Monday, May 21, 2018

What Does This Mean?

What Does This Mean?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 20, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Acts 2: 1-13
Joel 2: 28-32

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

Pentecost, Sunday – the gift of the Holy Spirit

The birthday of the church
I’ve always had trouble talking about the Holy Spirit,
Infinite, Indwelling, Eternal
Statement of Faith – 19 Stanzas, I believe. . .
            No direct statement about the Holy Spirit
            But 7 * 3 is 21, so the completed statement should have 21 stanzas. . . why 19. . . incomplete by design, but why 7 times 3. . . 7 days of creation and the Trinity
            One example of how the Holy Spirit is present in my statement of faith
            There are also many other places where the words associated with the Holy Spirit are included, like wind, breath, and Sustaining
            But most importantly the statement itself is a proclamation of the way the Holy Spirit works
Literally, “Inspiring” – hear Spirit in that word?
The Holy Spirit, always present, within us, I have never had real writers block, unless I was fighting against it, trying to direct it, but if I followed instead, I am always sustained. . .

At heart I believe the Pentecost story is about such things. . . let’s take a look,

Acts 2: 1-13 at least to start. . .

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

This is one of those stories you preach on every year, like Easter and Christmas
But it is so much more strange than Angel Choirs and Wisemen, even empty tombs
It all happens with real people- important to remember
What do you say?
The details are strange but memorable. . . there is the speaking of languages
            Connected it to the Tower of Babel, since it’s that story in reverse
            All those towns and places, people coming back together and hearing in their own language. . . one voice, one people,
In the Tower of Babel people were trying to get to God by their own means, here God is coming and dwelling within them.
But I’ve already done that, maybe not here, but I’ve found it hard to recycle, maybe something to do with the Spirit? , always renewing, always therefore new, and fresh. . . Hmmn
There is also the new wine. . . would any one accuse us of that? Maybe a sermon to spur us from Frozen Chosenness. . . been there done that, too
I came across in my research, questions people had about what the Spirit was like before Pentecost and after
            One said before the Spirit would only come upon people, but now they would indwell, and of course he had tons of Old Testament passages that proved his point. . .
            Another person, who also had quotes, (And some of them from the Old Testament, defied the “come upon” claim, said that it was the difference of a trickle and a flood,
The dam was built in Eden, and busted open at Pentecost
I liked both images enough to include them this morning at least in mention, but I was being called in a different direction. . . one more connected to what we’ve  been talking about throughout this Easter season, and maybe even before in Lent. . .
Rumi and the Metaphor of the Reed
Empty and hollow, a reed plucked and carried away,
I long for something that was and is no more.
It was I once, while rooted, my now hollow veins filled
With burning blood, and the heat of life,
I thirst for it, to be filled again, connected.
The wind I feel across my breaking point, and I hear a sweetish sound.
What is that sound? Could it be me?
I never knew I had it in me. . .

Keep that image in your head as we                                                                                                               look at the details of the story
First of all . . .
Every one in town for the festival of weeks. . . or fiftieth, for it is the fiftiest day after Passover
Jewish Harvest festival, the fact that it is a harvest festival is impactful, for there will be a quite a harvest today

So that’s why all the crowd has gathered. . .
Now let’s think about the disciples. . .
Remember where the disciples are: what they’ve been through
From the Last Supper to this
-          Put away your sword,
-          Denial
-          Betrayal
-          Crucified, buried in tomb
-          The pit
-          Back to Galilee
-          Rumors of resurrection
-          Jesus Risen before them
-          Full nets
-          Feed my lambs
-          Go forth and baptize, make disciples, I am with you
-          Jesus’ ascending
That is the path from disciple to apostle
And here they are now, to be sent
How would you start. . . what would you say. . . how do you begin a ministry
Knowing you denied, knowing your doubted, knowing you have no idea what to do
Who gives the authority to speak. . . and to say what?
Is Peter like Moses. . . stuttering, empty mouthed
            Certainly has spoken before, but typically impetuously, incorrectly, etc.
But now it says. . .
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

And he takes the quote directly, so we’ll just take our Old Testament passage from him. . . this is Joel 2: 28-32

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.[c]

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 

25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[e]

He quotes David why?
He could have quoted so many others, Abraham, Jacob, Cain, Samuel, Solomon, Elijah, Jonah

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spiritand has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies

    a footstool for your feet.”’[f]

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

And so goes the beginning of the church
But why
Why do so many repent, why such the harvest
To quote, the man, “What does this mean?”
Shared details – Blame in Crucifying Christ, emptiness and Guilt
They  all have felt that. . . and all people at all times. . . those old testament prophets and patriarchs, everyone, we all have
So we all can hear, the language is the same,
And we also feel the answer the same. . .
Being filled. . .
I told you about Rumi before, listen to what his words not mine are
Listen to the story told by the reed, of being separated
“Since I was cut from the reedbed, I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back.
At any gathering I am there, mingling in the laughing and the grieving
A friend to each, but few will hear the secrets hidden
Within the notes. No ears for that, Body flowing out of spirit
Spirit up from body; no concealing that mixing. But it’s not given us
To See the soul. The reed flute is fire, not wind. Be that empty.

Being empty. . . nothing you’ve done, thought, believed, and you’ll be filled

I’ve been asked, because I say it almost everytime I preach,
Is it possible to think outside of your mind. . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Blessed Is She

Blessed Is She
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 13, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Genesis 3: 16, 20; 4:1
Luke 1: 39-45

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

Mother’s Day Sermon Essentials
        Thank Mom’s, thank all ladies because it isn’t just birth moms
        Keep it short so every one can get Mom to lunch and get a good table before the rush
I want to look at a familiar story
Eve – bad press, blame, but if she gets the blame, maybe she should have some credit as well
But look at this text- - - three individual verses, we know the rest of the story so well
Fruit has been eaten,
Nakedness known
Hiding has happened
Blame game has been played
And now the punishments are being given out, we are skipping over Adam and the Serpent to get to Eve. . .
Genesis 3: 16, 20; 4:1
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

Very familiar. . . Pain at child birth. . . desire for husband

But look what else she gets. . .

20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.

Her name, as Eve is given here, up to this point she has just been woman or wife. . . ever noticed that? . .

kinda like how Adam is just Man---but technically it is Ha-Adam, which means THE MAN

in Hebrew its kinda like English, woman, out of man m-iess, and. . . issha is Hebrew for woman. . .

But here Eve's name, mother, is given, and we know how important naming is in Genesis. . . 

Here is the third line I want to look at, this, the beginning of chapter 4, the first chapter outside of the garden. . . 

Adam[a] made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.[b] She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth[c] a man.”

Made love, ha ha in the KJV and NRSV it is knew, even Hebrew has its euphemisms

But it makes you wonder about whether there would have been motherhood in the Garden?

Population would grow pretty rapidly if there was Birth with out Death

Fruit with no flowers. . . was then the Fall a part of the plan

Which is hard to swallow with all the evil in the world, but Motherhood and Jesus redeem it some don’t they

Pretty remarkable to still feel God is sovereign and in control.  .. . 

Look at

Luke 1: 39-45

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Blessed is she!, without birth, no Jesus, no Mary, no rest of the story. . . 

I was looking at what I wanted to say to Mothers today, and found it in country music. . . was thinking maybe with the success of our festival, maybe we could create a worship service with country music and try something no one else is. . . 
And I was thinking I would make a cd of me singing some "mom" songs, 

I found that they said in many ways, everything I wanted to say

Look at some of them: 

Have you heard the Garth Brooks song Mom, about the kid talking to God and he saying that don't worry about life on Earth because you'll have this person who will take care of you: Listen to these words:


A little baby told God, Hey I'm kinda scared
Don't really know if I wanna go down there
Because from here it looks like a little blue ball
But that's a great big place and I'm so small

Why can't I just stay here with you
Did I make you mad, don't you want me, too
And God said, 'Oh child, of course I do
But there's somebody special that's waiting for you

So hush now baby, don't you cry
Cause there's someone down there waiting who's only goal in life
Is making sure you're always gonna be alright
A loving angel, tender touch is strong
It's almost time to go and meet your Mom

Now when she's talkin' to you, make sure you listen close
Cause she's gonna teach you everything you'll ever need to know
Like how to mind your manners, to love and laugh and dream
And she'll put you on the path that'll bring you back to me

Then there are the classics like. . . 

Don’t Take your Guns to Town

Mama Tried

Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don't let them pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Make them be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
They'll never stay home and they're always alone
Even with someone they love

When I first did the Good Friday, service I used this song, Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys",  to go with  Jesus saying "Woman be hold your son, son behold your mother. . . " powerful to think about the similarities, never stay home and always alone. . . 

but then recently I switched to "Nothin" by Townes Van Zandt

 Hey mama, when you leave

Don't leave a thing behind
I don't want nothin'
I can't use nothin'
Take care into the hall
And if you see my friends
Tell them I'm fine
Not using nothin'

So much more bleak, and poignant, with crucifixion, but in that moment of pain, to have mom there is so important. . . 

Then I found this other one that I hadn't heard before, about how Mama seems to know everything about you. . .

Mama Knows

Me and Jimmy Chrowder and a single cigarette
Crouched down in a stall out in the barn
Three puffs later we were sick as we could get
praying we get better before we got home
she saw me comin' through the back door screen
I knew the minute that she looked at me

Mama knows, Mama knows
somehow I think she's got a window to my soul
Mama knows, Mama knows
Even when I think it doesn't show
Mama knows, mama knows

And though she knows, her love never goes away, no matter what. . .  what a mirror to the love God has for us. . . 

The Sweetest Gift
One day a mother came to a prison
To see an erring but precious son
She told the warden how much she loved him
It did not matter what he had done
She did not bring (bring to him) a parole or pardon (pardon plea)        
She brought no silver (brought no gold) no pomp or style (none to see)   
It was a halo (halo bright) sent down from heaven (heaven's light)
The sweetest gift a mother's smile    

She left a smile you can remember
She's gone to heaven from heartache's grief
Those walls around you will never change her
You were her baby and ever will be

Then I found one about Mom's being like angels. . . you see gifts from God, who show us what life and love truly are about. . . our first glimpses. 

Me and some of the boys were sitting around the other night
Started talking about politics religion love and life
And what a shame it was about 9/11
And what about hell and what about heaven
And is there or isn't there angels here on earth
And then one guy said well you can take that for what it's worth
If it's something I can see or something I can touch
Well I might believe in all that stuff
So I just had to say to him

Are you telling me that you've never seen an angel
Never felt the presence of one standing by
No robe of white no halo in sight
Well you missed the most obvious thing
Man are you blind just look in your mothers eyes

And then I said who went through the pain
And smiled through the tears on the day of your birth
She counted your fingers and toes and thanked God you were whole
Son you outta know who loved you first that's right
And who always came running every time you cried out
And how many more things have you forgotten about
And who tried their best to teach you wrong from right
And how many nights did she leave on the light
While she waited and prayed that you came in
And who'd be there for you right up to the end

Think about it tonight
Aww man are you blind just look in your mothers eyes
That's right

And then there is what we learn from them about life. . . 

This next song is by Justin Townes Earle, who is the son of a legendary singer songwriter, and he himself has become like his father, but it is his mother he wants to be like, she taught him wrong from right. . . 

Justin Townes Earle - Mama's Eyes

I am my father's son
I've never known when to shut up
I ain't fooling no one no more
I am my father's son

We don't see eye to eye
And I'll be the first to admit I've never tried
It sure hurts me, but it should hurt sometime
We don't see eye to eye

I was a young man when
I first found the pleasure and the feel of a sin
I went down the same road as my old man
I was younger then

Now its three am and I'm standing in the kitchen
Holding my last cigarette
Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall
And I say to myself

I've got my mama's eyes
Her long thin frame and her smile
And I still see wrong from right
Cuz I've got my mama's eyes

And there might not be anything more excruciatingly painful than someone you love leaving you, and who would you go to, but Mom? Listen at the words of this classic. . .  


I know that I surprised you coming home
It's not my usual time of year
But I've got myself a problem
And I know that I might find the answer here
Remember when I was dad's pride and joy
And your little man
Everytime that I got hurt
You were there to give a hand
Even pick me up
And you'd kiss my hurt away
Remember what she'd say
Boy you're getting more like him each and every day
Can we have a talk like it was yesterday
Your boy's back in trouble and he needs you right away
She said she's gonna leave me mama
And nothing on God's green Earth will make her stay
I can't live without her mama
But this time you can't kiss the hurt away
But if I'm so much like my dad
There must have been times you felt her way
So tell me word for word what he said
That always made you stay

And to know that life is about love and loss, and as a parent we learn that lesson because success as a parent is having your children move on, but that doesn't make it any easier. . . this song always gets me, because the teaching of it, is no doubt helping the mother learn it as well, through the progress of the song. . . 


Through the back window of our '59 wagon
I watched my best friend Jamie slipping further away
I kept on waving till I couldn't see her
And through my tears I asked again why we couldn't stay
Mama whispered softly, time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, how can I help you to say goodbye
It's okay to hurt, and it's okay to cry
Come let me hold you, and I will try
How can I help you         to say goodbye

I sat on our bed, he packed his suitcase
I held a picture of our wedding day
His hands were trembling, we both were crying
He kissed me gently, and then he quickly walked away
I called up Mama, she said, time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, how can I help you to say goodbye
It's okay to hurt, and it's okay to cry
Come let me hold you, and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye

Sitting with Mama, alone in her bedroom
She opened her eyes, and then squeezed my hand
She said, I have to go now, my time here is over
And with her final words she tried to help me understand
Mama whispered softly, time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, how can I help you to say goodbye
It's okay to hurt, and it's okay to cry
Come let me hold you, and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye

And then some are just sweet, with mom on a pedestal, if only all people could be as lucky. . .

 Mother Like Mine

Verse 1
She's the sky that holds the clouds; she's the lady of the house  
A blind believer in all I dare to be            
There's no safer place I've found than the shoulder of her white night gown
Oh I've got the best and the worst of her in me
I'd share her if I could         

So the wars would all be over 'cause she'd raise us all as friends
And no one would ever wonder if somebody wanted them
We'd walk on grass that's greener and our cares would all be freer
If the world had a mother like mine

She's our father's one great love, she's the one he wanted most
She's the light in the window of the house I grew up in
She takes the midnight call, she's the bravest of us all
Still she sings in the garden she lets her hair down in

Don't go away, don't go away from me
Oh I understand she is a helping hand, still I have to say

She's the sky that holds the clouds; she's the lady of our house
We all need her but no one more than me

But probably the sweetest and most meaningful to me is  Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" as I have a Mom who loves to sew. . . listen to these words. . . 

Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

  Back through the years
I go wonderin once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use

There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didn't have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story
From the bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldn't wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss
My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
Well I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
and holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
in my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

And oh I couldn't understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes

But they didn't understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

And for that reason years ago I wrote this for my Mom, the power of a made gift given. . . priceless

for Mom

I lie beneath and am warmed by each careful stitch,
Made in the slowness of time, though always were 
You rushing against some deadline, some memorial
Celebration, a moment you sought to capture with
And through and in each loving stitch. Each stitch 
Contains the meaning of the moments you spent 
Crafting: your mind, your hands, the years given
To develop your skills, the mother who taught you,
The mother who taught her, the wind, whose chill 
First gave birth to the necessity, events long forgotten:
What memories filled your mind while you made it?
Mother and child share many moments: I entered
This world, leaving the world contained within you,
Screaming, and you offered me a blanket then, too.
It gave me security, a surrogate to fill your absence,
Though you have never really been gone, always there
To read me books, to tuck me in, to calm the fears
Of night and day. Side by side, lying on another such
Creation, I was lost, crying, seeking something solid
To hold as the world around me changed as it does.
You didn’t take me from it, pulling me out to some 
Fantasy that could not be, but instead, like your quilts,
You wrapped me in your love, like armor to wear
To face whatever must come. Each stitch holds together
Scraps of cloth, purposed elsewhere, the lonely extra
Put to new use, redeemed. I cannot help but see the hope
Embedded, tied together by loving work, that beyond
What our minds’ envision, exist purposes we could never
Dream of, even in our warmest deepest sleep. Yet there
We feel in body and soul, and so know, though words 
Fail, and they are the stuff of the mind, there is more. 
This attempt at filling the silent hymn of a quilt can but
Scratch the surface of meaning, and so can never define,
Instead can only give witness, as one can only do to love,
As one should only do to God, for such gifts reside where
The flowing rivers of life never cease enough to grasp,
Instead you let them warm your every night with enough
Sacred given love to spread to others in your every day,
Passing on the love you gave with each careful stitch.

Still gets me. . . let us pray. . . 

Thank you for Moms!