Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sent by God

Sent by God 
Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17 

Today is celebrated as Trinity Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. The mystery surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity is so resistant to modern thinking, that it deserves a chance for the faith communities and their resident theologian, to talk about - at least once a year. 
In fact, I have been setting up this day for a month. Last week, on Pentecost, we recognized the role and power of the Holy Spirit to propel the continual motion of the divine presence, powered by love and the desire for relationship. Have you heard? It is all about the relationship. 
On Mother’s Day, we turned our attention to the dynamic nature of love, and celebrated all of the ways we can nurture and support one another. We recognized the deep need for the personal act of forgiveness, with or without the antagonist’s repentance, to create the foundation for family and community, and also preserve our own spiritual health. We envisioned the person of God as the New Fire Triangle. Eliminate any part of God, and there is no God. 
Even on May 6, we commented on how the Holy Spirit is a palpable presence in the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. It is this spirit of the living God, that lifts the gathered community of church folks, and inspires them to new heights of care and compassion. Emboldened by the Spirit, the Synod invariably reviews resolutions with an intentional bias towards compassion and connection, in contrast with the apparent values of the culture. It is, all about the relationship. 
In Genesis it says that we are made in the image of God. I typically reduce that to having the capacity to love and be loved. I default to relationship on a routine basis. But on Trinity Sunday, what would it mean to be made in the image of the Triune God? It might mean that we are defined by the most prominent and significant relationships in our life, at any time in our life. 
I was once a child. My life was defined as a son, and a brother. We were active in the church, even attending the Catholic Grade School. In that time, I was an individual, a family member, and a part of the faith community. 
Today, I am a husband and father. And I serve this church as pastor and teacher. I see this role in Morton CUCC as a particular extension of my membership in the wider church. I have been a part of other churches before, and God willing, improved by what I have learned and shared here, I may touch more hearts down the road. 
Your own life has been marked by the roles you play. When the children are small, they require gobs and gobs of energy and attention. Depending on how your particular family is composed, and the way roles and duties are interpreted, there are untold numbers of possible ways to live that life. 
When our kids were small, Martha and I took turns serving on a church Board or committee. My work schedule was hectic and included tons and tons of overtime. So between us we would meet whatever commitments we made. If Martha promised to wash dishes and one of the kids was sick and had to have momma, Chuck washed church dishes. If Chuck promised to sing at a Funeral, Martha got a cold and sent Chuck. 
I am drifting from the point. We are always in multiple relationships. Who we are as a person, lives and grows within the shifting swirl of what we believe, and how those beliefs are expressed in what we say and do. We are influenced and grow within the context of relationships. We intentionally seek out a particular faith community because of the way the people and experiences of the church feed the kind of growth we want for ourselves and our families. 
The letter of Paul to the Romans contains a treasure chest of theological nuggets. The segment that we have pulled out for today leans heavily on the shorthand Paul uses to separate our most honorable intentions as “spiritual” and our more base desires as, “of the flesh.”
When the Tuesday morning Bible Study worked on several of Paul’s letters, we noted his frequent use of this analogy, and also the limitations it has. Today though, he makes it clear that we are in “the body of Christ” and that is clearly a good thing. We suffer with the Christ, so that we may rise again and share in Christ’s glory. 
If the suffering Christ is a full and active part of the divine Trinity, then as we are made in the image of God, our own suffering, and especially the suffering made for love, brings us ever closer to the heart of God. The things we do for love make us an insider, within the whirlwind that is the Trinity. This is where the life lived well becomes sanctified. Not only in beliefs, not only in words, but in the passion of living everyday. 
In the passage from Isaiah, the prophet has a vision. It is a life changing moment. The man is moved through a transformation, not dissimilar to the way the disciples were transformed on the first Pentecost; changed from frightened, timid souls to bold, public representatives of the living God. 
In the classic call story of the prophet and poet Isaiah, we hear the human register the inadequacy he feels, standing in the presence of the living God. He has a vision of God, seated on the throne, and he is immediately frightened and ashamed that he is not worthy to be in that place. 
Angels with coals from the heavenly altar purge the history of bad words from his lips. I admit, there are time when foul language escapes my lips, and wonder if an angel with hot tongs is lurking around the next corner. Only a God with a sense of humor can put words of divine love in a mouth like mine. 
Deep at the heart of today’s message is this miracle. God does not call the qualified. Instead, God qualifies those that are called. This does not stop at the pulpit. Each of us who have been called into the faith are charged with the responsibility to share that faith. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.” The direct message here is that we preach by word and by deed. A faith that is lived is compelling and stands the test of time. 
You and I have been selected, from among the many in the world, to represent God’s good love made clear in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Recognizing that God acts through the lives of the faithful, we accept that we are worthy of the task because of God’s grace working in and through us. 
Our life at work, and in the community needs to be a public expression of our faith in God and God’s good love. We cannot panic even when times get hard. We are called to see the culture and its false gods, and know that there is nothing the culture can do to eliminate or reduce the power of God’s love.  

It is our relationship with God that will endure, as long as love endures. It is the expectation of heaven, that you can and will be successful at sharing God’s good love at the level of your own capabilities. Both body and spirit belong to God. Both body and spirit are blessed and anointed for this task. In a breath taking and surprising way, we are sent into the world, from our spiritual home within the whirlwind of love and relationship we know as the Trinity. We have been blessed, to be a blessing, Amen. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Spirit World Is Where We Are

The Spirit World Is Where We Are
Romans 8:22-27;  Acts 2:1-21 

The first Pentecost was celebrated in “The Upper Room,” the same space that was the location of the Last Supper. Tourists are directed to a space on the hill named Zion, that is west of the Old City of Jerusalem. This “Upper Room” was a base of operations for the disciples who feared that the authorities, might want to wipe out the remnants of the band of followers of the rebel “Jesus of Nazareth.” 
While the scriptures clearly treat the Upper Room as a ‘safe house,’ where access is limited, it is right in a very busy part of town, surrounded by shops and an ancient synagogue celebrating King David, who made Jerusalem into a destination, when it was just a simple village. 
Jerusalem is making news again as a destination. This week the Trump Administration made news by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the Embassy from Tel Aviv. This is news because the Israelis occupy both East and West Jerusalem, as a spoils of the 1967 war, displacing the native Palestinians. The American compound sits on the 1948 partition of Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine. 
This is no small shift in American Policy and is regarded by the Palestinians as the end of hope that the USA would broker a peace initiative, that would provide relief for the harsh and dangerous conditions Israel has imposed on the natives. The fact that the Embassy was opened one day before the anniversary of the NAQBAH or The Great Sadness, commemorating the day hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced into refugee status, as the United Nations, sacrificed their homes, businesses, and villages to the new State of Israel in 1948. Seventy years later, the disrespect is still being applied in layers. 
At the time of the party at the Consulate, the Israeli Army snipers were shooting protestors at the Gaza border. These protests are a tragic and ongoing attempt by the Palestinians to gain international recognition of their plight. 
I call the Palestinians natives, because Jews were virtually not existent at all in Palestine until after the First World War. Palestine was occupied by the Ottoman Empire or Turks, and they were aligned with the Germans as the “Central Powers.” Britain attacked and occupied Palestine as a staging post for the “Allies” to attack the Central Powers. 
In the aftermath of World War I, the British were called on by the League of Nations to administrate Palestine and the Trans-Jordan. The British were determined to establish a homeland for Jews in Palestine. While the text of the Balfour Agreement that invited European Jews to emigrate, and required protection of the native Palestinians, that protection never materialized. There was no small amount of distaste for the poor Arabs in favor of “civilized, European Jews.” There is a very thin veneer over the prevalent racism in the policies of the State of Israel. 
The alignment of nations that engaged in the Second World War could not have been imagined at the close of the “War to End All Wars.” World War II devastated the economy of Great Britain. They were desperate to relieve their budget of any activity for securing Palestine and other colonial outposts, and were relieved when the United Nations declared the State of Israel. 
The history of Western interference in the land, and history of stealing the real estate and sovereign claim of the natives, has empowered the State of Israel in recent years to be very bold in the destructive occupation of the Palestinian community and homeland. The move of the US Administration this week can be seen as another act of support for the Western colonization of the entire territory and de-humanization of the native population. 
So where is God in all of this? What is the will of God for Jerusalem? 
At the first Pentecost, God did not require all people to return to the Temple and accept the harsh administration of the occupying Roman forces and the collaborating clergy. In fact, the God of love used the visitors from essentially the entire known world, to speak words of love to them in words they understood. Pentecost can never be properly understood as a vote for regimentation and colonization. It clearly was not a vote for the designation of Jerusalem Real Estate as a necessity to faithfulness to God. 
In as clear of a demonstration as can be imagined, we see - or hear, the message of God’s love as available to all of the world - in their own languages. It is a language of a set of values that celebrates compassion, and ignores political authority and profit motives. 
The land of Israel is a study in being manipulated by political empires. Some of these empires have been better than others to the local people. By all measures, the Ottoman Empire, stabilized the culture and economy, and preserved thousands of the historical sights for the Christians, Jews and Muslims. The existence of the Old City and it historic walls is a direct testimony to the careful attention paid to the local history and heritage of the land and its people by the Turks. 
But this is not a morning set aside for political history. We noted earlier in the month, that God does not make promises to real estate. Real estate values are based on location, location, location. God makes promises to the hearts of the human family. Value then, is based on the location of God in our very hearts. 
The benefit of recognizing the characteristics of the Holy Spirit as an undeniable aspect of the living God, is to say that God is more like the wind of hope and inspiration than like a rock of stodgy certitude. The Temple Mount is a long recognized piece of valuable Real Estate, but it represents most clearly, hope for a peace that political operatives are barely able to even dream. 
We should be clear, the New Testament does not proclaim God is waiting for any human action to trigger the Second Coming of the Christ. God is never, ever waiting on us. Any claim that the Jews need to complete their genocide of the Palestinians  to bring out the Kingdom of God is a ridiculous claim, and insults the good and generous God of Creation.  
I know some folks who cling to the image of a God who never changes. On days like this I have to laugh. I love a God who is in constant motion. The Creator God, out of wild imagination and the deepest of love, spins off a Creation of maddening complexity and inter-relatedness. 
As an expression of caring, creation is offered a chance at eternal joy through the life and teaching of the Christ, the anointed one, full of compassion. The savior conjures up the Spirit, to dwell with the called, and inspire and fortify them. 
The Spirit, an unending hunger for creative imagination and hopefulness, floats and darts among the children of God, whispering words of love and encouragement. Touched by the hearts of humanity, the Spirit implores the Creator to reconnect, in new ways with the creation. 
Inspired to new levels of involvement and driven by love, the Creator spins new webs of creative connections. On these pathways the savior reaches out to touch and to hold another generation of souls born of nature. And the Spirit engages in ways that reflect the world as it is, and what the children of today can grasp. 
This God is no rock that never changes, but rather better represented by the insatiable current of the deep, the expectation of new life, carried by the very pollen in the air, as fresh as the Spring, and reliable as the decay in Autumn that enriches the soil for the seasons to come. God truly does not change, God remains in contact motion; never still, yet never frantic. Jesus of Nazareth was never the Messiah who desired to claim political and economic power. Jesus spoke with authority from the Kingdom of the Living God. The duh-ciples never understood what he was talking about throughout his lifetime. They kept expecting one day they would change his mind. To this day, those who lust after power and money, fail to understand the Christ, and all of God’s activities. 
Instead, the crucified and resurrected Jesus promised to send his Spirit, to rest on us, and invite us to consider counter-cultural values. When we are in the Spirit, we are drawn to one another, because of the love of God. Our relationships are not dependent on looking same, acting the same, believing the same, or even thinking the same. We share the image of our Creator, and are all encompassed by the love of God. 
As we talked about here last week, we are called to a ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not an easy sell, but it has more lasting value than Real Estate, because you know, you can’t take it with you. 
It has more lasting value than political alignments. We already noticed this morning that the Central Powers and Allied Powers in World War I were completely realigned by World War II. Some alliances have lasting power, but all human alliances are subject to being hastily discarded in moments of hubris and self-indulgence. 
Instead, we seek a spiritual awareness, that permits us to live as a rich human or a poor human, but still a faithful member of the Kingdom of God. We seek the power of the living God to speak the words of forgiveness and compassion, in places where profits and political advantage are the currency of the day. 
We turn then to God to pray for direction. But our prayers seem like weak extensions of our language, and our words are insufficient. And the lack of clarity in our words, betrays the confusion in our hearts. We cannot even imagine what it would take to achieve true peace. So our hope is in God. 

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A New Fire Triangle

A New Fire Triangle 
Psalm 1; Luke 24:44 - 50 
One of the basic things taught to fire fighters and first responders is that most fires depend on three things: fuel, oxygen and heat. If you are able to effectively remove any one of the three elements, the fire will go out. This fundamental understanding guides most fire response scenarios. This is what they mean by the “Fire Triangle.” 
We routinely speak of God as a Trinity, three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is not any one presentation, but God is the power - might I say ‘fire’ - of the relationship among the three. The Trinity is often represented as a triangle. This is graphically represented in the stained glass window near the center of the sanctuary on the south side. Pater, is Latin for ‘father’, filio means ‘son’, and spiritus means the ‘spirit.’ 
I have heard it said that the day your realize that all adults, even your own parents, are not perfect, you become an adolescent. The day you can forgive your parents for not being perfect, you become an adult. Then, if you ever reach the point when you can forgive yourself for not being perfect, you are finally mature. 
All of this has been on my mind as we approached Mothers’ Day. We know that Mothers’ Day can be anything but easy for many women, and men too. Not every woman who wants children gets to have children. Not every mother who has children, is able to love and nurture them. There are always issues, some of our own making, and some are imposed by nature or the actions of others. 
The gospel lesson today comes from the scriptures of the Ascension, which was last Thursday. The gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles are both written by the same person. At the heart of the story, Jesus encourages the disciples to stop being anxious about the earthly power and accept their personal role, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

The elements of our witnesses are clear, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” 

This mission statement, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins, is Luke’s take on the great commission. The gospel of Matthew said the great commission was, “Go and baptize all nations.” Baptism appears a much easier sell than repentance and forgiveness. Our friend Luke is all about the relationship, and living relationships are messy, and challenging, and often push us into periods of growth, when it does not feel like a convenient time. 

I cared for a woman who told me of her childhood. She talked of the rage she still feels for her mother, who was not able to protect her from abuse. There was no way possible for her to imagine forgiving her mother, who died years ago at an early age. 

As it happens so often, she entered into not one, but two successive abusive marriages of her own. In desperation, she found a job as an over the road trucker. In the long hours of solitude, she was able to find some bits of peace, and some level of trust in her own person. 

But those hours took her away from home. In another familiar pattern, when you find peace on the road, you hesitate to go home. You believe that “distance” has saved you, not trusting in your own growth. Her own daughters grew increasingly dependent on the care and attention of others. They grew to resent their absent mother. 

After many years on the road, her now tired body was ready to settle down. She wanted to rebuild a relationship with her children, especially her daughters, and get to know her grandchildren. This task has been an ugly and difficult challenge. 

There are times when she gets along with one or more of them. They begin to talk on the phone, there are some shared meals. Then one day, she does something caring for a grandchild, and the old hatred and disgust in the daughters flares up uncontrollably. In a flurry of cruel words and accusations, both parties retreat. 

After listening to her describe a couple of the painful cycles, I tried to explain that - she herself had taught her daughters how to hate their mother. The key to making progress with this generation, is to find a way to make peace with the memory of her own mother. Until she understood the cost of forgiveness, it was inappropriate to expect it of others. 

We have control of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology, it is not dependent on any action of the perpetrator. Forgiveness is born in our own move toward maturity. I am reminded of the generous forgiveness of the Amish community in Pennsylvania, to the family of a gunman who murdered their school children - in West Nickel Mines in 2006. 

Not a one of us is perfect. We are made up of the genetic material our parents contributed. I physically resemble my father more now than I ever expected to. I was very proud of myself to graduate college at 48, and seminary at 52. It was only then explained that my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, joined the IRS as a bookkeeper, earned an accounting degree at night school, then earned his CPA, and then finished law school, all while working full time. Our stuff comes from somewhere else. 

As I opened this talk, it seemed as if there was a simple checklist to maturity that we could work our way through. In truth, we have to live through each step, be alive in each step, before the possibility exists to move on to the next. 

It is important to remember that growth of a plant does not happen over night. The roots have to develop. There needs to be enough sun and water, and then finally there may be a blossom. Growth in our emotional and spiritual lives needs time and nurture to develop. 

I believe that to be our best selves, we must stay connected to our families. It might be necessary to get some temporary distance, to avoid injury, to hear ourselves think. But we cannot push into the next level of maturity without being our best selves in the midst of our families of origin. True growth depends on us going home, and demonstrating our growth, where we confront the pushback.   

Reconciliation is really finding peace with our past and past imperfections, including and especially our own. Forgiveness does not mean that everything is suddenly all better. Forgiveness means that we have decided to put down the burden of feeding our anger or hatred. Those fires are not from God. For the fires of anger or hatred to burn continuously they must be attended to and fed fresh fuel. When we choose to starve the fires of anger and hatred, then we begin to make our heads and hearts a better place to live and grow.  

So make a kind of external peace with our agitators, but within ourselves we accept that we did the best we were able - with what we knew - and what we could do at the time. We are not perfect, and do not expect to be perfect anytime soon. Our peace comes from the love of God, and we follow the model of forgiveness that Jesus offers us. 

Forgiveness is rooted in accountability. Those who have hurt us are held accountable, and must earn any trust that is to come. Still we decide to treat them with hope for their future, and not bind them forever in the pain of the past. 

And we are accountable to ourselves for seeking our own peace. In evaluating our own reaction being hurt, we extend ourselves grace. Forgiveness is hard work. It is not too hard to teach children to hate. But to teach children to forgive, begins with forgiving those who have hurt us - stop feeding those fires - and then forgiving ourselves - for living through the righteous anger of the victim. Then, with time and prayer, the fires begin to taper off, we can feel the peace of Christ which reaches out to us.   

On Mothers’ Day, we celebrate the life we have, to which our mothers made a lasting contribution. We go on to celebrate all of those - who have been a mother to us when we have needed care and attention. We recognize that the predominantly female characteristics that we call “motherly” are present in both women and men, who are able to support us as we live through the stages of our lives. 

On Mothers’ Day, we rededicate ourselves to the spiritual and emotional growth it takes to be a child of God, and all of us are children. An essential part of being in a faith community, is that we have friends from different generations. Having multiple examples of how to be faithful at different ages, gives us a wider range of models to aspire to and better ways to be.  

We turn our faces upward, weathered by the storms of life, but with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Jesus whose Spirit we are anxiously awaiting. We are waiting for the power, and the courage, and the enthusiasm that comes when God, the new fire triangle: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; comes to fill our hearts with the maturity that comes from love and forgiveness, and snuffs out the fires of anger and pain, Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A New Song, Love One Another

A New Song, Love One Another
Psalm 98; Acts 8:26-40; John 15:1-8 

I know several churches that have left the denomination of the United Church of Christ based on pronouncements from one or another biennial meeting of the church called the General Synod. The General Synod gathers representatives from all of the UCC Conferences for worship and celebration, and conducting the business of the church. 

While General Synod does the work of electing the national officers, and making the final decision on major aspects of our life together, the focal point of much of the energy concerns the review of Resolutions,  asking the church to take a stand on issues of the day. 

There is a formal process for submitting Resolutions for discernment at General Synod. In the Illinois Conference, delegates are elected from each of the Associations, and each delegate is assigned one of more resolutions to review and be a member of the committee. 

Once arriving at General Synod, there are public hearings conducted for each of the Resolutions, where the case is laid out by the advocates. Those who oppose the Resolution can apply in advance to both be a part of the Hearing, and present at the working session of the committee. 

The group dynamic at General Synod is very upbeat. While ministers are notoriously introverts who need to pump themselves up to get through an average Sunday morning, there are a surprising number of ministers who actually are extroverts. The joy of the extroverts in the national assembly of the church is infectious. First-time visitors to Synod will often get so excited, they will want to be everywhere and try to do everything. 

So you need to know that the next General Synod is in 2019, and will take place in Milwaukee. If you have never had a taste of General Synod I highly recommend you attend. A typical schedule would have plenty of events available to the general public. This includes Resolution hearings on Friday afternoon. Saturday there will be ministry opportunities, performances, speakers, and lots of events to participate and/or witness. The Sunday Worship is large and festive, with great music and a dynamic preacher. Then they do committee and plenary session work for several days. 

Among the most controversial General Synod Resolutions was taken up at GS 25 in 2005 regarding Marriage Equality for gay couples. That Synod was held in 2005 in Atlanta, GA. The Resolution passed with a large majority of affirming votes. 

In the years immediately following the vote, many congregations expressed shock and distress. They did not understand how our church works, and how such a significant shift in the faith community could occur at a church meeting they did not personally attend. Quite a few congregations withdrew their membership in the UCC in the next year or two after the decision. 

On the one hand, it is disappointing to think that many of the members of the UCC do not understand that in our polity, the General Synod is the ruling body of the church. The national officers and the various church instruments, work for the church and answer to the General Synod. There are no lifetime representatives to GS. In the Illinois Conference folks are elected to terms of 4 years, or two Synods. 

The other thing you need to understand is that these conventions, develop a unique buoyancy, that lifts the spirits of those who participate, and generate a lot of care and concern for the world, and especially for those who are hurt by the world as it is. Resolutions that demonstrate compassion for the oppressed have a high likelihood of being embraced by the UCC General Synod. 

I say all of this as we are at the gateway to Pentecost, the Birthday of the church. Pentecost is a celebration of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I need to be frank with you here, this Holy Spirit is a complete and authentic way to know and celebrate God. The Holy Spirit is a not so subtle reminder that God is God - and God does not answer to us, or follow our guidelines. The more structured and organized we get our thoughts and theories about God - the more likely it is that the Holy Spirit will come and upset the apple cart. 

To live in a loving relationship with the Holy Spirit is to engage in a wild ride. You will be called and taken to places you have never been. You will have your heart broken open at unpredictable times, in order to be touched with tenderness and beauty you never knew existed. The word for spirit, is the same word for breath. When you love this adventurous God, you are liable to have your breath taken away at moments you least expect it. 

Each time I have attended General Synod, I have returned home wishing I could help others experience the sense of being lifted up from our own moorings, and being touched by the Spirit of God, that Genesis describes as hovering over the waters of Creation. An undeniable sense overwhelms me such that my overweight body moves weightlessly in prayer, and song, and poetry. I wish that I could share the power of the experience of being in that select company of saints, gathered in a geographic location, if only briefly. 

More importantly, I wish I could make every Sunday morning, an encounter with the divine, that would touch and enthuse each person present, and make you so disappointed when you have to miss a Sunday. Just to present you with a sense of the wonder that is creation, the gift of an amazing and present God. We describe God as the Trinity, because one expression would be too confining, too limiting, and would by necessity cause us to more grossly misunderstand the glory that is God. 

So while the church has historically used the expression of the Trinity to sort out people who do not believe “the right thing” about God, we blithely skip over the fact that the Trinity is at its very core, a handle we place on a divine mystery. We toss the name around to avoid admitting we are over awed at the concept. 

The concept is that God by definition is a relationship. In short, God is: The Father/Creator in relationship with the Christ/Savior in relationship with the Holy Wind of Inspiration and Wisdom. We are made in the image of that God, a whirlwind of virtue and commitment and community. What I treasure most at General Synod, and the best of worship services anywhere, is the sense, that we have been lifted off of terra firma for a moment, and drawn closer to the spirit of the living God. 

It is difficult to understand for those who cannot fathom “what came over those at General Synod,” and who carefully stay a safe distance from Association, and Conference meetings, and never dreamed of attending Synod. So many folks expect the larger church to be a longer and more dreary version of the Church Council Meeting from Hell. 

While there are moments like that, especially in committee, and occasionally on the floor during plenary sessions. But there will be more times when our hearts are touched, and the fire of our faith will find the gas flow turned up, and we feel the surge of power within our hearts. 

Today the Psalm tells us to sing a new song to the God of Creation. For me a new song is one with the distinctive markings of my own growing faith in God, questions proclaimed as boldly as the affirmations. 

In Acts, Peter who so often represents the original 12 apostles and the hesitates to see the faith in Jesus as being more than a personal memory, gets confronted by the presence of the Holy Spirit, in gentiles no less. The Spirit goes where it will, and inflames hearts beyond what any preacher can say or do. The Spirit selects whomever it chooses, by unfathomable criteria. 

And finally, the gospel of John records for us the voice of Jesus, telling us that we are chosen to share his love. The simple command is, “Love One Another.” 

Today we are not pointing fingers at others. Today we are not bickering over doctrine. Today we celebrate the awesome mystery of the divine. These three expressions of the almighty God, in music, and inspiration, and command, are all pointing us towards relationship. “It’s all about the relationship.”