The sermon for week May 19, 2013
Confirmation and PentecostI have an apple here. Why do I have an apple? What does an apple have to do with Pentecost and confirmation? Hmmm….
In the webinar Not Afraid of Darwin or Christ, Dr. Conor Cunningham said that theology was once considered to be the “Queen of the Sciences.” It kept the other sciences from getting reductionist and nihilistic. Reductionist is a way of thinking that means that things are just the sum of their parts. So a car, no matter how nice it is, is just an engine, a body, and some wheels. People are just a collection cells, which make organs, which make a person, nothing more. And nihilistic is a way of thinking that life is without meaning, purpose, or value. Life is meaningless, so do whatever you want.
This brings me back to the apple. I could say an apple is, “a fruit from an apple tree that is used to reproduce other apple trees.” That’s all there is to say about an apple, there’s no further meaning and no point to pursuing the conversation further. This is a reductionist and nihilistic approach.
Or I could take a biological approach we can see that the apple comes from a tree found in central Asia and now it’s cultivated around the world! It has various uses, such as to make cider, for baking, eating it fresh, and now we’re starting to get into the field of the culinary arts; cooking and baking. History tells us that apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples are high in vitamins and have been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Here are the fields of nutrition, chemistry, and human biology.
Where did this apple come from? Kate purchased it at Kroger, and it had to GET to Kroger to be purchased, so now we’re into commerce and logistics. And how far did it come? How much oil was spent to get it to Sylvania, Ohio? What pesticides were used to grow this apple? Now we’re into environmental stewardship. Was the worker who picked this apple paid a fair wage? Now we’re into justice and ethics.
Now if I were to take a bite out of this and hold it up, it might remind you of a certain logo that would be found on a particular sort of phone or computer or mobile digital music device… know what I’m talking about? APPLE! Steve Jobs! Now we’re into business, technology, and branding.
Did you know that the ancient Greeks saw the apple as a sign of romance? Yeah! The apple was thus considered, in ancient Greece, to be sacred to Aphrodite, and to throw an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one's love; and similarly, to catch it was to symbolically show one's acceptance of that love. So now we’re getting into mythology and romance. Next time you want to ask someone to a school dance, throw an apple at them.
And speaking of mythology, an apple is featured in the stories of Isaac Newton, William Tell, Snow White, and Johnny Appleseed. What role does an apple play in Christian mythology? It’s the forbidden fruit! It doesn’t say that in the bible, it just says “fruit” but thanks to many Renaissance painters we think it's an apple. Why is that? The apple was considered a symbol of wisdom, which is why many students give apples to their teacher.
What’s the point of all this? It is to say that an apple isn’t just an apple. It’s far more! It’s a rich symbol as well as a delicious snack. The apple shouldn’t be reduced. Look at how much we lose if we do that! And this apple holds great meaning.
This apple is red which is the color for Pentecost. Pentecost has great meaning for us in the church. It’s the birth of the church! It’s the first time the Disciples were without Jesus to lead them physically. And Peter! Peter of all people is the one who stands up, Simon named Peter by Jesus either because he was a blockhead or because he was the Rock Jesus would build the church on, Peter who always got it wrong, he’s the first to stand up and deliver the words from Joel.
They were in that upper room, and they were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). I think they were trying to figure out what Jesus meant to them. What the good news is exactly. Instead of coming out with a mission statement or a creed or a specific theory of the atonement, they just ran out and started talking! Their passion couldn’t be contained, and how they were speaking translated across cultural lines and tribal lines. Now my modern mind doesn’t really get the whole ‘speaking in tongues’ part. What I think this means is that no matter where you’ve been or where you’re from or what language you know, you understood what the disciples were staying.
The point is, when the Spirit of God breaks in, it opens up your worldview. It doesn’t narrow it. Our God is the MOST HIGH GOD! Think about your image of God and then multiply it times infinity, that’s God. A God that can’t be contained, that ignites our imaginations, stirs our passions, and throws us out into the world! Pentecost means that our God is a sending God, God sends Jesus, Jesus sends the Spirit, and the Spirit sends the church! The church which our confirmands have claimed as their own today.
Our God is so big and mysterious and crazy, we talk about God as being in the Trinity. The Holy Trinity known as the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The disciples, at this point knew about God the Father. Pretty easy concept. Then Jesus came, and they seemed to understand, after a long while, that Jesus was God or mystically united with God. Then on Pentecost, today, the Spirit came upon them. The combined effect of these three forces is enough to heal the sick raise the dead, and get Jews and Gentiles to speak to and understand one another. And even more shocking, the Spirit gets Jews and Gentiles to enter into community with one another! Walls are brought down, grace breaks through and old tribal barriers come tumbling down.
A better way to think about God as the Trinity is to maybe think of the Trinity as Grace, Spirit, and Effort. Grace is all about forgiveness and compassion for yourself and others. It gives life to the world. The Spirit is about energy. Everything is energy, nothing happens anywhere without energy, and you and I are a part of that and so is everything else. And effort… now that’s a tricky one.
Last week Sam read and preached on John 17:21, Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one… as the Father and I are one.” This prayer is an invitation. An invitation to become the mysterious “son” in the Trinity. Jesus tried to tell us this time and time again, but we found it easier to worship him than to accept our own responsibility and power. He called himself both the son of God and the Son of Man to get the point across. We are all called to be The Son, the Effort of God; soaked in grace and following the urgings of the Spirit.
Wow, that’s deep Pastor Luke… so what? SO WHAT?!
Here’s the deal. Our confirmands are on the doorstep of high school. Now is a time where they will adopt a lot of labels to help them figure out who they are and what identity they feel they have. Labels like musician, artist, athlete, skater, jock, geek, nerd, cool, popular, whatever. And they will form these labels in a variety of ways, music, television, movies, books, in social settings, by what school programs and activities they are a part of. But these labels aren’t you. You can’t be reduced.
You can’t be reduced because of the fact that you’re more than just chemicals and wires. You are more than a child of your parents, you’re a child of THE parent! Follower of the MOST HIGH GOD. You’re in the cosmic dance of the Trinity, a co-creator, grace-giver, disciple of Christ! Both student and teacher! Both young and wise! Both mind and heart! You are a divine gift to the world! But don’t get a big head about it, so is everyone else.
And the church is like the training place, a dojo; where we become more like Christ. It’s a life long journey, and everyone helps everyone else! We teach each other.
Jesus is God’s invitation to the cosmic dance that will both define you as well as ignite your imaginations and lead you into new understandings of the world. Theology was once considered to be the “Queen of the Sciences.” It kept the other sciences from getting too small and acting like there’s no meaning. Theology, as Alan Jones states, deals with the great unsolvable of life: time, death, suffering, identity and so on. Theology should keep us from getting reductionist and nihilistic. We have hope. We see the vastness of God’s creation. And we acknowledge the vastness of God. We acknowledge our part in bringing God’s vision to fruition. We know that the world, that WE, are more than the sum of our parts!
It is my prayer that in the act of confirmation, you truly take up the journey of following Christ and of becoming Christ. As Paul put it, “Putting on the mind of Christ.” May the Holy Spirit break into our lives, inspire us to become more Christ-like, and more compassionate of those around us despite whatever label we claim or they claim for us. May we all be one and on fire about that concept. Amen.