May 24, 2015
Day of Pentecost
The disciples have gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. They must have been pretty confused and tired. Their teacher, who they had been following for three years, who seemed to have answers and a connection to God that they had never seen before, had been crucified on a cross like a common criminal. And while they were trying to come to terms with what all that meant, Jesus miraculously appeared to the women who came to the tomb and to some of the disciples and talked with them and ate with them! And then just as they were getting their heads around that, Jesus unexpectedly ascended into heaven. Before he left, Jesus told them that a “Comforter” would come and to wait, but that was all they knew. So this little band of Jesus’ followers was probably confused and worn out by all the drama, loss and grief that they were going through. They were probably wondering what were they going to do now?
When Lauren was around four years old we took her and Marian to see a movie called “The Bear.” It was a children’s movie, but instead of animation it was about a real bear family living in their natural habitat. In the first few minutes we see a mother and her cub cavorting in a river, eating berries and playing together. But quickly this idyllic scene is shattered as the bears are surrounded by hunters and the mother is shot. As the mother bear lays dying and the baby bear is crying, Lauren crawled up onto my lap and with tears running down her face said, “But Mommy, now who is going to love the baby bear?
I think the disciples probably felt like that: lost and alone. They were looking at the broken pieces of their expectations and the chaos that surrounded them and wondering how they were ever going to move on to accomplish what Jesus had asked them to do.
Chaos is everywhere. The disciples certainly didn’t have a corner on it. We, in our own lives, know the effects of chaos. An unexpected diagnosis, a broken car, an injury, economic downturns, losing a job, addiction, war, terrorism, the sudden news that a loved one is in trouble. And sometimes even good news can cause chaos: like Marian and Chris deciding to get married! Each event is an unexpected reminder that we are not in control and sometimes we are not really sure that anyone else is in control, either.
While on Silent Retreat I began re-reading a book I have had on my bookshelf for quite a while called Seven Life Lessons of Chaos.
“The definition of the scientific term ‘chaos,’ refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events. Chaos science focuses on the hidden patterns, nuance, the ‘sensitivity’ of things and the ‘rules’ for how the unpredictable leads to the new.”
Scientists use chaos science in many disparate ways, from understanding wave action to tracking hurricane occurrence to mapping the complicated responses of the nerves in our bodies. But what is really interesting about chaos science is that the seeming randomness of things is really an illusion and that there is order that comes from chaos that is unexpected.
Think about a flock of birds taking off from the trees. Initially, as all the birds rise into the air there is complete chaos, but as the birds’ flight patterns intersect with each other and they jockey for space and try and avoid bumping into each other, all of a sudden the chaos turns into an organized pattern and the birds glide off into the sky, each in its own appointed place.
Another well known effect in weather, The Butterfly Effect is also a component of chaos science. First discovered when trying to plot global weather patterns, researchers now know that even small and subtle shifts in temperature, wind speed and air pressure even as small as the flap of a butterfly wing can significantly impact the weather system as they cycle through the system, causing major impact in developing storms across the globe.
In modern society we often only recognize change when it is a large event like a revolution, or the impact of a heroic person, and are unaware of the more mundane and subtle changes that occur by small shifts in thinking. In almost every ancient society, however, the trickster or shape shifter was seen as having a greater or more dominant role than a hero in effecting change, although the change they wrought was more subtle – and balanced the need for control with the creativity of chaos.
In Japan it is the raccoon who shape shifts, but in other cultures it is the raven or the fox. The trickster never engages with things directly, so the raccoon who wants to be fed and is thwarted by the monk who sets traps and fences in his food supplies, relies instead on tricking the monk into inviting him to dinner, heating the water for a bath and pouring him cup after cup of saké, teaching him in the process that all living things should be cared for. The trickster subtly mocks or tricks people into see beyond the norms and conventions of society. Then the Butterfly Effect passes that insight on and soon it is found everywhere. Tricksters like Gandhi and Rosa Parks helped us move beyond class and color to see all of humanity as part of the whole.
In many ways Jesus was a bit of a trickster too. Although the priests and the Romans constantly tried to engage him to see if they could trap him in their nets of heresy and treason, Jesus gently turned them aside with answers like “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus was not the conquering hero from Greek and Roman mythology; rather he came into town riding a donkey and talked about a soft answer turning away wrath. He was also not the Messiah that everyone expected; rather he made friends with Samaritans and tax collectors and liked a good party.
Jesus seemed to understand that chaos was a way to open people’s minds to new truths. Every time he told a parable he upset the “known” or “understood” values of his culture and gave people a way to enter into a new and creative understanding of their relationship with God and others.
So the disciples should not have been surprised that the Comforter who was going to help them make sense of all this chaos was not quite what they expected either. Instead, the answer was wind and fire and an infilling of the Holy Spirit which caused them to speak in many different languages, which was just what they needed to be able to communicate with all the people who had come to Jerusalem from all around the known world. In a moment they were transformed from people who were waiting to people who had purpose.
I think it is fascinating to read Peter’s first sermon, which begins in our lections for today. Suddenly he is empowered. This is not the person who rejected Jesus three times; this is a person who seems to have suddenly been able to find his truth in that moment and preach that truth to the crowds who gathered to listen. And later on Acts tells us that many gathered together, sold their property and possessions “and shared their meals with unaffected joy as they praised God and enjoyed the favor of the whole people.”
Something profound happened that day. It is as if something that had been nascent since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension was unleashed and the world has not been the same since. I think when the Holy Spirit entered that room at Pentecost chaos entered too. A chaos of the unexpected, the chaos of creativity, the chaos of the trickster!
* * * * *
So what about us?
Does the Holy Spirit empower you and me?
Are we changed?
Is the world changed at all by us being here in this church?
This morning we reflected on the Call of Seekers Church as we began our worship. There is some interesting language here, trickster language, if you will. The first paragraph seems pretty standard – come to church weekly and talk about the Bible, share leadership and then go out into the world to live as Christians in our daily lives.
But then you come to the next three paragraphs, which define “Seekers Community,” “shared leadership” and “Christian servanthood,” and suddenly it doesn’t seem so standard anymore.
“Seekers Community” is defined as an intentional group who sees Christ as our true life source and that fellowships with one another with genuine self-giving because we see that as a way to be in Christ.
By “shared leadership” we mean empowering all people to help our worship flow out of and into the life of our intentional community, all while evoking and giving space to new gifts of preaching, liturgical leadership, creative worship forms, giving, mission and other acts of faith.
And finally, “Christian servanthood” is based on empowering others in all aspects of their lives, as well as through service and witness. We encourage and welcome everyone regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation to participate with us, including persons of all ages. And we commit to equipping and supporting one another in doing this, all while seeking a balance between them.
It is only after getting all those definitions out of the way that we get to our call, which says that Seekers sees itself called into Christ’s ministry of deliverance from bondage to freedom in every personal and corporate expression. We are also called to recognize the value of each individual and seek to heal the wounds of discrimination inflicted by our society and church.
Phew! That’s a lot. But I want you to notice some things that are different about this model than one would expect.
It is very clear that intentionality is a big part of being in community here. We are intentional in being together and we are intentional in being on the way in our faith in Christ. Intentionality helps us keep working on ourselves, and being with others who are also intentional helps us realize that we always need to work more!
Secondly, we are not looking for a leader to emerge from among us that we will all follow. Instead we are looking for leadership to come from many different places and to be collaborative and inclusive in sharing that leadership. It is clear that nothing would get done here if we did not have each one of us doing our part. We are all crew and we all need to be doing something.
Third, we are a welcoming community to everyone, no matter their age, gender, race or sexual orientation. Everyone is valuable and valued.
Fourth, we want to empower people and evoke gifts to do the work we are called to do. I know there are people in this room who have experienced this empowerment and who had gifts evoked in their mission groups that they never knew they had.
And finally, we want to do all these things because our task is great, greater than all of us, because we are called to deliver people from bondage into freedom and to heal their wounds.
The disciples in that room had no idea what was coming. Imagine in that moment before the Holy Spirit descended on them that there was a pause. What if it never happened? What if the disciples had celebrated Pentecost, had eaten dinner together and had gone home without ever encountering the Holy Spirit?
Would we be different?
Would we be here?
What if Sonya and Fred [who founded Seekers Church] never heard theirs?
And what if Seekers had never come together?
Where would we be?
Would we be here?
* * * * *
The Holy Spirit is a trickster calling us into doing and being things we could never imagine we could possibly be. I know that is true for me. If you had told me while I was in college that I would be standing here before you preaching a sermon and a part of the Servant Leadership Team in a small church which has the audacity to claim that its call is to free people from bondage and heal the wounds of discrimination, I would have laughed. That was the last thing that was on my agenda. And yet here I am, not by taking some big step but lots and lots of little steps and never quite seeing where I was going until I got here. I imagine many of you are the same. For some reason you are here. There is a purpose for you here and there is a lot to do, right here.
Every day we see people who are in bondage to something: money, jobs, relationships, isolation, illness or poverty. And sometimes the people in bondage are us. We are called to heal the wounds of discrimination inflicted by our society and church; we see people every day who are suffering and hurting and sometimes it is ourselves.
Paul in Romans says that the Holy Spirit comes to aid us in our weakness and that even though we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit hears our inarticulate groans and pleads on our behalf and God will respond.
In many ways we are answering Lauren’s question, because it is God’s love shown through us that will free people and heal their wounds, not anything we do on our own.
So when we ask ourselves, “Who will love the lost, the ones in bondage, the discriminated against, the wounded ones . . . and us?” We can answer, “WE WILL!” but only because the power of the Holy Spirit is present in that WE!
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
Help us, Help us, Help us.