Responsive Call to Worship
Into the disturbance
created in our understanding of God
by the advent of Jesus,
comes then the Spirit—
to keep our understanding of God from settling—
to keep us disturbed—
to keep our minds ever moving
from the abstract specificity of God transcendent
to the more concrete specificity of God immanent
to the anonymity of God the spirit,
in whom we yet live and move
and have our being
(not because the point is to move from abstract and transcendent
through incarnate immanent to the Spirit, you understand,
but to not get comfortable in any one understanding of God!)—
so to keep shifting our focus—
from stories of encounter
to reflection on experience
(and then encounter in experience—
and round and round)—
from the question, “why haven’t You?”
to the question, “Why aren’t we?”—
to keep us trusting God,
and participating in the reality and the work of God
through the Spirit—
in the ever-developing story,
growing energy in its consistency,
through time and change,
to who we know God to be.
Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.
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. Divided tongues, as of fire,
appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation
under heaven living in Jerusalem.
And at this sound the crowd gathered
and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking
in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished,
they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
And how is it that we hear, each of us,
in our own native language?
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia,
Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene,
and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
Cretans and Arabs—
in our own languages we hear them speaking
about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed,
saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
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.
Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose,
for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
No, 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.
While Peter was still speaking,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
had been poured out even on the Gentiles,
for they heard them speaking in tongues
and extolling God. Then Peter said,
‘Can anyone withhold the water
for baptizing these people
who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’
So he ordered them to be baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Yesterday was the running of the Belmont Stakes.
Wish he had won the Kentucky Derby
when we were considering the first of a trinity!
And so it is that a different horse
won each of the three races of the Triple Crown.
And consequently so much less interest and energy.
I wouldn’t have even googled
who won the Belmont Stakes this year
if we weren’t doing this series.
Here’s the thing:
we noted a couple of weeks ago
that those who encountered Jesus
experienced in him a remarkable consistency with God—
a remarkable continuity to the story.
And in the unfolding continuity of that story being told,
there was created more interest and energy.
This story is our story of old—our faith story.
As the story continued to unfold,
certain events in Jerusalem were included.
We read about them in our Acts reading.
Pentecost, we call that part of the story.
And with the advent of the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit,
there was named in Jerusalem that day
a new experience of consistency with God—
of more continuity in the story
located now in the disciples—
made manifest in their lives—
as had been promised by Jesus.
For Jesus had specifically named a sequential dimension to this story.
In the words of Jesus, we read:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,
to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth .…
You know him, because he abides with you,
and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
“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” (John 14:26).
Later, Jesus clarifies:
“When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13a).
Jesus even says, “It is to your advantage that I go away.
For if I do not go away,
the Advocate will not come to you,
but if I go, I will send the Advocate to you” (John 16:7).
The Spirit does not just come to reveal truth
to teach truth—as Jesus did,
but to guide them into truth.
The Spirit comes not to make affirmations of truth
but to guide them into living truth—
to guide them in implementing
what they had seen and heard.
Now these words of Jesus were, initially,
a promise to the disciples.
But later that same promise would be realized,
as we read in the story of Cornelius,
in the lives of Gentiles.
So, in what’s most important,
Jesus resonated with God—
as did the disciples—
as did, later, Gentile God fearers—
Is there continuity to the story of God in our lives?
Is there consistency to who God is in who we are?
I think I have said to you before,
more and more, I come to believe,
it’s not what we believe about Jesus that’s important,
but whether we believe in Jesus
and live accordingly.
Do we believe not in affirmations of truth
about God and Jesus and the Spirit,
but have we been guided into a living
consistent with that truth?
Do we believe in God and Jesus and the Spirit
as with us—
helping us live
that continue the story?
Because that’s where the story continues to live.
That’s where there’s interest and energy—
in lives in which the story is real.
Rob Bell asks us to imagine
inheriting an uncle’s boat.
And it needs work so you replace the old wooden boards on the hull.
Then you notice the deck.
“Well, since I’m replacing wood ….”
But with all new wood, do you really want old hardware?
So then you replace the hardware.
Then the instruments.
Then the sails.
“If you keep this up,” writes Bell, “at some point
you will have replaced the entire boat,
and yet when you take your friends out for a ride,
you will tell them that this is the boat your uncle left you …”
Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God
[New York: HarperOne, 2013] 52).
I’m not saying we are God.
I’m saying we can live lives consistent with who God is—
live lives in which people recognize God—
live lives in which we can name God with integrity.
And, my friends, it has to do with loving.
It has to do with loving.
And when people notice,
you will tell them,
“This is the life my God gave me.
And it is abundant and wonderful,
and I am grateful.”
Last year, with American Pharaoh
having won both the Derby and the Preakness,
the Saturday afternoon of the Belmont Stakes,
I googled the start time.
I didn’t tune in to actually watch the race—
I’m really not into horse racing,
but I did google it again, afterwards,
to see who won,
and was excited to see that American Pharaoh had!
The Trinity is the energy of continuity and consistency.
That’s what people are looking for
in the church—from christians.
The world is looking at us to see if they see God.
That’s what the world needs.
That’s what we’re called to.
That’s what will fulfill our living.
That’s what will bring us joy.
That’s what will redeem creation.
“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….
For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:15, 19).
I put it this way:
I know if I eat the cookies and the candy—
the cake—the sweets,
a/ I’ll end up eating more than I should;
and, b/ I’ll end up feeling yucky.
I’ll feel so much better if I eat the melon and berries—
and as much of them as I want.
I eat the cookies—the candy—the cake.
But you know what?
The disciples ate the cookies too.
So did Paul.
They made poor and wrong decisions.
They did the evil they did not want to do—
as have all who ever followed God in the way of Jesus.
hear this good news!
And yet consistency with God—
continuity within the story—
is not about perfection.
It’s rather about choosing this story
as the one you want to continue—
as the one you want continued in you—
in and by which you want to be known.
It’s about committing to this story as the one worth living—
the one worth ever coming back to—
even after falling short.
our experience of God develops along with or within
our conceptual framework of God
that comes from tradition and heritage.
We see more what we expect to see
than what there is to see.
That’s not a judgment.
It’s just the way it is,
and our ideas about God are not as much
reflections upon our own experience,
but the frame within which we name experience of God.
I wonder sometimes
if the story that gave us the Trinity—
unfolded as it did
in order to take God out of a conceptual framework
into our lived experience.
And so, of course, we have made of that
a conceptual framework!
But if Trinity is only reflection
on someone else’s reflection on experience with God,
instead of reflection on our own experience of God—
it’s of no use.
The Trinity as concept about God
is of no use if not incorporated in our lives
as practical reality.
We are baptized into a story,
not a conceptual framework—
into a way of living,
not a way of thinking—
a way of believing in,
not a believing about.
At its best,
Trinity is not about numbers at all—
not about persons of the godhead.
At its best,
Trinity is perfect invitation (it is three, right?)—
perfect invitation into a wonderful choreography
of transcendence, immanence and experience—
invitation into a story that keeps going—
that keeps surprising us
with the way it keeps going—
into the story of the continuity of God
that invites us all in
to the love that redeems creation.
Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-9
We always give thanks to God for all of you
and mention you in our prayers,
constantly remembering before our God and Father
your work of faith and labour of love
and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God,
that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel
came to you not in word only, but also in power
and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction;
just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you
for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy
inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example
to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you
not only in Macedonia and Achaia,
but in every place where your faith in God has become known,
so that we have no need to speak about it.
For the people of those regions report about us
what kind of welcome we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols,
to serve a living and true God ….