Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pentecost 3, 2014: Equal dignity

Lectionary: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Although this sermon was preached extemporaneously, a member of the parish has transcribed it. The text is below.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.” How’s that for a lectionary today? Hafiz (a 14th century) mystic and poet said it like this. I thought it was beautiful: “God said, ‘I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul completes me.”

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? A very interesting week… one that calls us to be prayerful, loving, and mindful of the truth that we profess. I’d like you to turn with me in your prayer books to page 305 so that we can remember what it is that we profess together. This is our Baptismal Covenant. Our baptism is full initiation into the family of God, the Church. The Covenant begins on page 304. It’s a restatement of the Nicene Creed basically. (I’m going to read my part, you can read your part just for a little bit, okay?)

Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.
Oh, with God’s help. Right! Okay, on we go.
Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

That’s where we stand, and that’s where we will stay.

In our Collect today, the prayer that is meant to bring us into the same state of mind as we worship together and share the nourishment of word and sacrament, we ask God to join us together in unity of spirit - this being our time in the big picture of God - we have come from the prophets and martyrs and sages who went before us, and we stand here now and we hand the Church to the future from this point. So we ask that we are made to stand together in unity of spirit. Not unity of doctrine, not unity of thought - unity of spirit. We’re called to be in right relationship with God.

That’s what this story in Genesis is all about. You know the story of Abraham and Sarah, they’re very old, they have no heir, which in that culture was a pretty big deal. Not only did it mean you weren’t blessed by God, it meant that you wouldn’t continue on, you would have no legacy. All property was passed on to the heir, and Abraham had no heir. You remember the story of Hagar, we just read it last week. Hagar the slave woman had a son, because Sarah said we gotta have an heir, and then God said, “Wait, I have this thing in mind.” So there were two (heirs).

This is the story of Abraham and his relationship with God. It isn’t a story about blind obedience. My Old Testament teacher in seminary said that in this story, God is telling us, ‘Do not blindly obey. Be in relationship with me, talk to me.’ The same is true for us. If we are called to go somewhere we aren’t comfortable going, we don’t know how to go, God says, ‘Just come to me. I’ll be there with you.’ Jesus said, “I’ll be with you always. Come to me.” So God tells Abraham, ‘Go up to the mountain (the place where God is), take your son, whom I’ve just given you, and offer him as a sacrifice to me.’ And Abraham does that. But God wasn’t asking Abraham to obey, but to be in relationship, to listen and to see what God has in mind. And so at the moment that Abraham is ready to obey, he notices the real sacrifice over there.

Here’s how we know that his relationship with God was righteous. When God said, “Abraham, Abraham!” what did Abraham say? “Here I am. Here I am.” God said go do this terrible thing. Abraham said. ‘Well okay’ and he goes and he gets ready because he trusts this God he loves. And then he’s delivered that terrible thing, and he learns a lesson, a very valuable lesson: no blind obedience here. Stay in relationship with me. Stay close to me, and I will show you the way to go. Because remember, this is the guy who later had an argument with God saying, “You can’t wipe out this town. What if there are righteous people here? What if there are 50, what if there are 20, what if there are 10.” That’s the relationship that God is seeking from us. Because in his conversation with Abraham, what did God do? He changed his mind, said, ‘Okay, I won’t wipe out this town.’ Right relationship is our call.

Paul talks about sin. We’ve heard a lot of talk about sin this week. So let’s see what Paul says about it. Paul is not talking about sinS. It’s not an avoidance of things, it’s a state of being within that manifests in our lives, and we can look out at the fruits of our lives and see what’s going on on the inside, where God lives in us. So, Paul says, “Sin has no dominion over you.” ‘You are not under the law but under grace.’

A person in right relationship with God is living under the law because God gave us the law as guidance. But we are not focusing on the law, we are focusing on God. Grace. And sometimes the law isn’t quite there. And Paul says, You are now free to operate in grace. Free from sin.

The metaphor of slavery and freedom is not perfect for us because we are a society without slaves. We have developed our theology to the point where s that we know that that’s not right. Paul was not saying that was okay. He was saying, ‘Here’s your reality. I’m talking to you in a way you will hear.’ He says that. He says, “I speak to you in human terms because of your natural limitations.” (in other words) ‘I’m speaking because this is where we are, you’ll hear what I’m saying.’

When we operate out of sin, sin being that state that separates us from God, a choice we make - a choice to be angry, a choice to be hateful, a choice to be hurtful or to harm - those things separate us from the love of God and one another. And when we choose that, it looks like things like murder, and assault, and insults. When we operate out of there, we’re operating out of self, and not out of God. When somebody makes us mad, when somebody hurts us, we have a natural inclination to fight back, but what did Jesus tell us to do? Right, I heard someone say it. “Turn the other cheek.” It’s not easy, but it’s what we’re called to do.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had it right. In the ‘60s when he trained his volunteers in the movement of civil rights, he trained them to be non-violent. No one was allowed to be a part of the movement until they had been trained how to deal with being sprayed with a fire hose by the police, or how to deal with the taunts tossed at them by “good, Christian folk,” or how to respond when someone hit them or beat them. And he called upon them to respond non-violently.

This movement of social transformation is what Jesus did in his own time. Social revolution is about the relationships between people and society. Political revolution is simply a replacement of one kind of power with another kind of power, but the relationships between the people and society aren’t very much affected. So he wasn’t talking about a political revolution, he didn’t live that. If he had wanted to, he could have. I mean, “fully human, fully divine,” Jesus could have said, “’’m now the emperor of the world. Here’s how we’re going to go.’ But he didn’t. What did he do? He climbed up on the cross and let them have their way. ‘Kill me. I trust in God. I know that death is not the end of our story. Resurrection is.’

But like Abraham in our Old Testament story, Jesus held nothing back. Jesus gave everything up, including his life for this. Abraham would have given his son. We are all called to figure out: what is that thing we hold a little more dearly than we hold our call to be people of reconciliation? Are we willing to give that up, are we willing to sacrifice that at the mountain? Are we willing to hang on the cross and let it go for the spiritual revolution that God continues to work? The one started at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
A new age was born. Reconciliation of the whole world to God began, and we were made part of that, partners in that, by Jesus. Disciples, persons set apart, sanctified, and sent out to continue the work of this social revolution, this spiritual revolution.

In his time, Jesus turned the world upside down. Well, honestly, he turned it right-side up, didn’t he? Saying things like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Or “Woe to you who are rich...” ‘How hard it will be to inherit the kingdom.’ In our Gospel, he says, Welcome everyone. Welcome everyone. If you welcome someone, you welcome me. And “if you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me.”

This is a book called “Jesus Today: A spirituality of radical freedom” by Albert Nolan. I recommend it to you. My spiritual director gave it to me a couple of years ago, and it’s really wonderful. In it, Nolan talks about equal dignity. He’s the one who talked about spiritual and social revolution versus political revolution and power. Here’s what he says: “Jesus was uncompromising in his belief that all human beings were equal in dignity and worth. He treated the blind, the lame, and the crippled, the outcast, and beggars with as much respect as that given to those of high rank and stature. He refused to consider women and children as unimportant and inferior. This turned a carefully ordered society upside down...” (52)

Nolan says, “The spirituality of Jesus’ time was based on the law, the Torah.” This is what Paul is talking about. “Jesus turned that on its head, too,” Millan says, “not by rejecting the law, but by revitalizing it. The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, he says in Mark. In other words, God’s laws are intended to be of service to us as human beings. We do not exist in order to serve or worship the law. That would be idolatry. Jesus felt perfectly free [Nolan says] therefore, to break the law whenever observing it would do harm to people. .. What mattered to Jesus was people and their needs. Everything else was relative to that.” (53-54) This is the social revolution Jesus began, and it continues today.

The other thing Jesus did keeping in mind Isaiah, and most of the Old Testament, but particularly Isaiah, who talked about raising up the valleys and bringing down the mountains until all was made equal. This is the equal dignity that Millan is referring to. You remember Jesus called God ‘Abba’ (Daddy), ‘Amma’ (Mama). Jesus talked about God in terms of family and talked about us in terms of family - we being brothers and sisters in Christ. And this is in the midst of a culture where everything was about your bloodline. Jesus said, ‘Wait, there’s a bigger picture. That’s the law, this is grace.’

The reign of God is the reign of a family, loving one another as we’re called to love, as Jesus showed us how to love. Isaiah wasn’t talking about actual valleys and mountains, he was talking about people - it’s a metaphor. Any single one who is down, raise them up. Any single one who is up and thinks they have it all, bring them here where they remember God has it all. God has us all. So we all stand together, one family, one spirit, in unity in the love of God, serving the world that way.

We all know that being a family doesn’t mean that we all agree. How many of you have a family that agrees on everything? Never has a fight at the dinner table… or at the ball game. Right?

We’re not called to agree. We’re not called to be uniform in our thinking. We are called to be one people, one loving family. We all gather at the dinner table. This is our dinner table. Every week, we come together and we’re nourished by the word of God, and the sacrament of God. We take into our very bodies, these temples of God’s Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ. We eat it, we drink it. It is for real for us. We act like family. We don’t have to agree; we just have to love and stay together. We do things families do, like have a picnic, and play, sing songs, and worship.

We ignore societal barriers to relationships that God calls us to have. For instance, do you remember in the ‘60s when it was illegal to be married interracially? Those barriers were brought down.

It’s not unusual, although it still creates a ripple in society, especially online, when somebody like Cheerios puts up a family of an interracial couple and mixed race children talking about love. These are not easy boundaries to let go, but we are called to, because we’re called to love as Christ loved us.

We’re called to welcome all who come. Jesus talks about welcoming a prophet and getting a prophet’s reward. A prophet who is in right relationship with God is given a word for the people to share, a message to give. When you’re in right relationship with God and that prophet speaks, the reward you get is the word. A right word. Heed the prophet. This is our tradition. But understand, that prophet has to be in right relationship with God or what is it you’re getting? The prophet’s own ideas, not God’s.

Jesus says that if you welcome a righteous person, you get the rewards of a righteous person. What is the reward of a righteous person? Right relationship with God.

These are little ones Jesus is talking about. We are all children of God.

So, now I want to talk (again) about sin, because we’ve been hearing an awful lot about sin this week, if you’ve been listening. Paul talks about this dominion of sin, whether sin has authority over you or not, and (now) I want usto discuss sin in the context of what we’ve just talked about, being in right relationship with God, and being willing to sacrifice the one thing that we might hold dearer to us than the will of God.

Sin is anything that puts a barrier between us and God, and between us and one another. Sin blocks the grace, the path of love in our lives. We know we have sinned when we see the fruit of the sin.

I’ll give you an example. Remember, in my former life, I worked with a lot of victims of violence. And I want you to hear the sin and the gift of the righteous person.

Remember I wrote, it wasn’t too long ago, about Lizzie, the little child in one of my shelters, that was having such a hard time, and was hurting herself and anyone who came near her. She would bite and kick and scream at her mother. She was so broken by the abuse that she had suffered. And she was three, so she didn’t have a way to say what happened. She didn’t even know what happened. All she knew was that she was hurting on the inside, and so all she could do was show us on the outside what that looked like by trying to hurt us, by trying to hurt herself. That’s how she could communicate this brokenness she felt on the inside.

That is sin. She did nothing wrong, but there was a barrier between her and love, the path of love that someone else injected into her life.

All the therapists, all the experts that I called in to help this child were helpless to stop this rage. The mother was helpless. She’d fall into a heap on the floor and cry, she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Until that one day, I came in, and a kid slammed the door behind me because kids slam doors, you know, he was trying to help, and he slammed the door, and that was one of Lizzie’s triggers. That sound triggered her rage, her fear, and she fell apart again, and the mother fell into a heap on the floor because she didn’t know what to do.

Lizzie was biting and screaming and hurting. And I took Lizzie into my arms and I sat on the floor. I was so helpless. And all I said was, “God show me.” And I held her. All the advice of the experts left my head. And all I could do was hold her and love her. It didn’t matter what I said - she couldn’t hear me, so I simply felt the love through my body into hers. And I held her, and I rocked her. And she bit me. And she scratched me, and she punched me, and I held her some more.

Finally, she began to calm. And I began to whisper to her in her ear, “I love you. It’s gonna be okay.” And she looked up at me and said, “Am I a good girl?” And I said, “Yes, Lizzie, you’re a good girl.” And she broke open, and she let love back in.

Whoever had abused her had been the barrier to her and love. She couldn’t trust, she couldn’t understand, and God gave me in that moment a way to help her. Simply to feel the love, and let her know it was there, what it felt like.
Sin isn’t what we do. It’s what happens when love is broken.

We can look in our lives and see where am I doing that? What am I holding on to that keeps a barrier between me and God, or between me and everyone else. And like Abraham, we can sacrifice that. Like Christ, we can climb up on the cross and let that die, and move into resurrection life.

It isn’t about rules. It’s about love - and love grows and grows and grows. That is the whole point of this journey, from the day of resurrection and ascension until this day, and beyond us to the days to come. It is for love to continue to grow, for us pushing our tent posts out, expanding the kingdom of God so that everyone who is hurting like Lizzie was hurting can be in our presence and feel what love feels like.

One other way Jesus taught us to react when we’re assaulted or hurt – it’s our natural inclination to want revenge, to protect ourselves, to want to hurt the other person. But you remember what Jesus said? Let’s say it again: “Turn the other cheek.” We don’t engage in conflict, or in argument.

We stand where we stand: in the truth, in the love of God. We own that our very bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that this place created by God with all its problems and imperfections is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we pray as we did in our Collect that we be made to know a unity of spirit here, so that the love of God can live on the earth in a very real way.

And we come to be strengthened every week at this table because this is not easy work. This has been a particularly rough week. And we all need this nourishment – the nourishment of the word.

How do you like this lectionary for today? We don’t get to choose it. That’s the best part of being an Episcopalian. Well, one of them. We just go where the lectionary leads us, right? Do you think God had something in mind for us… and for the world?

It isn’t about how much money we have, how much power we have, how much good stuff we have; it’s about how much love are we willing to be in our world in the face of every single thing we meet? How much love are we willing to be in our world?

Hafiz said (in his poem which speaks in the voice of God), “I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul, completes me.” If each soul is beloved of God, as we believe each soul is, deserving of respect and dignity, then as a family, as a temple of God here, it is our baptismal vow to protect the dignity of every single human being, and to seek justice for them, so that anyone who is down in that valley is raised up by us, and anyone who is up high is brought low by us so that we all stand, one family, one spirit in Christ, in the love of God. As one family.

That is the reign of God. That is our call, the way we participate right now in the reign of God. The beauty of it is: nothing is impossible with God. Little Lizzie who was three is now in her twenties, and I’m still in touch with them, and she is fabulous. She’s healed.

There is no wound out there God can’t heal. And God will use us. And, honestly y’all, we don’t have to know what we’re doing. All we have to do is stay in relationship with God: pray, worship individually and together, be nourished in word and sacrament.

I’m grateful for all of you. I’m grateful for the love that I see working in and through you every day in this parish. God bless you and keep you forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday, 2014: Because God is love

Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Canticle 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Since it’s Trinity Sunday, I thought we’d go over a few heresies so we that can all be sure we are understanding God rightly. Why don’t we go alphabetically? We’ll start with Adoptionism which denied the eternal pre-existence of Christ. Then we can talk about Apollonarianism which denied the humanity of Christ, then compare that to Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ, and we’ll just make our way to Zoroastrianism which denied the co-existence of the persons of God.
It’ll be fun – and it’ll only take about 3 years!!!

The problem is, this leads us nowhere but into our own thoughts. And our thoughts just aren’t capable of understanding the mystery of God. Besides, as my favorite theoretical physicist, Fred Alan Wolfe (aka Dr. Quantum) says: “The trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.

As Episcopalians, we choose to accept and live into the truth that God is mystery and, in the immortal words of John Lennon, we “let it be.” If you re-read today’s Collect you’ll see we that what pray for is steadfastness of faith and worship, not knowledge.

In the end, all we can know about God we know from Jesus who is the full revelation of God. What Jesus shows us is the true nature of God, which as our BCP says (849), is Love.

God is mystery. God is love.

Our Scripture from Genesis is the beginning of the story – the love story - of God and creation. It’s always exciting to me when we get to the part where God made us and gave us the gift of sharing with God in the love that took form as creation. How amazing is it to be invited to love and care for creation with God, as God’s hands, hearts, feet, and eyes in the world? That’s what being given dominion means. It’s about love, not power.

Because God is love.

In our Canticle we joined our voices with those of our ancestors in the faith who celebrated the magnificent, radiant, splendor of God. Being in the presence of God draws from us this song of praise. What a gift to be able to sing it together – as a family of faith. And we are a family of faith.

Paul affirms this in his epistle. Back then, one only greeted a member of one’s family with a kiss. Paul instructed that young, forming church in Corinth to greet one another with a “holy kiss.” This new church, these people who had once been divided by labels like Jew and Gentile, free and slave, male and female, are all family now - one family in Christ. And we all know how family is. It isn’t perfect, and we don’t always get along, but we are connected by our very DNA, our deepest reality, and so we remain steadfast in loving one another.

Because God, who is love, loved us first.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew contains what is called “The Great Commission.” Now, we’re post-Easter in our liturgical calendar, but this isn’t the order in the gospel. In this portion of the gospel of Matthew, the disciples are gathering together for the first time after the crucifixion and they have obeyed Jesus’ command to them to go to Galillee where they will see him. Their expectations for salvation (as they understood it) have been obliterated. Their hope is gone and they’re afraid for their lives.

Jesus appears to them and assures them with the most amazing words: He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is about power. The disciples need to be in the presence of that power right now. They need to feel empowered in their faith. They need to know they are safe. But this power, the power of God, is the power of love. It’s the power of reconciling, uniting, healing love.

Let’s think about this for a moment, from the disciples’ point of view. Things have gotten pretty bizarre. The Messiah, who shows by great signs and wonders his presence on earth, has been killed. Now he standing there with them, and he isn’t dead anymore. Nothing makes sense. They can’t think their way through this.

Then, just as God shared dominion with humankind in the Genesis story, Jesus shares divine authority with them in this gospel, commissioning them to: “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

To do something “in the name of” someone, in this culture, meant to do it ‘in the possession of…’ them, ‘in the protection of…’ them. So Jesus says, Go on out there and do as I’ve commanded. Tell everyone the Good News you know. It’s OK. You’re mine. I’m with you. You’re safe. I’m protecting you.

Does that mean they come to no harm? No. But it meant what Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.”

Like those first disciples, we too are bearers of this commission. So when we go out to make disciples, to teach others to listen and do as Christ commands, we are teaching them to love. We are not sent out to coerce obedience to a bunch of rules or to a particular understanding of God. And it is not our job to separate out from the family anyone for any reason. We are sent out to love as Jesus loved and invite into the family those who think they are unworthy or unclean or unlovable.

Because God is love.

Most of you know that Steve and I went to Texas recently to visit with his brother who had a stroke about five years ago and is incapacitated. Jackie, Steve’s brother was a pilot in Viet Nam. He was a pilot in the Air Force. When he left the Air Force he was a pilot for a commercial airline. And just as he retired, he had this stroke. It left him unable to do anything. He can’t swallow so he can’t eat and he can’t talk.

I want to read to you one little bit from my prayer journal which I wrote after we got home. I should tell you, this happened about five years ago, and about three years ago his wife, my sister-in-law, Tara, said to me, ‘This stroke saved my marriage.’ She said, ‘When he retired and we were together all of the time, we realized how far apart we’d grown.’ This stroke saved my marriage. Think of how impossible that sounds.

Here’s what I wrote when I got back: “It was a beautiful thing watching Tara and (my nephews) care for Jack. I witnessed a love that would have been impossible outside of Jack’s stroke. Given his former powerfulness and authority (military and career) his total helplessness unleashed a love that was so pure and beautiful in their living it out.”

How impossible was that, but true? It was their witness to us.

In her book, “Called to Question” Roman Catholic nun, Sr. Joan Chittister says, “We are steeped in God, but it takes so long to realize that the God we make in our own image is too small a God on which to waste our lives. God is the energy of the universe, the light in every soul, the eternal kaleidoscope of possibility that surrounds us in nature. The face of God is imprinted on the face of every one we see.” (232)

Because God, who is love, calls us to go out there and love one another as God loves us. Not so that we can grow our church, but so that we can grow the kingdom of God on earth. And everyone God leads into our lives, every circumstance we confront in our lives, brings us a glimpse of God, and is a gift – even the frustrating people, the cruel, and destructive ones. Even those circumstances like a stroke that incapacitates us. Everything and everyone is a glimpse of God and a gift for our journey.

While understanding the mystery of God who is Trinity in Unity, may be impossible for us, and the love God calls us to love into the world what may seem to us impossible love, there is one thing of which we can be certain: God is love. And God is with us always, to the end of the age. As our Mother Mary says, “all things are possible with God.” Amen.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost 2014: Let it go, let it flow

Lectionary: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 7:37-39
Preacher:The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Happy birthday to the church!

It’s been a tradition on Pentecost Sunday to read the Gospel on Pentecost in a variety of languages all at the same time. That’s been my tradition here at Redeemer and also at churches where I’ve served previously.

As you noticed, we didn’t do that this year. That’s because I was led in prayer to go a different way. I didn’t know when it came to me in prayer, and I didn’t question the leading of the Spirit. I’ve been at this long enough to trust – even in the face of change.

Instead I was called to meditation on the phrase “tongues of fire.” As you know, in Biblical language and in Greek means: spoken words, language. Fire signifies the presence of God, the power of God.

This morning I awoke with a song singing in me. This happens a lot. Sometimes it’s a hymn. Sometimes just a song. I always notice it because it’s one of the ways the Spirit of God speaks in me – by singing.

So, I was awakened early this morning and I got up early (ME! I got up early!) and totally re-write my sermon according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I’ll tell you about the song in a bit. First, let’s look at the setting of our Gospel story today from John.

Jesus has stated earlier in this gospel that he isn’t going to this Festival of Booths - which was shocking by itself because everyone was supposed to go. So he sends the apostles without him.

Now the Jewish Festival of Booths: was a ceremonial prayer for rain for the crops. It was also a prayer of thanksgiving anticipating the rain God was going to bring for the crops. It was also a ceremony of commemorating the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses – the law, the Torah.

This festival had two dramatic features: water and light. In the ceremony of water known as the GREAT POURING the pries poured water into a funnel that carried the water through the altar into the ground (earth). The festival began with this ceremony and it was repeated every morning of the seven days of the festival. On the 7th and final day of the festival, the people processed around the altar seven times before the water was poured.

The ceremony of light was held on the first evening of the festival. Four great candles were placed in the center of the Court of Women (Note: Court of Women was outside temple precincts because women were not allowed inside the temple to worship because they were unclean). When it was dark all the candles were lit and a GREAT LIGHT shone from the middle of the place where those excluded from temple worship were praying. This ceremony symbolized that a relationship with God was like a “light that illumined all of Jerusalem and penetrated all the darkness of the soul.” (Barclay)

So , it’s on the last day of this festival, the great day as the evangelist says, that Jesus decides to come to the festival after all. He says to the crowd that has gathered: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

Episcopal bishop and theologian Doug Hahn believes that Jesus’ words, proclaimed in that setting, would have been heard by the people like this: "You have prayed for the rain that waters the earth. Good News! God has sent the water that will satisfy your souls!"

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me…”

Jesus says, “Let anyone…” – Put up NO barriers, let anyone who desires it come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink and satisfy theirsfies the soul.

Because… Jesus further says: “Out of the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water.” In Greek the word “flow” has depths of meaning. It does mean flow like water, but also in part, it has to do with the state of mind and will of the speaker.

“Living,” in the Greek, in it’s highest sense means to possess spiritual and eternal life. So hear what that says: “Out of the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Our NRSV translation says, “Out of the believer’s heart” but the word here in Greek really is: HOLLOW OF THE BELLY --- the interior of the person. The use of that word is borrowed from the use of the Hebrew word for “womb,” that place in the body where new life is created and nourished.

This is what St. Paul is talking about in his first letter to the Corinthians, which I want to read to you in the KJV which offers a truer translation of the Greek in this case: “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Do you see the difference? The key word change here is: “of” one Spirit... to ….“into” one Spirit. And that’s an important distinction.

We have all been made to drink INTO the interior of the Spirit. This is God’s goal for us. When we drink, we enter into the Spirit’s womb where we are re-created, where new life is created and nourished in us. As the Psalmist says, “You send forth your spirit and they are created, and so you renew the face of the earth.”

That is our Good News. No matter who we are or where we are in the journey of our lives, new life, eternal life in God is ours. All we need to do is draw near and drink.

Like the ancient Jewish festival of Booths, Pentecost offers us the gifts of water and light. Rivers of living water which flow from the Spirit of God who dwells in us so that the thirsty in the world can be satisfied. And light that comes from God’s very real presence in us. This light radiates from us, leading us to open our mouths and share the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ - indiscriminately – with everyone and anyone God leads into our presence. But more than that, this light of God’s very real presence in us leads us to open our lives and live this Good News, removing any barriers we or the world have put in place that keep anyone from coming to Christ and drinking.

Our bishop often says (quoting someone else, I think) that we can only give from what we have. If we are not drinking into the Spirit of God, how will we shine the light that penetrates the darkness and let flow the living waters that will quench their thirst?

Let it go. Let it flow.

That’s the song that I woke up singing. When I came to full consciousness, I realized it was Elsa’s song from the movie “Frozen.” And it’s perfect for this Pentecost Sunday.

I encourage you to look up the YouTube video – or watch the whole movie if you haven’t. I have a copy you can borrow. This isn’t “just a kid movie.” It carries a seriously good message for all of us.

Elsa is a remarkably gifted young girl, a future leader of her people. But she fears her gift and she was orphaned at an early age and left alone with it, so there was no one who could teach her how to understand or use her gift. All she remembered was the early part of the learning her parents had given which was: “Conceal, don’t feel.”

This teaching was meant to help Elsa learn to control her gift so as not to do any harm – not to kill it. But the gift remained in Elsa, and sometimes it would well up and come from her and it was beyond her control – and it did do harm. It harmed her beloved little sister.

When it did that, Elsa decided to run away the world, to leave the world, which boxed her, she believed, into a small, gift-less version of herself. So she left and goes off on her own into the wilderness.

There she finally let’s go of all the barriers around her gift – all the barriers she and the world have placed around her gift - and she let’s her gift flow.

I know of a little someone among us who wisely thinks this part of the movie, where Elsa builds her ice-castle, is the best part of the movie. She’s a very wise little one.

Using her gift leads Elsa to her inner freedom and finally, through the love relentlessly offered by her sister, whom she harmed, Elsa matures with her gift, lives authentically as she was created to be, and her whole community, the world around her, is blessed by it.

What about us?

What if you have a gift of discernment of spirits (as some of you do. I know this. We’ve talked) – but the world says “seeing” spirits is “crazy” so they give you a pill to make it stop and make you believe you’re broken instead of gifted.

What if you’re a person with a gift of faith and you truly believe that what the world says is impossible is possible with God? What if you’re someone with a gift of tongues and every time you enter into relationship with someone, they hear the Good News from you – despite the fact that the world says it isn’t for them. They aren’t worthy.

What if you have a gift of healing, but the world says those sorts of things only happened in Biblical times, so you’re a fake or you’re evil. You quickly learn to be silent about your gift and maybe ignore it.

But like Elsa, though, the gift doesn’t go away. God put it there. The presence of God is within you and you know it, even though the world discourages you or leads you astray from it.

Thankfully, the plan of God isn’t thwarted by the world’s ignorance or by our fears. Spiritual gifts are real and important. God’s Holy Spirit is living in us, gifting us, and calling us to use our gifts for the sake of the world.

Catholic theologian Richard Rohr says: “Your True Self is who you are in God and who God is in you. You can never really lose your soul; you can only fail to realize it, which is indeed the greatest of losses.”

My role here as your rector is to help you discern your gifts, to help you understand and nourish them, and encourage you toward spiritual maturity, so that you can finally let your gifts flow – like living waters that nourish the world around us. And you can let your light shine to penetrate the darkness of the world around us.

Our purpose as a church is that we’re meant to be a place where everyone’s gifts can be formed and brought to maturity so that the world around us is blessed by them.

That, I think, describes the next part of our journey together, and I have to say, knowing you: watch out world. If the people of Redeemer, Shelby start using the gifts that are present here, all I’ve got to say is: watch out world!

To paraphrase Elsa in her song of freedom: It's time to see what we can do. To test the limits and break through… Let it go, let it flow!

Happy Pentecost!