Breathing is Life

Everything that lives breathes in one way or another. Approximately 22,000 times per day, we take a breath in and out. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. It was not until recently that I appreciated the task of breathing.

In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of the creation of humanity. Humanity is created last in the lineup of things being created. Before humanity, the Creator spoke everything into existence, sun, water, land, vegetation, and animals all spoken, and it was created. But humankind was unique and took a bit more work on the part of the Creator.

When it came time to create humanity, the Creator formed humankind from the dust of the earth and animated humanity with the Creator’s breath. This breath, this ruah is different from the other oxygen used during creation, for this ruah contains the spirit or the soul. Humanity was not animated; humanity was not alive until humanity could breathe.

I had the incredible opportunity to be in the delivery room when our daughter was born. Like most babies, she came out silently, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to take her first breath. But, within a few seconds, she was screaming her head off. Breath is essential to life.

The Hebrew scriptures and some Christian ones look upon this first breath as the moment the soul enters the body. We read in the Psalms about how the creator “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” But there is no mention of soul or life, which are connected until we draw that first breath. Without breath, we cannot live.

I recently had an episode where I was very concerned about my breathing ability. As you may be aware, I had surgery to repair a broken ankle at the beginning of July. I remained in the hospital for a few days and then returned home. My recovery was progressing until about a week ago. I started to have back pain and shortness of breath. By the end of the day, I knew something we wrong, so I returned to the hospital.

The pain and shortness of breath had become worse. Moving from the car to the wheelchair took all my energy and several minutes to recover from my new breathing routine. After several tests, it was determined I had pulmonary emboli, blood clots in my lungs restricting my breathing. Blood clots after surgery are not as common as they used to be, but obviously, one can still be stricken by them.

I was given medicine for the pain, making breathing more manageable, and placed on oxygen. I was admitted and given a regular room where I settled in for the night. A few hours later, I was woken to be told that I was being moved to cardiac care for closer observation. Catching a breath, a deep, cleansing breath, was still very difficult. I was gasping for air. Not a pleasant experience.

A few years ago, my father died of complications of COPD. I stood by his bead side as he struggled for every breath. My father had breathing problems for most of my life, but, here at the end, it was the worst I had seen. I was helplessly lying in bed, doctors and nurses working on me and around me, and my father came to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I started to relax just a bit.

That night, a nurse sat at my bedside, monitoring my vital signs. In the morning, the cardiac and pulmonary doctors came for a visit. I had caused both chiefs, cardiology and lung, to awaken in the middle of the night, and they had been concerned. The cardiac doctor told me, “You scared the shit out of me!” I asked how many clots I had he told me there were too many to count. I almost died.

Thanks to skilled medical staff, modern medicine, and many prayers, I am here, breathing better.

I said at the beginning that we draw an average of 22,000 breaths per day and probably give it little thought. I thought about each breath I was able to draw. I savored each one as it was keeping me alive.

So, what do we do with this breath of ours, this ruah that the Creator has given to each of us? We have a choice; we can use this breath for good, or we can use it for evil. Our breath can praise but can also condemn. We can use our breath to fight for what is right, just, and true, or we can use our breath to restrict and remove. I heard someone say once that as long as we have air in our lungs, we can make a change. We have 22,000 chances daily to make a difference, and I know I will try to make every one count.

Caring Hands

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8-9 esv)

Humility is an interesting word and not something we 21st-century people are comfortable with. In our, get ahead of everyone regardless of the cost world; humility is not part of that process. We also link humility with humiliation, which is not the case. One can be humble without being humiliated.

In my own words, humility is placing others before you, not in a look-at-me way, but in a natural concern for what others need. In the Masonic Lodge, we talk a lot about helping brothers and their families but not at the expense of our own. That is humility.

The passage I quoted above from John’s Gospel is an excellent example of this idea of humility. Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet, an unusual thing for a person of the status of Jesus. Washing your guests’ feet was usually appointed to the lowest member of the household. Here Jesus is standing this tradition on its head to show how we are to serve each other.

As you know, I had surgery this past week on my ankle. I was in the hospital for a few days after being in bed and unable to care for myself. I have always done it for myself and get very uncomfortable with others doing it for me.

The day after surgery, I was lying in bed, and one of the nurse’s aides came to my bedside. She asked me if I wanted to clean up. I said yes, and she left the room. A few moments later, she returned carrying all sorts of things to help me: Washcloth, towel, soap, clean sheets, and something clean to wear. I could not get out of bed, so this would be a new experience.

She handed me a heated wet towel and described how I would clean myself. She did not do it but watched over me with a caring eye. She gave me additional washcloths, and the exercise continued. She gave me a clean “johnny” to wear and left while I cleaned the private bits.

She returned a few moments later and told me she would change the bed. I reminded her I could not get out of bed, and she asked me to trust her. She guided me the entire way. She laid me flat and told me to roll one side. She gently removed the dirty sheet and placed another in its place, pushing it as far as possible. While I was on my side, she took one of the remaining washcloths and very gently washed my back. She had hands and words of authority, but, at the same time, she was very gentle.

She dried my back and guided me as I rolled back onto the new, clean sheet. I was now to roll on the other side, the side with the broken ankle. She waited as I regained my strength and carefully rolled on my side. With all the skills of a surgeon, she completed making the bed before I knew she had started. She gently rolled me back, ensured I was comfortable, and then raised the bed.

I have worked in hospice for nearly 20 years and have great respect for our aides’ work, but this was the first time I had an aide work on me. They are the silent ones, the ones who come in the night and check on you. They are the ones who wash you and change your bed. They are angels, and they are the hands of Jesus.

These gentle souls are there constantly. They are professionals that help in the recovery process. They are as much a part of the team as the doctors and nurses, maybe even more critical. They do their work with a smile and a reassuring touch that brings a sense of calm to you. They treat each patient in their care as if they are part of their family.

A tear welled in my eyes as I thanked my angel for what she had done for me. She smiled, took a tissue from the box, and wiped my eyes. And as quickly as she appeared, she was gone on to the next patient.

I was embarrassed and ashamed that I needed someone to help me with the necessities of life. These gentle souls showed me that I need to humble myself and let others do for me while I heal. Sure, there is much work I must do, but I need to allow someone to bring that cool glass of water and help me clean up.

I shared this experience with two minister colleagues who told me I needed to let them help me. Sometimes we must allow others to be Jesus for us and wash our feet. It is a good reminder of how we are supposed to love and care for each other.


Taking the Yoke

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

I have never wanted to be a burden to anyone. Since my younger days, I have always taken care of myself. Well, that all changed when I fell and broke my ankle this past Sunday night. Since I do everything to the best ability, I did not just break it; I broke it in two places, tore the ligaments, and will require surgery. This means I will have to stay off my feet for eight weeks. I have now become a burden to my family, and it is not an easy position for me to be in.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks about his yoke being easy and his burden being light. Although this is true in theory, I am not so sure how easy the load is in practice. Remember, Jesus left us a new commandment to love God and love everyone else, including our neighbor, without exception. This is not easy.

I have used this example before. Close your eyes and think of the person you despise the most. It can be someone close to you or someone from history, but at least make it a real person. Now that you have that person in your mind’s eye, that is the person Jesus is calling us to love. You might think it impossible to love this person. However, Jesus also says that with God, all things are possible.

We have two images to explore from this passage, yoke and burden. Both are agricultural references that those listening to Jesus would have understood. For us, it is not so easy to understand.

The yoke is a wooden structure placed over two animals’ heads, usually oxen. The yoke has two purposes. The first is to force the animals to work together. It reminds me of the three-legged races we participated in as children. If we did not work together, we would work against each other, and the job was much more challenging.

The second purpose of the yoke is to teach. The farmer would never yoke together oxen that were untested. The farmer would pair an experienced ox with a lesser or inexperienced ox for the amateur to learn. Being yoked together requires teamwork, and the younger will be forced to learn from the older, more experienced ox.

We were yoked to Christ and the community at our baptism. Another may have vowed on our behalf, but we are still yoked. As we mature in the Christian faith, I hope we confirm or reconfirm that vow publicly. The confirmation service of the Church is a public declaration that you will be yoked with Christ and the kingdom forever.

A burden, by definition, is a load, typically a heavy one. The command I mentioned can be considered a burden to some, maybe too many. When I was ordained, a stole, that piece of cloth I wear when presiding at worship, was placed around my neck. The stole symbolizes pastoral authority and responsibility and is often called the yoke of office. As the stole is set, the minister is reminded of the burden of this office, not in a bad way, but rather in a profound way. There have been times in ministry when I have found this yoke and burden too easy, and at other times, well, not so much.

Just before all this talk about yokes and burdens, Jesus calls us to come and rest. Now, this might conjure up images of a great sofa that we can all stretch out on, but I am not sure Jesus was inviting us over for a slumber party; I think there was some other reason for this invitation.

Jesus is saying that although ministry and ministering can be difficult and a burden, we are not alone. We are spiritually yoked together to help and assist one another as we minister together. Although one animal can perform the task alone, the work is accomplished more efficiently and with less stress and strain when more than one pulls on the rope. We are yoked together to support one another and to teach and learn from one another.

The yoke is a partnership and equal partnership between you and God and God and us. It is also a partnership between us and those we serve with and those we serve. For any partnership to work, the work must be shared equally amongst all the partners, not just a few. Sure, we each have our gifts, but the hope in partnership is that when we all work together, all our skills will be used to complete the task.

So, accept the invitation of Jesus to come and find rest; the work is too important to go it alone. Come and find rest; Jesus will help you shoulder the burden.


The Connection Between Litha and John the Baptist

It might seem odd to some that a Christian minister would write about celebrations such as Litha. For a while now, I have felt a connection between the Celtic Wheel of the Year and the feats and festivals of the Christian Church. I see nothing antithetical to the Christian practice. In fact, the celebration of the earth and all she has to offer is very Christian.

After the creation of humanity, God placed humanity in charge of, or as caretakers of, creation. It is a misnomer and a bad translation that led to this idea that humanity had dominion over creation and could thus do whatever humanity wanted. That very idea has brought us to the state we are now in. Mother Earth needs healing from all that humanity has done to it.

Litha celebrates the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Where I live, we call this the first day of summer when it is mid-summer. There will be 15 hours of sunlight on this day, but starting tomorrow, the days will become shorter as we begin the march toward winter. We have reached the height of summer.

There is a connection between feasts and festivals of the pre-Christian time and contemporary Christian feasts. In the 4th century, the Christian church designated June 24th as the feast of St. John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke records that John, the cousin of Jesus, was born six months before the birth of his famous cousin. As we do, we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, placing John’s birth during mid-summer.

Professor Éamonn Ó Carragáin of University College Cork makes this connection:

“By the sixth century, this solar cycle was completed by balancing Christ’s conception and birth against the conception and birth of his cousin, John the Baptist. Such a relationship between Christ and his cousin was amply justified by the imagery of scripture. The Baptist was conceived six months before Christ (Luke 1:76); he was not himself the light but was to give testimony concerning the light (John 1:8–9). Thus, John’s conception was celebrated on the eighth kalends of October (24 September: near the autumn equinox) and his birth on the eighth kalends of July (24 June: near the summer solstice). If Christ’s conception and birth took place on the ‘growing days’, it was fitting that John the Baptist’s should take place on the ‘lessening days’ (‘diebus decrescentibus’), for the Baptist himself had proclaimed that ‘he must increase; but I must decrease’ (John 3:30). By the late sixth century, the Nativity of John the Baptist (24 June) had become an important feast, counterbalancing at midsummer the midwinter feast of Christmas.”

St. John came to prepare the way for Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel was read, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). John understood that his light had to decrease for the light of Jesus to increase. The summer solstice celebrates the time when the light starts to decrease, moving towards yule, or the winter solstice, when the light begins, once again, to increase.

I think it is easy for those who follow Jesus to fluff off these pre-Christian festivals as pagan nonsense; however, if we look closely enough, we can see traces of our theology in understanding these so-called pagan rituals and celebrations. Our ancestors, in faith, were connected to the land in ways that we should strive to regain. If we understand our role as caretakers of creation, then getting in touch with that creation would be a worthy first step.

Out of Chaos

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Matthew 28:16-20

Today, the Sunday following Pentecost is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday. If we did not confuse you enough last week with talk of Spirits and whatnot, this Sunday, we confuse you even more with a doctrine that people have been trying to explain since the 1st century. Is there any wonder the Gospel passage contains the phrase, “but some doubted.”

Looking through the pages of Scripture, we cannot find literal examples of the Trinity, the idea that there is one God with three distinct persons, God, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, since the 1st century, this idea of how God relates to the Son and to the Holy Spirit has been used, but it was not until the First Council of Nicaea in 324 that the so-called Doctrine of the Holy Trinity was established. Do the math; it took three centuries to come up with and 18 centuries to try and explain it.

Now, I am not going to wade into the waters of trying to decipher this for you, I do not truly understand it, and we do not have that kind of time. However, I think it is essential to know that we, as a denomination, and I, as your pastor, are Trinitarian Christians. I believe, as the Creed says, there was never a time when the three did not exist. They were all present at Creation and continue to work in the world today.

But there are some, perhaps some of you, that doubt, and as we heard from the Gospel of Matthew this morning, doubt is not a bad thing. Doubt allows us to ask questions. Doubt pushes us beyond what we might have been taught in Sunday School. Doubt equals growth. But doubt only truly works if you ask those questions. So go ahead with doubt but ask your questions as well.

The first place in Scripture where Trinity is encountered is at the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the creation story. Today, I chose a different translation than the typical, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” These few words fit the idea that God created the universe, ex nihilo, out of nothing. That one day, God decided I needed a universe, snapped his fingers, and created it.

I chose the more nuanced “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.” As I understand it, this is closer to what the Hebrew text says.

Since I do not read Hebrew, I asked for a ruling from my friend Rabbi Erick Berk at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, who wrote, In the Hebrew, in my opinion, it’s more literally something like, “In the beginning, God having created the heavens and the earth — and the earth was unformed and void [confusion and chaos], with darkness over the surface of the deep….”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Almost every civilization has a creation story, which is not unique to the Judeo/Christian context. However, in all the other creation stories, Creation happens out of violence. The other creation stories are stories of the destruction that precedes the Creation. What is presented here has to be destroyed and annihilated before the Creation of something beautiful can take place.

The Genesis story is a story of reconciliation. Opposites exist alongside one another: order and chaos, land and sea, heavens and earth, light and dark, fish and birds, male and female. Yet, the existence of one does not subjugate or eliminate the other but co-exists in a reconciled balance that God repeatedly affirms as “good” and, finally, as “very good.”

So, before the Judeo/Christian understanding of Creation, the world existed, and God brought order out of chaos. God confronts chaos, a universe that cannot find peace and rest, and brings what the universe longs for, not in some sense of existential eschatological supremacy but rather in the sense of a calming presence that has not come to condemn but to reconcile.

The importance of using “when God began to create” is to show that Creation, as we understand it in the traditional formula, has not ended but continues. Ordering of the universe did not take place in six days, either literal or otherwise; the ordering is continuous, ongoing not only in the world around us but also in us.

As I have said before, Scripture is neither history nor science but a record of a people’s faith journey; as such, the stories contained are there to help them, and by extension us, make sense out of that journey. Many forms of literature are included in the pages of this book, and Genesis is poetry rather than history.

Each stanza has a matched pair except for the 7th, which is humanity’s response to Creation. 1st and 4th = God creates Day/Night and celestial bodies to rule them. 2nd and 5th = God creates sky and waters, and then the inhabitants of each. 3rd and 6th = God creates sea and dry land, and the vegetation, animals, and humanity, who “have dominion.” Neither dominates the other. Instead, they exist in a sort of symbiotic relationship where one needs the other and vice versa.

In the 31st verse, we read, “God saw everything God had made: it was supremely good.”

This good is not a moralistic good but rather an intrinsic good. All of Creation is good. God has blessed all of Creation, and not part of Creation exists separate from God; Creation and the Creator are connected. Light is connected to the tides, which are connected to the plant, which are connected to the animals, which are connected to humans, which are connected to God. There is no isolation in Creation.

So, what does all this mean for us?

God is not some distant ogre sitting on a cloud smiting things. Regardless of what you hear from the evangelicals and the TV preachers, God truly loves us just as we are. Of course, God desires that we change and live to our fullest potential, but God does not judge when we fail; we do that.

From the very beginning, God came in peace, not in violence. God came in love to order all things and to reconcile all things. God came to teach us how to live with one another, not in the sense of hierarchy or one is better than the other or more superior to the other, but rather how we can live together in a relationship and need each other to flourish.

God loves all of Creation and makes room for those who doubt. Notice from Matthews’s Gospel that the believers and the doubters worshipped together; there was room for everyone. Seekers, doubters, and believers are all welcome at God’s table, where we work together rather than against each other.

I mentioned that God did not finish Creation on that six-day; instead, Creation is an ongoing action, which is essential. The idea behind this story of Creation is not to prove or disprove anything. The idea is that God came and brought chaos into order, and God continues to do that on a personal level.

God can bring order to whatever chaos rages inside of each of us. All we need to do is ask. But, unfortunately, many of us grew up with an image of God that was, what can I say, less than helpful to our long-term mental health and spiritual growth. We grew up with this idea that we had to be afraid of God, and if we did not fit into a particular mold, we would be sent damnation in the fires of hell. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.

In a few moments, we will gather around this table, this table that was and is the greatest expression of love. We share the common elements, invite the Holy Spirit to come and bless them, and share them equally, and there is enough for all.

Jesus came not to condemn this world we live in nor to condemn us but rather to show us a better way, the way of Creation, the way of reconciliation with all, and how to live with and love each other. The story of Creation and the story of Jesus are connected by love. For God so loved the world that God did not leave us alone but is right here with us to bring us peace and comfort.


I have set my rainbow in the clouds

June is Pride Month, and I have been thinking a lot about the symbols used during this time of the year. Of course, the most common symbol is the rainbow.

The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by artist, designer, Vietnam War veteran, and then-drag performer Gilbert Baker. He was commissioned to create a flag by another gay icon, politician Harvey Milk, for San Francisco’s annual pride parade. The different colors in the flag were meant to represent togetherness since LGBTQ folx come from all races, ages, and genders, and rainbows are both natural and beautiful.

There is also a theological meaning behind the rainbow that might surprise some folx.

The rainbow appears in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 9. There are countless creation stories in history, many of which predate the Judeo-Christian ones that many of us will be familiar with. One of the common threads woven through all these stories is a narrative about a flood.

Many of these stories also have a hero, a person or person at the center of the story that saves all of creation from the wrath of the flood by placating the god or gods of the day. However, the God of Genesis partners with humanity and even creates a covenant relationship and promises never to destroy humanity in this way again.

To be reminded of this new relationship, God wanted a symbol, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Gen 9:14-15)

But there is a problem. In Hebrew, the language Genesis was written in, has no word for rainbow. Instead, the Hebrew word used is “bow.” The Hebrew Bible uses the word “bow” 70 times in reference to bows, arrows, and archers. Very early translations, including the King James Version, use the word “bow” rather than “rainbow,” as we have come to know the passage.

Theologian Benjamin Cremer states that the word ” bow “profoundly paints the picture of God laying down God’s weapon against the world. God is disarming God’s self.” Cremer posits that the archer’s bow is facing toward heaven and that “Not only is God laying down the weapon of destruction, but God is saying, ‘I will take the destruction upon myself instead.'”

In this context, then, the bow, or rainbow, is a symbol of peace, a symbol of nonviolence, and a symbol of solidarity with all of humanity. With this symbol, God says that the covenant relationship is a promise to handle things differently moving forward. The Creator has made a covenant of love with creation.

Yesterday, I posted a saying on my Facebook feed, “This pastor loves you. But more importantly… God loves you, and always has, and always will, now matter what you may have heard or been taught.”

Happy Pride Month!

Strawberry Moon

The names of each month’s full moon come from various sources, including Native American, European, and Colonial American. June’s full moon, appearing in the night sky on June 3rd, carries a symbolic and spiritual meaning coming from the Lakota, Ojibwa, and Algonquin peoples.

June’s Strawberry Moon most likely refers to the time of the year when the berries begin to ripen. The Strawberry Moon is a celebration of the short strawberry harvest. It is also the time of the year when animal babies start to be born. June is also the month of the Summer Solstice, and we turn the page to another season.

European settlers often called this moon the Rose Moon or the Honey Moon in reference to the marriage custom of drinking Meade at weddings that often took place during the month of June.

June is a month that celebrates fertility and growth, with the world coming into bloom after a long winter sleep. My wife and I recently planted our garden as the soil finally warmed enough to keep the new plants warm during nighttime.

From a spiritual perspective, our energy is on the rise. We may start to feel more energy coming from the sun as we begin to shed those winter layers and allow the sun to beat on our skin. In addition, the transition in seasons brings longer times of daylight which draws us out of doors and helps to replenish the Vitamin D that was lost during the cold months of winter.

We are reminded to harness this energy for our creative purposes, but we should get out and smell the booming flowers, if your allergies allow for it, and breathe, take some time to relax and love ourselves. The Strawberry Moon is also a time to focus on our growth through patience and mindfulness. Look to realign yourself and return balance to your life through your spiritual practices.

This is the time to enjoy the natural world and, like the ripening berries, those things in our lives that we have been working on that just might come to fruition during this time of the year.

Let us pray:

May the blessing of light be upon you, light on the outside and light on the inside. With God’s sunlight shining on you, may your heart glow with warmth like a turf fire that welcomes friends and strangers alike. Amen

He Breathed on Them

Acts 2:1-21

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley attended a meeting at Aldersgate, London, where he received an assurance of his New Birth. This was a pivotal event in the life of Wesley that would eventually lead to a movement called Methodism in England and North America.

Wesley had been feeling a bit down on that day in May of 1738. The Spirit had stirred him to preach a more robust, more enthusiastic Gospel message that had been all but rejected by his Anglican brothers and sisters. So he reluctantly attended that meeting at the Moravian meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London. There, he felt a strange warmth in his heart and soul.

He described the event in his journal:

“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

On October 11, 1962, in Vatican City, the newly elected Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with the words, “it is time to open the windows and let the fresh air in.” John felt that the Church had become stagnant and closed to what was happening in the world around them. He thought that the Church was out of touch and that the Church needed to get off the sidelines and into the world in hopes of making a difference.

It was too much for some, and for others, it was not enough. But like Wesley’s experience in 1738, this experience of John in Rome was the spark that lit the fuse of Reformation. Reformation usually happens when we humans get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit run things.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. We had come 7 Sundays of 50 days since Jesus’ Resurrection, and today, Jesus’ promise is fulfilled when he said he would send another after him, the one who would be a comforter and give them strength for what lies ahead.

We heard from Luke, the writer of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of how they were all gathered in the Upper Room. It is supposed that this is the same place where they gathered after the Crucifixion and where Jesus appeared to them. But there they were, gathered. It had become their custom to do so. Then, suddenly, there was a sound like a great “rushing of wind” filling the entire house.

After the wind had ceased, fire descended and hovered over their heads, and it was at this moment that the Holy Spirit arrived.

In Judaism, the Holy Spirit is the divine force, quality, and influence of God over the Universe or over his creatures. In Trinitarian Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In Islam, the Holy Spirit acts as an agent of divine action or communication. In the Baha’i Faith, the Holy Spirit is seen as the intermediary between God and man and “the outpouring grace of God and the effulgent rays that emanate from His Manifestation.”

But this is not the start of the Spirit’s work in the world. If we go back to “in the beginning,” we encounter the Spirit a few times. During the early stages of creation, the Spirit hovers over the water, and after God creates humanity, God breathes into humanity’s lungs God’s “ruach elochim,” the very breath of God. God creates, but it is the Spirit that animates, that gives humanity its purpose, and that is what we see here.

Sure, the Apostles have done some pretty cool things up to this point. We hear stories of Peter healing, and people want to be near him, hoping his shadow will fall upon them and heal them. But what is coming next for them will be greater than all that has come before.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that they spoke in tongues after the Spirit came upon them. Now, a great deal of time and energy has been spent trying to figure this out. I know people who claim to be able to “speak in tongues,” but they always manage to leave out one thing, the interpretation of what is being said.

When the Apostles were able to speak in various languages, others were able to understand them. Now, we have to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and the story of the Towe of Babel. You will know the story. The inhabitants of Babel wanted to build a tower so high it would reach God. God does not want this to happen; he “confused their language” so they would no longer be able to work together. At this time, anyway, everyone spoke the same language. My guess is it was English; I mean, why wouldn’t it be?

But I digress; language was confused, but in this act of the Holy Spirit, the language was no longer confused. Each person heard the message in their own language, and they understood it. Was Peter speaking multiple languages? No, certainly not. Peter was speaking in whatever language Peter spoke, probably Aramaic; however, all those listening could hear him and understand. No longer was the message of Jesus reserved only for the Jews; the message of Jesus was now to be universal, for all the world to hear and understand. The Spirit has not just descended upon the Apostles but upon all of those present.

But what or who is this Spirit?

As we have already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is not just reserved for Christianity. However, in Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, not in a hierarchical sense that any one of them is greater than the other, but rather three distinct persons or personalities that all share the same essence. Don’t worry if you don’t understand; people have been fighting about this for centuries, and we will certainly not crack that code today.

It was, in essence, anyway, three words about the Holy Spirit that divided the Universal Church between East and West in the 11th century. The words “and the Son” relate to the progression or who the Spirit proceeds. Does the Spirit come from God alone, as those in the East profess, or does the Spirit proceed from the Son? But, again, we will not find the answer to that question today.

So, what does all of this have to do with us? Are we supposed to see fire on each other’s heads? If we did, we would rightly run for the closest fire extinguisher. Like John in Rome, do we throw open the windows and allow the fresh air in? Maybe all of these.

The Spirit does not always come as a rushing wind; most of the time, the Spirit comes as a calming presence, as Jesus did when he first appeared after the resurrection. Jesus’s first words after his sudden appearance was, “Peace be with you.” Yes, the Spirit brings boldness and Reformation, but the Spirit also brings peace. When the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, it was to bring order out of chaos, not the other way around.

The Christ who came to them and breathed on them is the one who comes today into our broken lives and broken world and offers us that same grace and that same peace. So we need to make room for that same Spirit to come and bring peace to folx who are hurting or afraid and into a community where there has been conflict or concern, in other words, into our lives and the lives of those in our community.

But the Spirit is also a unifier. We heard how everyone could hear the message in their own language; the Spirit unified them to make this possible. We need that Spirit of unification. Our Church and our nation are all being pulled apart, and we need to unify our prayers so that we all start to listen to one another and, rather than focus on what divides us, work for what brings us together.

But all of this begins with us and our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. If we desire to be agents of change, then we need to be willing to change. If we want peace, we need to be peaceful and work for things that bring peace. If we want the world to be more loving, then we need to work for things that bring that love. All of this is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles were all gathered in that Upper Room. They were scared and confused. Sure, Jesus had returned and brought his peace, but now he was gone again. Just a few days ago, he had left them, and they were once again on their own. But Jesus promised that the Spirit would come and bring them peace and bring them strength. So did their life get easier? Nope, in fact, it got worse.

The promise is that God will always be with us in the good times and the bad. I hope we truly believe that. Will the Spirit help us to change the world, maybe? But the world that needs to change is inside each of us. So let the Spirit warm your heart, and that spark of warmth might just change the world.


Meditation for Ascension

In the English town of Walsingham, there is a Church. And inside that church is a chapel dedicated to the feast of the Ascension. Now, there is nothing unusual about that except hanging out of the ceiling in the center of that chapel is a statue of the feet of Jesus in a cloud. It may seem strange, but Scripture tells us that as the Apostles watched, Jesus rose into the clouds and out of their sight.

The Feast of the Ascension is an important feast on the church’s calendar. This fest is one of only a handful celebrated by almost all Christian denominations and ranks with Easter and Pentecost in importance.

The feast commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. As far as historians can tell, this feast has been celebrated since the 4th century. The three days leading up to the feast are called rogations days and often involve prayers for a good harvest. Following the feast, an octave is celebrated leading up to Pentecost.

Ascension is a word that carries with it a sense of elevation, transcendence, and spiritual growth. This speaks to an innate desire to seek a higher purpose and connect with something greater than ourselves.

The Ascension must be considered more than the day Jesus physically left the earth. Ascension represents the soul’s journey, the awakening of consciousness, and the realization of our divine potential. Ascension is the process of moving beyond the limits of earthly existence and reaching for something, well, heavenly.

The significance of the Ascension is to remind us that our faith is not built on a book of a historical figure but rather on a living, exalted savior who intercedes for us at the right hand of God. The Ascension calls us to be faithful witnesses to the teachings of Christ, namely, the love of all. We are faithful when we bring our light into the world for all to see. And in this way, we build up the kingdom of God here on earth.

This path will not be easy. We will encounter various challenges along the way. We may face doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We may stumble, and we may fall, but it is in these moments that we are given the opportunity to rise again, learn from our mistakes, and grow strong in our faith.

The spiritual journey is not solitary, and we will not be alone on this quest either. We are surrounded by fellow travelers and pilgrims on the path to provide support, guidance, and encouragement. Together, we will uplift one another, inspire each other to persevere and continue to ascend towards the divine.

Friends, let us always remember that the spiritual life is not a destination but an ongoing process. It is a lifelong commitment to growth, a continuous seeking of divine truth, and a deepening of our relationship with God. It is a journey that transcends the boundaries of time and space, for it is the very purpose of our existence.

May our hearts be open to the call, may our spirits be uplifted by the divine presence, and may our lives be a testament to the transformational power of the spiritual path. May blessings and peace be upon you all, Amen.

Like Living Stones

One of my favorite buildings in Washington, DC, is The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, or the Washington National Cathedral. The Cathedral is the second-largest Church building in the United States. In New York City, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the largest. The Cathedral is also the third largest building in the City of Washington.

Although it is the Cathedral Church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, by Congressional Charter, it is a house of worship for all people.

It is an imposing structure. Construction began on September 29, 1907, with the laying of the cornerstone after a ceremony attended by President Theodore Roosevelt. Construction ended in 1990 at a ceremony attended by Present George HW Bush. If you have not done the math, that is 83 years. We replaced the floor in the first Church I served in, which took two weeks, and I thought that was a long time.

I have visited the Cathedral several times, and two of those visits stand out in my mind. The first was when I was able to step into the Canterbury Pulpit. The Pulpit stands six steps above the congregation and is an imposing carved stone structure. Standing in the pulpit, you get a sense of history and can feel the spirit and energy of those who have stood there before you.

But the most memorable occasion for the consecration of my friend Joe as bishop. During the consecration, I was honored to serve with him at the High Altar. It was an amazing and spirit-filled day that I think I will remember for my entire life.

Cathedral Churches are important places in the lives of people. Yesterday, we witnessed the Coronation of the King of the United Kingdom, an event that has not occurred for 70 years. Westminster Abbey, The Cathedral Church in London, hosted this event. The Abbey has been the place of Coronations for at least 1,000 years, so it’s been around a long time.

Like cathedrals, the coronation ceremony blends the sacred and the secular. The King cannot be legitimized until he is anointed. It is that anointing, and not the crowning, that makes him a King. And notice that the crown is not placed on the sovereign’s head by some government functionary. Instead, the crown is placed on the King’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury after a prayer is said over that very same crown. Of all the oaths sworn by the new King, the most poignant is the one when he swore to protect the faith of the Church and the faith of his subjects.

But why all this talk about the cathedrals and kings, after all? We are Americans; we have thrown all of that off. Our denomination doesn’t have cathedrals or anything close to them, but we do have sacred space.

One common thread in all cathedrals is stones. Stones make up the construction of the walls of most cathedrals. From those ancient buildings in Europe to that one in Washington, DC, one stone was placed upon another stone until the building was complete.

Each stone is handled by a skilled craftsman and fitted perfectly into place. No two stones are alike; that is why it took 83 years to build. Yesterday, after the Coronation, I continued working on my Cathedral, which I hope does not take 83 years to finish.

Yesterday, I was closing in a few walls that we had to open to fit the plumbing in. As anyone who has worked on old structures knows, nothing is straight or plumb; everything seems to be a little off. As is fitting for the cottage, I am closing in the walls with wood. In new construction, one would cut a bunch of pieces all the same length, and off you go. In an old structure, each piece must be measured, cut, and sometimes recut to get it to fit. Sometimes, I would cut a piece twice, and it was still too short.

Unlike wood, stones do not burn or rot. If the foundation of a stone structure is done correctly, that structure should remain standing for thousands of years. Another Cathedral, Notre Dame in Paris, is a good example. We all witnessed the devastating fire a few years ago that destroyed that beautiful place. When the fire was out, the stones remained somewhat weakened because the structure holding them together was gone, but they stood there in defiance of the trauma that the fire caused. Stone lasts a long time.

In today’s reading from the First Letter of Peter, we hear a lot about stones. The writer of the Letter refers to Jesus as “a living stone.” The author later quotes Jesus himself when he mentions, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

One thing I should have mentioned was rejection in the building process. Not all stones are acceptable for building in their present state; most, if not all, need to be worked, especially the cornerstone. The foundation is the most crucial part of any building project, whether a cathedral or an outhouse. Get it wrong, and everything will be wrong. But get it right, and you have a masterpiece. And the cornerstone, the first stone laid, is the most important, for all others are placed of that stone.

But Peter is not writing about building; Peter is writing about faith, your faith, and my faith and how it should be built.

We need to begin with a solid foundation. Usually, this starts when we are children, but not always. However, what we learn as children needs to be updated. Children think in concrete terms; they do not understand allegory and nuance, so we tell them stories that they can understand. Two people in a garden eating fruit. A boat filled with animals and a few people, etc. But as we get older and understand more, how we understand those things needs to change. But a solid foundation is essential.

What we put on top of that foundation is also essential. We need to use the best materials and take our time assembling them. If you use junk, junk will be produced, and you will spend many hours fixing things. If we take time, we will build it right the first time. And, like any old structure, our faith needs renovation and sprucing up occasionally. Maybe we have outgrown our faith or need to make more room. So, we renovate, remove walls, and fix broken things. Just because something worked for you years ago does not mean it works today. It is okay to undertake a renovation.

Here we sit inside a building only partially made of stone. Those who came before us worked hard to build this place of worship that they have left in our care. But this building is not the Church, something COVID reminded us. Although I appreciate the simple beauty of this place and the magnificence of Cathedrals, they are not the Church either, and if they were to all crumble tomorrow, the Church would continue because we are living stones.

On Easter night, the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge burned and cannot be used. However, the congregation did not disperse; they found alternative ways to worship. When Communism rolled across Eastern Europe and destroyed most, if not all, churches, faith did not disappear as they had hoped it would. Faith in Eastern Europe went underground and became stronger, and when the Church emerged after Communism fell, it was stronger because the people were the stones, and they rebuilt.

But Peter also cautions us in his Letter, for he says that sometimes, stones cause others to stumble, so we can either be a path of safety or a path that makes others stumble; I hope we are working towards being a path of safety.

Just like the construction of the Washington National Cathedral, our faith can take a lifetime to build. We have to sort through many different stones to find the ones that fit together perfectly. We have to move things around and renovate from time to time. But, just like we need to change out the avocado bathroom fixtures, we need to update our faith, and we cannot be afraid to do just that. Amen.

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