Scripture: Acts 10:44-48
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.” Psalm 98:4-7
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord…”
What is it that makes music hit you in the heartspace, in that way you just can’t explain in words?
I got a chance to see the Grateful Dead, in one of their rarer and rarer appearances, last week. (Without Jerry, obviously, you scamps…) “The bus came by and I got on,” as they say, in the early ‘90s, not too many years before Jerry passed. I was working on a 6 month project in Japan, building a theme park, and the Mystery of Many Names put a tape of a live Dead concert in our shared job car, that I got to listen to.
Now for the first 30 years (or so) of my life, I never “got” the Dead. I had heard some of their studio albums and they really didn’t do much for me. My (then future) Deadhead wife even dragged me to go see them around 1990 in Los Angeles, but it was a hot day, in a hot stadium, with a bunch of hot-headed rude Angelenos rushing the stage, and it was not my cup of tea.
But being in Japan had opened up some space in me. Perhaps it was just yearning for “American stuff” but it hit me kind of out of the blue, like “What is THIS stuff? Why didn’t someone tell me about it?!”
I got to see the Dead about 6 times with Jerry and perhaps 8 times since he passed away. And I really came to understand that the Dead were a LIVE band and explorers; they were chasing a certain transcendence in music that can only come from incredible musicianship exploring that jam and being in the right open head and heartspaces. And when they were “on” those moments could come upon you when the boundaries would melt away, when you were just a limitless soul bobbing on an ecstatic sea of music and joy (you and 15-20,000 other brethren souls.)
I’m not trying to glamorize the scene: there are certainly always people trying to buy their way into a “chemical transcendence,” (and there is nothing transcendent about being high out of your mind and being carried out to the RockMed tent to have the nurses try and wake you up or talk you down.) But after having a few of the (chemically unaided) moments, I could see what people were chasing.
I recently had the privilege of being able to attend the UUCF Revival at All Souls Church in Tulsa. I got a chance to watch and sing and clap along with the New Dimensions ensemble at All Souls. These are primarily the wonderful souls who have followed Bishop Carlton Pearson on his journey from his past fundamentalism to his new universalism, and to what he calls the “Gospel of Inclusion.”
Let’s admit it: sometimes we deserve the title for “God’s Frozen People”, but I NEVER would have imagined such a joyful noise coming out of a UU church. Amazing! Soaring joyful voices joined together in praise. It made the hackles on the back of my neck stand up! Stunning! I’m ready to move to Tulsa!
And then I looked around a bit and saw some of my brother and sister UUs. There were more than a couple who had sour looks on their faces, with their hands shoved steadfastly into their pockets, refusing to clap or wave or even to tap a toe. These poor souls were purposely closing themselves off from the joyful ecstatic feeling and love being shared in the room. Why is that?
I know that many have been injured in their past experiences with Christianity, particularly in its most judgmental and fundamentalist forms. But I don’t think that’s the only dynamic at work. As UUs we are covenanted to affirm the inherent worth and dignity in every soul. Sometimes, though, we can have a hard time seeing that inherent priceless worth in ourselves. Bishop Carlton Pearson talks about this in his book “The Gospel of Inclusion”: if you see the world as inherently evil, if you see only ugliness and demons around you, it will be pretty difficult for you to manifest love of God and self into the world. You’ll live in your own personal hell, and you’re likely to be attacked by demons of your own creation.
I’m always looking for humor in the Bible, and I have to say that I’m often amused by observations in the Bible like: “THAT guy? The GALILEAN?” Jesus has to be a nobody if he comes from THOSE hillbillies. In Acts this week, I like that little twit from our brother Jews: the circumcised (the Jewish Christians) who had gathered with Peter are astounded that the Holy Spirit was poured out EVEN ON THE GENTILES! Not THOSE knuckleheads!
I think Acts this week calls us to our Universalism. EVEN THE GENTILES can have the Spirit! Even the Deadheads can have the Spirit! Even the Pentecostals can have the Spirit! Even the UUs can have the Spirit!
When we open ourselves and get out of our own way.
Perhaps your experience has been like mine: after many years, I had to reopen myself to Jesus and Christianity. I have to reopen myself to life continuously, and fight the tendency to retreat into my bubbles of like-minded friends and acquaintances. I have to remind myself (continuously) that “those people” are my brothers and sisters: Even the fundamentalists (Christian and Humanist) and even the cranky UUs (who I see plenty of, as a church administrator!)
Do we have to agree on everything? Of course not. But as our beloved Hosea Ballou put it: If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury! We are called to stay engaged in the world, to stay engaged with “those people,” and engaged with the great ongoing revelation of life.
Blessings of peace be with you always, and have a good week.
Gracious Father / Mother of us All. We pray for open minds and wisdom to see the truth in the world. We pray for open hearts to embrace the joy and beauty in the world. We pray for Spirit that we may share the Good News and be agents for the ongoing revelation of the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen
Ascension of the Lord (May 21st, 2009)
Lectionary Reading: Acts 1:1-11
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Ascension of Jesus
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Focusing Quote: Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Can we just all agree: waiting sucks?
Whether it’s at a stop light or in a bank line or for a doctor’s call about a biopsy, waiting is not one of our favorite human pastimes. And yet we do a lot of it in this life.
The 21st of May is the Day when some parts of the Body of Christ mark Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The scripture in Acts today mentions the moment when Jesus ascended and his last moments with his disciples.
They ask Him: Now Master? Is now when you’re going to do it? Restore our Kingdom?
We’ve recently been enjoying “First Light: Jesus & the Kingdom of God” at our church. If you get a chance, I really recommend it. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are two of the “bigs” in my mind, for helping to foster an understanding of Jesus for a modern / post-modern person.
In First Light, Borg and Crossan share some of the cultural and societal matrix that made 1st century Palestine ripe for Jesus and his ministry. Life expectancy for a peasant in this period would have been pretty low, perhaps around 30. As best scholars can know such things, Jesus is believed to have been born around 4 BCE, making him in his 30s at the time he was executed by Pontius Pilate. Jesus would have been a “mature” person for his class, so his followers would likely have been younger persons, meaning ultimately that the Jesus movement would have been a “youth movement.”
One wag in our congregation, an ex-fundamentalist, said that the idea of a youth movement made a lot of sense to him, as it explained why Jesus followers often seem so stupid! They were kids!
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?
Jesus (seemingly ever patient of his followers) says: It’s not for you to know what the Father’s plan is, but you will be empowered and you will be agents of the Kingdom on Earth.
I’m sympathetic of His followers’ plight, perhaps because I have simpleton tendencies. When are things gonna get better? When are we gonna turn this joint around? Somebody oughta do something about that…
Perhaps I’m supposed to do my part and not worry about when?
Perhaps I’m not supposed to know when?
Have you been waiting for something?
I oughta start a UU Christian Group?
I oughta learn some things about the Bible.
I oughta go to church more.
I oughta help out…
Do you just like waiting?
Source of Life, Mystery of so Many Names: we pray for patience, for calm faith in embracing the path that we are on. We pray for guidance and energy to take up the ministries that are laid before us; make us agents of the Kingdom on Earth. We ask this in Yeshua’s name. May it be so.