Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spiritual Redemption from Spiritual Bondage

Scripture for the Day of Pentecost includes Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

We need one more thing happening here today. I’m kidding. Nor am I complaining. Pentecost should be a day of deep movement, both of God’s Spirit and of ours, hence also a day of much activity as bodies and minds join forces to turn the Easter momentum into powerful traction as Good News takes hold. And I especially won’t complain about a well-packed schedule today because my colleague Rabbi Rachel Barenblat was up until 4:00 this morning leading her congregation in prayer and Torah study in celebration of Shavu’ot.

That’s the ancient Jewish festival that gained the nickname Pentecost, meaning 50 days, in the Jewish context 50 days after the Passover. Its Hebrew name, Shavu’ot, means Festival of Weeks (seven weeks times seven days, seven being a number with mystical cachet), and it ranks second among the three annual Jewish festivals (Passover being the first, Sukkot the third). For Christians, Pentecost is among our three major festivals, too. And this year, Pentecost falls on the same day for both religions.

For Jews, Shavu’ot recalls the first harvesting of wheat, evidence of how much can happen in just those 50 days from the seedtime of Passover to the presentation of the first fruits in the temple at Jerusalem.

But where the rubber hits the road for both Christians and Jews is that this day is all about God’s giving: for Jews, God’s giving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Passover had freed the Hebrew people from bondage physically; Pentecost marks God’s giving Israel its signature code of law and its foundational holy scripture, the Torah, redeeming Israel spiritually from idolatry and immorality.

For Christians, Pentecost celebrates God’s giving the divine Spirit to all races and nations. We do get clubby about that, sometimes speaking as if the Holy Ghost descended only upon card-carrying Christian apostles—overlooking the fact that as of this day there were none of those yet. This was the day that whistled them into being, breathed into them the will and the courage and the faith to see the vision, dream the dream, prophesy the truth of God’s global embrace in Jesus Christ, not by might nor by human power, but by God’s Spirit.

This is where Jews and Christians celebrate the same divine action today: spiritual redemption from spiritual bondage. St. Paul gives a name to that redemption: he calls it adoption, a powerful metaphor of intimacy with God, who chooses to draw us into an embrace that releases us from our addictions to greed, to violence, to narcissism, to prejudice, to isolation, to idolatry (worshiping as if God what is decidedly not God). By adoption, God has restored to us our identity as children of God, and our awareness of who and whose we are empowers us to get with the program of love, reconciling love, redeeming love.

Hence the salient details of Pentecost. The rush of a mighty wind, shaking us free from past compulsions and habits that stand in the way of the Spirit. Tongues of fire burning away the crud of our worst mistakes, lighting and showing what our best choices will be. And tongues in the other sense, freedom and conviction to express our gratitude, our faith and hope and love, telling, testifying—across old boundaries of language and ethnic division-- showing where and how we sense God at work in the world. And joy, such exuberance that the self-appointed guardians of good taste dismissed all this Pentecostal revelry as just that, drunkenness.

And one last Pentecostal detail: They were all together in one place. It’s estimated somewhere that they were about 120 in number. We could fit that number handily here, filling some of these empty spots. They had been called in out of the cold rain of their fears and their grieving at the death of their master; we too are called in here to reaffirm who and whose we are, members of one Body, fed from one loaf, bound by one love, harnessed to one mission.

A mighty rush, a shaking free, many tongues, transcendent joy, unity in mission—these are all traits of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, its triennial legislative assembly, to meet this summer in Salt Lake City. Representing our sister Diocese of Massachusetts, our sister Sarah Neumann, a sophomore at Williams, will be seated in the 900-member House of Deputies, whose work is to debate and perfect literally hundreds of pieces of legislation shaping our Church internationally and locally. I’d put money on the likelihood that she will be the youngest Deputy there, and perhaps ever in the long history of the House of Deputies. On this her last Sunday in town before summer break, we will bless her on her way and look forward to her helping us unpack General Convention in the fall.

Our Easter Series presents its third and final speaker today on the subject of Climate Change and Creation Care. Ethan Zuckerman will address the same three questions we’ve put to all our speakers: How are you thinking about these realities? How are you praying about them? What are you doing about them?

Because we know these are the same basic questions we need to ask of ourselves, next Sunday we’ll offer an opportunity for series participants to stay on right after the 10:00 service, here in the church, to reflect on what you’ve heard in the series. This will be a chance to identify ideas and insights that we’ve taken home with us, from Bill Moomaw’s visit, from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s and Chaplain Rick Spalding’s presentation, and from Ethan’s today. I promise that this reflection session will not prevent you from getting in some coffee hour time.

Ethan Zuckerman is well placed to speak to us today about climate change from a global perspective. He is Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at MIT's Media Lab, where he heads research on Media Cloud, a system for quantitative analysis of agenda setting in digital media, and Promise Tracker, a platform that allows citizens to monitor powerful institutions using mobile and web technologies. He is the author of "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection", published by W.W. Norton. Ethan co-founded international blogging community Global Voices, which showcases news and opinions from citizen media in over 150 nations and thirty languages. I think that makes Ethan Pentecostal!

And today Bishop Fisher begins his long walk through the Berkshires. He’s doubtless striding along Route 2 on his way here for lunch at 12:30. At 1:30 he and his companions will be driven south to the Store at Five Corners, where his walk resumes at 1:45. By 5:30, he’s expected at St. Luke’s for evening prayer.

You and I are invited to join him, one way or another. Come for lunch, when we’ll bless him on his way. We’re grateful to the several Vestry members who are overseeing the lunch in our upper room. And/or… meet him at the Store at Five Corners and walk with him a while. Just please don’t leave your car parked at the store—the lot isn’t roomy enough—if you’d like a ride to the store, that we can provide. And, as long as it’s within the six miles south of Five Corners, we’ll provide roadside pickup when you’ve reached your limit. In the printed announcements today, you’ll find several ideal spots for pickup. And, whether you walk there or drive there, join the Bishop for evening prayer in Lanesboro.

Why is our Bishop walking? That’s answered in the recent issue of our diocesan magazine, “Abundant Times”:

"In ancient days bishops walked their territories – staff in hand – as a visible sign of the universal Church embodied in its leader. The Bishop continues to be that witness of presence and the bridge between local congregations and the larger Church. Although Bishop Fisher has visited each of the 60 congregations at least once in the past two years, he is setting out on foot to:
o LISTEN to the experiences and hopes of the people he meets
o TALK about the Gospel informally
o PRAY with people where they are – beyond church walls
o BLESS all who serve the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the homeless and all who seek justice."

On Memorial Day weekend, our thoughts turn to the long walk towards justice in this nation, as we recall how this federal holiday originally (when it was called Decoration Day) remembered all who gave their lives in the Civil War, both Union and Confederate forces. That war ultimately accomplished the abolition of slavery, and a reunited nation found it just to solemnly recognize the ultimate price paid by both sides.

In the 20th century, the concept of Memorial Day broadened to include all the men and women who gave their lives to safeguard freedom and reprove injustice, in whatever wars of that war-weary century (and future centuries) in which they served.

Memorial Day has become a sort of gateway on the path to summer, a time to visit and tend the graves of loved ones, whether they served in the armed forces or not. It’s in keeping with a democracy that we include everyone. It’s in keeping with Pentecost that boundaries be porous and that our embrace in the name of God be ever widening, to include all, absolutely all.