Father, Son, and Holy Terrors

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Wrong-headed Worship and Building a Port-o-Potty That Reaches to the Sky

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Many Churches throughout the world today will read the first reading today in as many languages as possible in an attempt to recreate the account in Acts of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The one time I have seen it done it was overlapping and chaotic and I felt more like I had been tossed half to death in a wave pool than I had heard a word from the Lord. The problem with this is that it puts the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. The point of this was not that everyone present heard a cacophony of noise representing each of the languages of the people present, but that that each person heard the one message perfectly in their own tongue—there was no impediment to the proclamation of God’s love for each person. It would have been less like the wave pool of chaos and more like a simulcast.

To be fair, the Church I was at was not trying to miss the message, but to recreate the power of the Spirit for their service. They saw the sound of a rush of a mighty wind that came from heaven and attempted to recreate that rather than the later unity from fact that each person came together and proclaimed as one that they had heard the mighty acts of God. This is the point of the passage. Saint Paul makes clear in his first letter to the Corinthians that while speaking in tongues is a genuine gift from God, the point is not the utterance of gibberish in the midst of chaos but the word of the Lord to the people; so Paul tells them that each tongue should have an interpretation. If not it makes the worship of God into a spotlight, severing the body back into a group of individual pieces which adds chaos to what God has ordered.

There is biblical president for the former account though (and it’s not a good one). In Genesis 11 we find the Tower of Babel. All the people of the earth spoke one language and together they said to themselves, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” Just prior to this we get the Table of Nations—giving the root of all people to the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. From the sons of Ham, who uncovered his father’s nakedness resulting in the birth of Canaan, comes forth all of the enemies of God’s people. From the sons of Shem comes forth the people of God. From Japheth we get the also rans—poor Japheth.

The name Shem means “name,” and from this we get the Semite people, or “the people of a name.” Whose name is that? God’s name. And from this Semite people we get the Israelites who play the starring role in the narrative of the Old Testament. From the lineage of Ham we find Nimrod, a mighty man who made a kingdom for himself Babel. Now, notice what the people in Babel were trying to do—make a name for themselves. They were trying to make a tower up to heaven where they would make a name for themselves other than the name God had given. They were trying to attain heaven by their own means and establish themselves as the people of their own name—apart from God. They were trying to subvert the plan of God and form it to their own desire. So God put them down and confused their speech.

This is the exact opposite of what happened in the account of the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts. They were all present in Jerusalem—God’s established city—and though they were many people speaking many different tongues, they all heard the mighty acts of God and proclaimed as one voice. And what were the mighty acts of God? The salvific works of Jesus Christ who gives them access to the Father and entrance into heaven.  This is the exact opposite of the Tower of Babel. God is not trying to create chaos out of an orderly Church service, he is establishing order out of the chaos we have made for ourselves.

Now, another thing you may or may not know about today is that Pentecost was first a Jewish feast. Pentecost was the feast held 50 days after Passover which celebrated the God’s giving of the Law. God’s Law was an important thing for the Israelites—the people of God’s name further defined by their namesake “He who strives with God,” because it showed how they could remain in God’s favor. “If you indeed obey my voice and keep my commandments, [then] you shall be my treasured possession among all people.” God gives them the rules for his house.

Saint Paul again clarifies the situation, this time in his letter to the Galatians where he tells them that the purpose of the Law not to save them but so that they could remain in his favor. It was a custodian, a teacher to teach them the rules until Christ came. Because until Christ came, we were not sons and daughters but guests, house slaves really, that did not belong but were welcomed as long as we followed the rules. God sent his Son to give us adoption as sons and daughters that we may rightfully take our destined place in his house as family rather than guests. It is through the Spirit given at Pentecost to penetrate into our hearts that we are able to say, “Abba! Father!”

Now that we are sons and daughters of God and welcome in his house, we have the rules written in our hearts which was the goal of God all along. In Jeremiah God tells the Israelites that he is going to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…and I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me.” They shall not need to be told the rules of the house because they know it instinctively as instinctively as they know where the refrigerator is in the kitchen because they are home.

Beloved we are given the Sprit today as a sign of our adoption and in response we say, “Our Father!” This is the will of God—what he has been working toward for all time. But I have been confronted here lately with what I can only see as an attempt at creating another Tower of Babel and this tower looks like a restroom.

Now lately I have found myself on the left side of things and you all have probably been wondering where I have been keeping my pinko-commie party card. That is because I like to be contrarian, but I also try to take the Catholic stance on issues and that builds up the dignity of each person. But there is the flip side of that as well—the rules. God establishes his rule and as Christians are called to love people while remaining in the rules that have firmly been established in our hearts as we have just rehearsed.

What I see in the whole trans-gender movement is the attempt to create a tower to heaven by individually severing themselves from the whole and establish a name for oneself that is apart from the name given by God. God made a mistake. I am a woman trapped in a man’s body or vice versa. While I acknowledge the brain can have faulty chemistry, I do not attribute this to the act of God but to the act of man. The fallenness of this world is evident by the fact that there are people who do not feel at home in their own bodies. But we should not celebrate this and build it up as a tower to heaven, but acknowledge it and see how it is that God seeks to build up each person in His image.

Transgenderism and most things in this line are evil as they seek to separate the body from its members. It tries to create chaos out of the God-established order. This is doing the same thing that the well-meaning people of the chaotic Pentecost encounter were doing—wrongly emphasize the message. God does indeed love each person no matter what. But that doesn’t mean inclusion apart from the Law. It means we find ways to call everyone into the name given by God.

The final part of the giving of the Law was for the people of God to be a kingdom of priests.  The role of the priest in the OT is to offer the people up to God and ask him to have mercy on them. So our call flows out from this which is to encounter all those who harden their hearts toward the will of God because they believe they have no need to walk in his ways because they cannot see how they fit into God’s plan the way their currently are. But our call is to lift everyone up before him and pray that his Spirit can warm their hearts so that they are able to see and rejoice in the comfort that comes when we cease to try to create a name for ourselves and rest in the calm of belonging to a part of the one body. For God has called all people to be in his body, that they are indeed invited to enter into the name that he has given us, but in order to do this it must be within the rules that he has established.

In the Name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

How Can Allergy Season Remind Me of Heaven?

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

This time of year, I hate being outside. I don’t want to do anything but retreat into my room with the air purifier on high—my protective bubble defending me against a world that is literally trying to kill me. I have horrible allergies to tree pollen, specifically Pecan Tree pollen, but the others don’t help either. So yesterday I was forced to confront my enemy—the outside—as I grilled hamburgers for Jesus. I knew this was going to be a hard day for me (breathing and seeing-wise) so I loaded up on allergy meds and coffee and headed out into death.

It was good for a while, but when my protective shield began to fade, I could feel it. My eyes began to water with the sticky ooze of pollen-filled tears as my body desperately tried in vain to use its natural defenses to rid the pollutant from my weakest points. But ha, I know that if I touched my eyes, I would lose the game. Then the labored breathing set in as my airways became enflamed and swollen, another sign to my brain that it was time to get out of the fog of pollen, but burgers needed cooking, so on I labored.

Luckily my father-in-law was there to cook burgers as well so when things got too bad I could flee to the nearby restroom and wash my face then head to my car for a much needed reinforcement of anti-histamine. Then, after a successful day of burger sales, I retreated back to my sanctuary. I showered to rid myself of all the yellow death particulates, loaded back up on my chemical barrier, puffed my inhaler, and laid down in my pollen-free bubble to close my eyes so my body could naturally rid itself of any remaining tree death. (I would have used another remedy I had to hasten this process as well, but I left it in the car and I was not going to put myself through that again.)

Within my protective doomsday shelter, away from the pollen-Armageddon that raged outside, I was able to contemplate today’s lessons. Lessons which talk about the Last Things, about entering into that heavenly city to the presence of a TREE of Life. Dangit. There will be trees in the afterlife as well. Great more pollen!

This got me thinking about the Garden of Eden—the origin of the Tree of Life. I wonder if Adam had any problems with allergies? There must have been pollen present, because after the initial creation of the world, where God spoke into creation things present. I like to think here of C. S. Lewis’ description of this event in The Magician’s Nephew, where Aslan sang into creation all things, and the ground was so fertile that when Jadis, the eventual white witch in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, throws a bar from a lamppost at Aslan to try and stop his singing, out of the ground sprang the iconic lamp post the Pevensies encounter when they enter through the wardrobe in the next book.

This scene describes how fertile the ground would have been as God creates all things, but this could not continue forever. Eventually a process had to be set up to allow for new trees without God having to speak them into existence from nothing—hence pollen. So there must have been pollen in the Garden of Eden, yet we don’t see Adam running to the nearest CVS in preparation for his evening walks with God through the garden. That is because Adam was meant to be there.

Again, C. S. Lewis does a magical job of describing this sense of belonging to an area when he describes a scene in The Great Divorce. In this scene a bus has just dropped off a load of people into a strange land. They have passed through a crevice in the ground and landed in a beautiful country scene, but when they exit the bus, they find that everything they encounter causes them immense pain. The blade of grass beneath their feet are like tiny green knives to their feet. Everything there is so solid that the passengers on the bus could not even begin to life a single fallen leaf from the ground. Yet around them there were animals going about as animals do with no pain from the environment. The blades of grass bent beneath their feet. The stream flowed around animals playing in it.

We later learn that the passengers on the bus were ghosts in a very real world, and so they didn’t (yet) belong there. The birds and animals they saw did belong and so they were free to interact with their environment. Eventually, as these ghosts progressed forward they essentially became more and more solid and were able to interact with the environment because they now belonged in it.

This is how I imagine Adam in the Garden surrounded by pollen. The pollen did not affect him because he belonged there in the Garden with God. That is until he ate of the Apple and was then forced to leave the Garden before he ate of the Tree of Life and cemented the whole situation. He now no longer belonged in this environment and was removed from it. But there was also another thing that was removed from him, God’s life-giving Spirit.

When Adam was first created, we read that God breathed life into him—“he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” So the first breath Adam ever took was the life-giving Spirit of God. Then when he ate of the apple, that Spirit departed Adam because it was now no longer a fit dwelling place. I can even now imagine Adam sneezing as his body expelled the Spirit that was now considered a foreign entity in his body.

The entire rest of the Bible is a result of this action by Adam. It sets into motion God’s plan of salvation that leads to Jesus Christ. In fact, right after God confronts Adam about his deed, he speaks of this plan: “The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is called the protoevanleion, the first good news, the promise of future redemption.

And what does Jesus do after his sacrifice on Mount Calvary? When he meets with the disciples in the Upper Room, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And then later, next week in our calendar, he sends the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Now the sin of Adam has been removed and the Holy Spirit can once again take up residence in the heart of man.

Then we see in our reading from Revelation the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) calling us back into the Garden, from the ruins of the world, we are recalled into the Garden, to the stream of the water of life that flows from the tree of life. We are called back into the Garden because we now belong there once again. We once again belong back into the land of the living.

So, what in the world does this have to do with the price of tea in China? How does this affect our daily lives? Everyone and all of creation has a purpose—to be with God forever. He lovingly created each person with the same love that he put into Adam as the pinnacle of creation. Each person is created in God’s image with the intent for them to life with him forever. This gives a dignity to each person regardless of their lot in life. This means that each person we encounter, no matter the package we behold shows us the image of God, for he lovingly crated them in his image.

This knowledge should cause the earth beneath you to shake. The prison should be shaken to the foundation which should cause all the doors to fling wide open and the inhabitants to walk free. Each person has a place where they belong—a place not foreign to them. Isn’t that man’s perceived desire? To find a place where they can be themselves that accepts them fully. This is message that we are called to preach to all: God has lovingly made each one of you, and will go through any means necessary to be with you forever as the person he created you to be. In a society that is constantly trying to pit one group against another, God provides us with the knowledge that each person is united in God’s love for them—I think that is wonderful news.

It’s a funny thing what you can ponder on when you are forced to retreat away from a world trying to kill you.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Jesus to a Helicopter Society: If You Love Them, Let Them Grow

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

As we prepare next week for Mother’s Day, this week, Jesus gives us an example of being a good parent.

In the life of the Church, we are preparing for the departure of Jesus prior to Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit who is to guide and govern the Church until Jesus comes again. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his disciples and he is preparing them for his absence. “You have heard me say, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.” This, understandably, is going to shake them. But in order for them to truly take this on, they need to be on their own.

Jesus is going through what every parent has to go through in the stages of raising children: preparing them for life on their own. The inevitable truth about raising children is that they will one day leave your house and be outside of your direct influence and protection. It is scary. Some people handle it better than others. But it is a reality. Eventually they grow up and have to make it on their own.

So the responsible parent takes steps early to prepare the child, to make sure they can handle the experience. (And from what I know now, so the parent can handle it as well.) First step: Can I take my eyes off you. This is a very hard step. I remember the first night we had Kate. It was a hard thing to allow the nurses to take her out of the room. But eventually, thankfully, the need for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep takes over and the baby needs the shots anyway, so you call the nurse and have her taken out of the room. But you breathe all the more when she is returned, safe and sound with a new Band-Aid on her heel (and it doesn’t hurt that you actually got some sleep either).

Then after the child has grown up a bit, then next step: Can I leave the room? So you start in baby steps. Turn on their favorite movie, and when they don’t notice, you slip out to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee and try to make it back before they have even noticed you are gone. And then the times you can leave are longer and longer. And the question is always in the back of the parent’s mind: Can my child be trusted to be on their own? You leave, but you ear is always on what you left. What is a parent’s worst fear at this moment? Silence. Silence means either something happened, or the child is up to something. Or it means that your child is simply engrossed in whatever activity they are enjoying and your worries are unfounded.

And this time away gets longer and longer. Ok, now I can get ready. Ok now I can take a nap. Then the next stage of fright: can I leave the house for an errand? Yes? How about an afternoon? An evening? All day? All night? All weekend? For college? For life? The ultimate question is can I trust you on your own not to burn down the house? Can I trust you follow the rules and make good decisions in my absence?

Now related to this, I think that technology has hindered this process. It has provided us with more opportunities to learn about the world around us and provided us with the ability to extend our reach. We now can pinpoint dangers. There is a list of sex offenders with pictures and addresses available at the tap of a button. There are cameras that can be operated remotely with built in microphone, sending and receiving. Technology has retarded this natural process of letting go by informing us of the dangers and extending our reach. This creates helicopter parents and children who cannot, and in some cases will not, do things of their own.

But as with all things human, Jesus had to go through this process as well. That which is unassumed remains unredeemed. Jesus knows what it is like to have to trust those in your charge to the teaching you have provided and allow them to create on their own. Jesus knows that in order for the Church to grow, he had to leave. So he started early in his ministry giving them space. He left to go pray on his own. He sent them out on missions. He died and came back. Each time he left them, he came back and debriefed with them to see how it went. And then he prepped them for his final departure.

But like all parents, he does not leave them comfortless. He provides them with the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in during them time when he resumed his place at the right hand of the Father. Now they would have to look carefully for guidance in his absence. Now it is through prayer and inspiration that the entity that was created—the Church—is directed. Now there is an element of doubt and an element of trust.

Now the apostles have the opportunity to mess it up on their own—which they have both in the Bible and in in current times. But they also have the opportunity to grow. Right before our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

If Jesus had remained physically with his disciples, they would never have risen above the status of student. They would never have grown. The Church would never have grown beyond that which Jesus could directed have influenced by his physical presence and the movement would have remained a local phenomenon. But he left and they were forced to become the masters by trying and failing.

Take Paul for example. He went around establishing new Churches through trial and error. In our first reading we see him taking what he knows and adapting it to the situation of the people to whom he is trying to minister. Yet even though he tries to adapt the message to them and their situation, they cannot get beyond belief that Paul and Barnabas are gods among them—Zeus and Hermes.

In another opportunity, Paul attempts to woo an intellectual audience with his vast intelligence—a task which failed miserably. But when that failed, he figured out the message. Jesus Christ and him crucified—folly to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews. He learned his message and his approach. He tells the Corinthians: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied.” His eloquent words got him in trouble and did not produce the fruit he intended.

So he walked from Athens to Corinth and did what all good children do when they run into a problem after they have left the nest—Paul called home. On the way from Athens to Corinth, he prayed and listened to the Holy Spirit as to how the message should be presented. And by the time he reached Corinth, he had a new lease on life and proceeded to plant Church after Church using the message of the scandal of the cross.

This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he told the disciples that he was leaving, yet he was sending the Holy Spirit “to teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus has allowed the Church to grow into that which she was intended from her creation. He showed them how to live. He taught them all that they needed to know. He gave them room to grow. And he provided them with the ability to call home for guidance.

So what does all this teach us today? Jesus designed the Church for us to be able to use the gifts he has given us to minister as we are able. God provided each one of us with the ability and the gifts to reach specific groups of people that only we can. God charges us with this, but he also gives us the opportunity to do it in our own way. He will guide us in doing it, but we have to be the ones to do it.

Go Beloved. Take risks. This is what being on our own is all about. Doing things our way. All of creation has been preparing us for this time. Jesus has, like the good parent, given us all the tools to succeed. He has gone through all the steps it takes to release a child on their own into the world. Now we just have to take the risk and make it our own. But as we do this, Jesus provides us with the reminder that as the good parent, he is always willing to answer the phone at a moment’s notice to give wise counsel.

And so, go out. Do the work that you have been given to do. And for God’s sake, phone home every now and then. In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.