Monday, May 16, 2016

Sermon - 5/15/16: Deepest Faith

Acts 2:1-21
1 Cor. 12:3b-13
John 14:8-17


It gives us eyes to see.
It invites us to celebrate the gifts of the Spirit.
It invites us to consider more deeply what those gifts are really for.
It invites us to use them for God’s glory.

Pentecost is the birthday of the church, a day for celebrating that God called us into being, brought the Spirit down upon those who were open to seeing and hearing, and united all by reversing the tower of Babel – instead of people no longer understanding each other, all could and did understand. It is an amazing incredible day to remember the power of the Spirit and the gifts that the Spirit gives to our community.
The story of Pentecost also shows us that those who were not open to hearing and seeing God coming, those who could not see with eyes of faith continued to fail to receive what people of faith do receive.  People who either cannot or will not open their eyes in wonder to see God miss out.         They missed the party, they missed the celebration!  God included everyone in this event.  Even those who would not see were included in the party and invited to experience the amazing gifts of the Spirit on that day.  But those who could not see with faith could not accept into themselves the party gifts of the Spirit.  They missed what God was doing so vividly right in front of their eyes.  They explained the Holy Spirit’s coming in terms of people being drunk.  The fact that those in the room could understand each other across language differences and barriers, that their experience was described as tongues of fire descending on each person, that the room was filled with a sound like rushing wind – that someone could try to explain this as people simply being drunk shows how far some would go to deny an experience of God’s presence with them.  But I find myself again being moved with pity for them.  They missed out.  They truly missed out on the amazing blessings and experience and gifts that the Spirit was giving them on that day.  And I feel simply sad about that loss for them.
Faith gives us a different perspective.  Faith allows us to frame the events in our lives in very different ways.  Are the difficulties that come our way problems for us to whine about, or are they blessings, opportunities to grow and learn and deepen in our faith?  Is the weather that we experience just the interesting ebb and flow of the seasons?  Or is it God’s reminder to us that what we experience today will be different tomorrow, that there is hope, there is movement and all of it is glorious?  Everything is seen and experienced differently when we do it with eyes of faith, eyes that seek out God.
In the series, Joan of Arcadia, God talks face to face with a teenage girl. God appears in the different people that surround Joan and at first Joan is really unsure why this is happening to her.  She asks God, “why are you appearing to me?” To which the God figure responds: “Correction: I am not appearing to you.  You are perceiving me.”  I think there is great wisdom in that.  God is all around us.  But our sacred moments, our moments when we are touched by the Divine happen when we have the vision to perceive God.  Again, we see the miracles, we hear God’s voice, we see God’s presence, we receive the Spirit, only when we are open to perceiving it.
             There used to be a restaurant called the Bella Italia Inn, which had no inn attached to it at all.  It was an Italian restaurant, though the owner/cook was Indian.  This was the first thing you would notice when you walked into the restaurant - the Indian cook behind the counter in the kitchen cooking the food.   In case you missed this, you would be reminded of it by the choice of music - Indian music playing over the speakers.  The waitress who worked there was from Central America, and spoke very little, if any, English, only Spanish.  The decor in the restaurant was an odd mix of quality and...lack of quality - the wood work in the restaurant was high quality, truly lovely stuff.  But the tables would rock back and forth on their uneven legs.  The rugs were beautiful, but filthy both with current grime and with deeply set stains.   Drinks that you would order would be brought to you in glasses that didn’t match.  The last time I went, my friend was given a beautiful large crystal wine glass out of which to drink her coke, and I was given a beautiful, small and differently designed plastic wine glass out of which to drink mine. There were beautiful glass oil and vinegar holders on each table right next to the cheap plastic salt and pepper shakers.  If you were able to order your food (if you were able to communicate with the Spanish speaking waitress) she would bring you hot food on cold plates, and cold food on hot plates.  If you asked to split your dessert, they would “split” your two layer piece of chocolate cake by cutting off the top layer, so that one of you gets all the frosting and the other all the filling.  The waitress wouldn’t bring you a spoon with your spaghetti nor a pen with the credit card slip if you pay by credit card.  If you ordered mineral water, they brought something that wasn’t carbonated.  One time when I went, I had to wait for an hour to be served, though it was obvious that there was only one other couple in the entire restaurant - “we’re understaffed tonight,” we were told.  But in the midst of this very chaotic and strange place, the food is fantastic.  The seasonings exquisite, everything cooked to perfection.   Truly wonderful Italian food cooked by this Indian man in these strange circumstances.  If you were put off by the circumstances, the d├ęcor, the incongruity of the place, you would miss out on one of the best Italian meals in the Bay Area.  We could have seen the problems, but instead, we experienced the gifts.
             I had the privilege while studying in college of volunteering with an amazingly loving, intuitive, giving Chaplain to the Homeless in Berkeley.  One time when we were together, a schizophrenic homeless woman approached Pastor Alexia.  Jane came over, looked Pastor Alexia right in the face and blurted out, “I am God.”  I was a young college student at the time and her statement simply made me uncomfortable.  But Pastor Alexia looked at Jane very seriously for a moment and then said, “Tell me.  I’ve always wanted to know...what exactly does it feel like to be God.”  Jane sighed and said with relief in her face, but also with an urgency to speak, to tell, “I care and love and care and love but no one pays attention to me.”  Alexia gave me a very poignant stare as we both nodded our heads in understanding.  This woman I probably would have dismissed had deep needs, but also had gifts for us: gifts of insight, gifts of wisdom.  This woman felt ignored.  I am sure she was also accurate that God must feel ignored at times.  I heard God’s voice in this woman, though it was unexpected.
Several years ago, I was helping out in Aislynn’s classroom.  I was walking with the children to their computer lab when we passed the school janitor.  Aislynn’s teacher said hi to the man and he responded, “Just Keep believing”!  But as he said it, he turned to me and locked eyes with me for just a moment.  And I had that feeling, that feeling of being hit by lightning, that feeling of having heard a message just for me, that feeling of having met an angel, a messenger from God who had something that I needed to hear in that moment.  If this stranger had actually spoken these words to me directly, I doubt that I would have taken them in the same way.  I would have heard them as trite, or would have felt “preached at”.  He was the janitor, someone some people might dismiss.  But through his voice in that moment and at that time, I saw God.  I heard God.
           Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”  That is faith.  That is what faith does for our perspective and our experience of the world.  That is what happened for some on Pentecost.  They experienced the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the miracle of God’s presence with them because through their faith they had eyes to see.
Which isn’t to say that the people of faith who were there got it right.  The disciples were still, even now, even after Jesus’ return and even after this amazing event, they were still getting it wrong.  What did Peter say about this?  He assumed that the world was ending!  He assumed that this gift signaled Jesus’ return and the beginning of the end days.  As he said, “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  ‘In 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.   Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.”  Well, that’s not what was happening.  The sun was not turned dark on that day of Pentecost, the moon was not turned to blood.  And Jesus did not return in a few days’ time to usher in the end of the world.  But their experiences were so deep and profound that Peter could not simply be in them, could not simply accept the gift of the Spirit’s coming, but had to try to interpret it, make sense of it.  It would have been better if he had just experienced the gifts but perhaps even then his faith was still growing, developing and he wasn’t yet in that place where he could just be with the Spirit.  
The man whispered, "God, speak to me" and a meadowlark sang.
But, the man did not hear.
So the man yelled, "God, speak to me" and the thunder rolled across the sky.
But, the man did not listen.
The man looked around and said, "God let me see you." And a star shined brightly.
But the man did not see.
And, the man shouted, "God show me a miracle." And, a life was born.
But, the man did not notice.
So, the man cried out in despair, "Touch me God, and let me know you are here."
Whereupon, God reached down and touched the man. But, the man brushed the butterfly away,
and walked on."
Even when we have faith sometimes we still miss God.
It gives us eyes to see.
It invites us to celebrate the gifts of the Spirit.
It invites us to consider more deeply what those gifts are really for.
It invites us to use them for God’s glory.
Can you see?  Can you experience God?  That is the gift that our faith invites us into.  Come to the party!  Celebrate what God has done!