Sunday’s sermon: Brushing Teeth: God’s Created Beauty in Me

love your body

Text used – Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31

 

 

  • Luke and Ian were trying to teach Julia a song a few weeks ago: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees and toes!” It was so cute listening to them coach her through figuring out where her various body parts were and cheer for her when she got them right. And, of course, they giggle when she got them wrong (which, of course, made her giggle, too).
    • Adorable to watch
    • In light of what we’re talking about today, also an interesting illustration → I want you to take a minute and think about how much you think about your body – how it looks, how it feels, how it moves. I mean, you might as well think about it because advertisers and bodily improvement industries are certainly thinking about it.
      • Plastic surgery industry in 2018 – $16.5 billion[1]
      • Fitness industry in 2018 – $30 billion[2]
      • Weight loss industry in 2018 – $72 billion[3]
      • Beauty industry (hair, cosmetics, over-the-counter treatments, etc.) in 2018 – $532 billion[4]
      • Billions upon billions upon billions of dollars spent every year trying to improve our bodies in one way or another because billions more have been spent by advertisers trying to convince us those bodies aren’t good enough … strong enough … beautiful enough … capable enough.
    • Along those lines: think about how much time you spend each day taking care of your body
      • Big ways and small ways
      • Simple ways and more complicated ways
      • Everything from showering to food and water, from exercise to brushing your teeth → This summer, we’re working our way through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life[5]a truly inspirational book that walks us through the most common, seemingly mundane routines of our days and gives us glimpses of where and how we can seek and savor God even in those least obvious moment, those least conscious moments, those least glossy moments … even those moments we’d rather hide.
    • Today, we’re tackling Warren’s 3rd chapter: “Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body.” So let’s talk about God and faith and our physical bodies.
  • Warren begins by exploring gamut of positives and negatives when it comes to having a body
    • Work and wonder of having a body
    • Caregiving that our bodies require and the pleasure that we get from having a body
      • Pleasure of feeling cool air conditioning on your skin when you step inside on a hot day
      • Pleasure of savoring the flavor of your favorite dish or drink
      • Pleasure of hearing your favorite song or your favorite person saying your name
      • Simple pleasure of breathing in and breathing out, of taking a deep breath
    • Theological side
      • Physical bodies have always been a profound element of our faith
        • Think of our sacraments – the water of baptism and the feast of the Lord’s Supper, food and water … both necessities for the physical survival of our bodies.
        • Think about all the physical, bodily elements of worship
          • Lifting up our voices
            • Readings
            • Song
          • Prayer (like what we talked about earlier) → either large, extravagant motions or motions as familiar as bowing your heads, folding your hands, turning up your face, or lifting your hands
          • (One of our favorites around here): Passing the Peace → greeting one another with a handshake or a hug and the peace of Christ
          • Anointing with oil
          • Marking with ashes on Ash Wednesday
          • Laying on of hands
            • Ordination
            • Confirmation
            • Healing prayer
          • And so many more!
        • Warren reminds us that all of the sacredness of our bodies in worship doesn’t magically leave our bodies when we walk out of the church building (or when we can’t even walk into the church building) … That sacredness stays with us: We carry all of our bodily training in gathered worship – our kneeling, singing, eating, drinking, standing, hand raising, and gesturing – with us into the bathroom on an average day when we look in the mirror.[6]
      • And then, of course, there’s Jesus himself – Emmanuel; God With Us; God’s physical, embodied love letter to humanity. In Jesus, God became incarnate, taking on every aspect of our fleshy, bodily humanity – the pleasure and the pain, the struggle and the strain, the daring and the dancing, the passion and the pleasure, the brokenness and the blessedness. God took on all of that (and even all of the most – erm – earthly elements of having a body) in Jesus Christ. That was the whole point. So of course our faith is a faith that reaches into our bodies.
        • Warren: When Jesus redeems us, that redemption occurs in our bodies. … Our bodies and souls are inseparable, and therefore what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined.[7]
    • Takes it even a step further than just reuniting our bodies and souls → blessing our bodies for being bodies (for what they are and what they do) – Warren: In Christ, these bodily tasks are a response to God’s creative goodness. These teeth I’m brushing, the body I’m bathing, these nails I’m clipping were made by a loving Creator who does not reject the human body. Instead [God] declared us – holistically – “very good.” [God] took on flesh in order to redeem us in our goodies, and in so doing [God] redeemed embodiment itself.[8]
  • Brings us to our Scripture reading this morning – the last day of creation from the 1st creation account in Genesis – text: When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— … 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 in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. 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 in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 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. To all wildlife, to all the birds in 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. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.[9] → God created humanity in God’s own image. Does that mean God’s got a body just like ours? Arms and legs, ears and eyelashes, toenails and a belly button? No. But when God created our bodies – with all the spirit and creativity and capacity for hopes and dreams, joy and sorrow, forgiveness and grace that are essential to God’s own self – God created them as they are and called them good. Not just good, but, according to our Scripture, “supremely good.”
    • Heb. word for “joyous/pleasing” + Heb. word for “abundance/mighty” – leaves no room for doubt or defiance → God’s creation – all of God’s creation, including the human body as God created it – is abundantly joyous, mightily pleasing, supremely good. Period. God didn’t say, “When that human’s hair looks just right, then he’s supremely good.” God didn’t say, “When that human’s wearing makeup, then she’s supremely good.” God didn’t say, “When that human weighs 15 lbs. less, then he’s supremely good.” God said, “You see that human right there? I created that human, and he is supremely good. She is supremely good. They are supremely good simply because I created them.”
      • Really critical point, friends: God also doesn’t designate which humans are supremely good → God doesn’t say, “Only the white ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the educated ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the rich ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the employed ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the healthy ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the straight ones or only the cis-gender ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the ones with a disability.” God doesn’t say, “Only the [fill in the blank of the ways we belittle those unlike ourselves] ones.”
        • Word translated as “humanity” = general Heb. for all people → End of story. No qualifiers need apply. That means black and brown bodies are created beautiful in God’s eyes. That means differently abled bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes. That means transgender bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes. That means immigrant bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes.
    • Friends, we are living in a time of great social unrest and great social change. We are living in a time when a lot of us are realizing that there are a lot of sections of our country that have been marginalized and pushed aside, abused and gunned down, oppressed and subjugated, discriminated against and held back simply because of some element of their bodies – the bodies and minds and spirits that were created in God’s own loving, creative, energetic, beautiful image. Here’s the bottom line today: there are lots of ways that we judge and disparage our own bodies, and there are lots of ways that we judge and disparage the bodies of others. But as you go about those mindless, simple routines in your day that have you caring for your own body, remember that to God, all bodies are deemed sacred and supremely good. Amen.

 

  • Read I Love All of Me by Lorie Ann Grover → This is a truly beautiful board book that celebrates all the parts of the body. It is currently one of my daughter’s favorite books, and I highly recommend it.

[1] https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/americans-spent-more-than-16-billion-on-cosmetic-plastic-surgery-in-2018.

[2] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/how-are-fitness-consumers-spending-their-time-and-money-300809717.html#:~:text=CHICAGO%2C%20March%2011%2C%202019%20%2F,of%20data%20and%201%2C300%20responses.

[3] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005455/en/72-Billion-Weight-Loss-Diet-Control-Market.

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/beauty-multibillion-industry-trends-future-2019-7#:~:text=The%20beauty%20industry%20is%20growing,from%20retail%20analytics%20firm%20Edited.

[5] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[6] Warren, 48.

[7] Warren, 39.

[8] Warren, 39-40.

[9] Gen 1:1-2. 26-31.

Sunday’s sermon: Making the Bed: Prayerful Patterns, Sacred Shaping

made bed

Text used – Psalm 119:25-40

 

 

  • So, we’re working through this book this summer, right? Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren.
    • Started last week → talked about the overarching theme of the book = finding those sacred, life-giving moments in the midst of the most ordinary, routine parts of our days
    • But here’s the thing about tackling a book that discusses finding God in our routines: a book like this forces us to examine our routines. All of our routines. The ones we love … and the one’s we rather we didn’t have. And in terms of finding God and sacred practices, all of those routines are fair game: the good, the bad, and the ugly. [PAUSE] With that in mind, I want to share with you the story that Warren tells at the beginning of her second chapter which she called, “Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life.”
      • Begins by talking about something that she used to see as a ludicrously useless and futile exercise: making the bed → And when I say that she “used to” see making the bed as a useless endeavor, I’m not talking about when she was a teenager. I’m talking about up until a few years ago … well into her adulthood.
      • Got curious about why people invest (waste!) time making their beds every morning → decided to poll her friends and found out that most of them actually did it … they actually made their beds every single morning!
      • Reflecting on her own daily early morning habits, Warren’s realized that her first movement and routine of the day was, in fact, reaching over to her nightstand for … her phone → And with this reflection came the realization that that simple act – a mere 5-10 minutes of scrolling on that seductively-glowing little screen – affected her expectations for her entire day. – Warren: My morning smartphone ritual was brief – no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted with technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens. … Throughout the day I fed on a near-constant stream of news, entertainment, stimulation, likes, and retweets. Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.[1]
      • So for Lent one year, Warren decided to give up checking her smartphone in the morning and instead simply make her bed → new routine:
        • Leave smartphone charging somewhere not in the bedroom
        • Make her bed first thing in the morning
        • Spend a few moments (roughly equivalent of time she would have spent scrolling on her phone) sitting quietly in the middle of her freshly made bed and focusing on God
          • Sometimes read Scripture
          • Mostly prayed – Warren: I’d lay out my worries, my hopes, and my questions before God, spreading them out in [God’s] presence like stretched-out sheets. I’d pray for my work and family, for decisions, for a meeting scheduled later in the day. But mostly, I’d invite God into the day and just sit. Silent. Sort of listening. Sort of just sitting. But I sat expectantly. God made this day. [God] wrote it and has a purpose in it. Today, [God] is the maker and giver of all good things.[2]
  • Sitting. Listening. Spending a few moments at the beginning of the day giving the entirety of your day over to God before it’s even happened. Starting fresh every day – fresh bed, smooth quilt, blank slate … fresh mind, smooth spirit, blank slate.
    • Honest confession: this was a tough chapter for me because much of Tish’s opening story is my morning as well
      • Spending a few minutes in the morning blurrily swiping through my phone → nothing crucial … nothing that can’t wait another 15 mins. or even another hour or more
      • And really … I’ve never been a bed-maker. Like Tish’s initial mindset, I’ve always kind of thought, “What’s the point? I’m just going to climb (stumble … fall … whatever) back into this exact same bed 16+ hrs. from now and get it all messed up again. Why bother making it look all nice when it’s going to inevitably get messy again?” And yet I cannot deny that in the hustle and bustle and cram-jam 1000-words-per-minute world in which we live – this world of instant headlines and instant notifications and instant likes and shares and retweets … In the midst of all that, I cannot deny that there is something wholly appealing about starting the day not with that chaos but with the simplicity of a made bed and the simplicity of being with God.
        • Asking God to be part of my day
        • Pledging once again to be God’s instrument throughout the day
        • Reminder to remain open to God’s leading and guiding and teaching and nudging presence throughout the day
  • Hear echoes of this in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Psalmist seems to be in a bit of a bind
      • Seeks God’s wisdom, guidance, and promises
      • Seeks God’s instruction
      • Seeks God’s constancy and steadfastness
    • Text: My life is stuck in the dirt. Now make me live again according to your promise! I confessed my ways and you answered me. Now teach me your statutes! Help me understand what your precepts are about so I can contemplate your wondrous works. … Turn my heart to your laws, not to greedy gain. Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things. Make me live by your way.[3] → We hear that back and forth in this psalm – that back and forth that we feel and know so well ourselves: “This is what I’m doing, God. This is my current routine. This is the current ebb and flow of my day. But it’s not enough. It’s not good enough. It’s not satisfying. It’s not edifying. It’s not feeding my soul and renewing my spirit. And so I’m turning to you, God. I’m turning to the One who created me for this moment … this day … this life. I’m turning to the One who desires good for me, the One who loves me enough to teach me again and again and again.” It’s a recognition that our routines exist – for good or for ill – and that we need God to be a part of those routines. It’s a pause and an invitation for God to be a part of those routines, not just to lift up what we’re already doing and shower us with empty praise, but to help us to learn and grow, to be challenged and changed.
      • Gets at the place and purpose of routine and ritual and liturgy in our lives overall – Warren: We don’t wake up daily and form a new way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our loves, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.[4]
  • Multiple parts to enacting this type of liturgy in our lives
    • Pausing → doesn’t have to be for any excessively long amount of time, but pausing gives God the reverence and time that God deserves … God has given us this beautiful, wide-open day. We can give a portion of it directly and wholeheartedly to God with our full attention.
    • Opening → opening our hearts and our minds and our spirits – opening our whole selves and our whole lives – to God … because a relationship that isn’t open – a relationship that tries to hold things back or keep certain parts hidden – isn’t a healthy or holy relationship.
    • Confessing → recognizing those places in our days and our routines that have been lacking – those places that need God’s touch and God’s presence and God’s redeeming work
    • And finally, enacting this liturgy in our lives requires willingness:
      • Willingness to listen
      • Willingness to be chastened and humbled
      • Willingness to change and be changed
    • Warren: Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy – as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship – allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.[5]
      • Psalm: My spirit sags because of grief. Now raise me up according to your promise! Remove all false ways from me; show mercy to me by means of your Instruction. I’ve chosen the way of faithfulness; I’m set on your rules. I’m holding tight to your laws, Lord. Please don’t let me be put to shame. … Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction and keep it with all my heart.[6]
  • I want to leave you with a question that Warren asks this morning. She asks it in this chapter, but really, it’s a question that pertains to every chapter … to every sermon in this series … to every routine that shapes and forms our days: What kind of people is our liturgy forming us to be? [PAUSE]

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2] Warren, 28.

[3] Ps 119:25-27, 36-37.

[4] Warren, 30.

[5] Warren, 31.

[6] Ps 119:28-31, 34.

Sunday’s sermon: Waking Up: Those First Delicate Moments

Text used – Ephesians 2:1-10

 

 

  • I want to introduce you to a book this morning. (A shocker from me, I know.) It’s a book that was part of my first round of doctorate readings, and it’s one of those books that just grabs a hold of you. It’s one of those books that, as I was reading it, I felt like I could have underlined just about every paragraph on every page. It’s one of those books that is perspective-shifting.
    • Book: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren[1] → [READ THE BACK] “Come and discover the holiness of your every day.” After the upheaval of our “every day”s, the unexpected tedium of working from home and schooling from home and shopping from home and everything from home, and the general uncertainty and unrest in the world right now, it struck me as a very, very good time for us to attempt to open our eyes to the ways God is working in even most ordinary, banal moments of our days. Because I think we could all use some flashes and glimpses of God right now, right?
      • Especially important because I think we often struggle to find God in the “normal” moments – in our regular, day-to-day, often automatic routines → I mean, it’s easy for us to find God in the mountaintop moments – those moments that have us soaring on joy and excitement and awe. Likewise, it’s easy for us to turn to God in the darkest valley moments – those moments when we are overwhelmed by fear and pain and grief.
        • Warren addresses this: Alfred Hitchcock said movies are “life with the dull bits cut out.” Car chases and first kisses, interesting plot lines and good conversations. We don’t want to watch our lead character going on a walk, stuck in traffic, or brushing his teeth – at least not for long, and not without a good soundtrack. We tend to want a Christian life with the dull bits cut out. Yet God made us to spend our days in rest, work, and play, taking care of our bodies, our families, our neighborhoods, our homes. What if all these boring parts matter to God? What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?[2] → So this summer, we’re going to wind our way through this book, examining some of those most boring, ordinary elements of our daily routines in the hopes of finding God and worshiping God not in spite of those moments, but earnestly and wholeheartedly through those moments.
  • Start today with something as simple as WAKING UP
    • Warren’s description of “waking up”: I wake slowly, Even when the day demands I rally quickly – when my kids leap on top of me with sharp elbows or my alarm blares – I lie still for the first few seconds of the day, stunned, orienting, thoughts dulled. Then comes, slowly, the dawning of plans to make and goals for the day. But in those first delicate seconds, the bleary-eyed pause of waking, before the tasks begin, before I get on my game, I’m greeted again with the truth of who I am in my most basic self.[3] → Throughout her first chapter, Warren links those “first delicate seconds” after waking up to grace and the newness of baptism.
      • Baptism, in a way, is a waking up
        • Warren speaks of Jesus’ baptism as related in the gospels → (as far as we know) Jesus had a perfectly ordinary life up to that moment (growing up with his parents and his siblings, running and playing with the other kids in Nazareth, learning the carpentry trade from Joseph, eating and sleeping and skinning his knee and worshiping at the Temple and the local synagogue with his community) → à Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove with God’s proclamation of claiming Jesus as God’s own Son → Jesus’ birth into his ministry → From that point on, even as the water from the Jordan continued to drip from Jesus’ hair and beard and run in rivers off his soaking robes, his life was different. Everything was different.
        • Baptism for us may not be quite as dramatic an event, but through the waters of baptism and the grace of God, we are still named and claimed by the power of the Holy Spirit
          • From our Book of Order: Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God’s redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through Baptism, Jesus Christ calls us to repentance, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives the Church its identity and commissions the Church for service in the world.[4] → Just like we claim and reclaim our identity after those first delicate seconds of waking every morning, so God’s grace through baptism claims and reclaims us each and every day.
  • This is where our Scripture reading for this morning comes in.
    • Context for the letter to the church at Ephesus[5]
      • One of those books that, while it was attributed to Paul for a long time, scholars now agree probably wasn’t actually written by Paul → many elements of Paul’s writing (word choice, sentence structure, overall format of the letter itself, etc.) don’t match up BUT that doesn’t make it any less important → it’s still a letter attesting to meaningful and significant elements of our faith
      • Because of the way in which Ephesians was written, Biblical scholars have also found it difficult to glean a lot of specific social or historical context. Basically, we don’t actually know much of anything about the Christian community to whom this letter was written: what kind of trials they were facing, what their strengths as a community might have been, or even whether they had an already-established relationship with Paul, any of his helpers/disciples, or any of the other disciples who were spreading the gospel message at the same time as Paul.
      • What we do know about Ephesus itself[6]
        • Ancient port city
        • Location: modern-day Turkey (ruins visible and well-preserved but no longer a city in and of itself)
        • Once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading center in the Mediterranean region
        • Surprisingly, much of the history of this important city is unrecorded
        • But we do know that Ephesus was a center of worship for the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the wilderness. Significant portions of the Temple of Artemis still draw thousands of tourists every year today.
    • So it is into this jumbled context that these words that we read this morning were written and preached – text: At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. … However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace![7] → In those first moments after waking up – those “first delicate seconds,” as Warren calls them – we have the bliss of a completely blank slate. These are the moments before you remember the pains and disappointments of yesterday. These are the moments before the “not yet done”s of yesterday and the “to do”s of today rush in on you. These are the moments before you have to think about where you need to go and who you need to be today. These are the moments when we are barely even conscious. And yet even in this most hazy, undefinable, nebulous moment, God is already loving us, lifting us, claiming us with profound and very real grace.
      • Warren: Before we begin the liturgies of our day – the cooking, sitting in traffic, emailing, accomplishing, working, resting – we begin beloved. My works and worship don’t earn a thing. … We wake not to vague or general mercy from a far-off God. God, in delight and wisdom, has made, named, and blessed this average day.[8] → These moments of first waking in the mercy and love of God is crucial because it is in these moments – when we haven’t had the time or wherewithal to even roll over, let alone get up or do anything worthwhile – it is in these moments that God’s unconditional love and unearned grace have already greeted us and enfolded us. Not because of something we’ve done … because we haven’t done anything yet! But because God is God, and God loves us.
      • Text: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.[9] → Sounds like a pretty beautiful way to wake up, doesn’t it? Waking to the gift of God’s salvation. Waking to the mercy of a God who created you for good things. Waking to a grace as warm and comforting as the blanket that still covers you. All thanks to a God who is there the second you open your eyes. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[2] Warren, 21-22.

[3] Warren, 15.

[4] “Theology of Baptism” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – Part II: Book of Order 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly, 2019), W-3.0402.

[5] Pheme Perkins. “The Letter to the Ephesians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 351-365.

[6]

[7] Eph 2:1-2a, 4-5.

[8] Warren, 20, 21.

[9] Eph 2:8-10 (emphasis added).

Sunday’s service: Pentecost Reflections on the Holy Spirit

Text used – Acts 2:1-21

This Sunday was a little different for a couple of reasons. First, I unintentionally forgot to flip my Zoom view from “Gallery” to “Speaker” view. That means that you won’t be able to see what was happening “up front” as much, but it also means that one the day that we celebrate the birth of Christian community, you get to actually watch our Christian community (those who were participating via Zoom, anyway) actually worship together for this service. It’s kinda perfect!

This Sunday is also different because instead of doing a traditional sermon, I did four shorter reflections on the most common images of the Holy Spirit that we find in Scripture. Each of those reflections went along with an object that we used – a pinwheel, a candle, a dove tag, and a bottle of water. I invite you to find as many of those things around your house and join us as we go through these reflections.

Pentecost – Celebrating the Holy Spirit

            Today, we celebrate Pentecost – the birthday of the church, not at as a building or a point on a map or a hub for committees but as a community and a mission and a living, breathing faith flung far and wide into a world that needed to hear the good news of the Gospel. Today especially, we focus on the work and wildness of the Holy Spirit – that elusive and ever-moving third person of the Trinity; that fierce and feminine form of God’s holy presence; that blowing and burning, soaring and satiating incarnation of God that touches us and spurs us forward in ways we often find it hard to name but also hard to ignore. Today, we’re going to celebrate the Holy Spirit in word, in prayer, and in action.

Holy Spirit as Wind/Breath

Genesis 1:1-2: 1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters.

John 3:8: 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

By far the most prevalent image for the Holy Spirit that we see in Scripture is that of wind or breath. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is one word that can be translated as “spirit” or “wind” or “breath.” And when it comes to the Spirit of God, it’s a fitting confluence. The Spirit of God is essential – constantly moving and regenerating, powerful and life-giving, invisible but always present … a lot like the wind.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

The only way we see the wind is when it moves things – leaves rustling in the trees, waves rippling the surface of the water, a flag fluttering in the breeze. We can’t see it, but we cannot deny that we can feel the wind caressing our cheek, tugging at our shirt, pushing us in one direction or another with a strong and powerful gust.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

God’s Holy Spirit – God’s essential breath, God’s sacred wind – moves time and time again throughout Scripture starting at the very beginning with Genesis. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into the lungs of Adam and Eve in the Garden. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into Job in the midst of his trials and tribulations. God blew the Holy Spirit wind over the dry bones in Elijah’s vision and brought life to them again. And in a rush, God blew that same Holy Spirit wind into the house where the disciples were staying with such force and intensity that it filled the whole room on that first Pentecost day.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

Sometimes we forget about the wind – on a calm clear day when the weather is pleasant and everything is still. And sometimes we forget about the Holy Spirit – in a calm, clear phase of our lives when all around us seems pleasant and copacetic. But then the wind moves …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And God’s Spirit move …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we remember that God is always moving … always breathing … always whispering and whooshing … always nudging and tugging … always rushing and gusting …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Fire

Exodus 3:2: 2 The LORD’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.

Luke 24:32: 31 [The disciples] eyes were opened and they recognized [the risen Christ], but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

The second most common image of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is as fire – a fire that blazes and burns but doesn’t consume like the fire that led Moses into God’s sacred space; a fire called down from heaven by the prophet Elijah as power and proof and undeniable presence; a fire that touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah, purifying and consecrating him to God’s holy mission and call; a fire that burned in the hearts of the disciples as they traveled and broke bread unawares with their risen Savior in a place called Emmaus; a fire that has burned … does burn … will burn in the souls of those whom God calls to both spur them to action and cleanse them from within.

Fire is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In that light, we find reassurance and hope. Fire is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In that warmth, we find comfort and restoration. Fire refines, burning away impurities in metal and turning something as simple and humble as sand into the most stunningly glassworks. In that refining, we find promise and beauty.

LIGHT YOUR CANDLE.

God is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In the Holy Spirit’s light, we find reassurance and hope. God is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In the Holy Spirit’s warmth, we find comfort and restoration. God refines, burning away impurities in our souls and turning something as simple and humble as human beings into the most stunning creations. In the Holy Spirit’s refining, we find promise and beauty.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Dove

Genesis 8:8-12: 8 Then [Noah] sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, 9 but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. 11 The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again.

Matthew 3:16: 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him.

Less prevalent in Scripture but certainly no less important is the image of the Holy Spirit a dove. We’re most familiar with the image of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove as he rose from the water of his own baptism, bringing with it God’s sacred and love-filled affirmation: “This is my son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” Up to this point in his life, Jesus must have known deep within himself who he was, but up to that moment – that moment dripping with the waters of the Jordan River and the holiness of God’s presence – up to that moment, it wasn’t time to reveal who he was. And then, with the flap of a dove’s wings, it was time. And with the flap of a dove’s wing, Jesus faced a new beginning.

Maybe your mind also wanders back to that dove that Noah released from aboard the ark as it floated and rocked day after day, night after night, week after week. The dove that returned time and again, bringing Noah news without having to speak – news that the world was still under water, news that there was still no safe space, news that it was not yet time. Until that moment – that moment swollen with possibility and potential, that moment laden with fervent hopes and seasick longings – until that moment that was oh, so noticeably lacking in the sound of a dove’s wings … that moment when the dove did not return. And with the absence of the dove, Noah and his family faced a new beginning.

Throughout Scripture, doves are mentioned time and again as a sacrifice. They were the ideal sacrifice because they were perceived as pure, but they were also the ideal sacrifice because they were accessible to so many. People who couldn’t afford a calf, couldn’t afford a ram, couldn’t afford to give up the best portion of their harvest would instead offer up to God a dove in thanksgiving and in praise, in adoration and in supplication, in hope and in acknowledgment of God’s presence and power at work in the world. Doves made space in the sacrificial portion of worship for those who would otherwise not have a space. Doves gave wings to the prayers of those who feared their prayers may not otherwise be heard. Doves opened the doors to community with promises of peace, of hope, and of inclusion.

Today, we find ourselves in this strange and separated time … in this time when we are driven apart from one another … in this time when one of the best ways that I can care for my neighbor is to wear my mask, keep my distance, check in … but do so from afar. It feels so counterintuitive … sort of like finding the power and presence and peace of Holy Spirit of God Almighty in something as common and docile as a simple dove. And yet there it is.

A dove means peace … the peace we seek in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means purity … the purity we find in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means new beginnings … new beginnings that we find when we follow the Holy Spirit.

This pandemic time is, in fact, a time of new beginning for us. It’s our dove moment. It’s our Holy Spirit moment. So I want you to take the dove tag that’s in your Pentecost bag and write your hopes for our congregation on that tag. And then I want you to get it back to me. Mail it back, if you want to do that. Or drop it off at church in the “donations” mailbox that we use for Gold Rush. I’ll hang them in our sanctuary where they will continue to move us.

In your bag, you’ll also find your own little reminder from me that you are a beloved child of God and that the Holy Spirit hopes in you.

Holy Spirit as Water

Joel 2:23, 28: 23 Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the LORD your God, because he will give you the early rain as a sign of righteousness; he will pour down abundant rain for you, the early and the late rain, as before. … 28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.

John 7:37-39: 37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “All who are thirsty should come to me! 38 All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.” 39 Jesus said this concerning the Spirit.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

Essential for the life of this planet. Essential for the life within us. Essential for the life of the church. We are born from water. We are renewed by water. We are baptized in water –  named and claimed as children of God and members of this sacred and blessed community.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

We find water in many forms in all parts of the earth and all parts of ourselves. Water refreshes and renews the world around us as it rains down on thirsty gardens and fields, coaxing fresh shoots from seeds and buds into blossom, encouraging everything from tiny tendrils to mighty tree trunks to reach higher and higher into the sky – to grow and flourish and produce fruit. Even from the driest, dustiest, most forgotten deserts, a quenching rain cancause flowers and plants to spring up – life that has waited long in the hard and desolate ground for that water … that life. Water refreshes and renews our bodies, quenching our thirst and replenishing whatever we have sweated away through the work and sport and strain of our bodies. Water cools our fevered foreheads. Water cleanses the dirt from under our fingernails and under our souls.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

LIVING water is essential. Scripture speaks time and time again of God renewing God’s people … of God quenching the parched places both around us and inside us … of God raining down blessings, raining down grace, raining down justice on people in need of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised rebirth in the Spirit through the waters of baptism, a sacramental blessing and covenant that we hold near and dear to this day. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us refreshes our parched and weary souls. This presence truly is a living water – a water that never runs dry and a water that is knowing … knowing enough to sense when we are in need … knowing enough to sense when we are feeling as dry and limp as a wrung-out cloth … knowing enough to sense our desire and potential to flourish if only we had water. Living Water.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us. Alleluia! Amen.