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Good morning everyone! I am Ivy. It’s a gorgeous day here in Milton, MA – I hope it is also wherever you are calling in from. For those of you who enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day – and honoring the “motherly” influences in your life and within you, I hope today holds lots of opportunities for you to do that. My sermon will not be a “mother’s day specific sermon” – but we will explore the Spirit of God – who I find to be quite motherly.
We are in a Sermon Series called, Listening to the Spirit of God with Freedom and Power. This series was inspired by a conversation we had as a staff (I believe in February) wondering what this Spring would look like, and what we might all need at this point?
We hoped, as it is, that this Spring would be a season of “promise. O vaccines, reuniting with people, of travel, society re-opening. And we also thought we might not be out of the woods yet… We also learned, thanks to the wisdom of many health professionals and trauma specialists, that these “cusp” seasons where “promise” comes into real view, are also the times where the tiredness, the grief, anxiety – the trauma of all this last year- also come into view. It’s often when we start to process, and feel the impact of all of what we’ve endured.
And so we realize that this spring, while “yes” a hopeful season, is also an intense season.
And we wondered, what did the first followers of Jesus need in seasons like this – after Jesus’ death and resurrection? When everything was different and threats were still real and it was hard to imagine a way forward? We found that what they needed was implanted – poured INTO THEM – the SPIRIT OF GOD – this accessible resource that grounded them and became the core of their faith and their beings.
This morning, I invite you to come face to face with the ground and core of your faith…
I invite you into a space of deep wisdom, and great knowing that goes beyond even the best things you’ve been taught about God – beyond the well crafted Bible Studies, prayer practices, and sermon “tips”(all amazing in their own right).
I invite you into the internal landscape of your soul, your heart, your mind, your body. Here it is, that we can access a wealth of “education”, knowing, and expertise – that goes beyond convention.
Where the raw materials of the spirit – the signs, and wonders, and miracles lay in waiting – wrapped in the DNA of God – and found in our own intuition and in our gut.
We’ll take a look at a couple of Jesus’s closest friends, Peter and John and see how the Spirit of God trains them for such love, in the midst of the complexities and realities of the world around them.
Let me pray for us first!
Oh Spirit of God – this morning could you be our great teacher? Could we listen to you as you draw us into deep love! A deep love of ourselves, each other, and GOD! Enliven us – remind us that your love that you have poured into us is a resource that steadies us with courage and strength for the days ahead.
MY STORY: As we enter the story in Acts, that we will read together in just a few minutes, Jesus has left John and Peter, and all of us, his Spirit. Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr says that as a result we have an
indwelling Spirit as a permanent, strengthening gift.
God has implanted in us a true “homing device” that we can depend upon (in any season). We have been given a source for a true inner knowledge, which becomes a calm inner authority by which we know spiritual things for ourselves.” AND we have that resource – accessible – within us, always.
And yet we have been, Rohr says,
“so afraid of this in most churches; most religious people have been told to look outside for such knowledge, instead of inside.”
Coupled with our society that is infused with a focus of accumulating knowledge, being “smart,” “articulate,” and “educated” as a way to gain status, maintain control, and establish hierarchy, this culture then permeates our spiritual contexts, our understanding of God (even though we regard love as boundless and God as mystical) and we still veer toward needing to be “experts of the subject of God.” The Spirit of God – mercifully and gently reminds us that we are not subjects to be studied or mastered, and neither is she.
Last week I had an interview with Oprah Daily – this new offering that Oprah is putting out in digital and print editions. One of the writers was trying to connect with Steve, (our Senior Pastor), around a sermon he preached last fall, “An Attempt at a Sex Positive Sermon.” They found he was on sabbatical – and so ended up with me.
We had a good chat about Christianity and Sex – and inparticular how church leaders have gone about this topic.
So much of this conversation centered the attempts of church leaders to convey their knowledge – and their “training/educating/teaching” on the ways of a good and holy sex ethic for followers of Jesus. And how most of these patriarchal voices rely on an external structure of testable – behavioral rules that will prove one’s holiness/purity. Versus surrendering their moral high ground and surrendering trust to the Spirit of God.
This allows them to be experts on the matter, and speak from the vantage point of God – often offering statements that start with, “this is from God. ” What follows this statement is often not of love, but a set of behavioral rules to follow:
“This is from God” – you should not have sex before marriage. “This is from God” – don’t look at yourself in the mirror too long, don’t masturbate, don’t trust your body, don’t be weak, don’t desire, don’t long for… This knowledge then takes the form of doctrine. As we’ve talked about many times before at Reservoir, this approach is not an educational program that leads folks into wholeness/integration of their full selves… but is one that is controllable, through separation.
It sets up hierarchies of holiness. “Insiders and outsiders” producing either arrogance (inside) or despair (outside).
It separates us from ourselves.
It separates us from our bodies.
It separates us from feeling.
It separates us from our own HUMANITY, which in turn separates us from the DIVINE within us – and then we lose our grounding with the spirit of God – our access to all training and education.
The book of Acts, written by Luke, begins with the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We then see Jesus’ closest friends and followers make their way without their Rabbi, teacher present – but with such a knowledge of the Indwelling Spirit that it creates the foundation of the “church” that will spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. And this “church” doesn’t depend upon an educated patriarchy and hierarchy to generate itself, (or measure itself), but depends on the Spirit of God which guides with freedom and power.
Let’s read this story in Acts together:
Acts 3: 1-6
1Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time.
2 Meanwhile, a man who couldn’t walk since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple.
3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift.
4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!”
5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have.”
So we’ll pause on the slides there – but the story goes on…
Peter then said,
“IN the name of Jesus get up and walk”
and the man does! He leaps, he jumps and praises God and then goes into the temple with them.
And Peter starts to preach to the people in the temple about Jesus.
The priests, the chief of the Temple police, and some Sadducees are not happy about this. They arrested them and put them in jail for the night.
The next day there’s a meeting with the rulers, religious leaders, religious scholars, the Chief Priest, and they ask Peter and John
“Who put you in charge here? You are not qualified! What power – authorized you to do this?”
And then we see this response -again picking up on slides:
Acts 3 8- 13
8 Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders,
9 are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him?
10 If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.
11 This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone!
12 Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”
13 The council was caught by surprise by the confidence with which Peter and John spoke.
After all, they understood that these apostles were uneducated and inexperienced. They also recognized that they had been followers of Jesus.
The longing of John and Peter, as they’ve understood Jesus’ teaching – is for connection and integration, as a way of continued learning.
They didn’t reject the Jewish religion.
They didn’t try to separate themselves from the Jewish community.
They still went to Temple and synagogues for worship and prayer.
They saw Jesus’ message and resurrection as the fulfillment of everything they knew and believed of the Old Testament.
And as they walk into the temple for 3 o’clock prayer they notice this man outside who can’t walk. And in that brief moment they listen to the Spirit of God, they listen to this man and they listen to their inner authority and trust that they know spiritual things for themselves – AND THEY THEN embody the very lessons – they hope to learn within the temple.
And here, the New Testament begins to be written. And what’s written, is that the law isn’t upheld by us…neglecting/separating, silencing and ignoring anyone who sits outside of the “formal temple.”
What’s written, is that we can fulfill and expand the law by, listening to, loving and healing anyone who sits anywhere,
Peter and John have accumulated this deep knowing by being with Jesus – walking with him, listening to him, watching him, questioning him, laughing with him, crying with him – and this has been written as “LOVE” in John and Peter. And the spirit of God in this passage is TEACHING them to harness that knowledge, that LIVED learning, and to not hesitate putting it into action.
As John, Peter, the spirit of God and this otherwise marginalized, silenced, neglected man interact we see the kindom of God come into being. Jumping out of the sacred texts that the religious elite have been studying and we see the kindom become real – in and through them.
Peter & John came to experience God in the Temple – and yet they experience God in the temple of a human being who can’t walk.
They came to meet God at 3’oclock prayer – and yet they find the timelessness of prayer in the touch of a beggar’s right hand.
They came to study scripture – and they find themselves learning the scriptures by “loving their neighbor.”
They came to the temple to draw the attention of God and improve their “goodness” – and yet they find the “goodness” of the Spirit of God already attending to them.
They came to strengthen their spirit for the unknown days ahead – and they find the same spirit strengthening weak ankle bones and feet.
They came to be TAUGHT, to be educated about God – and they find the endless lessons of God in the gaze of a man who longed to be seen.
To see, to be aware, to love – and to move with so much knowledge and confidence is what I hope the Scriptures, the verses that we continue writing in our day, are FULL of.
Because what John and Peter add to the scripture that we read – is that there is no “outside of the temple.” There is no “qualified” or “unqualified” or “expert trainer.” In fact these are all arbitrary labels that are assigned by patriarchy and hierarchy that is afraid of losing it’s footing inside the temple.
Yet with the spirit of God, everyone should be able to move in and out of the temple – sure-footed- just as this scripture shows us.
However, as we see in this scripture, those in power, that hold the reigns, the credentials, those that love to say, “THIS IS FROM GOD,” to exert control don’t love to embrace the vibe of the spirit of God. In fact these religious elite will silence John & Peter try to remove the name of God , the name of love from their tongues. But they can’t remove it from the core of their faith/their beings.
The spirit doesn’t operate in a linear way, she creates, empowers, flares, has no three part vision plan with pretty “slide decks” to sell us on her power. The spirit doesn’t care about proving herself to some outside “system.”
And she doesn’t care about making you prove yourself, either.
This man that couldn’t walk – didn’t have to show John and Peter what he had tried and failed at, OR his three step self-improvement plan. He just “looked up.” And as he did Peter and John came face to face with the ground and core of their faith – which is to say, “You are loved.” “You are loved.”
And it’s in this space of love – where we are and can be “saved.” Saved not “from” the world but saved INTO the world of God’s abundance, INTO the spirit of love, and INTO ever-evolving knowing of such love within ourselves.
MY STORY PART 2
As I was finishing up my time with the journalist last week, she asked me,
“So what’s your experience as a woman in your role right now?”
And I genuinely responded that it’s been pretty amazing! And that it’s also not lost on me that it’s not the majority experience as we look at Christianity as a whole to have non-white-male voices fully incorporated.
The way in for my voice here at Reservoir, was very natural. I walked into my first service many years ago and heard Val Snekvik preach (our guest preacher last week). And her voice was what brought me back for a second visit – and obviously many, many, more visits these 19 years later. Her presence and other women who have been pastors here – paved the way for me.
AND I also know that just having “representation” of a woman’s voice, or a Person Of Color’s voice, or a transgender voice – doesn’t mean we all immediately UNLEARN the toxic ways of white supremacy and patriarchy that we’ve been steeped/schooled in.
I have had folks come up to me after a service, within the last few years who have said:
“I have no idea what you just said, but I like your boots.” (eruption into great laughter.)
“Glad to have your voice, Ivy – but I sure hope we hire someone who actually has a degree in this stuff.”
I come to those comments with such mercy now.
Because I know they are not intentional, these folks were not consciously trying to tell me how unqualified they thought I was/am.
And I am working on not taking any heretical message of internalized misogyny as personal.
But it points to how much we have been inoculated by the system that values hierarchy, “formal” training, masculine dominated “teaching,” patriarchy, and whiteness as the gold standard of “knowing.”
It’s why it’s so compelling to see Peter and John naturally greet this man who can’t walk moving with the spirit of God that is now WITHIN them. Woven as part of their INTUITION, part of their DNA. Inviting us all to see that we can access the ABUNDANCE of LOVE that the Spirit has poured out on us all. So that at any point when society/systems/structures tell us we are unqualified, try to strip us of our worth and dignity, we can face the core of our faith inside ourselves, and be reminded that the only three words that can follow, a statement like, “This is from God,” are…
“YOU ARE LOVED,” “YOU ARE LOVED.”
May this be our 3’oclock prayer with God as we enter the temple – and our “any o’clock” prayer with the spirit of God everywhere.
I just finished spending the last couple of months with activist and public theologian Dr. Christena Cleveland, who offered an experience for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and White folks called, “Liberating your mind, body and spirit from White Supremacy.” And she says, that
“Whiteness is always doing push-ups in the basement of our hearts.”
Whiteness is always in training – trying to discredit us, hold us to external standards of perfection (which isn’t a real standard because perfection is a figment of the colonial imagination) and yet it strives to separate us from our true source of knowing.
We need to continue the powerful training of surrendering to the spirit of God.
Peter & John were “uneducated,” “common” they had no “formal training” in rhetoric or Jewish theology.They weren’t members of a privileged class that could afford higher education, or a religious class that would sit under a scholar. They were fishermen.
And Jesus, their Rabbi, didn’t have formal education either
“his credentials were/are through miracles, wonders, and signs.”
And yet they – along with this man who couldn’t walk outside of the temple – school us in theology. They teach us to revisit the ground and core of our faith, and not as a test, but as a great returning to ourselves – where we find strength – and great courage to answer these questions by a lived way of being:
What is the nature of God? Love
What is the core of your faith? Love
What is the foundation of 3 o’clock prayer? Love
What binds you to your neighbor? Love
What can disrupt and then rebuild? Love
What connects and heals? Love
What does the spirit deposit in you? Love
What force can right injustices and free the oppressed? Love
What are the miracles, signs and wonders of our day? Love
What does the Spirit of God say, “is from God’? Love
We would do well to revere, and honor this education implanted in us – lest we be left crippled by the weight of white supremacy and patriarchy.