Easter 6 May 17, 2009

Acts 10:44-48                                                                     

1 John 5:1-6                                                                        

John 15:9-17

 

This wonderful little reading we have this morning from the Book of Acts. Let’s listen to it again:

 

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers [that is, the religious insiders] who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles [that is, the religious outsiders], for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [That is, for bringing them into the Jesus movement that became Christianity.] So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

One of the great figures of history will surely be Pope John XXIII. He was elected pope in 1958 as an old man, a placeholder, a transitional figure. But out of the blue one day, at a routine church meeting, he announced that he was convening a great council of all the bishops from around the world, to reform the Church, to bring it into the modern era. And he did, in ways that dramatically changed not only the Roman Catholic Church, but all of Christianity.

 

There are many little stories told of this old and gentle saint. One of the ones that I think of most often is that when he would lie awake at night, worrying about the council he had convened, about the Church and its future, he would say to himself, “Angelo, Angelo [for that was his baptismal name, Angel], who’s in charge of the Church? You or the Holy Spirit?” And then he would fall to sleep like a baby.

 

I wonder if Jesus did not often say something like that to himself—Jesus, another great reformer, the greatest indeed of all. In the gospel this morning we hear him talking to his disciples at the Last Supper, the night before he died. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” he says; “abide in my love.” The love of Jesus, the love of God, is the same thing, I think, as the Holy Spirit. Abiding in that love means trusting in God to be in charge—of the Church, of history, of the world. Our own bishop, Gene Robinson, spoke in his Easter sermon about the importance of trust as the heart of the Resurrection. What was the power of the Resurrection, he asked? It was the fact that the apostles, the followers of Jesus, trusted in his words to them, in his abiding love, in the Holy Spirit. It was in that trust that they went forth and changed the world with boldness and fire.

 

You and I are part of that tradition. Indeed, when we speak of tradition in the Church, that is what we mean. Not the way we did things in the church where we grew up 50 years ago. Not this particular Book of Common Prayer or that particular hymnal or this way of celebrating the Eucharist or that way of arranging the chairs in the Worship Space. We mean trust in the Holy Spirit, in the abiding love of God, in the inspiring words of Jesus and their power to give life to all people everywhere and in all times.

 

Sing to the Lord a new song,

       for he has done marvelous things

says the Psalmist whose song we sang this morning. And, yes, God has done marvelous things and God is doing marvelous things and God will do marvelous things. This is our Tradition. What my seminary professors used to call big-T tradition.

 

We live in truly frightening times, you and I. I do not have to recite for you a litany of its terrors. They are there every day in the news. It is very hard not to get anxious about what the future may hold. And there are all the anxieties, too, of course, in our personal lives—economic, health, safety, our children, our aging parents. So we are tempted to cling, all of us, to little-t traditions. We seek safety in what was safe in the past. I am amazed that one of the features of our parish Web site that gets the most hits is a little posting I wrote in my spare time on when to cross yourself, when to genuflect, when to bow in worship. People are seeking safety in little-t traditions. I certainly do so myself.

 

And in the years since Pope John XXIII the Roman Church has done that too, I’m afraid. Some of us watched a documentary during Lent on anti-Semitism and the Christian Church, produced by the Boston Globe columnist James Carroll. Carroll is a former Catholic priest, ordained in the era of John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. He was one of the young priests at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, energized by the reforms of the Council. And he muses in the movie about what the Church would be like today if it had not turned its back on the Spirit of the Council, refusing to reconsider priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, the empowerment of the laity. If, as a result, all that great generation of young priests and religious had not left, disillusioned.

 

Our Episcopal Church of course has been bolder in meeting the challenges of the new age: the ordination of women, of gays and lesbians, the reforms of our 1979 Prayer Book which are commonplace in our worship today. But we face a whole new wave of challenges now. As those of us who went to the Diocesan Spring Event last weekend were reminded, younger adults coming to us today, seeking spiritual growth and meaning, have often absolutely no religious background. They have completely different ways of receiving information than older generations—not books and newspapers, but Google and Facebook and podcasts. They have different music. A highschooler whose scholarship application I was reading the other day wrote that he liked all sorts of music, from hiphop to punk rock. Hello?

 

It is in this context that you and I are called to proclaim the Word of God and minister his holy Sacraments, to baptize and evangelize, in this place and this day. Jesus said that “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is

new and what is old.” (Mt. 13:52) We are those scribes, those householders. It is to us, the friends of Jesus, that he looks now to sort through our treasures and bring forth the old that has enduring value and the new that the age demands, so that we may call, welcome and incorporate in our household all those who hunger to be fed in the kingdom and Church of God.

 

Please pray about these things, our wonderful readings this morning, as you fill out the liturgy questionnaires this week. As we work together in the weeks and months to come to consider how we worship, what we need to learn, where we are called to go. This is a great adventure. Worship is the heart of what we do, of who we are. There is nothing to fear in looking at how we do it, what we might gain. Who is in charge of the Church, after all? Not you or me. The Holy Spirit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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