Get Up, Stand Up.

SAM cartoon

But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 7:55-60

 

In the living room he waits.

 

A collective love surrounds him, emanating from family and friends. The memories flood everyone’s minds. That 6-year-old boy that idolized his older brothers. Overcame a life of hardship. He did all the right things. He stayed away from trouble when his brothers made friends with it.

 

Family conflict and personal crisis clouded his development. He dreamed of better days. A hope to get out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him. He wrestled with himself. The normal teenage questions of who and what am I twisted his capacity to its breaking point. He took it to the field. Out there between the hash marks, on that grass-gilded field, he discovered he was ok.

 

He followed the traditions. He offered his body as a living sacrifice to the gods. He did all that was asked of him. He was a good son. He was a good and faithful disciple. And he did all of this hiding a part of who he was.

 

This night all of the past hurt, the pain of hiding the truth, the hopes and dreams blew open the door and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay professional football player. This night he is selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Michael, exhausted and relieved, hugs his boyfriend and the world shudders.

 

Are you wondering why I bring Michael Sam in to a conversation about Stephen? Ask yourself, why did Stephen get killed? Stephen was a believer with exceptional endowment of divine power that did great wonders and offered signs to the people of God’s grace. He ministered to the Greeks. He was proclaiming a tough word for the establishment to hear. Religious leaders grew to dislike and even despise him because he challenged their power and showed the world there was another way to worship God.

 

Stephen was public about his challenge. It was who he was that challenged the status quo. He did not hide who he was. He accepted and proclaimed to all the message of inclusive faithful being that countered the way things had always been. Those that heard or saw him either loved him and accepted this new way forward or hated him and sought to silence his challenge of power. Stephen was killed because he offered an expansive witness of God’s love that shifted power away from the way it has always been. Because it is always dangerous to challenge power.

 

Now, what about Michael Sam? Michael Sam got drafted and as countless draftees before him, teared up and embraced a loved one and shared a kiss. Only Michael’s loved one was also a man. The reaction was swift. Some took Sam to task for “doing that” on national TV. More proclaimed the end of moral certainty in the US. Many let it roll on by without a care or worry. What began in the mid 70’s with David Kopay, reached a peak that night in May when Michael Sam was drafted. He became the first openly Gay NLF player.

 

A preacher in Georgia has responded. He is organizing a boycott of Visa, who has sponsored Michael Sam, and a boycott of The Saint Louis Rams, who drafted Sam. He is catching steam under a theological proclamation that God abhors homosexuality. That the drafting of Sam has ushered in a new era of shame and moral decay. This pastor and his followers are warning America that the “Gay Agenda” is moving to secure rights for the LGBTQ community.

 

There is one thing I agree with this pastor on, and that is that the Gay Agenda is indeed seeking rights for the LGBTQ community. The Gay Agenda is seeking to affirm and secure the full humanity of God’s created order. As this plays out, yesterday we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of Same-Sex marriage in Massachusetts.

 

In the years since Massachusetts acknowledge the sanctity of love within Same-Sex partnerships an additional 17 States and the District of Columbia have followed suit. This represents 121 Million people or 38% of the total US population. With another 7 States, including Oklahoma, that are awaiting a higher court verdict to legalize Same-Sex marriage. When these 7 additional States legalize Same-Sex marriage an additional 55.9 Million people will be allowed to fully participate in the Rights we enjoy here today. This would mean that 56% of the US population would live in a State that exercised full equality for its citizenry. This is indeed a watershed moment. Times are changing. This is just in the last 10 years.

 

Where are we as the church? We are declining. We have lost the moral edge. Who knows what really did it? I imagine it was a menagerie of things that has led us to this place. No one event or one theological idea has delivered us to the edges of society. The end result is a church that is isolated from its children and a church that has no idea how to minister where her children are. This is not a Trinity thing, nor a rich church/poor church thing, a black church/white church thing. This is a how we have become lukewarm church holding on to yesterday thing.

 

Michael Sam is our Stephen. Michael Sam is pointing us in a direction; he represents a people, and is showing us how to proceed. Michael is showing us how to connect with our children. Stephen did the same and it got him killed. I hope that we do not stone Michael Sam but that we receive his presence and awaken the Gospel that Jesus the Christ is beckoning us to follow.

 

In the churches zeal to maintain tradition, morality, power, and faithfulness we have forgotten the most important commandment of all…To Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and to Keep God Above and Before All.

 

I am not suggesting that anyone of you betray your conscience and jump out in to the world as Open and Affirming of the LGBTQ community. I am suggesting that we need to do something when HIV/Aids is a scourge in the Black Community. I am suggesting that we could be preaching the Gospel and offering a space in the church for LGBTQ Christians seeking to run the good race of faith. I am suggesting that we embrace the compelling call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a light in this State for those that are not what some refer to as “traditional.” I am suggesting that we let go of morality and righteousness and hold on to the nearness of Christ and be community first. Can we trust that God will sort out the righteousness and we can focus on welcoming and loving our neighbors?

 

Stephen beckons to his time that the work that Jesus has performed is opening up the Temple to those that dare never step foot in to it before. He challenges the power of the status quo by daring to proclaim that God loves all and that the Messiah, Jesus, has cleared the way to expand the faith of all. Michael Sam is doing the same here for us.

 

He leads us towards greater love and faithfulness. He is beckoning us to follow a path that challenges the way things have been. He is showing us a way to expand our love and how to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Here is an opportunity for us to embrace as others are damming, judging, and proclaiming tat repentance is needed. We have a chance to step outside of the safety of our walls of tradition and drop the rocks of faith we hold, dust off the stranger, take them to our home for dinner, and listen to their story, as we pray, “Lord do not hold our sin against us.”

 

Lonesome Road

sarlacc

One day, we were going to pray, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and made her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and his entourage and would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She kept doing this for many days.  Paul grew tired of this and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus the Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

When her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the magistrates and said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.  They were given a severe flogging, thrown into prison in the innermost cell, and their feet were bound.

Around midnight there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  The jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open; he drew his sword and was about to kill himself.

Paul shouted, “Do not harm yourself, we’re all here.”  The jailer called for lights, and rushed in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  He said to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.  He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Acts 16:16-34

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s you cut your teeth on escapism and the commercially approved innocence.  There were clearly defined boundaries.  Good and evil had distinct characteristics.  Right and wrong were universally known.  The world seemed so big.  The exotic was hard to find.

Every once in a while this innocence would be shaken by tragedy.  The Night Stalker.  The Atlanta Highway Murders.  The Iranian Hostage Crisis.  The 72 Olympics.  The Challenger disaster.  Chernobyl.  The AIDS pandemic.

My youth seems to be defined by natural disaster and human calamity.  Mount St. Helens that dusted our house with ash.  Wild fires that blanketed the hills around my high school life.  Floods that ravaged those same hills and took Adam from us all.  Disease, ignorance, and hate that took Stevie, Olen, Napoléon, and countless other teens that never saw their 20’s.  Then there were the earthquakes.

These were days of extremes for the US.  Chicken one day, the feathers the next.  For as much abundance we experienced, scarcity fueled the underlining desire to produce, consume, and prosper.  Children born in these times are part of the Generation X, the forgotten or smashed generation.  We seek creativity, justice, equality, and stability.  All of these things are a reaction to and from the environment in which we were raised.

But nothing seems to have had as much an effect upon me as earthquakes.  We had numerous earthquakes growing up.  We mocked these rolling and rattling pockets of God with its own disaster film.  Earthquakes were a nefarious villain that sought to destroy the progress that we as humanity sought to assert upon the will of this out of control, ignorant nature.  The towers reaching for heaven.  The civilized snakes that lead to and from our homes were severed by millions of years of releasing pressure.  You were taught to fear earthquakes, least you be foiled by one.

By the time I experienced my first earthquake I was terrified that one day the earth would open its mouth and like the majestic Sarlacc pit monster of Star Wars fame, I would be swallowed up and be digested for a thousand years.  Irrational fear propped up these ideas of earthquakes.

Then in 5th grade I experienced my first earthquake.  I was spending the night at Jason Rudder’s house.  I had never spent the night at someone else’s house before.  Jason had two rabbits, a Laser Disk player, a Nintendo gaming console, Excite Bike, the latest LLCoolJ cassette, and his mom let us eat an entire pizza by ourselves.  I was living large.

We spit lyrics back and forth as we played video games most of the night.  I was loving being there, it was very different than my house.  We finally started to fall asleep when the floor began to shake.  The walls rattled.  The furniture in the house moved.  It sounded like a freight train was passing through the living room.  I froze, looking for the Sarlacc to appear.

Jason ran and hid under the dinning room table.  I followed him.  We sat there under the table for what seemed like an hour.  The shaking stopped.  Jason’s mom turned on the lights and among a chorus of car alarms she inquired as to how we were.  I was fine on the outside.  Inside I was a tumbling mess.  She called my mom and she came and picked me up.  I did not sleep that night.

I am not so afraid of earthquakes now.  I have experienced so many that I am numb to them.  I am not sure this is a good thing.

What is left to set me free?  What will shake my foundation?

The problem with Paul is that it always took earthquakes and Damascus road experiences to move him.  Life is not always full of epic moments that transform, reboot, or renew the hardship, suffering, and calamity of the human existence.

“What must I do to be saved?”

This is not a question of salvation, eternity, or moral being as much as this is a question of community, belonging, and inclusion.

Everybody needs something to be connected with.  Beyond a hobby.  Beyond family.  Beyond impermanence.  We all want to be part of something that is beyond our self.  Something the binds us to the mysteries and magisterium that surrounds us.  It is this desire that is at the root of the Christian faith.

“What must I do to be saved?” really is saying, “How can I be as you are.”  With the “be” recognizing the mystery of Jesus.  I believe.  Help me with my unbelief…

This is beyond escapism and commercially approved innocence.  There is no need for clearly defined boundaries.  Good and evil no longer have distinct characteristics.  The world seems so small.  The exotic is easy to find.  Gone is the calamity of the human experience.  Fire, flood, and quake no longer exist.  All that remains is the pure unadulterated relationship with the Divine.

Wave Of Mutulation

IMG_1465

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17

I used to be a part of a charismatic church that was addicted to the Holy Spirit. It was commonplace during worship and other gatherings for speaking of tongues and passionate pleas called out to God in personal prayer languages. The first time I went to church as an adult was to a Christmas Eve service. About half way in to the service a woman right behind me started to speak, loudly in tongues. It freaked me out and I slinked towards the floor, trying to hide from her.

She continued on in this manner for sometime. Repeated rambles. Then a man stood up across the hall and interpreted to all what she was saying. I seemed to be the only one present that was unnerved by all of this. This was just another day in the life of this charismatic church.

I hungered to be a part of this community. I loved them deeply. I wanted to speak in tongues, for this was the ultimate symbol of belonging. The one true sign that you were indeed saved.

I tried to learn by observation. I attended every prayer meeting and worship service I could but I did not learn to speak in tongues. I joined the softball team and one afternoon at a party following a game I asked for help.

One of the older guys at the church I hung out with agreed to teach me. He gathered everyone’s attention and turns to me and says, “I am going to teach you how to speak in tongues.” So he grabs my hands and starts praying out loud. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” He starts to say this pray faster and faster. Now he seems to be hyperventilating. He says, “You pray now Ryan.” So I start to do the prayer. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Deep inside I knew I was faking it. I felt rediculous. Then a few other peope started to do it. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Now people are excited. People are cheering us on. The original guy hugs me and says, “The Spirit has anointed you.” I left there feeling weird and anointed. I just faked the Spirit.

What does it mean to have the Spirit be upon you? What does this look like?

For that faith community I was a part of so many years ago speaking in tongues was THE marker of the Spirit resting upon you. If the Spirit was with you, then salvation, eternal life, and the favor of God was with you. You were chosen.

Today, it is not so important to me that I speak in tongues or that the favor of the Lord rests upon me. I am more concerned with clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. But the Spirit is still very important to me.

I often struggle with God, the father. I am not fan of his totalitarian authority and role as judge and jury. I delight in the swaddled infant Christ Jesus and the wandering sage like hippie Jesus. Most of all I adore the mysterious, present Holy Spirit.

You never quite know what you’re going to get with that sweet, mysterious Spirit. She dances wildly in our hearts and minds. She brings us to great heights and sustains us in the midst of great tragedy. She blesses, confesses, and obsesses over the material well being of our lives as she silently cradles our soul in her loving arms.

The Spirit is the water in our life. She fits all circumstances and vessels she finds herself in. The Spirit is powerful and relentless, able to break mountains and give life to deserts. The Spirit is profoundly transformative.

The Holy Spirit of God is much like love. You are hard pressed to define it. It may be difficult to find. But you know when you are in it and you can plainly see it in others. The Spirit is not magic but is magical. The Spirit is powerful as much as it is weak. The Spirit is visible and invisible. The Spirit is a generous lover: kind, compassionate, peaceful, excited, eager, and truthful. She is everything we aspire to be.

How do we know when the Spirit is upon us? Just like love, we know when we know. Our lives take dramatic turns engulfed in the passionate embrace of the Holy Spirit or a long slow meander, lovingly holding hands with the Spirit. You are never the same when the Spirit is upon you. The Spirit infiltrates our life, to leave us better able to see the divine in our ways and in the ways of others.

The greatest beauty of the Spirit is in the diversity, complexity, and expanse to which the Spirit is and is not. The Spirit is more than the glue that holds the godhead together. The Spirit is more than a reflection or remnant of Jesus or an afterthought of God, the Father. The Spirit is the playful, charming, creating Divine presence that takes pleasure in silently guiding us to places unknown within. Those places that we have not visited since we walked in the garden with God.

What does it mean to have the Spirit be upon you? What does this look like?

We will awaken to what it looks like to have the Spirit upon us as this year unfolds, trusting and knowing that God wants the best of us, even when we can’t dream that best ourselves.

There is no shortage of answers these questions. Speaking in tongues is one answer. It is not necessarily the answer for us here. What ever it looks like to have the Spirit upon you, upon us…we will do it together. Rest assured that this community of faith is a mixed bag of spiritual journeys and walks of faith and we are right where God wants us to be.

Till The Next Goodbye

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:1-21

I love Pentecost! I was so excited last night I could hardly sleep. No joke. I felt like I was going to Disneyland or headed out for an exotic vacation. I lay in bed dreaming of all the things the Spirit of God could do in our lives. I prayed that the morning would hurry up and get here so I could drive on over here and be with you all on this day and celebrate our graduation.

You see. I am not your average Presbyterian. I am cut from an evangelical, charismatic cloth. If I had to choose a favorite part of the trinity, I am always going to pick the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what I believe inhabits my heart and hands, moving me to act on Gods behalf.

You see I am an addict. I am addicted to the Holy Spirit. I love her wild and untamed ways. She is my courage, my hope, and my joy.

I love the Holy Spirit so much I have this gigantic hole in my soul just waiting to be filled by her presence. This Spirit shaped hole has lead me to be baptized three times.

You see I used to believe that one could lose their baptism or anointing as we called it. I got baptized as an infant, just eight months old. As an evangelical, charismatic that baptism did not count, as I was a child. I went to a sunrise service at the beach one Easter and got caught up in the moment and wadded out in to the waters and got dunked.

I wandered away from the church after that and then retuned a few years later and felt I needed to be baptized again. I went to a backyard BBQ at the pastor’s house of the church I was going to. There was a pool there and I talked the pastor in to baptizing me and a few others that wanted to get baptized.

I wandered away from the church again. This time I returned to a mega-church. I wanted to get baptized again. This time I was sure it would stick. I went to a few classes at the church. In the course of this process we all had to meet with the pastor. He was an old, gray man that had a stillness to him. He listened well and made you feel important as you shared your story. I told him of my faith story and how I was baptized before, a few times. He listened intently and nodded at the appropriate times.

Then I paused, smiled, and rested my case. He smiled back. It got quiet, that uncomfortable kind of quiet. I wondered what I had said that was wrong. After that eternal pause he said, “Son, you do not need to be baptized again. You need to get serious.”

I did not get baptized again. I moved on from that church but that pastor’s words have stuck with me. His words shaped in me a hunger for that “serious” he spoke of.

I graduated that day. It was a memorable moment in my faith and one that influences my faith today. It is one of the reasons I love Pentecost so much.

Pentecost is our graduation. With divided tongues of fire resting upon the heads of all gathered there in the upper room and with languages being spoken with natural ease the struggling followers of Jesus the Christ graduated to become “the Church.” Crowds gathered there around this spectacle. Bewildered, amazed, and astonished they stood there wondering what was going on.

I imagine those that graduated that day in to “the church” shared a lot of the same kinds of emotions and thoughts as our graduates here share today. We are surrounded by uncertainty, fear, and the constant desire to be sure. I am not sure how much has changed over the last few years in the worry department. I am sure that the hope that we set out with on this journey has been challenged and changed in to something we could not have imagined.

I am certain that the reality that we hold here today would not have been possible without the momentary realities and grace-filled consequences that we have endured as individuals and as a community. We are a product of the Holy Spirit fueled, Jesus Christ loved, Beloved Creator covered action as we fought to make sense of the world around us.

As we are set to graduate, I pray we remember that the days prior to this are not simply memories. They are lessons and moments that will carry us through the journeys to come. Our time together has forged the relationships of new communities and planted seeds for new relationships that will grow new communities. Today’s graduation is more than an event. It is the proud proclamation of our calling to be Prophetic, Passionate, and to Dream.

We have been amazed and perplexed by the Holy Spirit. We have seen wondrous things. We sit here today trusting that when we were fashioned in our mother’s womb the time needed to fulfill that which we are called to is also provided. We trust that the call to be prophetic comes with the courage to be prophetic. The call to be passionate comes with the faith to be passionate. The call to dream comes with the hope to dream.

This city is in need of prophetic voices. Prophetic voices that call us to more than ethical and moral action. We need prophetic voices that demand progress but not at the sake of our humanity. We need prophetic voices that point to and honor the humanity of all of God’s creation. We need prophetic voices that preserve the full humanity of ALL. We need prophetic voices that preach the Gospel, without using words.

This nation is in need of passionate voices. Passionate voices that demand relationship over production and consumption. We need passionate voices that call attention to the injustice preventing others from equality, even at the cost of their own freedom. We need passionate voices that inspire, recharge, and renew the tired and relenting hearts of liberty. We need passionate voices that practice non-violence in the face of this nations violent ways. We need passionate voices that love their neighbors as they love themselves.

This world is in need of dreaming voices. Dreaming voices that can see the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. We need dreaming voices that bridge the coming kingdom to our NOW. We need dreaming voices that dare challenge the reality that invades our minds, our hearts, our wills with fear, intolerance, and hate. We need dreaming voices that reframe the fear, intolerance, and hate with faith, affirmation, and love. We need dreaming voices that stand in the face of hopelessness and show us a way to The Promised Land. We need dreaming voices that speak the dreams of their mothers and fathers as they work to realize the dreams of many. We need dreaming voices that paint a divine beauty upon the ugly truth of this world.

We are called to be prophetic, passionate, and to dream. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel. It is our calling, no matter our vocation, our condition, or our confidence. We all are called to minister in this manner. Better yet, we have permission to be prophetic, passionate, and to dream!

I was at a conference this last week. It was a gathering of 64 people, men women, and children. We gathered there to ask difficult questions of our faith and to try to arrive at new ways of being church. We have done this for three years now. We have no budget. Everyone pays their own way. Those with much help out those with little. It is a little piece of the Kingdom of God.

We talked a lot about bivocational ministry there. We lamented that many of our colleagues are forced to take “real” jobs in order to serve as minister in a growing number of churches. We lamented that bivocational ministry is almost seen as a punishment from some folks in the church.

There was plenty of lament going on. The hope that the conversation began with seemingly disappeared. Than someone spoke up and said, “Our congregations have always been bivocational.” The wind left the conversation and truth set in.

Every week full time, part time, tent making, and itinerate pastors everywhere serve congregations full of bivocational ministers.

I am looking at a room full of bivocational ministers right now. You all work a full week and come here to work some more. Bivocational ministry is not a punishment; it is the reality to which the pews have known for many years. By our baptism we are ordained to bivocational ministry. By our baptism we are called to be prophetic, passionate, and to dream. This is two baptisms, one by water and the other by fire.

Here we are. Ready to celebrate the baptism by fire. Every year we get to honor this tradition of being called to ministry. This is the day in which we all have been baptized and called to ministry. This is the day that we are amazed and perplexed by the Holy Spirit. This is the day we are given permission to be prophetic, passionate, and to dream.

This city is in need of prophetic voices.

This nation is in need of passionate voices.

This world is in need of dreaming voices.

“God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Gods Will Be Gods

“Paul then stood up before the council of the Areopagus and delivered this address: “Citizens of Athens, I note that in every

respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines I even discovered an altar inscribed, ʻTo an Unknown God.ʼ Now, what you are worshipping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.”

“For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesnʼt live in sanctuaries

made by human hands, and isnʼt served by humans, as if in need of anything. No! God is the One who gives everyone life, breath – everything. From one person God created all of humankind to inhabit the entire earth, and set the time for each nation to exist and the exact place where each nation should dwell. God did this so that human beings would seek, reach out for, and perhaps find the One who is not really far from any of us – the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, ʻWe too are Godʼs children.ʼ”

“If we are in fact children of God, then itʼs inexcusable to think that the Divine Nature is like an image of gold, silver or stone

– an image formed by the art and thought of mortals. God, who overlooked such ignorance in the past, now commands all people everywhere to reform their lives. For a day has been set when the whole world will be judged with justice. And this judge, who is a human being, has already been appointed. God has given proof of all of this by raising this judge from the dead.”

Acts 17:22-31

I was in a very different place the last time I preached this text. It has been about twelve years since I picked this text up and lived with it. Twelve years ago I was an evangelical, fundamentalist preacher saving the lost on a sun laden boardwalk in Venice Beach. With my Bible in one hand and courageous conviction in the other I sought to corral folks in to apologetic arguments in which I could (by the power of the Holy Spirit) compel them of their wicked ways and therefore save their mortal soul from eternal damnation.

It was rather simple. I was blessed to have a divine knowledge that others could have access to yet actively decided against. It was my duty to win them for the Lord. I would use this passage to argue against the “Idols” they worshipped by being there on that sunny, sandy beach filled with people having lunch and listening to music. I burned with frustration at these people and their shunning of the Gospel. Did they not know that death was really “real” and so was the possible eternal damnation that waited them?

I would use the altar of Agnostos Theos to frame an argument that they were Christians waiting to be realized. That the hole they were filling with beach, sun, fun and roller blades; could in fact only be filled with Jesus Christ. That they, in fact, needed Jesus to make sense of all of this crazy business that surrounded them. The GOOD NEWS is that it is still was not too late to recognize the sin in their life and turn from it and beg mercy of God. They could recognize that the UNKOWN gods they worshiped in darkness were just waiting to be removed by the light that Jesus has to offer and that I could lead them to that light.

Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and anyone else that was not quite Christian [enough] were just waiting to wake up to the knowledge I already held. I was one of the righteous and certain to inherit heaven and all of the goodies that comes with it. I judged from a place of moral and ethical purity, one that most certainly did not include anything outside of a strict and “Biblical” sexual ethic. If you did not live in the manner I did or practice a faith that I could engage as my own you were worshipping that Unknown God. You were embracing a faith that was veiled with hellacious trappings and were doomed to be judged eternally for it. “Now, what you are worshipping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.”

Here we are twelve years later. Iʼve just returned from a national conference focused on LGBTQ rights and the national movement we, here at, are a part of. I no longer preach on a sandy, sunny beachy boardwalk. I am part of a group of Disciple ministers that traces itself to pioneers of faith in America. I am blessed to be accountable to you the fine people of Douglass Blvd. Christian Church. I revisit this text from Acts with these new eyes and this renewed heart.

Gone is the certainty of my righteousness. Gone is the notion of “sleeping” Christians just waiting to be awakened. Gone

is the need to point to the divine portions of others that are different than mine as Agnostos Theos.

I read this passage now and something different keeps coming back to me. “For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesnʼt live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isnʼt served by humans, as if in need of anything.”

Iʼll read it again, “…God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesnʼt live in sanctuaries made by human hands.” I spent my life trying to move in from the weather, from the sun and sand. I thought it a better way to be inside a sanctuary with beautiful architecture that imitated the beauty of Godʼs creation.

I realized that the zeal of the Old Ryan was not born from my passion for loving God as much as my zeal to serve God was rooted in fear and jealousy. I looked at those on the beach worshiping the sun and enjoying community as less than because

I wanted to be out there with them. I wanted to be in that crowd listening to music and enjoying the sun-baked sands. I took the God out of creation and placed that awe-inspiring creativity and glory in the safe confines of the brick and mortar church. There is Gods majesty inside that building and I must get everyone in to that building so that they can revel in Gods glory.

I would go to concerts and ball games and get upset at all of the cheering fans rooting on their favorite team or with no shame or embarrassment sing along with their favorite musicians. I would search my mind on how to get these “unchurched” people to church on Sunday to experience the glory filled creativity that God displayed in that “House.”

God the maker of heaven and earth, the fashioner of faith, the architect of hope, the known and unknown holder of existence…that God does not live in sanctuaries formed by human hands. Then where does God reside?

God resides in the hearts of those that hurt, those that have lost hope or those that struggle to find the words to cry out. God resides in the works of those that feed the hungry, cloth the naked and love kindness. God lives in the actions of mercy and grace of that anonymous gesture of good will…that collection taken up to pay someoneʼs rent.

God does not live here in this place. Look around at these walls. Godʼs presence here with us. This very architecture proclaims Gods might and we honor God with this space. But God does not live here. When we depart from this place today God is not going to sigh in relief that the visitors have gone. Then throw on some more comfy clothes and microwave some popcorn and turn on Netflix to catch up on Arrested Development.

When we depart from here. God comes with us. When we go so does God. “…God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesnʼt live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isnʼt served by humans, as if in need of anything.”

God does not live here in this house, the church is not this place. The church is that place where God resides and if we proclaim to follow and love Jesus, as we seek to be Disciples of the Christ then we believe that God resides in our heart. Therefore, we are that place to which God resides and then we must be the church!

The church is our community serving God in abundance and without abandon. The church is the kindness, mercy and compassion we offer to those in suffering and those being persecuted by power. God resides in the Gospel we are to those that need a good word.

We cannot be a church without a mission, without a purpose. If we do not serve others we canʼt be a church. A church exists not for itself but for others. Just as Jesus does not exist for the sake of the Christ but for the sake of creation Jesusʼ purpose rests in our need for grace, salvation and reconciliation.

Last week I also was part of a gathering called UNCO in New York. It was a gathering of around 80 people trying to get insight, renewal, hope or something like that. There were lay leaders and ordained leaders. There were all kinds of denominations represented. It was sort of hippie and sort of Bukowski.

Meredith and I were part of the leadership and we were charged with holding up the frame so that others could put in the fittings and finish the space. I was personally charged with being a holy listener. I intentionally listened to people stories, hopes and dreams.

I heard stories that had frustration. The church no longer had money to pay a salary. The church was going to close down. The congregation was tired from trying to hold it together. There was fighting between the elders. What could they do?

I heard stories that had hope. The church just opened a feeding program to the local homeless population. The church is now ministering to the growing aging community via a senior activity group. The church has transformed in to a community center.

I heard stories that dreamed dreams. I want to be a part of a church that has more mission budget than operational budget. I want to be part of a church where my faith is formed in relationship. I want to stay here and be a part of the church.

Every story was filled with fear of something. Every story expressed the hope that they might be a part of something more. Every story delivered an expectation that God is still here and that God was moving in the church in dynamic ways.

I listened for 3 days and on the final day we had a worship service like this one. We had songs, prayers, invocations, a sermon and we celebrated at the Table. Two Methodist ministers [husband and wife] presided at the Table. Christy, one of the ministers, held the couples youngest child, Sam in her arms. Sam is not quite a year old. Josh offered a welcome and prayed over the meal. As he did all of the children gathered there began to circle the Table. Swarming around mom and dad. Josh and Christy delivered worked to bless this meal with the sounds of children muffling portions of it.

I began to smile and wonder what was going on. The other children came up and longingly stared at the Table. Anticipating the bread and cup to come. They knew what this meant. There was something big awaiting us.

Josh finished his part and Christy began the Great Thanksgiving. Then little Elli asked her mom what she was doing and she replied, “saying grace.” As Christy continued little Ben was in front of the Table whispering the Holy Words that Jesus uttered on the night he was betrayed. He whispered as if these words were to precious to be heard by just anyone. With tears in our eyes we offered up thanks for this meal set before us…we approached the Table with a reverence and awe.

I am not sure when I realized that I had just witnessed the church as I had always hoped. Here is that intersection of frustration, hopes and dreams. I get another chance from the God that always gives second chances. Here is God not giving up on me. Here is God reminding me of the beauty available in being who I am called to be. “…God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesnʼt live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isnʼt served by humans, as if in need of anything.”

Right there, in an oversized t-shirt with a cross and Jesus scribbled in marker on it was a reminder that the church is not the institutions we are part of. The church is not the pensions, the assemblies, the hymnals, the lock-ins, the Sunday schools, or the Sunday celebrations. The church is us. The church is people that desperately need hope. The church is people like you and I that wrestle with faith and do our best to live out what it is that we feel God is moving us to. The church is a people that relish in the thought of God taking delight in our delight of the Kingdom drawn near.