Listening for God

pentecost

The Pas                       Pentecost Sunday

Year A

4 June 2017

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:25-35 pg 844

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 7:37-39

Holy God, pour out your Spirit to the ends of the earth, so that your children may return from exile as citizens of your commonwealth and our divisions may be healed by your word of love and righteousness; for with the same Spirit and the Word incarnate you are one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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I’ve been thinking, today, as we celebrate Pentecost, as we celebrate the first arrival of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the Paraclete (a Greek word meaning Advocate) in our midst, how is it, how do we receive truth?

 

Really, there is only one truth in the world, but how we hear, receive, internalize and live out that truth can be very different depending on who we are and where we are in our lives.

 

There are many different ways of receiving truth, really, although there is really only one truth in the world.

 

We receive news, from friends differently than we do from doctors. We receive good news better than bad news. We receive the truth from those we like in a different manner than those we aren’t so fond of, in our lives.

 

It’s like trying to describe a car accident, if we think about it. We all see the truth of the situation, but you see one part of the event that I don’t. Or, I see one angle of the situation that eludes someone else.

 

It’s still truth. There aren’t versions, but our emotional state, our minds, our hearts are involved in the receiving and processing of this truth, that there had been a car accident.

 

It reminds me of the poem “Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe. Where each, using the power of touch, of feeling, of approaching the animal and striving to define what it is like, each in their own interpretation come up with a different definition of what an elephant is like. It’s a wonderful poem for the power of observation.

 

“It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.”
The poem goes on to tell us how each of these six blind men interpreted their first impressions of this mammal that they cannot even conceive because of its size, its variety in body parts, etc. One says the elephant is like a wall, another, a spear, still another a snake. The rest settle on a tree, a fan, and a rope, all depending on their first impressions, yet none fully describes the elephant in all of its beauty, its glory, or its individuality as a creature of God.

 

In the reading from Acts for today, see the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We see that each person who has been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit is given gifts for the continuance of Jesus teachings, Jesus truth, in the world around us. We see that each is so overcome by this experience, that they rush out into the street and begin to proclaim their amazement in the new languages with which they have been gifted. (Acts 2:4-6)

 

And the truth that is perceived, on the street, is that these people are intoxicated. They’re drunk! (Acts 2:13)

 

The truth is then proclaimed by Peter, who says: “15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Acts 2:15-16), but he’s lost many of those who are having fun thinking that these men and women are intoxicated at 9am.

 

And this is our lives, isn’t it? We state the truth, we state it, hopefully, in a way that is understandable to all around us, yet, if people can deride, or minimize the impact of this truth, it will happen.

 

I had the privilege to attend a study conference, this week, in Calgary, highlighting the fact that women have been ordained in the Lutheran and Anglican denominations for over 40 years, now. Yet, the idea of women in positions of authority, such as the pulpit, presiding at the eucharist, leading parish worship, is still contested, still frowned upon, still needing to be defended from those who don’t see God in this action in the world today.

 

The speaker addressed such topics as inequality in pay for equal work, or even more expected work. An argument women have been facing since women first entered the work force.

 

She spoke on such topics as sexual harassment by not only fellow clergy, but parishioners, as well. She spoke on such topics as the upheaval of maternity leave, and how it was, and is still, perceived to be an interruption and an inconvenience for a parish.

 

These were just a few of the topics we covered with love and compassion and with honesty as we came together, from the first women ordained in the 1970’s, to the latest women ordained. And yet the discussion needs to continue, not just for those of us in North America who have heeded God’s call to ordained ministry, and for women priests and clergy, but for those around the world who still face significant opposition to fulfilling the roles God has called them to fill in the church and in the world.

 

In Acts, Peter points out the fulfillment of the prophesy from Joel that we are witnesses to, still, today. At the same time, “37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’” (Jn 7:37-38)

 

How do we receive this truth? God’s truth, Christ’s truth? How do we accept it? Do we accept the working of the Holy Spirit in the world around us? Do we acknowledge that God has reached down from heaven, with such a teacher as Jesus the Christ to teach us how to love our neighbour as we love our selves?

 

Throughout the gospels, Jesus continues to heal, he continues to share God’s word. He continues to teach us how to live and love as we are loved by God. This isn’t the first time Jesus has talked of living water flowing from, welling up from within.

 

Yet, how do we hear him? Some hear him through their own fears that he has stolen their positions of power and authority. Some through the fears that others will do Jesus harm, here and now, as earlier in the chapter we hear that they know that the Pharisees and temple hierarchy seeks Jesus death for the truths he is telling.

 

But, how do we hear Jesus when he says “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (Jn 7:37b-38)

 

The reading from Acts shows us the indiscriminate application of the love of God in the working of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a truth to be kept behind closed doors and locked rooms. This isn’t a truth that is only for the select few.

 

Rather there was a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4)

 

As Christians, we live into God’s love; we live into God’s truth. Yet, as Christians, we sometimes have difficulty when we cannot find a common interpretation for that truth and love. For example, there is a small farming community in Saskatchewan that has three ELCIC Lutheran churches because they’ve had two major disagreements that has led to splits in the congregation and the formation of their current state and quantity of churches.

 

Yet, the truth is truth. The question becomes how do we interpret it, how do we see it, accept it, share it with the world around us?

 

Looking back at the blind men and the Elephant, each of the blind men comes to a different conclusion as to the full nature of the elephant. Each describes only the parts they encounter: a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, and a rope. Yet, the elephant is so much more than even these basic descriptions, and this poem has been used by theologians and philosophers to point out that when we seek truth we seek it so narrowly that we find only one aspect and cling to that like a lifeline.

 

They “Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right,  And all were in the wrong!”

 

Yet, Jesus truth is for one and for all.

 

Yet, the Holy Spirit comes not just to the Jewish population, and permit transmission of the love of God in just Hebrew, but in all of the languages

 

How we receive the truth of God has the ability to either grant us life and liberty, or it has the ability to justify whatever train of thought we had before this encounter with God’s love and truth.

 

How we hear the truth of God has that same capacity – to open our eyes, our hearts, to ‘blow our minds’, or we can close our selves off, thinking that what we do in private is what God needs to see, and never change our outward appearance or behaviour to encompass what God so wished us to embrace, wholeheartedly.

 

We have the choice. Every day.

 

In all of this, the will of the Holy Spirit, the love of God, the teaching of Jesus surround us, fill us, and reminds us that we are an active part of God’s creation, and God didn’t make no junk.

 

Just because we cannot find the purpose of God’s will in what we see doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

God encourages us to live in community, as the first followers did, sharing everything from their assets to their labour to build up the community, always. Yet, still, we see the church as the place we congregate only on Sundays, and only for an hour, sometimes wholeheartedly, sometimes begrudgingly sharing our worship space with others.

 

Yet, in all we do, Christ is at the centre of our hearts, of our lives, of our community, whether here or not here.

 

In all we do, the truth that Christ strove to teach us is at the heart of everything we do from worship, to vestry, to bible study, to children’s ministry, to outreach to the community.

 

The question, in the face of Jesus offer of living water, to and for all whom the Holy Spirit leads to the well, is how will we drink? How will we hear the truth? How will we spread that truth to the world around us?

 

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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