Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Kingdom in Bloom

A seed has been planted in us and around us. God has promised us that it will grow, it will come to fruition. We have hoped and dreamed about what it will look like. We have done what we could to nourish it with our gifts. And it is finally here. The kingdom of God is in bloom, as promised!
       It seems the Holy Spirit has finally arrived on the scene as Jesus suggested in Ch 1. I suspect it’s not quite what people imagined, though. God shows up in a really big way – in a very loud noise and shows up in fire. (Different than the how God shows up for Moses – in a still, small, voice, he wasn’t in the storm or the fire… BUT like with Moses and the burning bush and like with the ark of the covenant (where the Hebrew people believed God lived, and what they took with them while wondering in the wilderness, God's presence revealed in flame). People have little pillars of flames alighting on their heads, and they are able to speak what the Spirit is saying to them. Not only that, but those who hear them can hear them in their own language. People from all over the world they knew  are speaking in their own languages and everyone else can understand. In this diverse mix of people, the Holy Spirit makes it so that they can understand each other, and God makes God's self known by flame.
       What do you think that would be like? What if you could suddenly understand someone who was speaking to you in Spanish or French or Italian or Arabic or Hebrew or German, even though you couldn’t understand them just moments before? What if you heard a tornado-like wind and then saw fire light on top of peoples’ heads, maybe even on your own. Would you think you were dreaming? Would you think it was impossible? Would you think it was amazing? Would you be scared? Would you be excited? Would you be shocked? “How can this be,” they ask?  Even though they were promised the spirit, they didn’t know what that would mean. They didn’t know it would mean drastic change in their outlook, their world perspective. 
       When we encounter the Spirit, we are changed, our world is changed, our outlook is changed. We can talk to and understand people that we couldn’t understand before – maybe even people we thought were out of their minds for thinking the things they thought. Things become clear that weren’t clear before. Have you ever been thinking about the right thing to do in a situation and you’ve been really stuck on what the answer is? But you talk to someone and suddenly you realize the answer has been there all along, we just couldn’t see it or understand it. When we encounter the Spirit, we see it, we understand it, our outlook on the world is changed, our outlook on others is changed. We are changed. And that’s a good thing.
       As believers, we are united in that change that happens in us. We talked about gifts last week, remember? The body is one in Christ but has many members – we are united in this change that we experience in the Spirit, even though that change results in different gifts. We are one in God, we are one in our transformation by the Spirit, we are one in our giftedness. We are one in the Spirit’s alighting on us, transforming us, helping us to understand things we never understood before. Helping us to do things we’ve never done before and lead with our gifts in ways we’ve never done before. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. 
       But these things – understanding each other when we haven’t before, having our perspective changed, being unified in Christ – in one spirit with different gifts – these things can be really disturbing and challenging to those who don’t understand the Spirit. Not everyone understands this change, do they? The people who saw all of this happening but didn’t experience it themselves actually think those who have been filled with the Spirit are drunk… they have been drinking new wine, they say. To them, these people who have been filled with the Spirit look foolish, silly, they’re saying crazy things. They’re like the town drunks – nobody should actually take them seriously. I mean, what they’re saying is gibberish. The Spirit has filled them, and they are prophesying, and they look like fools. People don’t know what to make of this. So they blame alcohol… it couldn’t possibly be God. Sometimes, when we are scared by how the Holy Spirit moves because it moves in unexpected ways, we see it and make excuses, try to make sense of it in ways we understand – that’s not God, they’re just drunk… There’s no way that could happen so lets not even give it another thought… it’s impossible…They don’t understand. They mock. They make fun. They make excuses. We mock. We make fun. We make excuses.
       When the Holy Spirit fills us, we are changed, we are united but different, and not everybody understands the change that the Spirit brings, not everyone welcomes the change that the Spirit brings. Sometimes we don’t even understand this change, or we excuse it as silly or ridiculous, or illogical. Because the Holy Spirit does some pretty radical and unexpected things. The HS brings people together who wouldn’t normally be together and helps those communicate with one another who wouldn’t normally communicate with one another. The HS changes our worldview. The HS makes us look foolish to outsiders. The HS makes some really uncomfortable and they try to explain it away because the HS challenges us to do things we don’t normally do, things that society doesn’t always condone or appreciate… 
       …Like giving up power – that’s one of the things society tells us is important, right? Power is control over others, it’s wealth, it can get you almost anything you want or need in the world. But power is selfish. Power is about what I want, what I can do. It’s not about loving our neighbor or loving God first, it’s about loving myself first and giving God and neighbor the leftovers, the scraps. The world teaches us to take care of ourselves first, others can wait, God can wait. We are taught to be selfish. But being filled with the Holy Spirit is selfless – In Romans Paul says, “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.” Being filled with the Spirit leads to selfishness, lack of power. That’s crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand.
       Being filled with the Spirit leads to reconciliation with one another. In John 20, Jesus breathes the Spirit on his followers and they have the power to forgive. Reconciliation among people happens through unity in the Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to be united with others in forgiveness and reconciliation with each other. That’s a challenge in our world where we are taught if someone hurts you it’s good for you to hurt them back, to teach them a lesson, to give them a taste of their own medicine. You hurt me, I hurt you, we’re even. It’s all about getting equal, right? No. When we can forgive instead of equalizing, getting even, we are doing a selfless act. Forgiveness, reconciliation, is what happens when a person is filled with the Spirit. And forgiveness brings peace. That’s crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand. 
       The Holy Spirit brings with it amazing gifts, good changes. The world doesn’t always recognize these changes in perspective and the actions that result from those changes as good. These things look crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand. But this is the fulfillment of what Christ promises his followers – the Holy Spirit will come. When you pray for the Spirit to fill you, to be with you, do you think about what that means? Do you think about how that will change you? How it will change us? How it will change the world? God makes a promise through Jesus. God and Jesus keep their promise. Are we ready for that? Are we prepared for the amazing gifts that God has for us? Are we prepared to look crazy to our neighbors? I don’t think we’re ever fully prepared for any of it. It will be difficult and it will be scary and it will be awesome and it will be exciting and it will be terrifying and it will be rewarding. But God is with us. We are reminded by the flame – God is here, God is in us. And when God is with us and in us we can face anything. 
       This seed has been planted, a promise has been made that the Spirit will come. The seed has been nourished, we have used our gifts and God has given the Kingdom to the world. Now, God’s promise has been fulfilled, the Spirit has come, the KOG is blooming, and we get to be a part of it, we get to receive from God the Holy Spirit, a huge gift. Don’t make excuses for how it can’t be God, how we’re not ready for it. The kingdom may look different than what we’re used to, it may look different than what people expect of us, but it is beautiful, and it is wonderful, and it is of God. Be brave. Lets be willing to look a little crazy. Lets allow God to fulfill God’s promise to you in filling you with the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nourishing the Seed of the Kingdom... What does it take?

Last week we talked about this seed that had been planted -- the seed of the Holy Spirit that would flourish and grow into the Kingdom of God. In the 8:00 service last week I asked the kids, "what do you need for a plant to grow?" They got one of the things pretty quickly -- you need water for a plant to grow. Of course! Seeds need to be given water, not too much and not too little, to grow properly. If we don't water them they wither, if we over water them they wither. And who has the control over how much water they get? Whoever is caring for the plant, the gardener. The good gardener watches the plant, cares for the plant, waters the plant, shelters it if it needs it, plans to have it cared for if they leave. It takes a lot of work to be a good gardener.
At  first glance this scripture seems to have very little to do with us. Some of us may know the story, others may not. It's not one we hear a lot and it's really one that's kind of gory and, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. This is what happens: The disciples (The Apostles plus other followers) go back to Jerusalem, and the inner circle of Jesus' followers remain devoted in prayer (remember last week we talked about seeds being planted in them, and it was time for them to discern, to contemplate God's vision and dream for them and for the world without a physical Jesus around, so they do.), they go to Jerusalem and they wait in prayer with one another (the Apostles and some other followers, which included women -- wow!). We find out that the followers of Jesus' way number about one hundred twenty, just larger than the group we had here last Sunday and this Sunday. Judas dies in a pretty gruesome way, and he had betrayed Jesus, so he needed to be replaced.The body of Christ needs a new leader to help the Kingdom grow. There are all these followers and they are lacking one of their leaders. The seed has been planted, but its lost one of its gardeners. The leadership needs to be defined in order for the Kingdom to grow like it needs to. The seed needs a good gardener to nourish it. Actually, the seed needs lots of good gardeners to nourish it. 
They needed to replace the one that had left. Their job couldn't be done without strong, gifted, leaders to nourish Jesus' movement. So they do what they have to do in order for the Kingdom of God to grow. They pray together to God (they do this first thing -- before talking, before casting lots -- they pray.) Then they discern. They ask themselves, what does God want? Who does God want for this? Who has the gifts for leadership? Who will care for and nourish God's people, Jesus' movement, the Kingdom of God? Who will this gardener be? They come up with two, Matthias and Justus. They offer these to God and God helps to make it clear which is God's choice through the casting of lots. As the youth and I were talking about casting lots earlier this morning we talked about what it means. It's similar to if you pray that God will show you what you need to see when you open the Bible, then you open it and read. It's trusting that God will use what you have offered to God to clarify what you need to do. The disciples cast lots and discover God's choice for a good gardener who will nourish God's seed. 
This isn't such a bad formula for us, is it? Pray. We can do the same things the apostles did in figuring out our place in God's Kingdom. We pray, we listen to God, we think about where we are gifted, we dream about the places our gifts can be used to grow God's Kingdom. We talk about it with other followers of Jesus' way. We offer ourselves up to God and we look for ways that God is making it clear to us how God will use us in nourishing this seed of the Kingdom. (Now remember what the kingdom of God is -- it's where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given water, the imprisoned are set free, the widows are cared for, the children are welcomed, the sick are healed, the unforgivable are forgiven...) We have to think about, talk about, and offer to God whatever our gifts are. We have to offer to God and wherever we believe we are called to use them in receiving the Kingdom from God, in nourishing the seed that God has planted. 
The truth is, not all of us will be like Matthias. Not all of us are gifted in the area of leadership of big movements. But we are all gifted, and we are all called to use those gifts to water the seed of the Kingdom. We are all called to be good gardeners. Remember that passage in 1 Corinthians that talks about the body of Christ...

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (selected) 

The body of Christ needs all its parts to function well, it needs all of us to nourish the seed. The question is, which part are you? Which part am I? Where do we belong in the kingdom? What are our gifts? We are called as good gardeners, to water the seed with the many different gifts God has given us. 


                                       


Discerning those gifts starts with knowing some of the ways God gifts humans. Do you remember when I told you earlier, that I asked the kids at the 8:00 service what a seed needs to grow? They answered water. But a seed needs some other things too. A seed has to first be rooted before it can grow, so that it can absorb water and so that it stays steady in the ground. In discerning our gifts to grow the seed, we need to realize that the seed of the kingdom of God is firmly rooted in scripture. As we discern our gifts, we look to scripture to think about ways God may be gifting us to work in God's kingdom. Though they are a good place to start, lists in the bible are not exhaustive; there are other ways God can gift us. But they are certainly a place to start in beginning to think about how God gifts us. We begin our discernment with knowing scripture, with roots.
But discernment, figuring out how God gifts us and how we are to use those gifts, doesn't end at scripture and prayer. That's not enough. Discerning our gifts begins with thought and prayer. Then it continues with conversation with each other (like the disciples). Finally, it ends with leadership in using your gifts to nourish the seed of the kingdom of God. 
So the seed is rooted in scripture, it is nourished with good gardeners' leadership in areas of their giftedness. but what is missing? There is one other crucial part of a seed's nourishment. What is it? The sun. This we have no control over. That stinks, doesn't it? We can be rooted in scripture, we can nourish with gifted leadership in all areas, but we can't control the sun. There are things about the kingdom of God that we will never have control of. Why? Because no matter how hard we try to keep control over the things we love, the things we care for, the seeds we nourish, other people are involved, other elements are involved, and where others are involved and unknowns are thrown in the mix, we don't ever have total control. We don't get to have total control. Thank God for that! I don't want ALL of that responsibility, do you? But the seed needs the sun too. The seed needs what only God can provide. We've got to ask God to be in all we do because things of God flourish, but things only of people wither and die. The seed of the kingdom of God needs to be rooted, yes, needs to be watered, yes, but it also needs what we can't give it -- the sun. 
So where does that leave us today? What's your take-away? It's time for us to start seriously considering what our gifts are and where and how we can use them in leadership, nourishing the seed that God has planted by leading with the gifts that God has given us. That starts with learning scripture, prayer with one another, and discussing with other followers. Where can your gifts be used? Are you called to create a new ministry? Are you called to Hope House? Are you called to the hospitality team who provides for us on Sunday mornings? Are you called to set up communion once a month? Are you called to teach your small group? Are you called to create a small group? Are you called to pray for the church? Are you called to reach out to those who aren't here? Are you called to sing with those at Stonebridge? Are you called to visit shut-ins? There are many places for God's gifts to us to be used. Where are you being called to use your gifts? Where are you being called to serve? How are you being called to nourish God's kingdom? We are all called to serve, we have all been gifted, we are all called to nurture God's kingdom. What does that look like for you? The seed of God's kingdom has been planted in us and in the world. We must do what we can to nourish it, knowing scripture, being in prayer, being in conversation with other followers, leading where we are gifted, knowing that God does God's part, but not always knowing what the outcome will be because other people are involved and God is involved. But we do our part, the part to which God calls us and for which God gifts us. 
The seed of the kingdom of God needs lots of good gardeners who can nourish the seed of the kingdom in different ways. Will you be a good gardener? Will you lead in service? Remember that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed -- starts of teeny tiny but eventually flourishes into a great bush that shelters all who live in it. It starts as a Seed. It puts down roots, the sun provides food the gardener provides water. And it grows. It grows so much that as it was nurtured, it nurtures those who come to be with it just by being what it is. Will you be a good gardener? Nourishing God's seed begins with God, but it continues with us. 

In the name of the Three-In-One, 
Amen.


Scriptures for further reflection:
Romans 12:4-8
1 Cor 12:4-11
Ephesians 4:11-13