Still Teaching, Still Learning: Pentecost 2013

Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 3013, Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-2

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Acts 2:1-21 

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘I n the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

John 14:8-26

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 

Still Teaching, Still Learning

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When I was in school we had to read Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”  Though it was a good read, when I finished it, I didn’t like it.  I was young enough to think that if someone wrote a book entitled “Great Expectations” he would make sure the expectations were fulfilled – but no!  Expectations were routinely raised and then dashed, and in the end, nobody got what they wanted from life.

I think that’s how Philip felt when he said to Jesus,

“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus had raised expectations back at the beginning when he had said to Philip “Follow me” – and he did.  Philip told Nathaniel:

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus… Come and see.”

Expectations and Disappointment

So, Philip had great expectations.  I wonder if we are in a similar position.  Here it is, the great day of Pentecost when we remember and celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as if something utterly amazing were going to happen – not just then, but also now, to us – and, well, look around.  The great expectations for the church seem to have dwindled significantly.  We stand in Philip’s sandals.

It’s not only the obvious fact of the decline of Christianity in the Western world, nor just about our own Presbyterian decline, but we feel an even greater sense of dashed expectations for ourselves personally.

How old were you when you first heard the story of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost?   Didn’t that story and others, like the Easter resurrection story and the miracle stories about Jesus feeding and healing people, calming storms, and casting out demons, give you the sense that something big and powerful and transformative was possible in your own life?

That great expectation was certainly born in me.  And yet most of my life has been pretty normal.  I would have thought – and I did think –

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that the Holy Spirit was capable of a lot more.

The Breaking Dawn

The odd thing is, I think he is!  And I think we are living on the edge of an amazing time in which the Spirit is doing something new and powerful.  It has implications for both us as individuals and for our church.They say that it’s darkest before the dawn.  Well maybe this is the dark moment – but perhaps there are some rays of light already appearing on the horizon that can give us hope.  And it all has to do with the Spirit.

This is where the texts we read today can help us.  If we are, like Philip was, feeling that our great expectations were not being met, let’s look at Jesus’ response to Philip, and see how it applies to us.  And then we will look around at what is happening in the world these days – some glimmers of hope.seeking God framed

“Show us = Connect Us”

When Philip came to Jesus asking, “Show us the Father” what was his quest?  It was exactly what every spiritual seeker is looking for: a sense of union with God.  “Show us the Father” means get us connected to God.

What was Jesus’ answer?  It comes in two steps.  Step one: if you want to see God, look at Jesus.  Jesus came to show us in concrete, personal material ways what God is like.  Jesus said,

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

Step One: God in Material form

Step one is that Jesus shows us God, because Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Anointed One.  Think about this for one second.  We believe in the Trinity – next week is Trinity Sunday.  Jesus became flesh just about two thousand years ago.  But the Son, or we could say the Anointed, the Christ, exists with God eternally.  Jesus lived in material form on the earth just for a little over 30 years, and is now again as before, as he says, “in God the Father.”

This is what Jesus was telling Philip when he said,

 “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”.  

Step one in knowing God is realizing that Jesus, as a material person, is one form of the Son or, as some have said, the Cosmic Christ, existing eternally in and with the Father.

What does this mean?  It means that it has always been God’s plan, from the start, that Spirit and Matter be unified, as in Jesus.  As Richard Rohr is fond of saying, “there is only one reality.”

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Step Two: Union with God

But step two in knowing God is where it gets practical and helpful.  Step two is that God’s plan for all time has always been that we become aware of our own personal deepest reality, which is that we also are “in the Father.”  Jesus said (v. 20):

“I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

This sounds completely strange to us.  Especially in the West, we have lost sight of a stream of biblical teaching that used to be taken for granted.  We, humans, made “in the image and likeness of God,” are meant to understand that we are literally sons and daughters of God; that our source and our eventual destiny is in God.

Difficult as this is to comprehend, Jesus told Philip that he would have help.  The third person of the Trinity, the Spirit, would be key.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” 

The “Advocate,” that is the Spirit – whom Jesus calls here “the Spirit of Truth” will both “abide with” us and be “in us.”  So let’s complete the equation: Jesus is in God the Father, and God the Father is in Jesus.  Jesus sends the Spirit to us.  The Spirit is with us and in us.  So we are in God, and God is in us!

Just a little later, that same evening, in that same conversation (John 17) Jesus will say in a prayer to God the Father,

“I am asking… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,… I in them and you in me”

Step one in knowing God is to know Jesus, who materially present is in fact one with God as the eternal Cosmic Christ.  Matter and spirit are, in reality, one.  Step two is knowing that we were made in God’s image, and made for union with God.

This is not easy to see in this material-looking world.  Philip sure thought it wasn’t obvious.  But the Spirit had not been given yet in the way the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

By Degrees: Learning from the Spirit

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I used to secretly envy Pentecostals. I assumed they had this great spiritual experience, spoke in tongues, felt super-close to God, and felt totally transformed all the time because of it.  It does appear that the first time it happened, it came with the noise of a mighty wind – perhaps like a freight train.  Tongues as of fire descending.  But that seems to have been the initial rush.

More typically, the Spirit’s work takes time and is gradual.  It’s like getting an education, one class at a time.  The Spirit’s method is the method of a teacher; daily lessons.  Jesus said,

“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything”

Paul spoke of the Spirit’s gradual, daily ministry when he said,

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”    (2 Cor. 4:16)

There is transformation, but it is “day by day” and by degrees, in stages, not all at once, as Paul says,

“Now the Lord is the Spirit…  And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”” (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

New Day: New Things

So here is what is so exciting about these days:  Now, at long last, the Western church is rediscovering daily Christian practices like meditation and contemplation.   As Paul would say “seeing the glory of the Lord” by resting in the awareness of God’s presence in daily contemplative meditation, or Centering prayer,  and it has a transformative effect.  It is not sudden, it is by degrees.  It is like the transformation of physical exercise that we do daily that adds up to greater fitness and healthiness.

What do people who practice contemplation discover?  A greater sense of union with God.  A sense that they have begun to receive an answer to Philip’s request “Show us the Father.”

Daily we practice meditation: turning off the chatter of our own voices in our brains, the thought-stream that keeps activating our lizard brain’s messages of fight or flight, anger and revenge, all or nothing, us and them, winners and losers.

We practice turning off that noise for twenty minutes a day during which the Spirit of Truth can perform the daily lesson that God is with us and already in us.  That true union with God is possible because, in the end, there is no such thing as a part of the world that is not a part of God.

As Colossians says, the paradox of being a material person is that the truest reality is that :

your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  (Col. 3:3)

[Notice: present tense, “is hidden” now “with Christ” – the Cosmic Christ, “in God”]

Practical Effects: unity

Shane Claiborne, Aquaponics
Shane Claiborne, Aquaponics

This re-discovery is having enormous practical effects in Christian communities that are part of the emerging church.  The re-discovery of the Spirit and spiritual practices has led to an understanding, not only of our unity with God and with God’s sons and daughters, but also, the unity of all sons and daughters.

On that first day of Pentecost, the language barrier was broken, so that no ethnic or political differences stood in the way of the good news.  On that day, Peter said Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled: the Spirit was poured out: on whom?  On young and old, ending the age barrier; on women and men, ending the gender barrier, on slaves and free, ending the socio-economic barrier.

What we see emerging in a new way today is a post-exclusionary church, just like the early church was.  We see a church open to men and women, open to diversity of age and ethnicity, open to marginalized people and to persons challenged in any way.

Mission: the Jesus Agenda

Shane Claiborne, community garden
Shane Claiborne, community garden

And we see these newly emerging, Spiritual  – even if not  traditionally religious  – churches reaching out, just like the early church did, with the agenda of Jesus front and center.

These missional communities are feeding the poor, transforming urban neighborhoods, teaching job skills, tutoring school kids, and providing addiction-recovery opportunities.

Missional Christians are being advocates on  behalf of people whose voices have been silenced or ignored – the homeless, abused and trafficked women, victims of bullying, and they are being advocates on behalf of a planet that has been abused for far too long.

Things are changing.  The future may not look exactly like the past, but the Spirit is at work, teaching and transforming in new and exciting ways. Most of the time it’s not flashy and noisy, like it was at the first Pentecost, but it is certain and steady, by degrees, in daily doses.

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All I can do is to challenge all of us to be a part of this new Spirit movement.  To commit ourselves to daily spiritual practices.  Meditate for twenty-minutes everyday – even neurologists know that this re-wires your brain.  Turn off the mental chatter of disunity and attachment, and become aware of the presence of God – all around us, and in us.

Time to ramp-up the expectations again: the Spirit has come!

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