”, they actually care about your response?  These folks can be tough for introverts who just want to stay below the radar, but even so, when you meet someone who actually cares about how you’ve been, it changes the conversation.  At least for me, it changes my day.  The world is a bit less drab and work-a-day.  It’s full of people who care.  That’s one of the real reasons to be polite.

            Now, when Jesus sends out the seventy, he’s kinda saying that you have to be like this person who really asks, “how are you?”  For, when you go into a town, and they’re all happy to see you and give you food (which is good, ‘cause you’ve got no money), and they sit and listen to you, make sure to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  But when they don’t welcome you, when they kick you out of town with a dirty look, man, then you can look back and wipe off the dust of that town that clings to your feet, you know what you get to say then?  “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Nope!  You don’t get to return those dirty looks, or come up with some pithy remark that’s gonna sting just right. You wipe off the dust and say just the same thing as you said to everyone else: the kingdom of God has come near.

            Because you know what you’re doing out there?  You know what we’re doing out there in the world?  We’re not out in the world to join in the fight.  We’re not out there to get angry or choose sides or help draw battle lines.  We’re out in the world as Christians to preach the hope and the peace and the Salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’re out there to tell people about the goodness of the Lord, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has drawn near to us, that he, not some empire or program or group, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Salvation of the world.  And we need to see the person in front of us and speak that love and that hope into the fabric of their lives.  And sometimes that means just saying “how are you” like we mean it, though at other times it means that we should love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, help the sick, the poor, the lonely, the destitute, anyone who is right in front of us and who needs our love and hope and joy.  But in the end, all that is quite a bit like saying “how are you” like you mean it.

            Now, living the Good News of Jesus Christ can certainly get us into trouble.  There are people out there who think that just in being Christian that we’ve chosen a side, or just because we serve at our local food bank and keep our doors open so that anyone can come inside for a warm meal or just some coffee, that we’re in the thick of the battle.  And hopefully we’re not.  We’re followers of Jesus Christ, and through our study of his life and his teachings and the further teachings of the Church throughout the ages, we’ve come to understand that our duty as Christians is to do things like volunteer at our food bank.  And this study and experience and prayer has led some of us to different groups or parties.  And, with an election coming up, it’s important to remember that our Christian vocation has led some of us to be Republicans and some of us to be Democrats (and some of us to try to weasel out some space in the middle), but, if we are true to our faith in Jesus Christ, we are doing so because we are founded on God, not on a single party or side.  Our Christian vocation, our life in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, is what should dictate our actions, always and everywhere.

            The work of the seventy was to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God.  And when they did, what happened?  They found that they had a power that they had never imagined.  And what happens when we, we Christians living in the 21st century, go out and do the same?  What happens when we go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed?  What happens if, instead of getting lost in some vague and vain debate, we simply love the life of Jesus Christ in others and try our best to nurture it within them?  Well, to be quite honest, we’ll probably get hurt.  We all learned back in elementary school that doing good doesn’t always turn out good for us in the end.  But at the end of the day, it’s not about us.  Doing the right thing, loving our enemies, and listening to and caring for the person in front of us, none of that is really about us.  But they’re the right things to do.  Because it isn’t through bickering, hatred, or divisions that the kingdom of God will draw near, but through love, and respect, and an open, praying heart.  For it is through Jesus Christ alone, and no other, Jesus Christ who went to the cross so that we humans could be reconciled to God, it is through such love that we humans, and our world, may be saved.        

 

Keep Your Eyes Forward

Pentecost 3
June 30, 2019

Today’s readings are:

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Click here to access these readings.

        When I was a kid, I played a lot of baseball.  It’s something that you just did if you grew up in the shadow of New York City like I did.  Yankee Stadium, where the legends of baseball used to play, was just a short trip into the City.  And the Mets were just across town.  The Red Socks were up in Boston and the Phillies and the Oriels were just a little further.  Down in the South and up here in the Northwest it’s all about football, but in New Jersey, it was baseball.

        Now, I played baseball from T-ball up until middle school, either on a team or with the neighborhood kids.  But at whatever level, whether I was trying to smack a home-run or catch a pop fly, there was always one bit of advice I always got: keep your eye on the ball.  Maybe other kids got this quicker than I did, but, for me, when I played, I was always wondering about what was going on around me.  I was looking at the people on base, or I was worried about whether I’d hit the ball or strike out.  But my dad and my coaches always told me: keep your eye on the ball.  Whether you’re batting or playing in the field, the first step is to keep your eye on the ball.  Sure, doing so won’t guarantee that you’ll hit the thing or catch it, but it’s that first step.  Look forward, focus, and keep your eye on the ball.

        Now, Jesus tells his disciples something very similar in our gospel reading today.  No, Jesus isn’t planning to make a baseball team out of the disciples so he can take on the Samaritans in an ancient World Series.  Jesus is trying to teach his disciples how to follow him, how they should hear his call to them, and how they should join him.  Luke records a few things Jesus said to the disciples and, perhaps, to some people who were called and who chose not to follow him.  And one of these sayings is a lot like “keep your eye on the ball.”  It’s this: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

        Now, this is one of those “gulp” passages.  This is one of those passages (and there are quite a few in the Bible) when we come face to face with what it means to love God, and what God means when he says that he loves us.  Often, I think, we take this passage to mean: don’t doubt.  Don’t you ever doubt, even for a second.  In God, our life is changed, from the inside out and from the outside in.  In God our life takes on new meaning and new hope as we grow to be sons and daughters in the image of Jesus Christ.  We become who we were truly meant to be.  But if we look back, if we look back to our old lives and our old sins and, even for a moment, relapse, then that’s it, we’re through, we’re not fit for the Kingdom of God.

        No, no, I don’t think that’s what this means.  Even though we are alive in Jesus Christ, we still sin.  We’re not perfect, even if we were baptized, even if we take the Eucharist each and every day.  That’s why, in our Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, one of the promises is that “Whenever we sin” (not if we sin but whenever we sin) whenever we sin, we will return to Christ.”  Being a Christian doesn’t mean that, from now on, we’ll lead a perfect and blameless life; being a Christian means that we will orient our entire lives to God.  We could be a long way off from a perfect life, but that orientation, that turning, again and again, towards God – that’s what’s important. 

        No, what I mean when I say that this passage – that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God – when I say that this is a “gulp” moment, I mean that in it we come to understand the depth of what it means for God to love us, and what it means for us to promise to love God.  Now, I don’t know much about farming, but I know this much: when you’re working a plow, when you’ve got that plow deep in the soil, look in front of you.  Or, for those of us without experience in farming, think of when you learned to drive a car.  When you’re driving, look at the road in front of you.  Check a mirror here or there, make sure you’re not speeding, but, on the whole, look forward.  When a kid trips, what does the parent always say?  “Look where you’re going.”  So, in other words, when you’re following Jesus, look at what’s in front of you. 

        Now, this can mean two things.  First of all, when you follow anyone, what should you be looking at?  The person you’re following.  Look to Jesus Christ and to God his Father. Look to the life and the love of the world around you; look to the light and the fullness and the grace that you have been given.  At times of joy, remember that all goodness comes from God, not from we ourselves but God living in us.  At times of sorrow, look to those moments of help and community that is the Spirit breathed into the ones around us.  At times of anger, look to God to how to handle that anger and discern, with God, if it is a righteous anger and needs to be spoken, or if you just need to go blow off some steam.  At times of difficult decision, look to God and his Church for guidance and wisdom.  In your work, praise God; in your play, praise God; in all things: praise God.

        And the other thing is this: as we follow Jesus, as we continue the work of Jesus in the world, look at those who are right in front of us.  Often, churches can get bogged down with a sort of “do do do” attitude towards ministry.  When someone says “ministry”, it can often seem that all we mean are those large and official ministries like soup kitchens and missions to other countries and huge building projects.  And these are all great and important ministries that are the responsibility of the Church, but there are others as well.  We all have a call to ministry to those individual folks in our lives, from the members of our families to the clerk at the supermarket.  And that ministry might not be rescuing them from despair (though it certainly might be), but, oftentimes, giving them the good, honest hope of Life in their lives.  We don’t have to be saccharine about it, or be happy and exuberant and energetic all the time.  That would tire out even the most type A extrovert there is.  But we should live our lives, in whatever way God has given us to live, we should live our lives as people who have been given a great hope and a great life. 

Because what we have before us, what is in front of us, every moment and every day, is a flame of Life unquenchable and eternal.  Down at the core of our souls, beyond all hurt and pain, beyond even all our joy, is the beating heart of Christ, which is goodness pure and simple like a drink of cool water on a hot day.  The reality of all things is a turning to God in love.  So when you put your hand to your plow, be that in working at the food bank or serving on diocesan committees or just simply going about your common business on a cool summer’s day: look in front of you, keep your eye on Christ, and give to the world that Life that you yourself have been given.  For in such life is eternity.

To You All Hearts Are Open

Pentecost 2
June 23rd, 2019

Today’s Readings are:

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Click here to access these readings

        The other day, Gwendolyn and I watched a scene from a 90s children’s cartoon called the Prince of Egypt.  The movie follows the story of Moses, so it’s sort of a children’s version of the Ten Commandments.  I’ve never seen the whole thing, myself, but a friend once showed me the scene where Moses encounters the Burning Bush.  It’s a really beautiful scene, and I wanted to show it to Gwendolyn.

        Now, you all know the story of the Burning Bush: God reveals himself to Moses in the form of a bush that is on fire but not being consumed.  Then God issues a call to Moses to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  It’s a powerful scene in the Bible, and this cartoon rendition is a pretty powerful one as well.  Now, in the scene, Moses is standing all amazed at this strange sight before him.  He hears a voice, and he asks, “Who are you?”  And God gives him his name, which is one of the center-points of God’s revelation to us: I am that I am.  God is pure being, pure love, pure life; that is who he is.  And this name reveals that God is not just any other god, like Zeus or Thor or someone, but the God at the center of all existence.  That’s quite a name.

But in the scene, God also asks Moses who he is.  Or, rather, he tells Moses who he is, but Moses doesn’t believe him.  First, he calls out to Moses using his name: Moses!  Moses!  But Moses barely answers.  Then God says that he will send Moses to Pharaoh and set the Israelites free from their slavery in Egypt.  Moses comes up with all these excuses of why he shouldn’t be the one, but God just says, no, it is you who are to go.  In short, God says: Moses, this is who you are; Moses responds by saying, that can’t be. 

Now, this film isn’t the Bible, but I think it does a great job of picking up a really important theme in our Scriptures: who are you?  Time and time again in the Bible, God asks a person, “Who are you?” or, perhaps more appropriately, “Is this who you really are?”  It happens often when God calls someone to a specific task.  When the Jeremiah is called to be a prophet, he says, “You can’t mean me; I’m just a boy!”  Jonah does it better: when he’s called, he doesn’t just say “no” but turns tail and runs the other way.  But it’s not just when people are called to some great task that God asks them, “Who are you?”  God asks this to King David when he commits first murder, then adultery: “Is this who you really are?”  And Jesus asks it to St. Paul when he first appears to him: “Why are you persecuting my people?  Is that who you really are?  Or are you someone more?”  And Jesus asks it all throughout the Gospels as well: to the woman at the well; to a bunch of fisherman who then become his disciples; to St. Peter in that beautiful story at the end of John’s Gospel, though here Jesus doesn’t have to ask the question directly.  Instead, he asks to Peter (three times to balance his three denials of Jesus): Peter, do you love me?  And when Peter responds “yes”, each time Jesus tells him: “Feed my sheep.”  In other words, he’s saying: if you love me, Peter, if you are one of my disciples, then here is who you are: feed my sheep.

Now, we’re asked “Who are you?” pretty much all through the day.  When we go to the doctor’s office, especially if we’re a new patient, we have to fill out these long forms that ask us our name, our address, our closest-kin, our medical history, and on and on.  When we sign into our email, we’re asked for our user name and password.  Some larger churches have name-tags so that everyone knows that this is Joe and this is Frank.  And I don’t know about you, but I get tired of all this.  And all I want is to go to a place like in that old show “Cheers”, where everyone knows your name, where people know who you are deep down to your core.  That’s one of the beauties of a family: they know us, through and through; or one of the deep graces of your home church: when you walk in the door, or when you see one another out in town, you know them, you know their pains and their joys.  You know what they’re going through and what they’ve gone through.  You know them.

And how much moreso with Jesus.  There’s a great prayer at the beginning of our Sunday liturgy; it begins: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”  Now, I’m not required to say this prayer each week.  It’s one of those optional prayers, but even so, I always make sure to begin the liturgy with this prayer.  And I do so because I think it’s important to remember just how close God is to us, just how deeply and thoroughly God knows us, and that he still loves us and is dedicated to that love.  Because the presence of God, the mere presence of him, be it in the Bible or the history of the Church or in our own lives, God’s presence strips away all that we think we are, all that we write on those forms in doctor’s offices, all the user names and passwords, all the titles we put before our names or the letters after them, and gets down to the nitty gritty of each of us.  And who are we before God?  When God has seen through all of our smoke-screens, all of our mind-games, what does he see?  Nothing more, and nothing less, than his own beloved children.

That’s a lot.  I could stop right there, and we could all sit for a while to drink that in, because that’s huge.  The Creator of Heaven and of Earth, of all that we see and know, and all the angels in the heavens, the ruler and life of all that is: loves us.  Thinking about this, you can maybe understand why some people become monks and nuns, so that they can sit and ponder and work within this great reality all the days of their lives.  But what can we do with this awesomeness, this great grace that the Lord God Almighty loves such creatures as us, and loves us so much that he would take the form of a human and die on a cross?

Well, one of the things we can do is to ponder this reality, to pray within this reality of love and goodness.  But Jesus gives us something more as well.  At the end of our gospel reading this morning, look at what happens: the man, once enslaved by a legion of demons, is now whole and healed, and he wants to go with Jesus.  But Jesus sends him back, and what does he say?  “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  Tell people about God.  Tell people about your life with God, and your life lived in God’s love.  Tell people about where you meet that love: in your garden, with your family, volunteering at the food bank, here at church.  Proclaim God’s love in the world.  You don’t have to stand on the street corners and yell at people that God loves them (actually, I’m pretty sure Jesus told us to be cautious of doing this), but we are called to not just keep God’s love to ourselves but to share it, to open our arms wide and share our story of our walk with God.

We are Spirit-spreaders, we Christians.  So cast those nets wide, sing your songs loud and with a full voice, and love your God with all that you are.  For God loves you for all that you are, and more.

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.