Love’s Eye

Acts 2: 1-11; I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23

I was talking to some new pastors this week up at the seminary so of course part of the conversation was on prayer.  It is not only central to us priests but to all of us.  I was surprised when one of them had told me that he didn’t pray.  So, of course, I asked him why, and as surprised as I was to hear that he didn’t pray I wasn’t all surprised by the why because I had heard in many times before.  When I finally sit down to pray, to stop, to quiet down, it seems at that point my mind takes off, a million miles a minute along with all my fears and anxieties, unresolved conflict, and all the rest begin to surface.  That’s the reason why you have to pray in those moments.

I use the example often, now that we are into the summer and it is hurricane season, to imagine a satellite image of a hurricane.  Most have a well-defined eye.  Crazy enough, that’s where you want to be in the hurricane.  It’s the place where the sun shines.  There’s peace and tranquility.  That’s the place of center we take with us into the storm, into the million miles a minute, otherwise the wall collapses and the storm consumes our lives.  This feast we celebrate today at the end of the Easter Season defines our center, that place of peace and tranquility that is hopefully leading us and navigating us through the storms of our own lives, as individuals, community, country, and world.  We certainly know that that’s not always the case.

When the early community begins to form and that we heard of throughout this Easter season from Acts of the Apostles, they too found themselves often trying to find that center and allowing it to be their navigation tool through often tumultuous times.  It was not an easy go for them when community was beginning to form around this new identity in Christ.  Like any community, there is self-interest, there are people that are trying to satisfy their own needs, there are people that are trying to drag us into their own storms, into the chaos of their own lives that will often challenge that center, that navigation tool.

The same was true for Corinth in whom Paul writes today.  It’s a section of that letter that we are all familiar with when he speaks of different gifts but the same spirit being manifested in the life of the community.  He’ll go onto to speak about the different parts yet one body and culminate in the next chapter with his message of love that we are familiar with from weddings.  There was dissension in the ranks of the community because they thought one person’s gift was better than the other, thinking that speaking in tongues was somehow better than the rest.  It created riffs.  Like the world we often find ourselves in today, there was selfish motivation, which of course, at that point, loses its purpose of being a gift in the first place!  One gift is not somehow better than the other, but rather, Paul will go onto say that no matter the gift and no matter the person, at the center of the community, the great navigation tool, will be that of love.  That becomes the eye of the storm and it becomes the navigation tool that the disciples will have to take into the storms that await them on that Easter day.

There seems to be no great Pentecost experience with them when we encounter them in today’s Gospel.  There they are, caught in the midst of a wild storm as the witnessed the death of Jesus, the one who had been their center up to this point.  For John, though, he’s going to want to take us back to the beginning and not to just the beginning of the gospel but back to the beginning of Genesis, when God breathes life into creation.  Here we are now, locked in the upper room, filled with fear and doubt, wondering and questioning, feeling like they’re being consumed by the storm and all that they had known falling down around them, and Jesus appears.  But not to just pick back up where they had left off on Good Friday but to give them a new center that goes deep within them and yet so far beyond them.  Jesus breathes on them, not just into their mouths, but into their very being the gift of the Spirit.  That will become their place of authority, their place of deep love, their own navigation tool as we see them go forward throughout Acts of the Apostles.

As we draw this Easter season to a close today, we pray for that same Spirit to be breathed into us, making us aware of where our center is in life.  Do we find ourselves much more comfortable in the storminess, chaos, fear and anxiety, that at times consumes our lives or are we being led to a place of peace that expands truth and makes space within us for all peoples?  Maybe we’re at a place where we need to quiet down, slow down, even if our minds want to go a million miles an hour.  That’s exactly where that navigation tool is leading us, to expand that place of peace and tranquility within us.  The last thing the world needs is more chaos, fear, and anxiety.  It leads us to reacting to everything that comes our way, sucking us into the storminess of lives and feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Like the disciples, on this day God desires to breathe that life, that Spirit into each of us so rather than being defined by the storminess we become the agents of change by brining that navigation tool, that eye, that deep source of love to an often hurting world to bring about the redemption that is freely given to each of us.

 

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Freedom

Acts 2: 1-11; I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

This feast we celebrate today, Pentecost, whether known or not, ranks in the same category as Easter Sunday and yet it never quite has the same flare and excitement that Easter brings. It’s the bookend of the season, it seems that we’re winding down, and then it’s Pentecost. As hard as it is for us to begin to grasp what we celebrate on Easter and the mystery of life and death, Pentecost is probably at least a hundred times more difficult and misunderstood. We can’t see this Spirit. We can’t control the Spirit. Heck, most times we’re probably not even aware of this Spirit. The Spirit is something we just can’t seem to get our minds or hearts around. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t carry the same weight.

As human beings, possibly our greatest obstacle to the Spirit is our need or desire to control. We love to control our own destiny and our lives. We even at times love to control other people’s lives. We know the Institution of the Church is no different. We like to keep order and control. Yet, this Spirit we speak of seems like chaos and disorder. The Spirit makes we speak of seems out of control. And so we find ourselves so often in between. We have the desire to control and at the same time the desire for the Spirit to set us free, the freedom that we know deep-down is what we’re called to in life.

It’s where God invites, leads, and meets us in our lives and always has. The chances of always living in the Spirit is probably nil. There’s always that ego of ours that wants to control. It’s what Paul confronts with the people of Corinth in the second reading today. This, for some, would be the beginning of the culmination of this letter. He’ll go onto to write about the metaphor of the body and then the section we’re all familiar with on love. But here he is today speaking about the one Spirit that comes in many forms. Yet, as I said, it’s coupled with people in power who want to control and dictate. He criticizes them for thinking and identifying gifts by ranking them, as if some were better than the others. That’s not the case for Paul. Paul works on leveling the playing field, especially when he speaks of the metaphor of the body, that all are necessary for the life of the community. One is not more important than the other. When they work together rather than against one another, the community will flourish and grow.

But it doesn’t come easy and we’ve heard the challenges that the early communities faced in Acts of the Apostles all season. They seemed to be in this constant tension of control and the freedom offered by the Spirit. There is some need for the structure that they were creating until it begins to stifle. We’ve heard the conflict and confrontations that they faced, even between Peter and Paul, seeming to pull in different directions, and yet, in the middle of it all lies this tension. It’s where God continuously led them to struggle with their differences. In the end, they are set free even with the structure to create something new by learning to let go and trust in the ever-gentle call of the Spirit leading them to something new. The community grows and flourishes rather than getting stuck and dead to sin.

And so we end where we began, then, with the Easter Gospel from John. There they are, the disciples locked in the upper room as we had heard on Easter. Desiring to be free and yet controlled by their fear. What seemed like an enormous task ahead of them only became daunting because they thought they had to control it. Then there is the moment of freedom. Jesus breathes life into them, entrusting them with the Spirit and freeing them from sin. In this moment of intimate encounter, their hearts will begin to open and crack and life will begin to change.

As we celebrate this great feast, the feast of the birthday of the Church, we gather now looking back at this season and the moments of growth and change that have called us forth. In the tension of life and death, individually and as community, the Spirit is forever at work leading us to the eternal. Yeah, we will always want to control. But that gets old after awhile. We begin to get cranky with life. We become cynical and begin to feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. So often, in a moment of weakness, our desire for control begins to break down and we are led to something new, a different place that we may not even know. The box we had put ourselves in, others in, and for that matter, put God in, begin to break down, and like a strong driving wind, life begins to change, the way we see begins to change. That’s the Spirit at work in our lives. We pray for that Spirit to not only come upon us but to break into our hearts and to free us from our need to control and be set free to live life more fully, a life filled with the Spirit.

Liberated for Life

Acts 2: 1-11; Gal 5: 16-25; John 20: 19-23

One of the first images that crossed my mind as I read this gospel this week was the words that are etched on the Statue of Liberty of “the huddled masses yearning to be free”. It’s the image that strikes me as we, now have traveled through fifty days of Easter only to find ourselves once again in John’s Gospel, back on Easter Sunday even as we celebrate Pentecost, locked in the upper room. There they are, a huddled mass, beat up, broken down, group of disciples, yearning to be free and not yet knowing even what it is that they desire to be freed from in their lives, still running from the outer authorities when an internal freedom is most desired. It’s Easter. The Spirit is breathed into them. And yet, appears no freedom. No liberation from death. Merely a huddled mass, yearning to be free.

We speak a lot of freedom in this country and for many over the centuries, it was and has been the place of refuge, but as you delve more deeply into the spiritual life and learning the promptings of the Spirit, you learn more and more that we are far from being a free nation and a free people, in the sense of freedom that the disciples yearned for on that Easter day, now Pentecost, and that we yearn for in our own lives. If you could imagine them in that room, there they are, fearful, probably smells with them all huddled in, in lock-down, there is nothing that speaks of Spirit and life, rather, quite the opposite. The upper room has become their tomb. Merely a huddled mass, yearning to be free.

None of us knows how long it would have taken before the internal reality of having the Spirit breathed into them would take to come to fruition in their lives, other than what we have heard and listened to in Acts of the Apostles this season. We know, following John’s Gospel, they leave that upper room still wondering and still living with fear of their own lives, or at least the lives that they had made for themselves. They left it all behind to follow him but now once again, they will be called forth to leave it all behind but with a greater understanding of what it is they are to leave behind. This huddled mass, truly yearning to be free and liberated from death will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving of themselves. Yes, will pay the ultimate price of their physical death but before that comes to be, they will be asked to give up themselves, even the way they have related to who they thought god was, who they thought they were, and it is only through the action of the Spirit being breathed upon them can that begin to break forth in their lives, a Spirit that has been from the beginning, leading them to this point of conversion and liberation. They will have to let go of their own ego, their false self, the illusion of who they thought they were and fall into Love, gently led by this Spirit breathed into them on this Easter and Pentecost. A huddled mass, yearning to be free will eventually set the world on fire of the mighty acts of God!

This is what Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians. He says that they have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. Now he doesn’t mean flesh in the sense that we think of it, being the body, but rather the illusion and the world that we create for ourselves, to protect us from pain and suffering, or living under the law, in his words. We become so attached to this illusion that we don’t even know we need to be freed, that we are the huddled masses. We begin to think as the wold thinks that freedom comes from violence, that freedom comes from getting the bigger and better, that freedom comes when we finally have succeeded. But for Paul and from a biblical perspective, freedom comes when the huddles masses that we are allow ourselves to die before we die through the promptings of this Spirit, falling freely into Love and becoming the manifestation of that love, our greatest gift we can offer the world.

We do finally see the effects of the Spirit when we move to Acts of the Apostles; who is already within is seen by the peoples. The Spirit comes upon them as she does each of us. The people are then called to mirror to the world God’s abundance that was celebrated 50 days following Passover on Pentecost. This is not the abundance that we would think of, in the sense of all that we have, that’s a pretty good indicator that we still believe the illusion that the disciples held onto, but rather the abundance of God’s love in and to and for the world. When we finally begin to trust this Spirit that is so close and yet so beyond us, our lives change for good and we manifest that love in the world and in the way we live our lives. The huddled masses become free and become witnesses of this freedom to the world and the mighty acts of God; finally, they become liberated from themselves which frees them from the external authorities as well, freeing them to face death and to live.

The problem for us, as the huddled masses, we aren’t always aware of this deeper desire within. We remain unhappy with life, unfulfilled, settled with something less than a life in the Spirit. We do it as individuals and as community. We become content being locked in our own upper rooms, filled with stench, complaining, living our lives in fear, stuck in the past, well, quite frankly, we become crusty and lifeless. Who the heck wants to live their live like that!?! Yet, we do because the demand of the Spirit breathed into us is so often too much to bear and we convince ourselves that somehow we are unworthy of such a life led by the Spirit with such freedom and liberation. The Spirit asks us to give up something that we hold tightly, our self, and that’s a tough shell to crack for all of us.

So as we celebrate this great feast of the Church, we come mindful that God remains patient with us and knows it takes time. None of us give up our lives very easily, but it doesn’t mean that the Spirit won’t and doesn’t continue to work within and through us. Even at this moment she’s being breathed into us, trying to set us free for life. A good sign, when we have vitality, excitement, energy, and an openness to change in our hearts and minds, that the Spirit is moving us to a new way of life where we manifest that love and become the mighty act of God. People have traveled to this country as the huddled masses yearning to be free, and many are freed from the external oppressors of this world by coming here, but God invites us and the Spirit leads us today to a deeper freedom, from the oppression of our self so that we may be witnesses of God’s love in the world and to be people of Spirit and life!

Heart of the Community

Acts 2: 1-11; 1Cor 12: 3b-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23

There may be no better time than this weekend to recall that quote that says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” As we celebrate Pentecost and the closing of the Easter Season, it is today that we celebrate and rejoice in that power that comes down upon and dwells within the life and community of disciples and among us. Yet, of the Three Persons of the Trinity, a community in and of Itself, the one we mark today, the Spirit, is probably the most misunderstood. Maybe it’s because we can’t see the Spirit within. Maybe we truly do fear that power of the Spirit that even allows us to be beyond measure. Maybe, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we just don’t trust it.

Today, though, we celebrate that sending of the Spirit onto those disciples in that locked room on that Easter day. How comfortable we can become in the confines of that locked, upper room, the upper room of our heads where fear, anxiety, and the need to control have a tendency to take over, leaving us with doubt that life can be anything different. And yet, this Spirit comes upon them pushing and nudging them out of the confines of this locked, upper room into the far reaches of their hearts, where the fire of God’s love and mystery reside and ever so gently tries to direct our lives as it did that early community.

Their vision, as we have heard throughout this season from Acts of the Apostles is to become the heart of the community, which is why they face so much resistance from the leaders, who tended to rule with fear and control. Just as it was for them, even our vision statement here at the parish is the same as that early community, “to become the heart of the community.” It was no easy task in Acts and we hear the many growing pains throughout this season. The more they learned to trust that Spirit working among and within them, the more the community began to grow and change and come alive. As time goes on that vision begins to unfold for that community as it does for us.

Of course Paul was a part of those original journeys and he took that vision with him to the many different communities he visited, including Corinth whom he writes to in today’s second reading. Paul saw the immense power that this community had, and yet, like us at times, those gifts were often used against rather than for the good of the greater community. They saw gifts from a hierarchical perspective but Paul sees all the gifts as necessary when they are directed outward to the common good. He believed in that vision of becoming the heart of the community and desired it for the people he encountered.

But we still have these disciples locked in the upper room in today’s Gospel which we also heard on the Second Sunday of Easter. Here they are as Jesus breathes life among them and into them by the sending of the Spirit. They are left with a choice as we so often are, remaining locked and bound in the confines of fear, anxiety, and control, or to forgive, to let go, to live from the immense power that exists within each and truly become the heart to all people, accomplishing the mighty acts of God. Yes, it may be a painful experience allowing that Spirit in, but until we do, this great mystery will continue to nudge and push us along, not to squash that great power in our own insecurity and what we believe to be our inadequacy, but rather to break in and set us free to live a different life, to live a life moved by the Spirit.

As we celebrate this great feast of our faith, we pray today for that Spirit to continue as it did 2000 years ago to come down upon us and within, nudging us out of the locked, upper room of fear and anxiety, to a life, that at first may seem “out of control”, but nonetheless, a life being lived from that power so that we too may live with mystery, out of the confines of our fabricated worlds, driven out by the Spirit to truly become the heart of the community and participating in those mighty acts of God!

So Now What?!?

 

Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1: 17-23; Matthew 28: 16-20

So now what? I can hear those thoughts and words working within the disciples on this Feast of Ascension, wondering what the heck is going on! The readings give the illusion that for the disciples, it’s a lot like the Cross of Good Friday, Jesus leaving and abandoning them and now here he is again, leaving and they’re left wondering, so now what? Why is he leaving again? Now what do we do? Where do we go from here and what is this Spirit that is spoken of? A people already with limited view, questioning everything, misinterpreting the meaning of their lives, and so now what’s he asking of us?

Yet, the simple message that Luke puts in the mouth of Jesus to the disciples is quite simple, “wait.” They aren’t quite ready for what is to come and what’s about to happen and so they are told to wait, and let’s face it, we don’t like to wait and we aren’t good at waiting. We want things now or yesterday but to know what’s next we must first, like the disciples, wait. Their hearts aren’t ready to go where the Head, Christ, has gone, ascending to the Father. Their hearts continue to hold them back. They are weighed down from ascending by the fears, their doubts, their questions, and all they can do is simply gaze at the sky wondering where’s he going and what’s next. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians today to seek enlightened eyes of the heart. But of course, that waiting that he asks of us doesn’t come easy but gradually, as we allow ourselves to be open to the Spirit that we anticipate on Pentecost, slowly Mystery makes progress in our lives and hearts and we can begin to let go. We can begin to let go of the doubts, the questions, the fears, the uncertainties, the anxieties that hold us back and weigh down our hearts. It gets to the point where we can begin to feel our heart being drawn out of us to return home, to ascend to the Head, in Christ, where it desires to be, where it wants to be. But until then, we wait.

It’s probably where most of us often find ourselves. We find ourselves holding onto a heavy heart and not wanting to let it go. But even for the disciples, this feast was a necessary one. Jesus once again shows the way. If Jesus were to stay, he remains bound to time and space, but the great commission given in today’s gospel is one that takes them beyond time and space. It’s one that takes them to the ends of the earth and until the end of the age, forming disciples to witness to his love and forgiveness. They want it. We want it; we feel ourselves being pulled from the confines of our pews to go out and proclaim the good news with our lives. So what’s holding me back? Now what has to happen before I commit myself to live this great commission? Maybe we just have to wait, open ourselves to the Spirit breaking in, allowing what holds us back to be let go from us, and gradually our heart is set on fire, flying high, for we too are no longer held back by time and space and our now sent to the ends of the earth! On this Feast of Ascension, we pray for a readiness of that Spirit coming upon us on Pentecost that we too can set the world ablaze as disciples of Christ!