Happy Birthday! Today is one of the days we celebrate as the birthday of the church. Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. And it is a birthday party!
You have to enjoy the story of this birthday found in the Book of Acts. To me as I heard the story told, it sounds like bedlam to me. The scene is filled with the sounds of roaring wind, what appears to be fire is dancing all around, people are speaking in all sorts of languages. Those around the party experience all sorts of emotions and reactions to what is going on. Some of them are bewildered, some are amazed, some perplexed, and some are convinced that everyone is just plain drunk.
Now this sort of celebration is not the sort of thing you would expect to find in most churches, and particularly not in most of the Episcopal parishes. But the truth of the matter is I think the sound of bedlam in a church is sometimes a good thing. There is something inherently healthy in it.
Perhaps that is why I so much enjoy our annual pet blessing when we have all of the pets right inside the church building for our entire service, a practice foreign to most places for many reasons. I invariably at some point in the service, because the dogs are so rowdy, end up laughing. I can barely hold it together for a whole service. I enjoy the bedlam. It is an expression of God here with us. And I think God gets a kick out of it too.
It is why I so much like that all our children are welcome in our services. As distracting as it might be at times, I think distraction is healthy. It serves as a reminder to us that when you think about it, life is rarely as ordered and serene as we might like to pretend it is. As we might like to pretend church is. Church, like our lives, occasionally can be rowdy, disorganized and utterly lacking in a quiet religious spirit.
Of course those who were actually experiencing Pentecost, those who were in the middle of it, didn’t find it bedlam at all. They found God in that time and in that place. We should be looking for God in all the experiences of our lives. Sometimes it is in the unusual or disturbing that we are able to see God anew. The sounds of the animals in our church remind me of the sound of creation much have been light when the animals were being brought forth. Creation is something we should always be grateful for and celebrating. The sounds of the children in the parish remind me of life and excitement and an interest in so much new in the world. We should also always be thankful for those reminders.
We all have things in our church life that can intrude on what we personally find an uplifting experience of the holy. There are some Episcopal parishes that when you enter on a Sunday morning you can hear a pin drop. There are no sounds other than the quiet sound of people and families quietly slipping into their pews, the sound of pews squeaking and the sound of kneelers falling to the floor for prayer and quiet in preparation for the service. I have been a member of this kind of parish. It is a wonderful, powerful, and moving experience. Someone from that background might find themselves uncomfortable coming to St. Peter’s on a Sunday. It might sound like bedlam to them. Might seem like bedlam to some of us sometimes.
But we are all faced with a choice. And it is our choice to make. How will we respond to this new and different experience? We can spend our entire time in church worrying or complaining to ourselves about it. Or we could worry about how we at St. Peter’s can stand to worship with such noise. Or we can choose to experience worship in a way different and perhaps uncomfortable to us.
I hope everyone would choose the latter. That no matter how uncomfortable they might find themselves in a service that they would want to challenge themselves to find the holy in that moment. We all have to choose how we will respond to the world around us. And I hope that I when faced in a similar situation would choose the latter as well. We all have to choose how we respond to the world around us.
In the Gospel reading today Phillip said “Show us the father and we will be satisfied.” Lord, do this and make me happy. Wow. When I read that I can’t imagine anyone demanding something from Jesus in order to be satisfied. But then I look at my own life. And I’m forced to think about how many times I may not have said those exact words but still expected that same thing from God. God do this in my life and then I will be satisfied. God make this thing this way and I will be happy. What pride it must take to be able to say something like that to God. But like Phillip I suspect that we blurt those things out without even thinking about it. It is easy to ask God to meet us on our terms. It makes our lives very comfortable. It can be very satisfying. We don’t need to worry about changing anything. God will change and bring it to us just the way we want it. But it is a much harder to be willing to meet God on God’s terms.
As I was working on this sermon, I was thinking about the changes at St. Peter’s in this past seven years. How much different our services are now from what they were then. They were very quiet then. You don’t have much noise in church when your youngest parishioner is fifty. But what amazes me and surprises me is the willingness of everyone to accept change. The willingness of everyone to embrace the idea that God is doing something new at St. Peter’s with the new people being brought into the parish. It could be easy to try and avoid change. But instead we are embracing what God has called us to be as a community. A community that can change and embrace new things. A community able to see God in all of life’s experiences, not just those experiences which “I” might think are experiences of the holy. God is bigger than each and everyone of us here. And God can and will come to us in ways that will boggle our imaginations at times.
We should be able to see God in all of life’s experiences, not just the ones we find particularly holy and spiritually uplifting. God is bigger than each one of us here and can come in ways both unimaginable and scandalous.
What are some of the things I think scandalous and try to keep God out of? Jesus was a very scandalous guy. He was always causing trouble in the community by what he did. He scandalized by what he said. And he was a scandal most to the people in the synagogues. To the people trying to practice their faiths. He was the one that bothered them the most. It is important for us to remember that we need to be open to God wanting to work in our lives in different ways. We need to be open to God wanting to touch our lives in different. I think God will surprise us if we are open to that.
A look back: December 11, 1996...
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