The Crowning Glory of Creation

The Crowning Glory of Creation                                     Peace Presbyterian Church

Genesis 1:26-2:9, 15-25                                                   Summer Bible Characters

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          18 June 2017 – Father’s Day

 

I have been at Peace very rarely on Father’s Day!   So I’m going to start today by saying how thankful I am to the father of our four children for his active and engaged nurture of our children.  I am grateful I am to have had an involved father, who was an excellent listener and a man of strong faith.  Of course, on Mother’s and Father’s Day, it’s always complicated.   There is always some pain among us, because some are still recovering from the grief of losing or never having good fathers or mothers.  And some of us have regrets over our own fathering or mothering.   Father’s Day is further complicated by years of patriarchy in church and culture, so I am grateful to say that while fatherhood is an important image for God, it is no longer the dominating one.  Thanks to the church’s greater care with language, our understanding of God is now broader than the maleness that dominated Michelangelo and others for generations.  Our understanding of humanity is more equitable, (thanks Rodin), our gender roles are more fluid, and we have a deeper appreciation of the breadth and diversity of holy and loving relationships, blessed by God.  

 

We are reading today parts of both creation narratives, the end of one and beginning of the other.  Our focus is on God’s greatest act – the creation of humanity.   Notice as we read that Adam and Eve are not named in any of these verses.  That comes later, but be aware that the Hebrew word for humanity is

a-dam, but it is also sometimes translated man, instead of humanity.  We used to use those terms inter-changebly until we realized that it was not helpful to think of male as normative and female as somehow less than the image of God.  We now know that how we speak of humanity and of God really shapes reality.   Listen for God’s word, speaking to you today.

 

 

 

Genesis 1:26- 2:9, 15-25

Then God said, "Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth." 27 God created humanity in God's own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground." 29 Then God said, "I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30 To all wildlife, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground--to everything that breathes--I give all the green grasses for food." And that's what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.

 2:1 The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 2 On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.  On the day the LORD God made earth and sky-- 5 before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the LORD God hadn't yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6 though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land-- 7 the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life's breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 8 The LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9 In the fertile land, the LORD God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…

15 The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The LORD God commanded the human, "Eat your fill from all of the garden's trees; 17 but don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!" 18 Then the LORD God said, "It's not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him." 19 So the LORD God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20 The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found. 21 So the LORD God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the LORD God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human said, "This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.  She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken." 24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren't embarrassed. (CEB)

 

The first and most important point I want to make is that humanity, male and female, everyone on the spectrum, is created in the image of God.   We understand that gender is part biology, and part social construct, and part mental and emotional self-understanding.  Gender identity and sexual identity are complex things.   But all of us, no matter how we identify are made in the image of God, imago Dei in Latin, tzelem Elohim, in Hebrew.  

The part of the creation story we did not read today is the story of the fall of humanity, the moment when Adam and Eve take life into their own hands, instead of trusting God.  You are created by a holy God for holy purposes.   We may get confused, misunderstand, or flatly reject God’s intention, God’s holy purposes for our lives, but that does not negate the fact that we are still imago dei at our core.   

Even people who commit atrocities like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden were created in the image of God.   Yet the image of God in them was badly marred by disobedience, by a deep misconception about the value of other human beings.  

God created the world to be supremely good! Every day of the creation story,  God looks around and says, “Wow.   This is good.   This is very good.”   And then after doing a lot of good, God rested and so should we.  We cannot function without sleep, not for very long.   And taking time to unwind and to be grateful for the goodness around you is crucial for staying connected to your God-like self.   As Anne Lamott says in her TED talk, almost anything that is not working will work again, if you unplug for a little while.   That includes you!   If God needs rest and refresh, so you do.   Sabbath is for trusting that you can stop working and the world will not fall apart, because the One Jesus called Abba, has got this whole world in His hands. 

Now this is kind of amazing, that the God of the universe, who put this beautiful, complex world together, the God who made it possible for an egg and sperm to grow together into a human being who can think and feel as deeply as we do is just beyond comprehension.   And the more we learn about the universe, the more we realize how much we do not know.  Ask an astro-physicist…. which brings me to the next point about creation.  There is no real conflict between science and scripture.   Science answers some questions, the Bible answers others.   The Bible is not trying to help you understand evolution.   Evolution is not trying to help you understand the mysteries of God, although by faith, you can see that all truth and goodness come from God. 

So, point one is we are all created in the image of God.   Point two is we need to rest – even God did – to be our best selves.   Point three is you can believe in creation and evolution – there is no conflict for people who understand the Bible to be sacred truth but not scientific history book, dropped down from heaven.

 

And point four is this:   “God commands us to care for the earth in ways that reflect God’s loving care for us.   We are responsible for ensuring that earth’s gifts be used fairly and wisely, that no creature suffers from the abuse of what we are given, and that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance and goodness of earth in praise to God.”  (Study Catechism of the PCUSA of 1998).

Last of all, point five, we come back to the beginning. We are created in the image of God and so is everyone else.   Treat yourself and others well because as award-winning singer and actress, Ethel Waters said, “God don’t make no junk.”  Say that with me.   Ethel was born into the poverty of inner city Philadelphia in 1896, to a twelve year old victim of rape at gunpoint.  She got her start singing in African American churches, moving on to the Harlem Renaissance, to Broadway and Hollywood and touring with Billy Graham.  I doubt Rev. Graham knew that she had enjoyed romantic relationships with women, long before that was culturally acceptable.  Her favorite hymn and the title of her biography, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”  His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me, but how does a little girl raised with no father sing these words of a loving protecting God?   Grace.   By grace she has helped many of us know that we are special too, because God made us.  

As David Brooks wrote an interesting piece and grace-filled piece on absentee fathers who do love their children, though for many complicated reasons are not there for them.   I wanted to quote from it, but there’s not enough time.   Also, listen to Harold Green’s poem on fatherhood on youtube, The Day will Come.   Like Anne Lamott says in her TED talk, try not to compare your insides with somebody else’s outsides.  It will only make you worse than you already are.   Don’t assume wrongly that they’ve got it all together and you don’t, because all of us are totally messed up and amazingly beautiful at the same time.  And don’t try to fix other people’s problems because they are not yours to fix.   You cannot run alongside your grown children, trying to guide their life’s journey.  Trying to help like that is just the “positive side of control,” so don’t get “your help and your goodness all over other people.”  

Haven’t you ever noticed how much freedom and space God our Father gives us to mess everything up?   Trust God about all the children of God and your children especially.  All those sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have a tendency to ignore God and go their own way, instead of trusting the One who made them, who provides all good things.  Guide them when they are young, give them roots, but as they get older, respect them, give them the freedom of wings.   Grace will allow their imago dei to emerge in God’s time – which may be long after you have crossed the bridge to the other side of life. 

 

 

 

 

Trinitarian Love is for Sharing                                        

Trinitarian Love is for Sharing          Peace Presbyterian Church

Matthew 28:16-20                                 Trinity Sunday

Elizabeth M. Deibert                              11 June 2017

 

When I first read through the texts this week, and saw the Great Commission as one of them, I was not excited.   I knew why is was the Gospel reading – because it is one of the few places in the Bible where all three persons of the Trinity are named together.   Jesus is guiding us to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.    Now I don’t know about you but when I hear that, I immediately react a little negatively.  “Make disciples of all nations” sounds like we might be forcing our faith down the throats of people of other faiths and nations.  And yes, for hundred years of years, colonialism and mission work was very mixed up.    We zealously took the Gospel to all the nations, but sometimes we did so with little respect for the people of those nations.  

But if we could only hear those words in the context in which they were written, we would see that Trinitarian love is for sharing, not forcing.   Love is not love when forced.    This is about the end of tribalism, don’t you see?   When Jesus told them to share broadly, it was about inclusion not compulsion.   It was about not fearing the other, but opening our hearts to others, whom God loves.  

Well, before I go too far in these reflections, let us read the Gospel.  

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  (NRS)

 

The eleven, the ones who knew him so well.   They walked with him for three years, seeing miracles, hearing teachings, watching him challenge authorities.   They saw him die, and they experienced his presence in his risen life for forty days.   When they saw him, they worshiped him, BUT some doubted.   Do not be ashamed of your doubt.    If any should have no room for doubt it is these eleven, and some doubted.   If you doubt, you are in good company.   And here’s the thing – Jesus never excluded doubters.   At the table they are welcome.   At this moment of great commissioning:  Go forth, make disciples, baptize in the name of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   And he did not say – those of you who are certain.   Some doubted, and they were still part of the circle of love being sent out to baptize and teach.    Baptize and then teach.   That’s our pattern.   We baptize into the covenant, because baptism is a gift, and then we teach about following Christ, and we remind of the truth of his final words – I am with you always, to the end of the age.   That’s a promise on which hangs our future in life and in death.  

 

That’s the promise by which Ed Kellogg lived his life as he faced the death of many comrades on Normandy Beach on D-Day, as he watched his beloved Genevieve die several years ago, and as he went bravely to his own death this week, Ed, a faithful elder who always offered a great word of encouragement and love to me every Sunday.   We will miss him but we know as he knew, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit in life and in death and the promise of Christ to be with us to the end of the age – we receive that promise as an everlasting promise. 

 

People who are secured by a promise like this do not need to be competitive.   Now if you have been at Peace for any length of time, you know that this pastor loves a good friendly competition – basketball, tennis, kickball, pickleball, or even gaga ball.  If you don’t know about gaga ball, ask one of our children and youth.     I could even confess to a competitive spirit when I see cars headed to some large church down the road instead of Peace, because I believe we are offering a healthier diet of Christian faith here with weekly Word and Sacrament, with music that has stood the test of time, with mission that is not toxic charity, but dignifying, and with involvement that makes you more than a spectator.   

But life has become too competitive, and I believe the Trinity is a safeguard against an unhealthy competitive spirit.   The Trinity teaches us that life is about us and us, not us and them.   Our country has idealized the notion of individual rights, but often to the neglect of what’s best for the whole community and the whole globe, and the more we go in this direction, the more we are a dog eat dog world.   Every person is in it for him or herself, living for the present moment, no concern for those who come after us, or those who did not start life three steps ahead of us.

 

All of the language of Christ in the Gospel of John about oneness with his Father includes a unity of being with people.  He says, “that they may be one as we are one, and I’m sending the Holy Spirit, who will be your Advocate.”  There’s cooperation, the great dance of love, not competition, never pitting one against another.   It was the Devil, who tried to set the Son against the Father in a competitive bid.   It is devilish for us to become so competitive with other countries and other faith traditions that we cannot live in harmony and cooperation.  

 

We are all at our best when we are working cooperatively with others, like the cooperation of God, the Parent, God the Child, and God, the Spirit.  They are one in purpose and in being.   They are understood in relationship to one another. 

Working in cooperation means the one cannot stay center stage.  Working in cooperation means, you get outside yourself and live in and with the other.   That’s what God did in the incarnation, don’t you see?   God took on humanity’s flesh without ceasing to be God.   It is not true commun-ity if one is lost in the character of the other.    You can see this in unhealthy marriages where one person tries to dominate another, and the one’s identity is lost underneath the power and dominance of another.    A healthy Trinitarian marriage is two self-differentiated people, with strong personal identities, in union with God, who turns their binary relationship of intense love and conflict into a trinity of community.   A marriage is healthiest when God is part of the dance.

 

 

With one person, fixated on self, there is narcissism.   With two people, even two who love each other deeply, there is infatuation and a power struggle that cannot see beyond selfish need.   So even mutual love is not the strongest love, but shared love, for when three come together, there is a beautiful community.   Hear it in music.   When there’s one note, when there’s two, but when there’s three, hear the depth of harmony.  

 

Now I am not a scientist, but I have heard it said that the power of an atom is not in the three particles but in the relationship of those particles.   I am not a historian but I know that those who live well in the present are thinking not just of the present but also of the past and of the future.   When I studied education, along with music, I learned that the best learning takes place when parents, students, and teachers, all three are working in concert together.  

 

In order for us to take the Trinity to the world, as Jesus challenges us to do in the Great Commission, we have to move beyond our tribe of people, our culture, our nation, our race, our level of education and wealth, our perspective.   To take the Trinity to the world is to think beyond ourselves and our way of being.   It is to be ecumenical (which means interested in communion with other Christian churches and involved in interfaith dialogue (respectful of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindi, Sikhs and all other faiths)  The love of Christ calls us into this relationship.   We do not become less Christian or stop valuing our faith.   We simply respect the other.   This is what Jesus was talking about when he said to make disciples of all nations.   It was for these Jewish Christians to realize that God was involved with all people, not just the Jews.   It was to see that God is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all people – not just Christians.   For who made all these people, except God?   The Great Commission is to engage the whole world as Jesus Christ did with an aim to heal, restore, and yes, make disciples in love, never coercion.   It is to engage in mutual relationship with people who are different from us, trusting that God, in symbiosis with us, will make something of that relationship.  We cannot control it.   Faith, hope, and love are never forced.   We are called to be faithful in it, sharing God’s love, inviting people to the dance of life, sharing the power of forgiveness, grace, and peace.  It requires trust and some allowance for chaos.  

It is a risk to reach out in relationship.   When God reached out to humanity, humanity was blinded by rebellion against God and killed the very One who was showing us God’s love.   Such is the nature of sin, that it makes us feel threatened when we should trust.   People who cannot see with Trinitarian eyes get blinded by fear and get caught up in relentless comparison and competition.  Isn’t that what is wrong with the world?   Ruthless competition and fierce individualism is the antithesis of Trinitarian love.   Sure, a little competitiveness can be healthy, but people wanting to win at all costs is not good for any of us.  It is at odds with how we were created.   We were made to work together, to love one another, and to care for the earth.  But we get caught up in futile, competitive striving to be number one.  It kills us, it diminishes us greatly.

 

A tribal, competitive faith says I have to prove you are wrong to make me right.   The way of Jesus is simply is to say and do what he knew to be kind and good and true,  regardless of rules, regulations, and appearances, regardless of consequences and risk of suffering.   If someone needed to be healed, he did not care about Sabbath law.  If someone needed to be fed or included, rules were broken in the name of love.   He challenged those who thought they were better than others.  He continued to do what he knew was right, even when he knew that they were plotting to kill him.   So to take Christ’s way into the world, we are called to love God and people above all else – about loyalties to culture, family, nation, race.   As we say at Peace:  Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others.   Trinitarian love is for sharing broadly because that wondrous love is not scarce, but plenteous and unconditional.  There’s copious amount of space inside the Trinity -- so much room inside, so much spaciousness that no one is outside of God’s love.   Karl Barth, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century said, “The tri-unity of God is the secret of God’s beauty.   If we deny this, we have a God without radiance, with joy, without humor.”   Our message for the world, for all the people is this and we must live it as well as say it – you are loved more than you know not by a controlling, self-centered, threatening God, but by a complex Trinity, who surrounds you with grace, truth, and peace invites you tenderly into a communion of love.         

 

Unleased Spirit

Unleased Spirit                                                                  

Peace Presbyterian Church

Acts 2:1-21                                                                           Pentecost Sunday

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                         

4 June 2017

 

Come, O Holy Spirit. Come as Holy Fire and burn in us, come as Holy Wind and cleanse us within, come as Holy Light and lead us in the darkness, come as Holy Truth and dispel our ignorance, come as Holy Power and enable our weakness, come as Holy Life and dwell in us. Convict us, convert us, consecrate us, until we are set free from the service of ourselves, to be your servants to the world. Amen.

 

Video

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘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.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (NRSV)

This is one of the big three Christian days.  Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost – those are the big three festivals of our faith.  The incarnation, the resurrection, and the empowerment of the church.   They all have to do with new life.   Christ’s birth, Christ’s life after death, and the Church’s new life in the Spirit.  

So on this remarkable day, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit Unleashed, This Spirit who was always there from the beginning, mentioned in the creation story, named as the One who inspired prophets and other leaders of God’s people, the One whose power implanted Christ in Mother Mary, Holy Spirit, the One promised as the advocate, the comforter to come in his place of Jesus after he ascended, this same Spirit comes in a new way, or at least more broadly to all the people on the Day of Pentecost.   

And beyond the tongues of fire and wind, the most remarkable thing that happens is that the disciples in the room, who are Galileans start speaking in such a way that Jews from many different nations and languages understand.   This is said to be the reversal of what happened with the Tower of Babel, where God confused their languages so they would understand less, and would divide and spread out from each other.   Instead in this moment of Spirit-infusion, there seems to be a bringing back together, a unity of people, who would not ordinarily understand each other.   This is not speaking in tongues, as in the mystery spiritual language of glossolalia, but speaking in a language you did not previously know or study.   Wouldn’t you love to suddenly start speaking French or Spanish or Korean?   Even better, wouldn’t you love to see people who have different perspectives on religion or politics or social issues have a civil discourse, instead of issuing talking points that never intersect.   Real communication can happen if people listen to the Spirit, trust that God’s Spirit dwells in every person, whether or not they are bearing spiritual fruit or not, God’s Spirit gives them breath,  enlivens them.  

This story also demonstrates that the power of language is so much more than words.   Willie James Jennings in his new commentary on Acts says that the miracle of Pentecost is not the fire or the wind, but the way God helps people to commune and communicate with one another.   Jennings calls this, “speaking people.” By that I think he means, an understanding of others that goes beyond pure language.   It is a fluency that is more about caring, really caring about someone you don’t understand.   Come, Spirit, come.   We are desperate in this tweet-ridden world of ours for some real understanding that bridges communication gaps and hardened hearts, unable to feel the other’s pain.

Having just spent last Saturday a week ago with daughter Emily’s in-laws from Ecuador, I am keenly aware of the love we can share beyond words.  Certainly I am thankful for their great fluency with English, while not always perfect is so far beyond any attempts we would make with Spanish that I simply feel grateful and at honored to see them doing the work, while I am sitting back, resting comfortably in language familiar to me.   But there is something beautiful in the struggle to understand another, and something wrong about writing any others off, just because they speak another language or their accents are difficult for me.   I am selfish when I stop trying to bridge the communication gap.  

For the Gospel to get out from Jerusalem, it was crucial that deeds of power and love be shared in more than one language.   For our message of love to get out, we too, have to be able to get outside our own experiences enough to commune with others, whose lives and languages are different from ours.   The Gospel transcends all language and cultural and socio-economic barriers.   For most of the early Christians, the Jewish faith was centered in a particular people with particular customs and culture and bloodlines.  In Christianity, the barriers are down.   This faith and power to commune with God and others is for everyone.   

As Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook says, “The Spirit celebrates the myriad of languages by speaking through them all – not forcing everyone to speak the native language of the apostles, but instead putting the language of others into their mouths and bodies.”    After this experience of Pentecost, the church grew from a fearful band of disciples, huddled in an upper room, to a transforming body of believers, who were changing the world.   They began to regularly experience the Spirit of God present in their proclamation of the Word and their celebration of the Sacrament.  

Many are being baptized and their communion with God being sealed in that sacrament and they are growing numerically.  By the end of this second chapter of Acts, they are sharing their resources and with glad and generous hearts, praying, breaking bread, and having the goodwill of all the people.   This coming of the Spirit in a powerful way sent them on their way to find ways of communicating with people from different cultures.   Before long, Peter will be eating foods and sharing lives with those previously considered unclean.  Peter’s mind was pried open, liberated by the Spirit.

This Spirit continues to be unleashed, liberated in the world every time we reach beyond ourselves to understand another group of people whom God loves.  Luke quoted the Greek translation of Joel’s vision, a vision that for Joel was doom and gloom, becomes in the power of the Holy Spirit, a vision of hope.   God’s Spirit will enliven those whose voices are not always heard – young people, slaves, women.     God’s Spirit will be unleashed, Joel says, and Peter preaches that this vision of Joel is now fulfilled – that now anyone can call on God and be saved, not just the select few. 

We believe that the events of the incarnation, the resurrection, and the infusion of Holy Spirit in the world, after Christ’s Ascension, have forever changed the world.   We believe that the very same Holy Spirit who enlivened Jesus Christ, is present in our lives, and that when we respond faithfully to the grace of our baptism with faithful lives that Spirit spreads like fire and wind.  

We believe that the Holy Spirit infuses every living thing and that none of us would even have breath, apart from the pneuma, Greek word for Spirit, who fills our lungs with life.   We believe life exist because of the wind, ruach, Spirit, a feminine noun in the Hebrew language.   We believe the miracle of the church is that we can do incredibly good things in the Spirit and nothing good apart from the power of the Spirit.   Even when we are able to muster a little faith, we believe that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, for which we can take no credit.   We believe the Spirit is the one who speaks up surprisingly through voices long silenced, that the Spirit calls all women and men of all backgrounds and perspectives and orientations and endows them with myriad gifts.  

 

We believe that the Spirit blows where it wills, and is completely out of our control, that the Spirit nudges us to remember, to say and do the right things.   We believe that the Spirit is at work in us, as if our lives are a garden where beautiful things can grow, but sometimes the weeds get in the way, and garden must be tilled.   We believe that the precious signs of the Spirit are not as much sensational and dramatic, as they as they are signs of God’s care and vitality reaching across all the boundaries that divide us from one another – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   Whenever you see that fruit, then you are seeing the Spirit unleashed, changing the world.  Cultivate that fruit in your life, the Spirit is eager to invade every fiber of your being but will never do so, against your will.   Participate in the unleashing of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.   May the breath of God in us change the way we relate to the rest of God’s children.

Our Glorius Purpose

Our Glorious Purpose                                                       

Peace Presbyterian Church

John 17:1-11                                                                      

7th Sunday of Easter, Ascension

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                 28 May 2017

 

Mark Twain says, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”  Why are you here?   Have you figured out your purpose?   Have you questioned the value of this your one life?   Jesus reflects on the purpose of his life and ours in this prayer, which comes just before his arrest.  In this beautiful and intense prayer, Jesus announces to God that the hour has come, and requests that he, the Son be glorified, because he has glorified the Father by caring for humanity.   He is essentially saying that his purpose is complete, his job finished.   He’s accomplished the purpose for which he was sent.  

 

Emily and Nico, our children, just moved to Sarasota and have a great view of the Bay in a low-rise apartment complex that will be torn down soon, but for the next year they will enjoy this glorious sunset!   The end of a day’s sun is called glorious, and actually, we should say the same about a person’s life.   Whether they died serving their country, or whether they are still living, sharing their God-given gifts to make this world a better place, we should be inspired to say, “Glory to God, beautiful!”   In fact, I think most of us were so inspired last Sunday as seven of our youth confirmed their faith.    That was one of those glory to God, purposeful moments.  

 

NRSJohn 17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.   (Joh 17:1 NRS)

 

When I was a girl in confirmation, I learned to answer the first question of the Westminster Catechism, “What is our chief aim in life?”   The answer is to glorify and enjoy God forever.   Back in 2002 a pastor took that concept and wrote a devotional book that sold 30 million copies in the first five years and was translated into 80 different languages– that was Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life.   His first question?   Why am I here?   What is my purpose?  

People who pay attention to that question and seek to answer it are far more fulfilled in life than those who just coast along, seeking to satisfy self.   We were created by God for a purpose, and that purpose, while full of variety due to the beautiful diversity of our gifts and character, generally speaking, that purpose is to glorify God.   For our purpose follows Christ’s purpose, and Christ’s purpose is clear in this passage.   

As John makes clear in the opening of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.   He (Christ) was in the beginning with God, and nothing was created without him.”   Well, now having come from the Father, Christ came to earth to glorify God and how was he to glorify God – by bringing eternal life to us.   He was sent to share what he already had – intimacy with God that brings life.    And so we too are called to know God intimately and to share with others what we know.   Jesus defines eternal life that way – relationally.    Intimacy.   Knowing.  

For us who live after the Enlightenment, the definition of knowing has become more empirical, but for Jesus and for those who of us who seek to understand the scriptures written in that day, knowing is about relationship.   It is intimacy.   This prayer is chocked full of intimacy.   Jesus wants for us, what he has with his Father – a knowing, a unity and reciprocity that brings glory to both.   Four times in this prayer, he speaks of the oneness he shares with his Father – that they may be one as we are one. 

This is what intimacy means really – to know someone so well that the unity and reciprocity or mutuality of the relationship brings glory and honor to both parties.   You can get a glimpse of that in some of the best marriages.  

I saw a human interest story on video the other day about a man who loved his wife so much that after she died, he built a little house as a museum of their love, its interior walls are completely covered with photos of the two of them.   He spoke of her with such delight that God was glorified in that expression of love.

You can also see this kind of love in someone who is willing to serve his or her country, sacrificing life and limb, to protect the dignity, liberty, and life of others.   On this Memorial Day we are grateful for those who have died to preserve ours or another’s freedom.   Jesus said in the Gospel of John – there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.   The WW1 soldier was horrified to see his lifelong friend fall in battle.   This young man turned to his lieutenant in the trench, as gunfire whizzed by their heads, and asked if he could go retrieve his fallen comrade.   His lieutenant said, “You can go but it’s probably not worth the risk, as he looks dead anyway.”   The solder went despite warning, and miraculously he was able to reach his friend and dive back in the trench, carrying the body of his good friend on his back.   The officer said, “Your friend is dead and you are now terribly wounded yourself too.   Told you it would not be worth it.   And the soldier said, “Yes sir, but in fact, it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was alive, and I had the privilege of hearing him say before he died, “I knew you’d come for me.”

What brings glory to God and glory to humanity is not winning or living very long life.   It is not being successful or powerful or wealthy or smart, though those things can certainly glorify God when used to further the purposes of God.  What glorifies God is for us to live in relationships of mutual love with family, friends, to give of ourselves to bring more life and dignity to others.   Thursday was the 40th day after Easter, the day we celebrate the Ascension of Christ.   So this is the week to remember that our humanity is now nested, embraced in the Holy Trinity forever.   There is nothing about our humanity that has not been redeemed, healed, made new by Christ’s ascension.     That of all glories, is what gives us ultimate peace in life and in death.

 Jesus prayed for his disciples and I believe still prays for us and empowers us to know God, in a personal, intimate sort of way, not just knowing about God, but loving God, desiring God, eager to please God sort of knowing.   And in knowing God that we would love one another.   

In this prayer, Jesus speaks with particular attention to three aspects of glorifying God by living according to God’s loving purposes.   Handling words carefully, believing in truth, and preserving unity.    This reminds me of one of the ordination questions asked of elders and ministers:  Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?  

I wish those elected to political office could be asked, “Will you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of this country?”  I have prepared a hand-out for you of quotes from each of our presidents dating back fifty years, which do promote peace, unity, and purity, which do, in my estimation glorify God and dignify humanity.   As you take time tomorrow between 11:00 and 3:00 to pray for peace, and to remember those who died trying to promote it, please read these quotes.   But I will conclude this sermon, not with their words of Presidents, but with the glorious words of Holy Scripture, which have endured far longer than fifty years, transforming lives by their power.  Hear these other verses of scripture which address, as Christ did in his prayer, the value of careful words, believing in truth, and preserving unity, living according to our God-given purpose.

God spoke the world into being by the power of words (Hebrews 11:3).   Words can destroy, can stir up hatred, or words can heal and bless.  (Prov. 12:6)    I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mat 12:36 NRS)   James says,  8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God's likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn't be this way!  (Jam 3:1 CEB)   “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15   Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.  (Pro 23:23 NRS)  Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.   Proverbs 12:22Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Ephesians 4:25 These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to each other; make truthful, just, and peaceable decisions within your gates.    (Zechariah 8:16 CEB)   Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Joh 8:32 CEB)   When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. (Joh 16:13 CEB)

Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:3 NRS)  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12 NRS)  How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!   (Psa 133:1 NRS)  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Col 3:13 NRS) and lastly, the end of that chapter 17 prayer of Jesus:  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Joh 17:23 NRS)

The glory of God is the human person fully alive said St. Irenaeus, who was born in 125, and had the opportunity to meet people who had known the Apostles.  We bring glory to God as we fully live into our purpose, being true, careful with words, and being one with God and one another, in relationships of love.   The Swiss physician and theologian Paul Tournier born in 1898 said, “We become independent of our fear of social judgment and the disapproval of others in proportion to our dependence on God.   Our job is to live our personal communion in Christ with such intensity that it becomes contagious.”  Trust deeply in this relationship with God and find in that dependency, your glorious purpose.   There are many ways to please and glorify God, but all of them include intimacy with God and deep love and respect for humanity.

 

Prayer:  O God who came to earth as Jesus Christ, we pray that you would make us one with you and with one another.   Guard our tongues and help us to believe in your truth.   Protect us from the dangers and temptations of the world, to whom we are sent to share your eternal life, this intimacy with you that calls us into your glory.