We are one in Christ Jesus

Second Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galations 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

All the other prophets have been killed, and Jezebel wants to kill Elijah. It’s not surprising that he runs and hides. An angel provides food and water for him, and tells him where to go. The word of the Lord tells him that the Lord is about to pass by. The Lord, the story says, was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. The Lord appears with the “sound of sheer silence”. The Lord tells Elijah to return home, but you know he is being protected.

The Gospel reading from Luke tells the story of the man of Gerasene who was possessed by demons – so many they called themselves “Legion”. This man was frightening: he was naked, he lived in caves and not in a house. Like many unhoused people now, he spoke erratically and his behavior was unpredictable. He would be locked up and then “break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds”. I see men and women like this in my city neighborhood: there are places where they camp, sometimes even in the alley behind my house.

I am struck by how calm and kind Luke’s story is. Jesus talks to the demons, and he is even kind to them: he allows them to take over the herd of swine rather than “return to the abyss”. (It’s not so kind to the herd of swine, but that’s another story!) And he’s kind to the man: there’s no drama, just a calm engagement with a problem. After the demons leave, the man is dressed, and “in his right mind”. And people are terrified!

Paul tells the Galatians that their relationships with each other are fundamentally changed by baptism: all the things that would divide them are erased: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We do not live in a world without distinctions, and Christians (myself included) are often inclined to posit one idea or another as the mark of a “real” Christian. But that’s not what Paul tells us. We are one in Christ Jesus. Sometimes I think that is the hardest message in the Bible!

Today is Juneteenth, a new Federal holiday that marks the day enslaved people in Texas learned that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, issued more than two years earlier. The celebration, kept alive in Black communities particularly in the South, acknowledged how important freedom is. We celebrate that freedom, but also acknowledge the enslavement that made emancipation necessary. It is a good time to remember that in Christ, all boundaries are dissolved. The boundaries we police come not from Jesus, but from the world.

There’s so much here: the kindness and protection of the Lord, the breaking down of barriers and divisions. These stories challenge us to be kind, to simply do what is needed, and to avoid creating false distinctions. All of these are hard. What we need to do more often is to try to listen for God’s voice in the sound of sheer silence.

Mystery

Trinity Sunday: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15; Psalm 8

Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the church year focused on a doctrine, an idea. The readings point us to the doctrine, and to its mystery, but don’t give us much to work with.

The Trinity is a core doctrine of the church, one we affirm every Sunday when we recite the Creed. We believe in one God: the Father, Jesus Christ his Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three in one. When you sit down to think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes I’ve used the the functional interpretation: creator, redeemer, sustainer. But generally, I live with it as a mystery. I’ve come to think of the Trinity as the different ways that God is present in my life.

Most Christians I know will admit that at any given time, one person of the Trinity is closer to them than others, or one is more difficult for them. I’m usually most comfortable with God and Jesus, and least so with the Holy Spirit, but I’ve had times when I’ve argued with each. But if there’s something I take from today’s readings, it is that this balancing goes all the way back to Jesus.

Paul tells us that we have peace with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ”. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they can’t understand now what he has to say, because they can’t bear it. It’s too hard. But the “Spirit of truth” will reveal them later. Well, that’s comforting: even the disciples needed to hear messages from different voices. More to the point, Jesus knows what any teacher knows: we are ready to hear things at different times.

As I live with the mystery of the Trinity, it helps me to remember that God comes to us in the way we can receive God.

The Day of Pentecost

Pentecost: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 11:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27); Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Today is the day of Pentecost, the 5oth day after the Resurrection. We celebrate the presence of the spirit among us, and hear the story of the Spirit coming upon the disciples. Central to our readings today is the reading from Acts, where we hear that when the Spirit descends on the disciples, they are able to speak in all the languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem.

But we start today in Genesis, with the story of the building of the tower of Babel. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” They sought to “make a name for themselves” and build a tower that reached to heaven. The Lord is disturbed by their ambition, and fearful of what they might choose in the future: “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them”. The Lord then says, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”

The confusion of language divided the nations of the world. The story from Acts tells a story of connection. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and gives them the gift of tongues, so that they can be understood by everyone in Jerusalem: all can hear the story of “God’s deeds of power”. This is a healing of the brokenness of the world. It is sufficiently astonishing that Peter needs to tell his listeners that they are not drunk, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning”!

In the Gospel, Jesus promises that those who believe in him “will do greater works than these”, because He will be with God. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” This is an extraordinary promise; and one that many of us may have trouble believing. I don’t think I know anyone all of whose prayers have been answered; they certainly have not always been answered in the way we hoped. Jesus has that covered: “I do not give to you as the world gives”.

Jesus also tells us that those who love him will keep his commandments. This too is a difficult message to believe: those who love Jesus (or at least claim to) have done many things which seem far from his commandments. Certainly the actions of Jesus’ followers have not always been marked by love of one another!

We still live in a broken world. During Easter season, we do not say the confession: its absence is a reminder that our sins are forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today was the first time since Easter that we have confessed our sins. Jesus ends his message to his disciples telling that that the Holy Spirit will be with them, and “will remind you of all that I have said to you”. Even the disciples would need reminders. We certainly do too.

We live in the world of Babel, where the Holy Spirit may help us bridge the divides of language and culture, but does not erase them. Those divisions get in the way of our following all Jesus’ commandments. The promise of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is with us, and if we let it, can heal the divisions among us. The question for us is always, will we listen?