Sunday, July 23, 2017

7th Sunday after Pentecost

If we had any doubt after last week’s parable of the sower, this week’s gospel confirms that Jesus was no farmer. Last week he applauded the sower who recklessly and extravagantly sowed seed everywhere, and, this week, the master in his parable tells his workers to leave the weeds where they are and let them grow up alongside the good seed.

More importantly, this parable confirms that God’s kingdom is beyond our understanding of how stuff works.

Remember that, with parables, Jesus draws on images and stories from everyday life to illuminate who God is and what the kingdom of God looks like. Around us, kudzu and poison ivy are greater threats than a look-alike weed growing among good crops, but I think we can still hear the truth in Jesus’ words, especially when we remember that he really isn’t teaching about farming or gardening, but about how we live together in community as God’s people.

Jesus tells the disciples a story about a master who sows good seed. The Master’s vision is fields of amber waving in the sun. The Master never intends for rot or decay, fungus or disease to develop.

But the parable says, “While everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…”

So when some time has passed, the plants come up and begin to bear grain, and the workers see what has happened. There among the healthy wheat are tares, look alike plants that will spoil the flour.

And they want to do something about it. They want to fix it. So, they go to the master and ask to weed the fields before the harvest time.

But the master explains that they can’t fix it. The plants are too similar, and their roots are intertwined, so if they tear out one, they’ll likely destroy the other too. The good and the bad will have to be allowed to grow up together. The Master is not panicked; he is confident that, at the harvest, the wheat and the tares will be separated and the good crop will be salvaged.

The parable affirms that, despite appearances, the Master knows what is happening and is in control. We have all heard someone say, “God is in control” in the face of circumstances that eclipse our ability to manage them or fix them.

Often, I think those words can often do more harm than good, but this parable may provide us with another way to hear them. 

It is clear here that the Master intended good and the enemy came in and sowed evil alongside it. Understanding the Master as God, God’s intention remains unchanged, and, in due time, good will prevail.

In the midst of crisis, faced with the realization that I cannot do something to fix what has happened, and in fact God doesn’t make that my responsibility, I find comfort in God’s recognition of the presence of evil that opposes God’s good vision for God’s beloved people.

So if that’s what this parable teaches us about God,
what does it have to say about God’s kingdom?

First, the parable affirms that God does not leave us alone. God remains engaged and involved in the work of the kingdom, and Jesus tells us there are other workers in God’s kingdom, too— planters, workers and reapers. We all have a place and a role, and God works alongside us all to bring about the kingdom here on earth.

But even more importantly, I think, it tells us how we are to live together in community as God’s people.

In verse 30, the Greek word translated as “let them grow together” comes from the same root as “let go”, “pardon” or “forgive.”

Writing about this parable Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon observes that “because good and evil inhabit the same individual human beings…the only result of a campaign to get rid of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.” [1]

In our human condition, sin is ever-present in our lives, we cannot, by our own strength, successfully yank it out.

Thankfully, as Luther wrote, “grace and mercy are there where Christ on the cross takes your sin from you, bears it for you and destroys it.”[2] God recognizes what is good and beloved in us even when we are infected by sin, and, by his infinite grace, roots out the sin and restores us to wholeness. God does that, not us.

Recognizing that our lives are connected to each other and our wellbeing — our ability to grow and thrive and embody God’s kingdom on earth — is dependent on each other, we are not called to destroy or exclude others while we strive for an elusive purity or perfection; we are not called to bring brute strength to bear to make others conform or grow in the same way we do.

We are called to be a mixed community and to listen for God’s direction and trust in God’s intention, power and grace to bring about the harvest that God has ordained and that God is working out in our midst.

Let us pray…
Holy God,
Help us remember that your labor brought forth creation and we are but workers in your Kingdom;
Give us patience with ourselves and others as we live in the weeds and brokenness, the evil and sinfulness of this world;
Teach us to always see sin in ourselves and others in the light of your grace, confident in your abundant love and mercy.
In the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we pray.
Amen.

[1] Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace Judgment. 87.
[2] “Sermon on Preparing to Die,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (2nd ed.),” Timothy F. Lull, Editor. 422.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

6th Sunday after Pentecost

In this passage, we hear the first of seven parables in Matthew’s gospel. Teaching this way, Jesus draws on images and stories from everyday life to illuminate who God is and what the kingdom of God looks like.

Here, Jesus tells what he himself calls “the parable of the sower.” Mark, Matthew and Luke all include it in their accounts of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Matthew also includes an explanation of the parable that most scholars agree was added later in the first century to encourage new Christians who faced challenges to their faith.

Like any teacher or storyteller, Jesus wrapped his point in a story that held the attention of his followers. Talking about God or trying to understand God’s kingdom might be overwhelming and confusing, but planting seeds and harvesting crops were familiar to his audience.

Today, even as we are less connected to the earth and fewer of us are farmers, many of us still have some experience with digging in the dirt, protecting our gardens from hungry deer, and having the satisfaction of growing things ourselves. And we’ve also weathered failure — when the seedlings never appear, the roots rot from too much water, or the vines wither in the scorching sun.

Because we can picture the scene that Jesus describes, the recklessness of the sower’s activity is even more noticeable.

First, the sower just goes out to sow.
No one has cultivated the ground ahead of time. No one has picked out the rocks, pulled the weeds, or amended the clay. No one has tilled it over or added compost to it.

And, then, the sower scatters the seed.
No one has measured the space between the plants or the depth of the seed into the furrows . No one marked sections for tomatoes or corn, squash or beans.

To our modern ears, and perhaps to his original listeners, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

But, where some hear a lamentable wastefulness and lack of preparation, what Jesus describes is the extravagance of grace and the wideness of God’s mercy for each one of us.

The sower does not judge ahead of time where the seed may be sown, but broadly and generously sows;
The sower has confidence that, when it takes root, the seed will accomplish exactly what it needs to do; and,
the sower knows the harvest will be plentiful in spite of predators and hostility.

And so, with joyful freedom and hope, God sows the Good News of abundant love and forgiveness in us.

Teaching with parables Jesus turns what we know on its head and moves us from the safety and security of what is familiar into something else, something new.

When we rush to explain the parable, our focus shifts to the four soils and we miss learning about the sower. Trying to determine which soil we are most like, we begin to assign a grade to ourselves or others, forgetting that labeling people is rarely easy, or accurate. Any one of us, at different times in our lives, may be hardened toward God, or more receptive to receiving God’s love.

Other times, we create an illusion that we have some control over the conditions where the seed will be planted, or the yield that will be harvested. But again, we are overreaching, forgetting that God is the life-giving creator and we are not.

“This parable is a vivid reminder of all God has overcome – rocks, scorching sun, thorns and snatching – to bring life into the world.”[1] It invites us to reflect on all the uncultivated places where the gospel can be shared.

Our congregation may be a greenhouse where all the “right” conditions exist for the gospel to be heard, but the world is a lot more messy and uncontrollable. And yet, there is no place or person beyond the reach of God’s mercy.

I wonder where we might be surprised by God the way Jesus surprised his followers when he told this parable.

After all, life springs forth all around us from unexpected places and people — flowers bloom in the cracks of sidewalks and wildflowers flourish in highway medians. But we must open our eyes to see and open our ears to listen to our neighbors, if we want to witness what God is doing in our midst.

Let us pray…
Generous God,
Thank you for your reckless love for us,
even when we harden our hearts toward you or waste your gifts.
Help us follow your Son Jesus as disciples every day even when his teachings challenge us.
Sanctified by your Holy Spirit, may Your word take root deep in our hearts and minds, that we would share with our neighbors in the abundant life you prepare for us all.
Amen.

[1] “Day Resources,” Sundays and Seasons. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

5th Sunday after Pentecost

How would you define insanity?

My favorite definition is that “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Whether it’s arguing with Google maps about which route to take, trying to cook without a recipe, or following the same broken pattern of trying to control or master everyday life on my own, it doesn’t end well. But still I hesitate, clinging to the idea that maybe this time, it'll turn out differently.

Of course, it doesn’t. I have to find a turnaround, or dump the whole pan into the trash, or confess my conceit or arrogance,
my sin.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to me, and to any of you who are like me.

You can imagine him throwing his hands up in the air, as he wonders out loud, “To what will I compare this generation?”

First, his cousin John had come to the people proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near, but they had dismissed him; and now Jesus is with them, showing them what the kingdom of God looks like all around them, and they find fault with him as well. But it isn’t their fault-finding that Jesus abhors; it is their refusal to see that God is offering them abundant life. Instead, they are distracted and disgruntled by adiaphora, the inconsequential things.

Their attitude remind me of a group of students I was with at Lutheridge a couple of weeks ago for confirmation camp. During our teaching about where God shows up in our lives, we include a number of scenes from “Simon Birch”, a movie based on the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. In one of the scenes, a mother dies unexpectedly after she is hit on the head by a baseball, and in the minutes after the scene, the kids in the group began dissecting the physics of what had happened. They were asking questions about velocity and anatomy; anything to avoid the harder and more ambiguous questions: questions like,
Where was God in this story? and 
How is our loving God present in the midst of tragedy?

As we brought the conversation back to those big questions, someone noticed out loud on how much easier it is for us to focus on the minutia, to tackle the questions that have concrete answers and don’t force us to engage faith.

The crowds around Jesus were doing the same thing. They were focused on what John wore or who Jesus ate with and what he drank, and they ignored the harder questions of what it would mean to repent or how they might love someone who is very different from themselves.

And Jesus calls them out,
“Stop paying attention to things that don’t matter!”

And then, with great gentleness, he reminds his followers that God’s mercy is still there for them. For us.

Saying, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”, Jesus reminds us that we do not bear the weight of the world, or even our own lives, alone.
God accompanies us and offers us rest and respite.

Relying on ourselves, shouldering the load and refusing to seek the help that is available doesn’t mean we’re more competent, capable or stronger. It only means we’re alone, and the God we know in Scripture didn’t create us to be alone! God created us for relationship, with God and with one another.

When we take on the yoke of discipleship
where we are listening to God’s Word in our lives and building relationships with one another
and where we live in response to the mercy we have first been given,
we are strengthened for the challenges we face in this life.

Recently I heard a teacher describe Belgian plow horses - forgive the comparison - but this is a breed of draft horses who are incredibly strong. And, as he told us about these beasts, he noted that alone, a single horse can pull 8,000 pounds, and then he went on to talk about how much weight two horses yoked together can pull. And, it was a staggering amount, but what was even more remarkable was that when two of these horses have been brought up and trained together, they can pull not twice as much, but four times as much – 32,000 pounds![1]

Over and over, we forget God’s promises,
we try to carry our burdens alone and then we wonder why we are so exhausted.
God provides us with partners in the gospel, and in life, to help us.

That is what it means to be church together. Together our strength is increased.

Jesus isn’t making new promises here; he is recalling familiar, but perhaps overlooked, or even forgotten, words from the psalmists and the prophets who first proclaimed God’s promises to be with us and bear our burdens.

Today I want to give you a reminder that God offers us a different life,
a reminder that we don’t have to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

I have a prayer square, like this one, for everyone here today
the tag has Matthew 11:28 on one side:

"Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

and the other side reads:
"This square is made with prayers for your comfort, encouragement, safety and well-being. When you feel lonely or need comfort, reach for me in your pocket. You are not alone. God and our prayers are with you always. God bless and keep you."

As you take a square this morning, I invite you to remember that God carries your burdens day by day and offers you rest. 

Let us pray…
Holy God,
When we are wearied and burdened by sin,
help us remember that you forgive our sin and give us new life;
Give us wisdom that we would choose the yoke of discipleship and follow Jesus;
Help us find rest in you and by your Holy Spirit, fill us with joy that our words and actions would reflect your merciful love.
Amen.

[1] Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace University.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

4th Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s gospel is at the end of a section of Matthew called the missionary discourse. The texts from the last several weeks have come from this same speech that Jesus is making to his followers that began with the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples, warned them that it would be difficult and challenged them that they would face hatred even from their own families. Here, he speaks about welcome.

Often when we talk about welcome in the church we talk about how we welcome other people into our spaces. We ask if there are physical obstacles, like stairs? Are the amenities, like our restrooms, clearly marked and are there clear direction signs? Is it obvious where to enter the building?

Or, we are attentive to people who are new to us, encouraging each other to greet guests who aren’t regular worshipers, learn names and stories and invite them to lunch or out for coffee.

We make welcome and hospitality synonymous with good manners and kindness, and, especially in the south, we’re pretty sure we learned all we needed about that in kindergarten.

But while we must never forget that Jesus instructs us to welcome the stranger — the refugee and the widow — as though we were entertaining the Christ himself, today’s gospel has a different emphasis.

In this passage, Jesus’ words about welcome are about all of us who go into our communities as Christ’s representatives.

They are not just for me as the called pastor,
or for our council members who you elected to lead,
but for every person who hears them. Especially as culture becomes more secular and more people identify as “spiritual but not religious,” you may be the only Jesus someone ever meets.

More than five hundred years ago, in his essay “Freedom of a Christian” Martin Luther wrote that we are to become Christ to one another. He did not believe that faith should be mediated through a priest and fought against the sin of indulgences that literally put a price tag on God’s free gift of grace.

Centuries later, in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis stated that “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

Jesus’ words remind us that the smallest gesture — even offering a cup of cold water — made in Jesus’ name counts. The truth is that “in the kingdom of God, there are no small gestures.”[i]

The call to discipleship is not a call to heroics. The life of faith is one of showing up — being present — and it is made up of a thousand acts of grace:
calling to check on someone you haven’t seen in a while;
offering a hug to someone who is lonely;
listening when someone needs to talk;
providing a ride to someone who needs one.

God is at work in our individual acts of kindness and generosity,
as grace overflows the wells of our lives and floods into the lives of the people we meet.

The poet Mary Oliver writes,
“[we] have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine.”[ii]

We may not ever see the effects of our being in the world as “little Christs”; our sole responsibility is to live in response to the grace we’ve first been given, sharing God’s love in the world as best as we can. Like a stone skipping across a lake, each act of grace, large and small, causes ripples and transforms lives.

The transforming work is God’s responsibility and promise, but in this missionary discourse, Jesus clearly invites us to participate in God’s work in our community. While we may be more comfortable staying in familiar surroundings, and focusing on things we can control – like how we welcome others when they come to us – here, Jesus makes it clear that we are sent into the world on God’s behalf.

So, let’s pray and let’s go:
Gracious God,
Send us without fear into the world as messengers of your love and grace that the world would know your mercy.
Give us courage to go out when it’s easier to stay home and give us confidence that you are accompanying us and equipping us.
We pray in the name of your Son Jesus,
Amen.

[i] David Lose. In the Meantime, Pentecost 4A.
[ii] Mary Oliver, “When I am Among the Trees.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

A few days ago, I heard an interview with Krista Tippet where she was talking with Martin Sheen, who was born Ramón Estévez, and he was telling her about the first real job he held, as a caddy at a golf course. As he talked, he described how he was as invisible to the men playing golf as a gnat or bumblebee on the greens.

And I remember a movie from a few years ago where a woman who was working as a hotel maid was arguing with a politician who had fallen in love with her. He had discovered she had lied about her name and her work, and he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t told him the truth when they met. She told him, “That wasn’t the first time we met; the first time we met I was cleaning your bathroom.” She had been hidden in plain sight, as overlooked as a towel rack or a set of clothes hangers.

Sadly, stories like theirs aren’t new or novel. In fact, they are among the oldest stories we find in our biblical narrative. Today, in Genesis we meet Hagar, an Egyptian slave woman serving Abram’s wife Sarai, and the mother of Ishmael, but to understand the story we have in chapter 21, we need to go back to an earlier chapter of their lives together.

Listen to these verses from Genesis chapter 16:
Sarai said to Abram, "You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress….
Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.
Abram and Sarai, to whom God had promised a blessing of descendants that outnumber the stars in heaven (ch. 15), doubted God’s promises and provision. Instead, they seized an opportunity they saw in front of them to make things turn out theway they wanted by their own actions.

In Hagar, Sarai saw a young and fertile slave who Abram could take as his wife and who could bear his son. Hagar was nothing more to her than a means to an end; because slaves and their children were property of their masters, Hagar’s childbearing would elevate Sarai and remove the stigma she experienced by being barren.

But Sarai’s carefully laid plan to elevate herself backfired, because it revealed her callousness, and itreduced her, costing her the respect or esteem of Hagar the slave woman. And when Sarai saw that she was no longer respected by Hagar, she despised her even more.

In the next part of the story, while she is in the wilderness, an angel of the Lord appears to Hagar, giving her the first annunciation in Scripture and telling her to name her son Ishmael or “God heard.” Then, she becomes the only person to name God, calling God “A God of seeing.” (16:13)

Knowing she has been both heard and seen by God, that God cares for her needs and values her, she follows the angel’s instructions and returns to her mistress.

When we pick up the story today, the family is celebrating a milestone in Ishmael’s life when Sarai becomes jealous and orders Abram to send the child and his mother away. Their presence is a painful reminder of her former barrenness, and her failure to trust God.

But, instead of the harm intended for her by Abram and Sarai, Hagar experiences the compassion of God first in exodus and now in exile.

This time God doesn’t instruct her to return to her mistress. This time, when God finds her in the wilderness and speaks to her, God remains with her where she is, recalling the divine promise to make her son Ishmael into a great nation. Just as God provides for Israel when they are exiled in Babylon, God provides for Hagar and Ishmael in Paran, recognizing that while they are outside the covenant established with Abram, they are not outside God’s mercy and compassion.

This story prompts me to ask, “Who are the people hidden in plain sight in our lives today?” "Who are the invisible people?"

Is it the man sitting on the median on 74 with the sign that says “homeless” or the women behind the locked doors of the shelter down the street?

What about the people hidden in plain sight in our everyday lives: a cashier at the grocery store or gas station, a server at a restaurant, a receptionist on the other end of the phone?

Who are the people we avoid or dismiss because their very presence awakens our fears or recalls our regrets? What blinds us from seeing the person God created and loves? Are there people with whom we have broken relationships or, perhaps, whole groups of people narrowly defined by political party or race, or whatever label makes them unpopular this morning?

While the good news given to Hagar and Ishmael is that no one is outside of God’s care,
if we, like Sarai, are the ones in power, sending away those who we have named “other”, that good news may sting.
And, if we are like Abram, complicit and submissive, watching as others are shut out, it may convict us in our silence.
Thankfully, God’s love persists for us, too, and God’s mercy and forgiveness is healing balm for those self-inflicted wounds.

Let us pray.
Holy and compassionate God,
Thank you for the wideness of your mercy that is not limited or bound by us.
Thank you for the reach of your love that you find us when we are in the wilderness.
Thank you for the steadfastness of your promises even when we doubt and fear and try to wrestle control from you.
Whether we are in safety and comfort, exodus or exile, may we find our rest in you.
In the name of El-Roi, the God who sees, we pray.
Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity of our Lord

About thirty-five years ago, I stood on the deck of a brand new guided missile frigate at a shipyard in Washington state when it was commissioned for service in the US Navy; my dad was the ship’s first commanding officer and my brother and I were there for the ceremony.

This ship had been in the works for more than four years; plans were drawn, its hull was laid, it was launched and christened, and it had been through sea trials before we ever got to that day. On that day there was a huge celebration with red, white and blue bunting, a Navy band, rear admirals, speeches and photos, and a cake as long as I was tall at eleven years old.

For the shipbuilder it was the celebrated culmination of a lot of hard work, and it was time to turn the ship over to my father and the crew, as they began their service together. And for the 215 sailors and officers on board - well, I don’t know because I was eleven – but I imagine they were filled with anticipation and excitement, confident that their training had equipped them well for the work ahead and hopeful that they would serve their mission well.

Today’s Gospel text is often called the Great Commission, and I have to believe that, standing on that mountain with Jesus, the eleven disciples were experiencing some of that same excitement and anticipation, when Jesus told them to go out into the world and make disciples.

After all, they had spent three years following Jesus and witnessing how he spoke and taught, how he lived his life and loved the people he encountered. And he didn’t just command them to go; he coupled his command with a promise. He told them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It is that promise that gives us confidence that “no matter what and in whatever circumstances”, Christ is with us.[i]

But a lot of us don’t really believe that, do we?

Like the disciples who worshiped and doubted, we remember Jesus telling them, “you will not always have me [with you]” and, when we feel distant from God, we think it is because God has abandoned us. [ii] Because we cannot see the evidence of God’s presence, we assume God is absent.

But the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[iii]

As followers of Jesus, we can go into the world with confidence and hope because God is abounding in steadfast love for us, and God promises that we do not go alone.

But, we do have to go.

The disciples couldn’t stay in Jerusalem; they followed Jesus north to the region of Galilee. We cannot stay in our building or on our church property, or even in our own comfortable circles of friends; God sends us to find our own “Galilee” – the place where others are, others who do not yet know God loves them.

Our commission is to invite people – of all ages –
to see God in their lives:
to awaken to the holy presence of God who loves us,
God who sheds tears at the violence in our world,
God who winces when we pierce each other with barbed words.

Maybe the summer offers us new opportunities to be attentive to this commissioning we’ve been given, and look, with some excitement and anticipation for those places where God may be leading us and those places where people are hurting and who might be changed by knowing they are not alone.

I don’t think we have to go far to find them.

With school out for the summer, I think of the children who have depended on free breakfast and lunch at their schools; and I am grateful for free summer lunch programs but I wonder if they know where to find them.

With the return of summer storms and power outages, I think of older neighbors who may be vulnerable to the soaring heat, but I don’t know how to offer help without treading on their privacy.

And, when even the shade temperatures reach the 90s, I think of people living without electricity or without clean or cold water, but I know we can’t afford to leave our outdoor spigots unlocked because they get left running wide open.

I don't know the answers to how to be present for all of these different people, but God does.

In the June newsletter I asked you to be praying for renewal in our congregation and in your life and to be listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel is more than mere encouragement. It is a commandment for us to step out into the world as Jesus’ followers and be different because of the promises we have from God.

Trusting in those promises, and confident that God will show us how to be in the world where we are needed, let us pray.

Holy God,
May we remember that you are with us always,
to the end of the age;
Give us courage to go out into the world
even though we don’t have all the answers;
and equip us to bear witness to your love and mercy
knowing that You look upon us and take delight in us as Your beloved children.
Amen.[iv]

[i] Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, June 11, 2017.
[ii] Matthew 26:11
[iii] Hebrews11:1
[iv] Adapted from Laughing Bird Liturgical Resources.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Day of Pentecost

Today we’re celebrating Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, and we are reaching back through the ancestry of our faith to build upon a tradition of God’s spirit being sent among God’s people.

Throughout Scripture, in both old and new testaments,
the Spirit of God has been making its presence known
and equipping us to do the work that God wants us to do.

In Numbers, there’s a story of God sharing the gift of the spirit with seventy others who would help Moses lead Israel in the wilderness of their life together;

And the setting for today’s Gospel — the Jewish Festival of Booths — that celebrated God giving the law to Moses at Mount Sinai recalls an event that defined God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel.

And finally, in Acts, we get the story of Pentecost when the spirit visibly comes in tongues of flame as a sign that different groups of people have received God’s Spirit,
that the Spirit has broken into the lives of a community.

These different stories show us God speaking through many different voices and kinds of people, and giving us a new common or shared language – the language of faith.

Learning a new language works best by immersion, when you are surrounded by other people who are learning alongside you, and you can turn to others who are have been speaking it longer than you. Instead of studying phrases and vocabulary from a book or listening to a recording, you hear the words in their context and you can pick up on all the other clues that help the new language make sense.

You will trip over new sounds and foreign words, and it may feel just as awkward as rowdy experiences of the Spirit, with raised hands and voices, or thunderous noise from clapping or shouting, might feel in many of our Lutheran worship settings, but immersion helps you soak up the new language, like new wine, so that it becomes part of your identity.

It sounds a lot like the past three years of faith formation with Landon and Devyn and Rainey who will be confirmed later this morning in worship.

We began by learning together the big-picture ark of God’s story in the Bible that shows us how we are created for relationship with a loving God and given responsibility to live out of the grace that we have been given.

We spent time reading Luther’s Small Catechism and the language he gives us to better understand God’s commandments and the profession of faith that we make in the apostle’s creed.
We practiced praying for each other even as we learned more about the prayer that Jesus gives us in scripture.

And we tackled hard questions that we face when faith and life intersect; questions like “Why do bad things happen?” and “Is it ok to be mad at God?”; questions that come up when our world is scarred by brokenness and doesn’t measure up to the promises we hear from God.

We didn’t find all the answers. In fact, I would bet we found more questions, but we also discovered that God is big enough for our questions and, even, for our anger and our sadness.

We discovered that living a Christian life is about learning how to live in relationship with a loving God, where you talk to God and listen to God, and where you show up just like you would to build any new friendship.

In the story of Pentecost we hear a babel of voices,
but unlike the story in Genesis, on this day, by the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst, everyone understands each other.

When we celebrate Landon, Devyn and Rainey affirming the promises made on their behalf at their baptisms, we will also be celebrating that God brings us together in our differences, and, by God’s Spirit, unites us and helps us find understanding together.  

Today, even as our joy is tempered by loss, we rejoice that the Spirit is here, moving among us, reshaping and redefining who we are as we are joined together be God’s people in the world.
The story of Pentecost reminds us that we do not live in faith only for ourselves but for the sake of the world. God promises that the Spirit gives us just what each of us needs to go out and take the Good News of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness to our neighbors, and to show the world who Jesus is in our words and actions.

Like the acts of the Spirit we heard in the story of Pentecost, and like learning a new language, learning to live filled with God’s Spirit can be messy and hard and even awkward.

But it is also really very beautiful as you see the Spirit working right here in our corner of the world, as we come to understand that we are brought together intentionally by God,
and who we are is who we are by the work of the Spirit and not by any effort or merit of our own.

Let us pray.
Holy God,
Pour out Your Spirit upon us and renew us for the work you want us to do. Help us discern the gifts you have given each of us.
Kindle the fire of Your Spirit in us that we would share your Good News with our neighbors with joy.
Continue the good work you have begun in us and strengthen our community, for the sake of the world.

Amen.