He said: Why not become fire?

A story from the desert fathers: Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?

It has been said by preacher types that preaching needs to be more "practical" and action oriented. Preachers are supposed to give people something to do when they leave the place of worship so they can put their "faith in action".

The intent behind this advice is well intended, we want to give people something to do in order to keep from people a people focused on personal holiness to the detriment of social holiness. However, there are a couple of unintended consequences that may come with giving people something to "do". 

First, it implies that the "doing" is the "real point" of the sermon. Put another way, it implies that "doing" is more important than "being". It is like when people tell a story and you check out while listening only to check back in when they tell you the moral of the story. It is the moral of the story that really matters, because it tells us what to do.

Secondly, and more of my concern, is that it diminishes the imagination of the gathered community. If the preacher is the one that comes up with the things to do that put your faith in action, then there is little reason for you to imagine what you could do to put your faith in action. It lessens the chance that someone in the community will come up with something new because they are focused on doing what the preacher said to do. Trust me when I say, preachers are not always the most imaginative people.

Preachers can teach you how to do your little fast, prayer, meditation and other "action" items, but worship may be one of the few places where we are "set on fire". The inspiration of the Spirit is what sets us on fire. People come to worship and are trying to do all that we can to grow closer to God, and perhaps what we need is less "here is what you can do" sermons and more "here is how you become fire" sermons. 

Pentecost, (The UMC splitting?) and the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, June 8th, was a time when Christians celebrate the birth of the Church by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. In many churches around the globe, the story was read about how the Holy Spirit came and rested like tongues of fire on those in the upper room. While reading this story and as a liturgical act, there may have been different people speaking different langues during worship. I have been in worship settings where French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian were spoken while the story was read or even during the saying of the Lord's Prayer. 

The church that I serve we decided to have a sermon that attempted to embody this "multi-language" expression of the Spirit by having two voices to deliver the sermon (beginning at minute mark 5:30 you might think you are hearing a little commentary on the UMC's conversation about splitting and I can neither confirm nor deny this to be the case.). 

I share this sermon as a way to submit some thoughts with anyone who might wonder more about the Holy Spirit. What it is, what it looks like, and why do you think there are so many images of the Holy Spirit? Why is the Holy Spirit spoken about like fire, water, dove/pigeon, wind, comforter and wild goose. 

Golden Record shot into space and the Bible

It may still be in the collective memory that back in 1977 there was a golden record shot into space. Known as the Voyager Golden Record, it contains sounds and images of life here on Earth. It has words of greetings in all sorts of languages as well as images of an X-rayed hand to a woman at a supermarket (here is a list of the contents of the record).

Do you use a record player or a laser disk to read this thing?

Do you use a record player or a laser disk to read this thing?

This is a beautiful and humbling project taken on by many people and curated by a few people before it was "officially created". There was controversy to be sure of what was included and what was not included. There is only so much space on a record made of gold and only some things just did not make the cut even if they were considered by people to be worthy. And while the prospect of this record being found and played by creatures beyond earth is slim to none, it does not take away from the beauty of the project. 

This project was dedicated to try to express deep truths about life here on Earth. It tried, through image and song and language and poetry, to give a glimpse into what we believe at that moment in time to be "timeless". It tried to express something to future and different generations about what we think will be universal and beautiful and enduring. It was not a perfect project. It has faults. For instance, the fact this whole project is one a gold record exposes the cultural surroundings of the contents. Or the fact this was deeply influenced by Americans contextualizes the contents of the record. This record has its own biases and limitations. And although not exactly the same, this golden record is similar to the Bible.

Located in different times and cultures the scriptures have their own biases and faults. They are human products that try to express the the deep Truths of God through poem, prose and song. Many people contributed to the creation of the canon but it was curated by a smaller number of people. And there are stories and texts that just did not make the cut for one reason or another. The scriptures try to express what it means to be in right relationship with God and neighbor and self and it tries to tell the story of God. It has faults (Methodists do not believe the Bible is infallible) and it has quirks (like when she-bears maul some boys who mock a prophet of God).

For all it's failings it is the best artifact that I know of that can guide one to know God in Christ through the Spirit. (To be clear the Bible is not the Word of God, but the word of God.)

One can imagine that if we were to create another "golden record" tomorrow, we would have similar aspects to the original. However, one could imagine that we would even brand new aspects of what it means to be human on planet Earth. Just because we have a canonized Bible does not mean that we have learned everything there is to know about God, the nature of reality and what it means to live in right relationship.

So as we move into this Pentecost season may we continue to be open to what the Holy Spirit has to remind, show and expose us to about this beautiful loving creator we call God.


Pentecost as a capstone?

In the opening chapters of Genesis (1-2) we read about Adam and Eve. We then move into a story of temptation (3). The next chapters (4-5) we hear about the first murder and how Abel's blood cried our for vengeance. Genesis 6 has the story of the flood, where there is death for all. Genesis 11 we read of the tower of Babel where language divides the nations. 

Could it be that the gospel writer Luke uses this framework to structure his story of salvation?

Luke 3 there is the genealogy of Jesus that goes all the way back to Adam - thus implying Jesus is a new Adam.

Luke 4 there is Jesus' temptation. And where Adam failed Jesus prevailed.

Luke 23 Jesus is murdered, but unlike Abel who cries out to God for revenge, Jesus cries out to God for forgiveness and mercy.

Luke 24 tells the story of the resurrection where the world is not destroyed but is resurrected through the life of Christ.

Finally, where language was the cause of division of the nations in Genesis, in Acts 2 language becomes that which unites the nations.

Here is a chart I made for those who want this in a liner fashion.


Could it be the story of Luke/Acts (in case you are unaware it is believed these were really one story broken into two "books" written by the same author), is also a story of new creation? Not just in a spiritual sense, but in a very real sense, could it be that like Genesis, Luke/Acts tells a creation story.

Could it be that the story of Pentecost is a capstone to a set of stories that count-balance Genesis?