Monday, May 12, 2008

Sermon preached May 11, 2008

Pentecost 2008

It’s good to see you this morning. Rose and I got back from our vacation in Minnesota last Monday morning. It wasn’t exactly exotic, but it was probably the most restful vacation we’ve ever had. And we’re happy to be home now and to see you.

This morning we celebrate the miracle of Pentecost; the day when a universal language was discovered – the language of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been praying for a little bit of that universal language to return. Because everywhere I look, I see people struggling to find the words – the magic words – that will finally bridge the gap between strangers and lead us into true understanding.

I think about the terrible situation in Myanmar, and of all the diplomats and aid workers searching for the right words that will convince the military rulers over there to let them in so they can save some lives. Last night the BBC reported the death toll is likely to exceed 200,000; and I find myself wondering how many of those lives could have been saved if we had just found the right words to communicate across this enormous gap of culture and politics and mistrust.

What would the world be like if we could just instantly understand one another perfectly?

I think of the Iraqis, the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds and now the Americans, all of us locked into relationships of misunderstanding and struggle, with endless differences between and among them and us, and the violence that erupts for lack of understanding – what would the world be like if we were blessed with perfect understanding across these great divides of culture and politics and religion?

If we just had the words, the perfect, right words, that could bring us together...

But you don't need to be in a war zone to have this yearning for the right words. We all feel this yearning, whether it's with our spouses or partners, our children or neighbors... so many times when we feel that if we could just find the right words, our relationships would be so much more significant.

And then there’s you and me, right now – as I was writing this sermon, I was searching for just the right words... and now here we are, looking at one another, examining our faces, straining to connect across our differences, looking for the words – the right words, the magic words – that will help us connect to one another and to God.

What would it be like if we had instant, perfect understanding of one another?

This is why sometimes I ask you to pray for me as I’m preaching – because true understanding only comes when both parties are listening deeply and straining to understand together in the light of God's presence.

Of course, that’s when the magic happens – that’s when the magic words are finally found and true understanding is achieved – not because of the words themselves, but because of the spirit, the intention, the mutual interest and love, that draws two parties together to seek understanding.

The other day Rose and I were having lunch and there were two young people at the table next to us, and you could tell they were in love by the way they were leaning across the table toward one another, so that their foreheads almost met; and their faces were beaming with that eagerness of understanding;

you could see them connecting;

they were like thirsty camels drinking in water at the end of a march across the desert -- you could see this kind of Pentecost joy on their faces, as they were finally connecting with someone; finally that loneliness;

that long aching loneliness was over.

Finally, you could see it in their faces, they were both thinking this: finally, here is someone who understands me; finally, here is someone truly interested in me – just as much as I am interested in her.

It’s a beautiful thing to see, this thrall. Rose and I noticed them, and it was as if we saw ourselves in the mirror; and we turned and looked at one another; there we were, after 25 years of marriage, still finding ourselves in one another’s eyes; still leaning across the table

still talking and listening to one another,

still finding the magic words...

So it’s no wonder that when God appears on the earth, he is referred to as the Word.

Before there ever was the Bible, there was the Word; as John’s Gospel says, “In the beginning was the Word,”

and by word he didn’t mean a book; he meant this sacred, magical point of connection;

this thing that happens between souls, leaning across a table, or across a universe;

this Word with a capital “W” who became a living breathing human being, who does what words do

connects us to one another, and to God, in a way that no one else ever has.

Lately I’ve been aware at how deeply we long for this Word; for this connection. Whenever I visit someone in the hospital, or the nursing home, or a homeless person, or someone in prison, you can feel this longing for connection. There’s this level openness that you don’t see so much in everyday life; you walk into the room and immediately someone is holding your hand; looking you in the eyes; listening closely and saying things they maybe never would say if they weren’t so opened up by their circumstances; so vulnerable, and so open for connection.

Which is why I think Jesus said, in Matthew 25, that if you are looking for him, go visit someone in prison;

go to the homeless shelter and listen;

go to the hospital and hold someone’s hand.

That’s where you’ll find him

the living Word

connecting you to God.

And when you are there, leaning toward your friend in the hospital bed, praying and speaking words of love, you know that you didn’t decide to come there; you were led there – by the Spirit of that connection you were led there. It’s like two magnets, who once they are within a certain range of one another, an invisible force draws them into connection. The Spirit led you to that bedside. The Spirit that is found in connection.

You do that enough times and then you begin to see every relationship in those terms: you let the Spirit draw you into deeper connection with everyone in your life – your spouse or partner, your neighbor, your children. Suddenly life seems too short to push those relationships aside; suddenly the Spirit is drawing you into more truth telling, more intimacy, more revelation of God’s Word for you.

And that’s when we begin to live a Spirit-filled life. We begin to have the conversations that some people only have on their death beds. We decide not to wait for disease to open us up to one another – we choose to live our lives on a more authentic level.

And that’s when the miracles start to happen – because then the Spirit takes over; the Spirit draws people of the Spirit together; the Spirit brings us into new relationships and new connections that are life-giving to us.

And that is how we find ourselves here. We didn’t decide to come together; we were drawn together by the Spirit. And as we continue to open ourselves to this Spirit and this Word, we find the Spirit drawing us together in fresh new ways

a fresher kind of community begins to emerge;

a fresher community of care;

a community of connection;

a community of mutual vulnerability and trust

and a deep love;

a love that has its Source not in ourselves, but in the Spirit that flows among us

that deep well

that living water

As the Spirit leads us,

We all drink from that well

This is the water that Jesus was talking about in today's gospel; and in the story in which he encountered that Samaritan woman – that person so different from him – such a gulf between them, of culture, language, religion, gender, politics – and yet there they were, leaning across the table toward one another, led by the Spirit:

"...Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

And that’s how our church was born, on this day of Pentecost, some nineteen hundred and seventy five years ago, when all of a sudden, just as Jesus predicted, a disparate group of people, representing all the different nations and cultures and languages of the known world, leaned in together, breathed in the Word of God, and became people of the Spirit.

And in that moment, everything that separates us is overcome. The legacy of the Tower of Babel is overcome; finally our universal language isfound again; finally our great long loneliness is lifted.

Pray that we will continue to let the Spirit lead us into ever deeper relationship; pray that we will continue to listen to God’s Word, spoken at the depth of our hearts; pray that we continue to seek to understand, as we are understood.