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Monday, May 16, 2016

May 15, 2016

Gospel: John 14:8-17, 25-27 
1st Reading: Acts 2:1-21
2nd Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Over the past year or so I've had the chance to watch some of my favorite childhood films as we share them with our four year old, so I couldn't help but think of Mary Poppins when I thought of the winds of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel and the winds of change blowing the nannies in and out. In the scriptures for today, God is sending the Holy Spirit, and the wind of God's Spirit are really blowing. Jesus has ascended, but he has assured the disciples that they will still have God's power with them, the Holy Spirit. He's taught them all he knows. He's reassured them. He hands them the car keys and he ascends. And here they stand in the book of Acts, having yet another meeting about what to do next, uncertain and afraid. And that's when the sound of a violent wind comes rushing in.

For the Banks children, too, the winds of change are coming. They've run off all the other nannies. Their home is disconnected. Their city is divided. But they want to be loved and they want to be mischievous, creative children. Their kite lays limp on the pavement. Their parents are arguing. They feel all alone, until the wind starts blowing.

I'm not going to say that Mary Poppins is a Christ figure—not really, but here are some gifts she has that other nannies do not. She has the gift of imagination and creativity—she gets the children living in worlds of fantasy and delight. She gets Mr. Banks thinking in new ways about his job at the bank and about his family and what is possible. Secondly, Mary Poppins brings people together—different age groups, different social strata, different political beliefs. For example, she brings the children to have compassion on the poor woman who feeds the bird in the town square, she brings the children into the world of the chimney sweeps, and she brings the whole Banks family together to understand one another and help each other. Finally, Mary Poppins empowers people. She doesn't try to get everyone to rely on her. She teaches them to do for themselves and with one another. The children learn to clean their room. Mr. Banks learns to imagine and play with his children. So when the winds change and Mary Poppins has to go, the family is ready to be together in a new way. They may not even need a nanny from here on out.

Jesus, too, has the gift of creativity and imagination. He works to cultivate it in his disciples in the form of parables. He gets them thinking in new ways by his stories. He makes his lessons non-threatening, and people are able to digest them more easily, because they are stories. But they also reveal important truths about us and bring about self-awareness, so that we can decide whether that is the person I want to be or not. He gets his disciples thinking in new ways by giving them new experiences, taking them places they've never been before and training them to do what they never thought would be possible, healing and casting out evil spirits.

Jesus brings people together. He goes everywhere you don't expect him to be. Jesus shows up in graveyards, at the side of a divorced woman, at a preschool, waterskiing, cleaning fish, in the kitchen, lifting the corpse out of the coffin—only the person is alive again! Jesus is present with every kind of person. His disciples that are following him around are baffled. They are trying to go with him and learn from him, but they keep showing up where they don't belong. They feel awkward. They meet people they don't like. They meet people they don't know how to relate to. But Jesus tries to show them how to simply be kind and loving and learn from those they meet.

Finally, Jesus empowers people. He gives people the power to build relationships and cross borders and speak up for themselves and give up what they don't need that is standing in the way of new life for all. So when Jesus ascends to heaven, he doesn't leave them alone and abandoned, but prepared to do ministry, prepared to be a family together, powerful and connected.

So why are they all just standing there looking at one another, once he's gone? They're scared, of course. They are confused. Where to start? How to decide?

So now comes this rush of violent wind, all this noise and drama, all these flames landing on each one of them, and then all these Jews rush in from all different parts of the world, and for a moment, we don't really know how long, they all understand each other. Everything comes together. Everything makes sense. They all hear in their native language. Their hearts all know the same reality. Now it is time to become a church of action. 

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Holy Spirit scares some Lutherans. It was probably us that accused some people of being maybe a little drunk and we probably did that because we were scared. I don't know about you, but I like being in control. I like knowing what is going to happen, but the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. I've been in at least two situations where people were speaking in tongues, and all I could think about was this reading in Acts was about people being able to understand each other, about the Holy Spirit translating in our native language so that we get it, not make up some gibberish. The problem is, or maybe the exciting thing is, the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. I don't know how it might appear to me or to another person. We never know what form or power it might take. The Holy Spirit blows where it will. 

I'm getting more and more comfortable that the Holy Spirit empowers absolutely everyone, although it still throws me sometimes when a pantry client asks to pray for me, or when a homeless neighbor digging through my recycling says something that makes absolute sense, or when a disabled senior who is about to be evicted speaks of a sense of peace from God. I'm starting to look for that flame on people's heads, that sense of power, that sense being on fire for something important, that sense of urgency and action, that sense of compassion. Just when I quit looking is when it makes it's appearance. And I'm starting to look for it on my own head, when I get complacent. Now where did that Holy Spirit go? I know she's around here somewhere! Spirit of God, rush through this stagnant air and get the fire started in our hearts again! Get us moving! Get us seeing new things! Get us understanding each other again! Get us working on understanding our neighbors on whom your Spirit has also settled and empowered.

And maybe I can even get used to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit, that we never know what form the Holy Spirit might take, what bazaar, creative idea. She's there all the time prodding us, with questions and challenges, but we don't always listen to her until we're desperate. That was one of the points at my Continuing education on adaptive leadership last month. Every church follows a life cycle of hills and valleys, of attendance, of energy, of programs. Sometimes we're up, we're meeting our budget, we have visitors at church, we have active volunteers and new ideas. Sometimes we're down, short of money or people, low on energy and creativity. Sometimes when congregations are at a low point, it can be a time when they are more open to new ideas and experience tremendous creativity and openness to the Spirit out of desperation. The question is, are there enough resources to do anything about it at that time? Or can we listen to the Holy Spirit when we're nearer the top of the curve and then actually do something new and creative and visionary while we still have the capacity to do so? I think our council figures that we are on top of the curve, but we want to be sure not to be complacent there, to say we've got it made, lets just stay up here and do exactly what we're doing now. In order to stay healthy and active, we have to let ourselves listen to the Spirit, even in this place of health, so the Spirit can take us to even greater heights.

The Scriptures are speaking to some groups who are in a ditch, at an ending, on the low curve on the chart. For the Disciples, the fact that Jesus died on the cross was awful, but then he came back again after three days. So when he left them again and ascended into heaven that was a disaster. It was an ending they had been dreading. For Jane and Michael, they were dreading the exit of Mary Poppins. For the people in the book of Joel, the plague of locusts had eaten their crop. It was over. For some people, earthquakes and floods signify the last days, the end of the world. But those endings are not an ending to God. 

God's Spirit continues to give life and power to God's creatures. God's Spirit continues to work in surprising and creative ways to unite us together in relationship. When one thing ends, God's Spirit brings a new beginning, death and resurrection, the renewal of life, hope out of despair, healing for our wounds. The fact that the sun is covered in darkness and the crops have all been eaten in the book of Joel, is a chance for people to turn back to God and start again. The fact that Jesus has ascended is a chance for the Disciples to take those car keys he's thrown to them and take this puppy for a spin. It was a chance for them to experience the partnership and power of the Advocate, God's Spirit directly with them, helping them do the greater works than these that Jesus says they will do.

It might not always be so neat and tidy as the end of Mary Poppins. The winds of change are blowing, and Mary Poppins is making her exit. The children were distressed that she is leaving, but when she finally goes, they don't miss her. They don't even see her leave. The reason they don't notice is that they are going on an outing with both their parents. The Spirit of Mary Poppins is in the family—her creativity, her connections, her life. They finally understand each other. They have that sense of adoption, of being heirs. But we don't see what happens the next day and the next. There is a moment of happiness and unity in this family, but the winds of chaos will blow again, there will surely be other endings—the children will grow up bit by bit, the parents will endure changes and challenges of life, London will still have divisions between rich and poor, people will still be unhappy in their careers. We hope that Mary Poppins' Spirit has been enough to start them on a new track, a new way of handling their endings, a new birth, new life.

We know that Jesus' Spirit continues to blow and empower us through all the endings we face to find new beginnings, to keep us from tumbling headlong into a spirit of fear, to keep that vision of hope right in front of us. We're on this roller coster of life, sometimes in a ditch, sometimes on an upswing. Either way, God is giving us new life and is connected with us through the Spirit. So let us celebrate the Spirit among us. Let us claim that power she gives us, to something real in this world to make things better, to bring in the Kingdom of God.

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