Monday, May 20, 2013

A Tradition of Change

Christmas carols, Easter lilies, table grace, communion cards, friendship pads, coffee hour—our church is full of traditions. From the simple rituals we do daily to the particular ways we celebrate holidays, our lives are influenced by the traditions we’ve inherited. All of these traditions started somewhere, though, as something new—as change. In actuality, we often overlook one of the biggest traditions of our faith: change.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.”        --Genesis 1:1-3

From the very start, everything changes. There was a formless void—a nothing. God didn’t just leave it that way, though. God spoke, and—just like that—there was light. Then there was sky, then earth, then plants, then stars, sun and moon, sea creatures and birds, land animals, and finally, humans. Eventually, God would give a set of laws to God’s people as they wandered the desert. These laws spoke of promise and hope of a future lived in relationship with God and one another. They are part of a dynamic covenant that has been formed and reformed over the ages. Prophets would later come to encourage care of the ignored people of society—to change the status quo.

Hundreds of years later, another person—a man born in Bethlehem—overturned tables of profiteers in the temple and taught about love, care, and forgiveness. Jesus reinterpreted the faith *in the culture and society around him. Jesus’ followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would start the Christian church.

The changes didn’t stop there, however.

What started out as a movement of followers became more organized and institutional. Those who studied faith fought over what exactly to believe about the Holy Trinity, and a common creed was formed. A collection of sacred writings was gathered and evaluated. The books brought together formed the Bible, which was translated into the common language of Latin.

The change continues. Martin Luther translated the Scriptures into his common language of German, and he returned to the message of forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith. In an age of working for your salvation, Luther’s reading of the Bible returned to the righteousness and forgiveness received through Christ. In the Augsburg Confession, Luther's contemporaries acknowledged the differences of style and practice that occur in the church.*

Today we celebrate a variety of traditions within our faith. We have inherited changes as tradition. As such, we’ve also inherited a tradition of change. The Holy Spirit is still moving—still working. Where this work and change is happening today is for us to discover and to follow.

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”    --Isaiah 43:19

* "And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere." Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession: Article VII, Latin Text, Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, eds., Charles Arand, et al., trans., The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 43.

Come, Holy Spirit

The Scripture reading this week tells the story of Pentecost.

Alright. You know the game where you have to see what’s the same about a bunch of things in a group? Usually you get two or three…sometimes four if you’re playing that new app—I forget what it’s called. Well, today we get five things to figure out what the common bond is.

Marie or Madame Curie, the wheel, the printing press, Albert Einstein, and the telephone.

Any guesses?

They are all game changers. Each one of these items or people pushed the history of humanity down a significantly different path than it had been on before.

Madame Curie had the first major discoveries with radioactivity: suddenly a whole new kind of energy and elements can be used and developed. The wheel: humanity is more mobile than before; they can travel further. Einstein: e = mc2, redefining how we think of time and space. The printing press: widespread publications and therefore expanded literacy. The telephone: long distance communications. Now we don’t have to travel so far to communicate.

In our lessons today—actually throughout our whole year—we hear about a huge game-changer: God. God the parent, creator, father/mother of all heaven and earth. God the Son, Jesus Christ, who died for the sin of the world that humanity may have eternal life. God the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who continues to inspire, create and work in the world. 

In the gospel lesson, Jesus calls this person, this Holy Spirit, the Advocate. At Pentecost, which we celebrate today, we read about the effects of this Spirit, coming down like tongues of fire. This Spirit speaks not only to the chosen, but also sweeps over everyone gathered there, reaching out through the voices of the disciples on this day to tell the story of Jesus.

It’s good that we set aside a day to talk specifically about the Holy Spirit. From what I’ve been told—and what I’ve seen myself--we talk a lot about the first two persons of the trinity—the parent and the son, but the Holy Spirit is somehow missed, just sort of tacked on to the end.

That’s odd because it is the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate in today’s world—our inspiration and source of faith really. It’s the Holy Spirit that unites us to Christ in baptism. Maybe we don’t know how to talk about God in this way because it’s the piece that’s still moving and working in us. The Holy Spirit is a huge game changer, and that can be intimidating to talk about.

But guess what? We do talk about the Holy Spirit—almost every single week—at least in worship.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Amen. There it is--the third article of the Apostles' Creed.

That whole sentence or article is about the Holy Spirit. 

What? No! It’s about the church and communion of saints and a bunch of other stuff besides the Holy Spirit.

That’s what I thought for years. Then I started wondering. The first article or section of the creed is about God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. The second article is all about God’s son, Jesus, and his life, death, resurrection and future promise. Logically, the third article should be about…. 

So I looked it up in this handy dandy little thing Martin Luther wrote called the Small Catechism and there it was!! Right in front of me for over 400--almost 500--years. The third article of the Apostles' Creed is all about the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. Self explanatory. The holy catholic church—small c. Church everywhere…

Do me a favor. Imagine the place you call home—whatever and wherever that may be. You can even pause and close your eyes for a moment if you need to get a better picture. Fill that place up with light. Look around. Think of every detail in that place. Notice the edges, the textures, the patterns of the place. Think of the smells, the sounds. 

Now picture church. Think of entering through the doors. See the people who meet you. Smell the fresh spring air, the coffee, the fellowship hour treats. Have it? Hold those two pictures in your mind. Home and church. Church and home.

These are the places that are there for you—no matter what. No matter how soon or long or how far or near, you can return. You don’t need to wait for an invitation, just come. Take that familiar path, walk through the door. You already belong. Church doesn’t even have to be this or that particular building or congregation--though it can be. Remember what we said—little “c”—church universal. It’s everywhere. Look for it.

Okay, next line: the communion of saints…here Luther states that the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ.” We’re all connected throughout time and space by the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. The Holy Spirit does this, too. The Holy Spirit “forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” That’s how Luther’s small catechism closes this section. "This is most certainly true."

This is the Holy Spirit that came to the disciples on Pentecost—enabling faith in Christ.

Forgiving sins, speaking to everyone in the world in his or her own language, lighting a fire in the hearts of the disciples. This story doesn't end on Pentecost, though. The Holy Spirit is still working, still inspiring, still forgiving, enlightening, calling. Pushing all of us out of our comfort zones to serve God’s world while always telling us that we belong.

Truth be told, one Sunday is not enough to talk about the Holy Spirit and the gift given to humanity at Pentecost. We have to keep the conversation going—all year, all week. Because when the Holy Spirit descends in something like tongues of fire and rushing wind, it’s going to spread. 

The disciples immediately started talking to whomever they could. Whoever was there, whoever would listen, heard the gospel that very day. The disciples immediately started sharing and working. Because when that fire lights up in you, you can’t be still, at least not for long.

And the question isn’t "if," it’s "what."

So…What is the Holy Spirit working in you? 
Where is that fire, that wind, that breath, spreading? 
How can you join in?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Confirmation Sunday

Six students were confirmed at church last Sunday. The readings for the day can be found here.

Our confirmation curriculum this year was focused on “Faith in Life.”
Since confirmation is about confirming the faith and the promises given to you in baptism, this theme is particularly relevant. Really, confirmation is preparing to be an adult, a grown-up, in the church. Confirmation--at this church, anyway--takes three years to focus on faith and what that really means for us. It’s intentional, guided time to learn about our faith. It's about taking on that faith and making it your own.
We do things in confirmation to get ready for this event. We learn the books and story of the Bible, understand the basic statements of faith—the creed, Lord’s Prayer, and 10 Commandments. We do active listening exercises in worship by taking sermon notes. We take a week during the summer and get to go to camp to experience the world that God created while we learn about our faith and one another.
And now we've arrived. This is the day when our confirmation students say—I’ve really taken the time to learn about my faith. I’ve worked with the church and met the expectations that were set for me, and now I’ve shown through my words and actions that I am ready to set my own expectations. There has been work to do, and there is still work to do. These students are saying I’m ready, I have taken the time to mature in my faith, and I am going to continue my life journey in the church.
After all, the main part of confirmation isn’t the “ation,” like graduation where you meet certain requirements and are done forever; it's the
On our last exam for this year, we asked the students what they felt God was calling them to do, and how they would stay connected to church after confirmation. I’d like to share these students’ answers with you now.
What do you feel God is calling you to do?
To behave and follow the rules and to be happy.
I feel God is calling me to help people and support them just like my family and God does for me.
God is calling me to be a nice person to all others. God wants me to contribute positively to the church and our communities.
How will you stay connected to church after your confirmation?
I plan to join a music choir of some sort. I also plan to go on a mission trip.
I will stay connected to the church after confirmation by going to church and volunteering.
I will still come to church and pray, and I will obey all God’s rules.
It's a pretty big thing to be able to articulate a sense of call and plan for future faith at the time of confirmation. Hopefully, these plans and callings will strengthen and grow as our students move through this milestone today.
In closing, we hear again the words of promise spoken by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson:

“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.” Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us, the community of faith to strengthen us, and his own words to teach us.
To our confirmation students, congratulations on this day as you confirm that the path you are taking is the path of faith. As we learned this year, there will be ups and downs, but God will be walking with you through it all. Blessings to you as you take this next step of your faith journey. Amen.