Sunday 5-15-16

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome!

Happy Birthday Church!!!

Why is the door to Episcopal Churches almost always red? Well… the Holy Spirit lives there! Why is the hat or miter of the bishop pointy and a bit strange? It too represents the flame of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is water, fire and smoke… those mysterious and uncontainable “forces of nature.” Holy Spirit is always mystery!

 Throughout this morning’s message, I am going to interrupt myself, as I often do, but instead of song, I am going to offer four simple meditations of principals of faith – Generosity, Faith, Surrender, and How to Share. They are quotes that I read throughout the week, mostly daily meditations from the monasery, “Brother Give us a word.”  These little sentences of truth offer a place for me to rest in something simple and true on the way to a bigger and brighter new understanding. So I offer you a heads up…

This morning’s story in the book of Acts tells of an amazing and wonderful miracle.  The normal positions of power are turned on their head. The story of the very formation of the church is in this Pentecost story and it is a complicated and deep and even astounding miracle of unity in diversity.  Does this story tell us of a miracle of the ear or a miracle of the tongue?  It has been described most of my life in the western culture and the Episcopal Church as a miracle of the tongue.  The ability to speak the language of the people to whom we want to evangelize is the proper preparation for mission.  I personally wanted to be able to speak Spanish so that I could be understood by those who travel to this country with no English.  I wanted to demonstrate good hospitality.  What I didn’t realize was that it is far more important to listen to the stories of the poor and marginalized and to hear their gospel message than it is to tell them how to be.

In his book, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb, theologian and priest, founder of the Kaleidoscope Institute and a hero of mine, Eric Law takes the story of Pentecost and looks at it as the context of the multicultural church community.  Consider the whole diverse group of powerful and devout Jews about whom ____________ has just read and ask yourself, are they hearing about the power of God in their own language?

The question, “Are not these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, in each one’s native language?   Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"   But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

Generosity - Jesus says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” We have been created in the image of God, who is generous, and it is of our essence to see the world in the same way, and to live with enormous generosity. -Br. Curtis Almquist

I want to make the point that Eric Law is getting to here; it is about our positions of implied power as to whether it is more meaningful to us for the story of Pentecost to be a miracle of the tongue or a miracle of the ear.  To those that hold power, this story needs to be a miracle of the ear like the devout Jews that came from all over the place in this story of Acts.  To those that do not hold power, this needs to be a miracle of the tongue like it was for the small band of disciples in this story of Acts.  

Now how hard is that?  Well, for me, it’s still incredibly hard!  I am blessed to be a confusing and inconsistent person where my power locates me as I am highly educated, a skilled craftsperson, a white woman, and a priest; I hold a great deal of implied power.  Yet, as a woman in the contexts of the construction trades, where the workers are predominantly men, and even in the church where the tradition is still clearly patriarchic, I hold much less implied power.  So I get to be both powerful and powerless depending on the context in which I stand.  I get to cycle through the position of the listening (the miracle of the ear) and speaking (the miracle of the tongue) then around to the position of listening again.

Faith - Our faith is both a belief and a power. When we believe that God is taking care of us, we are given the power to face our fears and challenges, confident that we will be given what we need. This is what enabled the beloved disciple to take his stand with Mary at the cross of Jesus and not hide from the suffering of Christ. -Br. John Braught

Most often in my life, even when it is not appropriate, I claim and use the power that’s found in the miracle of the tongue, which implies action, doing, solving and fixing!  Whereas, less often, when it is appropriate in a context of conversation with a group of poor and marginalized people, I must put down my claim to the miracle of the tongue and pick up the miracle of the ear, which implies passivity…being… being with… and most importantly listening!  Wow!  It can get a bit confusing.  And that just proves it is indeed a wonder of the gift of the Holy Spirit that this miracle of Pentecost really happened.

Surrender - What if we made a regular practice of surrendering into the loving arms of God, knowing that something unimaginably wonderful would happen? I wonder if we’d be quite so anxious and fearful if we recognized that we may indeed be standing even now at the threshold. I wonder would we would live so timidly? -Br. Mark Brown

Now, when considering this question of social position, there is one group over which all men and all women of all color and social position hold power, and that is children.  Children are people who are always powerless in the world without the listening and supporting help of adults.  Children have no true voice or position of power and so use whatever voice they can, and it’s sometimes very loud!

The upcoming summer, our diocese is hosting its annual safe church training closest to us and the topic of power and how we notice our power is one of the first parts of the conversation in which we will engage, if it is anything like other safe church trainings I have attended in the past 10 or `15 years.  We can identify both implicit and explicit examples of power. The list will be long and include skin color, education, income, geography, ordination, election, rank, hereditary, age (sometimes) and experience (sometimes), health, charisma, employment, emancipation and many more examples of what brings us power.  The training teaches us to protect the powerlessness of children by first recognizing our own power as adults in various contexts, and to set up practices that make everyone accountable for their behavior in order to protect the vulnerability of children.  Most of the solutions are simple but not necessarily easy.  A couple examples are that there must always be two adults present when caring for children.  That seems somewhat of a no-brainer as what adult wouldn’t want the support of another adult in caring for a group of energetic first - third graders and to keep dangerous stuff (knives and scissors) out of untrained, unskilled little hands without the proper attention and supervision?

“Share - Jesus has come to give us life. And we have this life to give it away. Not cling to it, nor grasp after it, nor squander it, nor squirrel it away, but to share it abundantly. There is always more provision. Draw on it and share it.” -Br. Curtis Almquist.

This story of Pentecost doesn’t have any children in it but, in many cultures of that time, children weren’t expected to live long and thus often times didn’t even get a name until they were five years old or older.  It’s a bit different today in most of the world, thank God!  Children bring us great joy!  They teach us and so often have a deep spiritual wisdom with which to lead us.  Most especially, they teach us of the complicated inconsistencies of the miracle of the ear and the miracle of the tongue.  I am so blessed to be able to work with children, families, youths and teenagers, and I thank God most especially for our children here at St Barnabas [JMA 2009].

Why is the door to Episcopal Churches almost always red? Well… the Holy Spirit lives there! Why is the hat or miter of the bishop pointy and a bit strange? It too represents the flame of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is water, fire and smoke… those mysterious and uncontainable “forces of nature.” Holy Spirit is always mystery!

Let us pray. Living God, you have created all that is. Send forth your Spirit to renew and restore us, that we may proclaim your good news in ways and words that all will understand and believe. Amen.