Saturday, 18 May 2013

Gathered and scattered: a sermon for Pentecost

A sermon for Pentecost...
Acts 2: 1-18

[the idea here is a sort of rhythmic repetition, snappy and fast-paced and flowing, and bringing in some of the lyrics to the following hymn 'Gather us in'... I feel I got boxed in earlier in the week by the post-sermon hymn... it ain't pretty, but never mind]

Let us pray:
Spirit of the living God
Fall afresh upon us –
Help us to hear your voice in word and in our thoughts...
Amen.

Gathered in
Gathered together in one place
All the believers –
in one house
Sitting ...
Talking
Pondering upon Jesus:
Jesus who had so recently been among them
And who had been himself 
gathered
up to God the Father....
but, who, before he’d gone
Had asked them to gather...
And so, 
they did.

In a room,
In Jerusalem...
Gathered together
Gathering their thoughts:
They waited...
And wondered:
Wondered what those last words of Jesus had meant:
‘You will receive power from on high’
‘I will be with you always’...
Always?
But he’d disappeared...
Gone to the Father;
So, how was that possible?

Called and gathered
They had been on an incredible adventure:
A roller-coaster ride of mystery and wonder
Of friendship and laughter
Of weddings and wine
loaves and fishes
Palms
Processions
Cheers, betrayal, and jeers
A journey of fear, denial,
Slaughter and scattering.
...and unspeakable bewildering grief...

And then
Day’s dawn in a garden
And the world... turned upside down
as a stone rolled away... with resurrection’s promise fulfilled.

They gathered again
He appeared in their midst
With bread and wine and blessing
And the promise of a helper...

On a day 
when they’d gathered together again,
A sudden unexpected noise
Loud:
 like wind blowing out the cobwebs in the corners of the mind
Blowing and rattling the windows of imagination open
Blowing wide open the doorways of their hearts
as the flames of the Holy Spirit danced in their midst:
their eyes opened as if seeing for the first time;
And their hearts were comforted by the warmth of holy fire
And their minds understood 
the words:
‘I will be with you always’...
And in response:
So excited that together they left the room
And, like the Spirit rushing into that room and into their lives...
they rushed out into the world:
Excited
Amazed
Shining and blazing with the light and life of God’s love.
Proclaiming what had happened to all who would hear.

...And some who heard thought they were drunk
but others from all around the known world mysteriously heard the joyous good news in the language of their birth.
And 3 000 were added to the number of believers that same day.

And as they gathered,
So they scattered – to be witnesses
And to call and to gather others...
Who, in turn, would scatter
and proclaim the good news of the message of Christ
down through the ages...
Generation upon generation,
Gathering and scattering,
Fired by the prompting of the Spirit,
Hearing and sharing the story:
Eating bread,
drinking wine.
Remembering the one who had called them
and caused them to gather
Who told them that He would be with them always;
Then - 
told them to scatter and to share the good news...

And now,
here,
in this place,
in this room,
we gather:
Week in, week out,
We gather.
Why?...
Because Christ has called us here –
although maybe in a less dramatic way than those first followers on the day of Pentecost:
the drama which was the birth of the church.

We gather, because 
it’s something we just 
do:
Almost a routine...
We get up
Get dressed
Have our bacon butty
or our cereal
or even that slice of leftover pizza...
and, at the Spirit’s prompting –
even though we may not have realised that’s what it was –
we answer the call:
we gather in this place
as generations before us have gathered;
we hear again the good news...
 
That good news is about friendship:
God, in Jesus, saying:
‘I call you my friends’
God, through the Spirit
Being with us – 
always.
The friendship expanding as we, in turn, say to our neighbours:
‘I call you my friends’
As we stand alongside,
and walk with those around us –
in joy and in pain and in all the in between....
We are called to gather,
in order to scatter
and so we share the love of God.

Here,
in this place,
in this room,
we gather:
and although at times we may not even be aware of it...
Here, in this place, 
new light is streaming
now is the darkness vanished away.  
The One who calls us friends
is with us still
in the mystery of the Spirit;
That same Spirit
who blows through this room
making, in our hearts, a home:
comforting and encouraging
challenging and inspiring...
with us always
calling us to gather
to hear again the good news;
to remember
and to respond once more:
to shine;
to blaze with the light and life of God’s love
and then to scatter from this room
and go and share:
share the good news with all:
the good news
that God calls us friends
that God is with us always –
that God will never leave us or forsake us
that we are loved regardless of age, or gender, or orientation,
or even if we did have that leftover pizza slice for breakfast...

Here in this place
Gathered together as God’s called people -
Even now...   
 the breath of God’s Spirit is filling the room,
Swirling around us
and within in us
Reminding us that 
even as we scatter and think about what God might be doing 
in our own lives,
And in the life of the world - 
that we are not alone, 
that each of us is part of something much, much bigger: 
that we’re bound together in friendship – 
with each other
And with God,
Who calls us
And gathers us
Loves us
and scatters us
and who, in the Spirit,
is the fire of love in our flesh and our bone -
and who encourages us to tell 
the greatest love story the world has ever known.
Amen.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

careless talk does cost lives: musing on *that* General Assembly report, May 2013

Having posted the following in a closed space amongst friends, I have decided to open it out a little for some possible discussion.  It concerns my horror, yes, I will use that word, at some of the comments made in the Church of Scotland report coming to the General Assembly this year re. LGBT people who are in relationships, and whether they should be allowed ordination/ ministry roles.  Amongst some of the very badly worded parts of the report, were comments on the death penalty....
 
Dear wonderful ones
Maybe I'm off-beam on this, but crumbs, regardless of what side of the theological fence, there are comments that are just ...
well... words fail me... :(

The Church of Scotland has been undergoing, for what now seems a millennia, conversations upon LGBT folk and the Kirk. This latterly with particular reference to the ordination of LGBT people who are in a relationship.
In 2011 our General Assembly voted, unexpectedly, to set up a Commission tasked with exploring theologically what was termed the 'revisionist' [or moderate to liberal] trajectory and report back in 2013.
The report has now been out for a week. [link below].

The Commission has neither explored the 'revisionist' trajectory, nor has it done any basic theology -
e.g.
how do we explain the existence of 'gayness';
questions concerning the image of God/ and being created in God's image;
practical/ pastoral theology - if we insist upon imposing celibacy/ imposing a higher standard of morality on LGBT people what implications does this have on the way we minister to LGBT folk? etc. etc. etc.

What has been presented is a rehashing of the same old hermeneutical set-pieces...including those 'joyful friends' - bestiality, paedophilia, incest, and some glorious unthinking misogyny as well.
These I am used to, even as I shake my head wondering how they are even deemed to be valid arguments any more.
My problem is with one word: 'however'...
I have been disquieted ever since I read it, and a subsequent comment; both reference the death penalty.

I woke up this morning and 'that' report was on my mind and in my heart;
I realised that there has been a slowly building, cold, clear anger emerging, particularly re pages 79 and 84 of the report and these two comments concerning the death penalty.

Let me highlight these:
note the unstated, yet implied sense of regret that comes across with the very careless use of the word 'however' [my caps], and perhaps also a sense that LGBT folk should think themselves lucky not to be executed any more, [well, at least in the UK] and should just... shut... up.
7.6.3.1.9 Leviticus 20 [p79]
‘We do not seek to apply the death penalty today, hoping that an offender may yet come to faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledging their sin and receiving forgiveness. HOWEVER, we must recognise that our God considers such sexual sin as an offence against his nature and his holiness and his appointing such punishment for this sin cannot be ignored or treated lightly.’

And surprising, in light of the 'traditionalist' castigation of 'revisionists' doing so [namely: Jesus never says anything about homosexuality - I would actually agree here with the 'trad' criticism; it is not a valid way of making a case], the 'traditionalist' writers arguing from the silence of scripture to imply the tacit approval of Jesus concerning the execution of gays:
7.6.4.1 The Lord Jesus and the Gospels [p84]
The Old Testament law books prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality (Leviticus 0:13), adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and prostitution (Leviticus 21:9). While Jesus condones neither practice, the Gospels record instances where Jesus did not demand the death penalty for people practising adultery or prostitution. There is no recorded instance of him overturning the law’s requirement for homosexual conduct’.

No. No. NO.
Words are important.
Words are powerful.
These words are not merely offensive,
nor are they just irresponsible.
Let us be clear:
these words are dangerous and could cost lives.
These words above send out a message that subtly - or not so subtly - lend some 'authority' to those countries in which the death penalty does still operate in the case of LGBT folk who are found to be in a relationship.
There is an implied approval that this is the right action.

How, in the name of all that is good and holy, can we approve this report?
I am sitting here quite calmly writing this, but filled with quiet horror at the almost inadvertent revelation of a very, very deep-seated prejudice that so values the ideological point, that it dispenses with the value of human life... in a manner that is so casual as to be chilling.

link - http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/news_and_events/news/articles/church_theological_report_published_today