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!

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