1.  A Miracle For All Speaking

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…”

I over-heard a mother talking with her child.  In the Garden Section of Fred Meyer last week, I over-heard her talking with someone who couldn’t have been more than one year old.   His chubby legs dangled from his stroller.  His eyes sparkled with all the colors swirling around him.   And this is what he said:  breeem… And this is the way his mother responded:  breeem… In fact, whenever he gurgled or made some incoherent noise, the mother would repeat it back.   And, of course, as often happens, that “conversation” became quite animated.  I am fairly certain that no quantifiable information passed between them, but clearly some kind of emotional, or dare I say it, some kind of spiritual connection was being forged.   And as I eavesdropped on that garden-speech I imagined that all the conversations that have ever taken place throughout history—all of them–started in this way.    Weird, inchoate flips of the tongue, vibrations of the vocal cords, throbbing of the throat.  Into a moment we let them slip.   And if we’re lucky another person is there to hear and to affirm what we say… and the rest is history.

History, I think, is made up of things combined with the sounds that we make in reference to those things.   The sounds that we make about things, of course, have to be submitted for approval.   A word is nothing more or nothing less than the sounds which have been agreed upon by a certain group of people—and then assigned to things like sunshine, dirt, water and flowers.    And, you see, on Pentecost, in first century Jerusalem, that’s what the Jews in the temple courts had been celebrating.  They celebrated the history of God giving the Law to Moses and how the people agreed upon that Law.   But here’s the glitch.   The glitch of Pentecost is that the people of faith had been scattered to the far corners of the earth; there were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia…  And although they all had come to Jerusalem to gather around the same thing, none of them would use the same word to refer to that thing.

2.  A Miracle of Each Hearing

Think about how lonely that is.   Think about how cliquish that is.  Think about how alienating that is.   A few weeks ago, I had to take my car for an emissions inspection and I got there a little early.   So, after parking strategically along the street, I sat in the car and noticed an elderly man with a cap ambling toward me.  He had just parked his car as well, and as he approached my window, he spoke with a strange accent,  “Aaahh, we wait…”  I nodded.   “Yes, it’s not time yet,” I said.   “I Moldavia,” he responded.   “Moldavia?   How did you get to Spokane from Moldavia?  Where exactly is Moldavia?   Is it part of Russia?  Are you Russian?”   “Aaahh,” he stammered, looking at his watch.  “We wait…”

Now, I don’t mind telling you:   it annoyed me that the man didn’t understand my question.   And almost immediately I could sense his frustration too.   But what if by some miracle of speech, or by some miracle of hearing, I would have been able to cut through all the emissions chit-chat and talk about Jesus Christ?  And what if, by some miracle, he could talk to me?   This is just a subtle hint of what Pentecost in the first century must have been like.

“At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…”

You see, corresponding to the miracle of all of the Galilean Jews speaking is the miracle of each one hearing in the native language of each…  I’ve been wracking my brain to consider the implications of this miracle for Latah Valley and here goes:  although you and I speak predominately in English, each one of us may have a peculiar way of using the language that the Holy Spirit would like to affirm.   That’s what the Holy Spirit does in providing us with this two-fold miracle; suddenly we are forced to realize that God has something to say and only we can say it.   We are also forced to admit that God’s wondrous deeds of power cannot be contained by one person’s patterns of speech, or by one group’s special lingo.

Not too long ago, the Public Broadcasting System aired a special on a particular teacher from Iowa.   She was known as Mrs. Eliot, and as a way of teaching her students about racism and prejudice, she divided the class along the lines of  brown-eyed children and blue-eyed children.   Well, at first, this assignment seemed like a joke, and the mid-western kids didn’t take it very seriously.   But the next day they each received arm-bands with insignia’s on them—one for brown eyed children and one for blue-eyed children.   Then, Mrs. Eliot made this bold statement to the class; she said, “Statistics prove that Brown-eyed children are more intelligent than Blue-eyed Children.”   And along those lines she began to favor some of the students over others.   When a brown-eyed girl raised her hand to answer the teacher’s question, Mrs. Eliot made a special point of praising the girl.   When a blue-eyed boy raised his hand, she chastised him for not listening, and then lectured to the class about the clear superiority of Brown-eyed people.   This is how things went for over a week, and then, without warning, Mrs. Eliot reversed course and proclaimed that truly Blue-eyed Children were better.   Thinking at that point that the Blue-eyed Children would remember how they had been treated, even Mrs. Eliot was amazed when a fight broke out at recess.   “Why were you fighting?” demanded the principal.   “Because he called me a name.”   “What name did he call you?”   “Brown-eyes.”

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.   Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

You see, what we often don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t make everyone the same.   The Holy Spirit actually reinforces our uniqueness, our particularity.  But the Holy Spirit also obliterates the way we use our uniqueness as a weapon.   We are suddenly disarmed, and all the old excuses in which we once took refuge—all of them—are burned away.    So, let me press us here on this point.    Have the tongues of God’s fire taught you to sit down and submit to the loudest person in the room?   Or do those tongues of fire truly teach each of us to speak and to listen?

3.  A Miracle of Meaning For One Another

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

When I read through Acts 2:13 I immediately thought of something that happened at the National Spelling Bee Championship.  Maybe you saw it too.   Last Thursday night, twelve and thirteen year olds competed with one another, and nearly all of them, upon hearing a word, being pronounced, would ask for a series of questions.  One of the questions had to do with the language of origin, usually Greek, or Latin, or French, or German or some dynamic combination of them all.   But, you see, another question frequently asked by the middle-schoolers went like this:   Could I have a definition please? Or, more directly, What does it mean? Over and over again they asked these questions and quite often nailed these words without a blink of an eye.   And yet, here’s what took place at approximately 10 p.m. our time:   Kavya Shivashanker, a 13 year old girl from California, got a word that I recognized from the Bible.   The word was Laodicean, and means “Lukewarm or indifferent in matters of religion or politics.”

Now, as you may know, Kavya Shivashanker spelled the word correctly and won the last spelling bee competition in which she will ever compete.   And yet, as the competition for correct spelling is over, the meaning of the word still lingers.   It still lingers, doesn’t it?   In fact, after a word like Laodicean has been used and re-used for centuries, it’s still a miracle that people ask, “What does this mean?”

Well, let me tell you.  It doesn’t just mean “Lukewarm.”  Laodicean refers to a church.   And according to Revelation 3:15, it was once a congregation in Asia Minor that Jesus reproved.   He said to them, “Listen, I am standing at the door and knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you and you with me…”

And now, I am imagining a child-prodigy in approximately fifty to one hundred years.   She’s given the word, LATAH.   What does it mean?  Can I have a definition please?

It means, “Passionate” and “Deeply involved.”

Let the massive and mysterious conversation begin.   Amen.

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1.  Do Not Demonize What You Do Not Understand.

So, allow me to tell you what you’re thinking.   After hearing this passage, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, please, please tell me.  Please tell me what it means to commit “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.   And don’t mess around.  Tell me exactly what this ‘blasphemy’ is because I need to know where I stand.”   And if that’s not what you’re thinking, well, then, may God bless you.

Once upon time, I was seventeen years old and driving down a series of back streets in my suburban neighborhood.   And, in order to get to where I was going more quickly, I turned on this road that I ordinarily would use.   This road had been marked with a strange sign that read as follows:   “Do Not Enter Between The Hours of 4 p.m. And 6 p.m.”   Well, you see, my problem was not only that I was in a hurry, but my Plymouth Duster did not have a clock that worked.  Nor did I wear a wrist watch.   So, I had no way of knowing the exact time.    Was it between the unforgivable hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.?   And would any self-respecting police officer really issue me a ticket when I could not truly judge the time of day?   What is time, anyway?   Isn’t it just this arbitrary measure of the earth’s rotation around the sun?  Let me tell you.  All of these questions and many more raced through my mind, as I then saw what I did not want to see.    A police officer, wearing mirror sun glasses and a stern expression, stood in the middle of the road, and would not let me pass.   I stopped and played it cool:  “What’s the problem?”   “The problem is you just went down a one-way street in the wrong direction.”  I responded, “It’s only one way between the hours of 4 and 6 and I don’t have a watch.   What time is it?”  He said, “It’s three minutes after 4 o’clock.  Can I see your license and registration, please?”

You see, my argument is that if we’re going to be held responsible for breaking the rules, someone should make those rules clear ahead of time.

And so it is with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  If the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is truly the only unforgivable sin, I’d appreciate it if Jesus would equip me with everything that I need not to do it.   So here goes:   according to Matthew 12, the whole issue is raised when the Pharisees take it upon themselves to demonize Jesus.   Jesus heals a person who is blind and mute, and in stead of being grateful, these religious experts drive the wrong way down the road.

Do Not Demonize What You Do Not Understand. That’s the message because in fact what you and I often do not understand is the truth that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us.   So, don’t be so eager to join someone’s holy crusade.  Don’t be too quick to label what another person says or does as outright evil because we never really know.

“If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out?   Therefore they will be your judges.   But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

“It all started when I found a copy of Faust at a used bookstore.”   This is the way Gordon Atkinson blogs about being evil.   Actually Gordon Atkinson is not any more or any less evil that any other pastor from San Antonio, Texas.  But two weeks after he picked up the used book and tossed it in the back seat of his car, a young woman spotted the symbol on the cover and shrieked.  Christy had been staying with the Atkinsons, doing some odd chores and occasionally watching the kids.  She had joined the church after claiming that she had escaped from a satanic cult, an organization in which Christy’s own father had actually taken part in some of the dark rituals.   Anyway, all that was behind her—until she caught a glimpse of the Alchemy symbol on the cover of Faust.

“She stared at me for a few seconds and then I saw something I hope never to see again.  I watched her feelings for me turn from love to hatred in a matter of seconds.  I saw the whole transformation in her face.  It began with a blank look of bewilderment, then her eyes narrowed with suspicion.  She shook her head a few times in denial, as though she didn’t want to believe the worst.  Finally, her jaw set and anger flashed in her eyes…  ‘You’re one of them,’ she said, backing away.’”(RealLivePreacher.com, p. 89)

2.  The Holy Spirit Has The Reputation of the Kingdom of God to Consider.

Now, if you’ve ever been demonized yourself, you know how unflattering the experience may be.    But what’s especially disheartening and especially deflating is the damage that can be done to a person’s reputation.

In Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, for example, John Proctor declares that he will not sign the document that admits that he has consorted with the devil.   He’s ready to.  He actually mulls it over.   All he has to do is scribble his signature and the holy magistrate of the puritan town will let him live.   But after starting to sign, he does something that people don’t quite understand.   John Proctor grabs the parchment statement and crumples it up.  He then says, “You have my soul; leave me my name.”

You see, something about this moment makes me want to stand up and cheer.  And maybe you want to stand up and cheer too.  But what we’re cheering for is not simply the integrity of an individual who died in the 1690’s.   It’s not just the ornery attitude of Rosa Parks, who refused to surrender her seat on the bus, which resonates with us.  It’s not simply that Gandhi and Mother Teresa are great people who we might like to emulate.  What we experience in them, I think, is the future calling to us.   We celebrate and cheer, therefore, for those extraordinary times in the past and in the present when a person behaves as if evil’s hold will not last—when thy will is done on earth as it is in heaven.   And that, my friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit, of course, has the reputation of the kingdom of God to consider.   And let’s emphasize this point.  If you and I are under the impression that God ought to protect our own individual reputations, ask yourself why God allowed the reputation of Jesus of Nazareth to be trashed the way it was in the crucifixion.   And the answer is—God is more interested in protecting the reputation of the new heavens and the new earth that he is about to create.

3.  If You’re Worried About “The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” You Probably Have Nothing to Worry About.

In Ohio, we met a man who became the feature story on something called News of the Weird.   And, as a result of the negative publicity, the man’s reputation would be shot.   His relationship with his wife and his son would be shaken.   And primarily the news had to do with the fact that this man was arrested for lewd behavior in a public restroom and that he happened to be the mayor of the town and that he sang in the choir.  Anyway, I remember a phone call that I received from another prominent official, asking me to renounce the mayor and publically condemn his actions.   I replied that I couldn’t do that because he had come to me and asked God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our entire church.   That, of course, didn’t make any difference to the person who complained to me.  He said that I ought to think about the reputation of my church.  And I thought about it, and the conversation grew silent.  He was right.  Our church would suffer because of its association with this perverted and hypocritical public official.   But, you see, after crying with this broken human being, after praying and pouring through the scriptures with him, I could do nothing else but support his contrition.   The reputation of the Kingdom of God superseded all other concerns.

“Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

So, let’s be clear about that.   At Latah Valley, I’d like us to be clear about that.   And I’d like us to be sure about the following phrase, which we repeat week after week:  In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.   But after gathering around that news, are you still worried about the inadvertent blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?   Are you still so conscientious as to fear that you may speak against the Holy Spirit without intending to?   Well, if that’s you, listen up:  if you are at all worried about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, you probably have nothing to worry about.   But, all the same, let me offer you this cautionary tale.

A little girl is drawing a picture in school.  The teacher leans over her and asks, “What are you drawing?”

“God,” says the girl.

The teacher laughs.  “No one knows what God looks like dear.”

“They will when I get finished with this drawing.”

Don’t be too sure, says the Holy Spirit.   Don’t be too sure.

Amen.

A poem in meditation on the life of Chuck Gulick and our many conversations about Spirituality and Stuff.

Read Exodus 33:17–23

born Aug 8, 1955... died Apr 30, 2009

born Aug 8, 1955... died Apr 30, 2009

Dig into the cleft and live there.

You know you’ll be alright.

You know there’s a Face of Light

Who’s ready to singe your eye-brows

If you peak too soon, if you overlook the sediment and debris,

If you forget to carve out castles by the sea.

***

But somewhere a glint of glory slips through

The fingers of God, and thankfully you trace the multi-faceted plummet–

Wondrously you recall your days at the summit–

“Not cool!  Not cool!” you shout at the pain!

“Not cool!  Not cool!” you pray to the Name!

***

Dig into the cleft and live there.

In Manhasset, you’ll collect stamps from Berlin.

Under your pillow you’ll stuff pajamas and begin.

Again you’ll preen stories in the mirror.  Just to be nearer

Your brother will travel like Siddhartha.

Your sisters will anoint like Mary and serve like Martha.

***

And somewhere a glint of glory slips through

The fingers of God, and thankfully you trace the multi-faceted plummet–

Wondrously you recall your days at the summit–

“How cool!  How cool is that!”  you breathe in the air!

“How cool!  How cool! you conquer despair!

***

Dig into the cleft and live there.

You’ll streak once more on campus in newer skin; not a soul will be ashamed.

You’ll paddle hilariously through fog beyond the picture frame… and…

This is where the true crab pots are hauled, where, in your kayak, you’ll

Drift, totally enthralled.  Linger a moment here.  The Fire’s Feast is round the bend,

Just off the road you took to Port Townsend.

***

Yet, somewhere a glint of glory slips through

The fingers of God, and thankfully you trace the multi-faceted plummet–

Wondrously you recall your days at the summit–

“I’m cool!  I’m cool now!” you offer a smile.

“I’m cool!  I’m cool!  Let me sleep for a while.”

***

Dig into the cleft and live there.

You’ll bless Ted, Liz and Ben; they’ll savor

the fossils without saying Amen.  And then you’ll bless Patti

with new seeds to scatter.  She’ll plant them out back–between The Viking and the ladder.

And somewhere, we admit, a glint of glory slips through.

And somehow, we declare, we see it better because of you.