No carping zone: Pentecost 2012

NOTE: Here are my worship notes for Pentecost 2012 - it is also Memorial Day in the US - so who knows who will be in worship?  We're doing some creative visual art for this feast day so if you are in town, come on by at 10:30 am.

I love the way the words of this gospel lesson from St. John end: 

I still have many things to tell you, but you can't handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. (And) he won't draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you so that you will know that everything the Father has is also mine… and now yours, too.

This is a word of assurance – a reminder that God’s love is in charge even when we are uncertain of the details – so we need not worry or fret or be filled with anxiety.   Do you remember how Psalm 37 puts it?

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers
and do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
Put your trust in the Lord and do good…Take delight in the Lord…
And be still before the Lord as you wait patiently nothing comes to those who fret and rage…So please do not fret it only leads to evil…

Now I don’t know about you, but I need these reassures from time to time.  I need reminders that God’s ways are not my ways – that when I rest and trust in the Lord rather than fuss and fret – God’s peace and truth always nourish me from the inside out and I am refreshed.

·    Because, you see sometimes it feels like the valley of the dry, dead bones is inside me – or an intimate part of the politics of our nation – or certainly being realized in so much of the destruction taking place throughout creation.

·    And if you know what I’m talking about then maybe like me you’ve also found yourself sounding like the prophet Ezekiel who, when asked by the Lord, “Can these dry bones live?” whispered, “Only THOU knowest, Lord, only thou… because I haven’t got a clue.”

Pentecost, therefore, is a gift to us – a celebration of reassurance – to remind us that God’s love is in charge of heaven and earth – not our sin or our fears or our fretting – God’s love.  And by trust, God’s Spirit promises to make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of everything else, too.

But here’s a fact:  most of us have monkey mind – that’s what the Buddhists call it – and it is fitting for Christians, too.  Monkey mind – being scattered and easily distracted from God’s love – that we live more in a state of fretting than rest.  Like Ezekiel, time and again we find ourselves grabbed and tossed into a valley filled with dry, dead bones. 

·    And those bones rattle us – they terrify us – they get us fretting and fussing until all we can see is what’s broken – or evil – or wrong.

·    It is not easy to be at rest when you are constantly being grabbed and tossed into a valley surrounded by dry, dead bones, right?

And what I’ve come to discern is that left to our own devices and habits – left to what we know best – when we find ourselves grabbed and tossed into that valley of the dry bones we usually give in to the fear and the fussing and the evil.  We go to our default setting – and for most of us that is NOT trust – but anxiety and shame and fear

But look what Ezekiel does, ok?  He is the model for Pentecost – he is the trusted guide that Jesus told his disciples about – so that when they found themselves in a similar situation – their own valley of dry bones – they were able to practice resting and trusting in the Lord.  What did we read last week on Ascension Sunday:  Jesus advised his beloved to wait and rest together in community until they had received power from on high.

·    Don’t rush into your fears – don’t give into your fretting – wait and trust and in God’s time you will discover the Spirit of the Lord leading you forward

·    “Can these bones live?”  Can this group of broken sinners who betrayed Christ Jesus become the living body of Christ for the world?  Can we rest so deeply in God’s grace that we live beyond our fears and anxieties in our generation?

At first all Ezekiel can say is…?  “Only thou knowest, Lord.”  But then he listens – and trusts – and what does the story tell us?  God urges him to prophesy to the bones – do you know what that means – to prophesy?  Literally it means to offer religious instruction – to explain the way of the Lord – as inspired by the Holy Spirit.   

·    It doesn’t mean carping – it has nothing to do with our opinions or fears or prejudices – it means sharing the blessings of God clearly and persuasively.

·    And that is what God asked Ezekiel to do to the DRY BONES:  prophesy to them – teach them – love them and encourage them – and on one level that is pretty weird, don’t you think?  To speak lovingly and with encouragement to a valley filled with dry bones?

But… if you go deeper you probably agree that encouragement and loving insight is what you want most, right?  You don’t need more preaching – or carping – or complaining – or fretting:  you need a word of encouragement and insight.  And when Ezekiel does that, what happens…

As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.  So God said to me, "Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, 'God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!'" So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. And the breath – the Spirit – the truth of the Lord entered them and they came alive!

That is what St. Paul was advising us about, too:  left to ourselves we ache and groan and don’t know what to do.

But the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Time after time – in my own life and in the life of the faithful all over the world – the truth of Ezekiel and Pentecost is revealed: 

·       God’s word is loving and filled with encouragement – so beware of those who know only complaints.

·      God’s word fills us with hope and brings to life what is dead – so beware of those hawking only the valley of dry bones.

And God’s word invites us into a peace and rest that allows us to share peace and rest with others – not out of fear or guilt or fretting – but out of blessing – out of abundance and grace and joy.  That’s how Peter interprets what has happened to his friends on Pentecost. He tells us that God’s loving encourage-ment has set his own heart free from fear…
So now he is able to encourage others, sharing God’s spirit so that our sons and daughters can prophesy – did you hear that – prophesy? And our young people can see visions for the future and our elderly can dream dreams of love rather than wrestle with nightmares…

You see there is nothing passive about resting and living and trusting in the Lord – Pentecost empowers Peter and the disciples to go out into the world – but here’s the thing: the only thing they have to offer is an encouraging word from the Spirit and the grace of our Lord made flesh in Jesus Christ. 
They don’t have any political agenda, they don’t have a litmus test of social issues that determines who is in and who is out… How did the story of the first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem put it? 

In the city of Jerusalem that day there were people from all over the known world… there were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;  visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; there were immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; even Cretans and Arabs!

And what happened?  All these different people were able to hear the same message of God’s grace and encouragement because God’s Spirit had touched the hearts of the disciples.  They were no longer relying on their old habits and fears; they were committed to speaking from the heart – by the Spirit - so that like Ezekiel they could prophesy to the dry bones.

That, beloved, is our calling – plain and simple – and oh so wonderfully challenging: to prophesy to the dry bones.  To tell the world something of Christ’s grace – God’s healing love – the beauty of the Spirit in a tender and encouraging way.

·    Could that mean that the church – the body of Christ – needs to declare itself a NO CARPING ZONE!       We made a deep commitment to be and Open and Affirming congregation – and I give thanks to God for that – but could it also be that Pentecost invites us to become a no carping zone, too?

·    To prophesy is to offer an encouraging and spirit-filled word – a word that makes the beauty of the Lord real to even our dry bones – and God knows we need such a word in our generation.

And here’s what I’ve vowed to do for the next year as a consequence of the beauty and reassurance of Pentecost:  every time I feel like carping – or fretting – or giving into fear… I’m going to pray the Jesus Prayer.  It is one of the time-tested resources that helps believers overcome their monkey mind and reclaim the peace and rest of Christ’s presence. 

·    Do you know it?  The simplest version goes like this:  Jesus, Savior, Son of God:  have mercy on us.

·     Can you say that with me:  Jesus, Savior, Son of God:  have mercy on us.

This prayer began in the Egyptian desert by the earliest Christian monks of the 5th century and is committed to helping believers stay focused on God’s loving beauty.  It is a GREAT resource for nourishing an inner no-carping-zone and can help us rest and trust in the Lord when we’d rather fret and fuss.  So let me teach you a musical version of this prayer because it is a proven fact that music helps us go deeper – and remember more – than mere words alone.

This is a call and response song – and I’ll ask my band mates and others to help me – you sing and repeat what I line out to you, ok?  Jesus (Jesus) – Savior (Savior) – Son of God (Son of God) – have mercy on us (2x) And then it modulates up and goes like this:  Christ (Christ) – Savior (Savior) Son of God (Son of God) – have mercy on us… And it ends like it began:  Jesus – Savior – Son of God…

In the reassurance of Pentecost, let me invite you to sing the Jesus Prayer with me now as an affirmation of our trust and commitment to the gentle and encouraging grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Enter our hearts, O Holy Spirit, come in blessed mercy and set us free.


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