During the Eucharist
Omar Bajwa, Coordinator of Muslim Life, will be presenting
Reflections on The Five Pillars of Islam
Following our service, Imam Bajwa will lead a dinner conversation on “Contemporary Issues in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities for Collaboration.”
THE HIGH HOLY DAYS BEGIN AT SUNDOWN: COME TO ROSH HASHANAH:
After dinner, a group of us will then walk over to the Slifka Center at 80 Wall Street for the first High Holy Days Service, Rosh Hashanah from 7:30 – 9:00 PM. Senior Rabbi Leah Cohen will officiate at this beautiful service, which includes a choral group and a cellist, and which will be followed by an “Apples and Honey Kiddush.” This event is FREE FOR STUDENTS BUT YOU MUST MAKE RESERVATIONS!
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: CHAPEL ON THE GREEN ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, Noon to 4PM
On Sunday, September 20, ECY will help prepare a meal and celebrate the Eucharist at Chapel on the Green, a service for unhoused individuals and families hosted by Trinity on the Green Episcopal Church. We gather at noon in the Dwight Hall kitchen to make sandwiches and other lunch items, then walk around the block to host the service, distribute lunch, and enjoy conversation.
Our regular service at Dwight Chapel then convenes at 5PM, followed by the usual delicious dinner.
COMING UP THIS WEEK AT ECY
Wednesday, 9PM – Dwight Chapel – Contemplative Prayer & Taize Service (with Luther House and the University Church in Yale)
Friday, 5PM – Dwight Chapel Library – Bible Study: Food for the Body, Food for the Soul: Continuing the Study of the Letter of James
MUSIC AT THIS WEEK’S SERVICE
J.S. Bach, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 662
J.S. Bach, In dir ist Freude, BWV 615
Charles Wood, O Thou the Central Orb
And remember, your Chaplains are always available if you’d like to chat.
Our street address is:
305 Crown St
New Haven, CT 06510
Our mailing address is:
PO Box 201955
New Haven, CT 06520-1955
Some time ago, Cherise and I drove to Boston for a friend’s ordination. We were running late, and as we scurried toward the Cathedral with just minutes to spare, a woman stepped into our path – disheveled, filthy, with a desperate look in her eye. Without a conscious thought, I became an urban veteran, averted my eyes, and headed straight for those large Cathedral doors.
Cherise, of course, stopped to chat with the woman, so by the time we sat down, they were about to read the gospel. Catching my breath, I heard the same words Liz read moments ago, “Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre…” Listening to Jesus’ encounter with this Syrophoenician stranger – this three time loser – a woman, a Gentile, with a family member possessed by a demon – I found myself looking around the grand cathedral, full of well dressed, well fed people, gathering to hear God’s word, and to celebrate all of God’s blessings.
And I thought of that woman outside, and dozens like her we had passed that morning, surviving on the kindness of those few strangers who chose to notice them.
The gulf between those two worlds was painful and palpable, and I flinched as I heard Jesus’ cutting, dismissive words to the same kind of outcast, “Let the children of Israel be fed first, for it’s not fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”
Here’s Jesus at his most human, meaning I suppose, most like us – exhausted, stressed, distracted, a prisoner of his own cultural and spiritual upbringing, oblivious to his own privilege. Many biblical scholars believe that Jesus only discovered his identity as Messiah gradually, through continuous experience and learning. If that’s the case, he’d just met his master teacher.
Because this nameless woman decides to tell God’s son it’s not good enough for him to talk the talk about loving your neighbor; he’s got to walk the walk. “Sir,” she responds, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In other words, all of God’s creatures, even those reduced to the most destitute states by the fear and hatred of others, deserve God’s, and our love.
And the scales fall off Jesus eyes, and his ears become unplugged. It’s as if she, rather than he, utters the famous word, “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!”
And my mind immediately went back to when I fell in love for the first time, and then became engaged, all at the tender age of 19, and how this experience opened me to a whole world I had no idea existed. The scales fell off my eyes, and my ears became unplugged. You see, my beloved fiancée, Michelle, was black. And while the two of us worked incredibly hard to navigate each others’ worlds, in the end, the forces of opposition were so powerful that our relationship could simply not bear it. As for me, my life was changed forever.
This has been an extraordinary year of growing awareness of racism in our country. From the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the riots that followed, to the public exposure of so many controversial police killings of young people of color, to mass demonstrations by our young people and the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Just this past week, two events have come particularly close to home for me.
At Yale, stimulated by the murders of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina during a Bible Study, and the subsequent controversy over the use of the Confederate flag, President Salovey and Dean of Arts & Sciences Halloway challenged the university to begin a conversation about Yale’s history, the possible re – naming of Calhoun College, and the rightness of replacing a portrait of Elihu Yale accompanied by two collared slaves, with one in which he stands alone.
A few days later, our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and the leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church asked us to focus this Sunday, September 6, on the theme of Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.
Their request is not just a response to the events in South Carolina; or the growing awareness of police violence against people of color; or the mass incarceration, especially of young black men; but to an understanding that these realities are, in fact, the bitter fruit of our national history of slavery and racism that everyone in America, in one way or another has colluded with, and continues to collude with, unless we actively choose to be opened by God’s invitation to a new path, and a new future.
Confession and Repentance – this is why the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island just announced the opening of a new museum that documents the ways that Episcopalians and other Christian Rhode Islanders promoted and profited from the slave trade. They do this because they believe we cannot create a new future unless we acknowledge and repent for the ways we are all responsible for such a bitter past.
And today? Confession and Repentance acknowledges how so many of us choose to see racism as someone’ else’s problem, something we see on TV and are appalled by, but then turn to whatever it is that demands the next moment of our attention.
Whether or not we like to hear it, my sisters and brothers, that’s colluding with racism. As Eli Wiesel, the great student of the impact of the Holocaust on the human soul reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.”
Which is where Commitment comes in. Our faith doesn’t call any of us to change the world – that’s beyond my power and yours, in fact we could argue that that’s God’s job. But what our baptism does call us to is first to be awake to reality – not just ours but that of all our sisters and brothers; to realize that simply by remaining unconscious, we are failing to respect the dignity of every human being.
As a young man of 19, I learned something which so many white people still fail to understand, that the experience of being black or brown or red or yellow in this country is fundamentally different than the experience of being white; that people of color do not have the luxury of not thinking about race; or the luxury of failing to be vigilant for behaviors and threats that most white people never need anticipate; people of color do not have the privilege of being colorblind.
Which means, if we are ever to even begin the great work of racial reconciliation, we must start by becoming anthropologists, not just of the mind, but of the heart – becoming students of very different worlds, and radically different experiences.
Today, our bishops, our church, and I dare say our God, calls each of us to begin again. To commit ourselves to God’s great dream of shalom, to the fact that there is hope for change, there is hope for justice and reconciliation, there is hope for unity in the Body of Christ. All it takes is to listen to what Jesus says today. After a down and out stranger exposes his own prejudice, Jesus’ life and ministry are transformed. And Jesus responds by saying, “If I can be opened, so can each of you. Ephphatha! Be opened!”
Now that all the hype of the Harry Potter craze has died down, how many of us can actually remember back to the very first book? It was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and my favorite scene starts when Harry, in his letter of admission to the Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, is told to board the train on Platform 9¾. He arrives at Paddington Station, swarming with adults, only to find that there’s a Platform 9, and a Platform 10, but no Platform 9¾. Harry asks for help, but the conductor acts like he’s lost his marbles. Finally, he spies another child carefully aiming his luggage cart toward a solid brick wall exactly between Platforms 9 and 10, picking up speed, zooming right up to the brick wall… and then passing clear through.
This teenage wizard already knew what Nicodemus was having such trouble understanding – that at every moment, there’s a parallel universe, an alternate reality all around us; very different from the “reality” we experience in our daily lives, or on “reality” TV shows. But this isn’t some escapist world like we find in Harry Potter or in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. As theologian William Countryman puts it:
“It’s simply the everyday world seen at a new depth, with new comprehension… a place of intense vitality… (that) doesn’t draw us away from the everyday world, so much as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is merely surface.”1
On the surface, Nicodemus has everything. He’s rich and successful, a religious leader, and a master teacher. So why is he so uptight that he comes to Jesus in secret, at night? He’s hungry, something’s missing, and he thinks Jesus might fill that hole. But he’s all head and no heart. Even though he sees Jesus’ amazing miracles, that’s not enough – he needs to be convinced by some heady theological discussion. So when Jesus gives him this ludicrous – sounding message about being re-born, he can only stammer, “How can you be born again if you’re old? Are you supposed to crawl back into your mother’s womb?”
Jesus patiently explains that he’s not talking about being born again physically, but spiritually. Still, Nicodemus can only wonder, “How can this be so?” He reminds me so much of us, hungering for something deeper, casting about in all directions, and when we’re sure no one’s looking, we stumble upon Jesus’ invitation. In our fear, we try to make it into an intellectual proposition rather than an assent of the heart. But just like us, God never gives up on Nicodemus. In fact, the next time we meet Nicodemus is at the end of John’s gospel, when he joins up with Joseph of Arimathia, at great personal risk, to anoint Jesus’ body with rich spices, before it’s laid in the tomb. So if there’s hope for him, there’s surely hope for us.
Today, Jesus is saying we have to be born again with water and the spirit – the water of baptism is not enough; we also have to be baptized in the spirit – to choose to let the Spirit inhabit us and direct us as we try to follow Jesus Christ in our lives.
- In the parallel universe Jesus invites us to enter, all the rules are reversed from what’s erroneously called “normal life.”
- Instead of getting ahead, we choose to be last, so others can be first;
- Instead of being masters of our destiny, in control of our futures, we choose to surrender our ego and our will to God, and become servants to others;
- Instead of spending time with people just like us, or people we really admire, or people who can help us advance, we spend time with other seekers, and with people who are poor or sick or hungry or in prison, and we do it without judging any of them;
- Instead of planning out our whole life, we make room to be blown about by the Spirit, toward however God wants us to grow next, toward whoever needs our help;
- And because we focus not on appearances, but on what’s going on inside, we find our lives continuously interesting, continuously interrupted by joy.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not easy. The reason many of us only glimpse this parallel universe, rather than live in it, is because everything around us operates on opposite rules. It’s so much easier to hunker down and live with blinders on, moving faster and faster, numb to the hunger we feel, the hole that burns in our heart. We’re interested in spirituality; we’re interested in Jesus; we’re interested in the gospel; as long as none of these has too much “bite.” They’re easier to wear as accessories, rather than as the substance, the essence of our lives. That’s why it often takes a crisis to help us fall into this parallel universe, and to discover, if we truly want to live, how much we need to stay there.
C. S. Lewis once said “We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us; we’re like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”2
But the Good News in today’s gospel is that Jesus never asks us to live in this parallel universe alone. He invites us into a community where we help each other discover a new depth of joy; where we learn to “go with the flow,” to be blown about wherever the Spirit invites us; where when we fall down, as we all do, someone’s there to help pick us up; where we get to be re-born not just once, but every day; a community that understands this is the whole point of the gospel – to access the new life bubbling up from within that Jesus offers. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”
So in this season of Pentecost, go for the gusto! Go for the big thing, not just the easy thing. Choose to be re-born into eternal life. And if anyone criticizes you or makes fun of you for behaving so strangely, don’t apologize. Just say, “I’m living in a parallel universe. Do you want to join me?”
1Countryman, L. W. (1999). Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing.
2C. S. Lewis (1965). The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Eerdmans Press, pp. 1-2.
If you want to believe in Jesus, just look at the disciples before and after Pentecost. Before, they were fickle, fearful followers, ready to run away at the slightest hint of trouble. After, they were bold, articulate leaders. These guys who didn’t think they could tie their own sandals without Jesus’ instructions, suddenly ran outside, and started to talk, and somehow it sounded like Jesus. They healed the sick, and they cast out demons. They went to jail, where they sang hymns – and the prison walls came tumbling down. If you want to know how this transformation happened, just pick up the Book of Acts… There we read that three thousand people were baptized that day – a miracle – when a dozen bumblers received some kind of power that turned the world upside down – from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome to Alexandria – across nations, centuries, and cultures.
And Acts tells us it was all the work of the Holy Spirit. Usually, we think of the Holy Spirit as the abiding presence of God in Christ, that relationship of comfort and presence and safety, we cherish so much.
But today, we see the other side of the Holy Spirit – and it’s not so comforting. As one of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor put it, this is the Spirit “who blows and burns, howling down the chimney, and turning all the lawn furniture upside down1.”
We can relate to that “before” picture of the disciples, can’t we? None of us is a stranger to the same fears that paralyzed them – pandemic diseases, economic uncertainty, global terror. Has there ever been a time when we’re more in need of the coming of the Holy Spirit? But whether we believe that this kind of Holy Spirit will come – the one who transforms our lives – I think, goes to the heart of what kind of God we really believe in.
As Rev. Taylor puts it:
“The question for me is do we still believe in a God who acts like that? … who blows through closed doors and sets our heads on fire? … a God with a power to transform us, as individuals and as a people? Or have we come to an unspoken agreement that our God is pretty old and tired by now, someone to whom we may address our prayer requests, but not anyone we really expect to change our lives.”2
Mostly, I think, we succumb to a kind of collective amnesia about the Holy Spirit. Just the other day, a parishioner confessed, “God the Father I get. Jesus, I certainly get. But the Holy Spirit – what’s that about?” Or maybe, in the hubbub and busyness of our lives, we’ve simply lost touch with an active experience of the Holy Spirit. Maybe, we’ve realized that slowing down, and rooting around inside, opening ourselves to how the Spirit might be calling, can be anything but comforting – it can feel unsettling, even dangerous.
In fact, the Holy Spirit is so unruly, that we’ve spent centuries, as a church, just trying to tame her. We either try to individualize or to institutionalize her. By individualize, I mean we try to make the Holy Spirit’s coming a private act, a set of astonishing gifts bestowed on certain select individuals. They’re in such a different league from the rest of us, it’s easy to let them do the spiritual heavy lifting.
But the Spirit doesn’t call only the most spiritually distinguished. Remember, this is the unruly Spirit who engineers the pregnancy of a frightened girl; the one who inspires Mary to proclaim the good news not through the worthy priest Zechariah, but through his pregnant wife, Elizabeth. And when Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple, the Spirit enables not the local church authorities, but the aged Simeon, to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.
If we don’t individualize the Spirit, we institutionalize it, somehow assuming that the Spirit moves only through the church. The church’s activities are where we find the Spirit, who we then come to see as part of the institution itself.
But notice that when God pours out the Spirit on the disciples in Acts, they neither fall on their knees individually, nor do they immediately form a committee, or call a rector, as a church. No, they go out into the streets…. together. The Spirit empowers this gathered community to proclaim what they’ve witnessed; to seek out others to join them (regardless of nationality, economic status, race, or creed); and then together to enact the coming kingdom of God, not only in their worship, but also in their life work.
The Spirit doesn’t move Pentecost off the streets of Jerusalem and back indoors where things are safe and secure. No, she stays out in the open, where people will ask questions, challenge, and demand to know how this “Good News” has anything to do with the lives they’re living.
Pretty wild stuff, huh? Well, that’s because, as theologian Michael Dwinnell reminds us, the Spirit of Pentecost is as simple as she is bold. She calls us to
“… set each other on fire… to innate generosity, like the wild mint that gives itself away, sacrifices itself by releasing its fragrance…, to spread the good news about God’s love affair with the world – and with all creation – and especially with us.”3
That’s a tall order, of course, especially for us staid Episcopalians. Which may be why Alan Jones, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, once quipped, “Only a fool would pray for the Holy Spirit to come… and only fools for Christ do.”
But the good news is that opening ourselves to the coming of this Holy Spirit is the fastest way to cast out our fear, to help ourselves come alive again, to receive this same kind of boldness.
So whenever we find ourselves speaking with an eloquence we know we don’t possess; or offering forgiveness we hadn’t meant to offer – whenever we find ourselves taking risks we thought we didn’t have the courage to take; or reaching out to someone we’d intended to walk away from – we can be pretty sure that we’re breathing in and breathing out the Holy Spirit, taking God into us and giving God back to the world again, just as those first disciples did.
Welcome to Pentecost! It’s the season of the Holy Spirit – totally dependable and utterly unpredictable; gentle and wild; challenging and comforting – the Spirit that can’t be described or contained. It blows where it will, taking us along for the ride – a wild Pentecost ride, to which we’re all invited. Hold on to your seats – and each other. And discover that God can be found not only in a faint whisper, but in the fury of fire.4
Let us pray. Come Holy Spirit. Enkindle the fire of your love. Transform all that is fearful into boldness of heart. Inspire your servants with wonder and awe at the mystery of your presence. Conform your friends in compassion and forgiveness. Whisper discernment in the midst of confusion. Be wisdom in times of trouble; reverence in the face of diversity; patience with the unfolding of life. And forever anoint your messengers with joy. Amen.
1Barbara Brown Taylor (1997). The Bread of Angels, p. 67. I am grateful to Rev. Taylor for several other images used in this sermon.
2Barbara Brown Taylor (1999). Gospel Medicine, p. 145.
3Michael Dwinnell (1993). Being Priest to One Another, Ligouri, MD: Triumph Books, pp. 14, 145.
4See Joyce Hollyday, “The wild ways of the spirit,” Sojourners, May – June 1995.