DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
Our DiscipleChurch worship this Sunday begins, as usual, at 7:20 am in Wesley Hall with our community breakfast for our homeless brothers and sisters, continues to the Leonard Chapel at 8:30 am for our traditional service of prayer, song, word and communion, continues in our prayer and formation group at 9:30 and then really continues as we go out to be the people and presence of God in the world.
Many more people receive these emails than have come to our breakfast or to our prayer and formation group. I want to say emphatically to you all that you are very welcome to all or any of these stages of our DiscipleChurch Worship. (And all of these stages ARE worship.) If you come to the breakfast, you are free to bring some bottled water or some fruit or a dish you have prepared yourself to add to the feast. All of the food we share is brought here by our members, and not from the church kitchen. We feed anywhere from 70 to 100 of our homeless brothers and sisters every Sunday morning. And you are also very welcome to stay for our prayer and formation group. This group is led by our members, not by Page or by me. You can just listen or you can share your thoughts and experiences. I come away from every session with new insight and a new character. I experience the presence of God at all of these.
Which leads me to this. I spoke at a student chapel service at Hardin-Simmons University earlier this year, and heard myself say to them that “All of life is a search for the presence of God.” I didn’t expect or plan to say it; it just came out in response to a question. And it occurred to me as soon as I heard myself speak these words that this is the one Truth of which I am the most certain, certainly about myself. All of our Holy Scripture can be summed up, as Rabbi Abraham Heschel has written, as a record of the human search for the presence of God, and of God sharing that presence. Some of us experience the presence of God in meditation and in prayer. Some of us, in acts of compassion and forgiveness. Some of us, in sacred spaces and sacred music. Some, in natural beauty. And some of us despair of the presence of God at all in a world of so much violence and suffering and injustice.
But the Bible does not just speak of our search for the presence of God. It also speaks of rare experiences of an appearance of God — what the theologians call a “theophany” — a singular, rare, emphatic, terrifying, intervening, changing “appearance” of God Almighty. Wham! These theophanies must be described in scripture poetically and metaphorically, given God’s “otherness” and our impoverished senses and understanding. In our Hebrew scriptures, these appearances are described at first, again poetically, as if God were human-like, walking in the garden of Eden, wrestling with Jacob, visiting the tent of Abraham and Sarah. As we work our way through these Hebrew scriptures, God appears to Moses through a burning bush, and to the Hebrew people through a pillar of fire and through smoke, thunder, lightning and fire at Mount Sinai. To Elijah, God appears at Mount Horeb in a wind that breaks rocks and an in earthquake and in fire and in a sound of sheer, unnerving, eerie silence. To Job, God appears in a voice “out of the whirlwind.” To the prophets, God appears as a call…a judgment and a demand out of “whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.”
Do any of us yearn to experience a theophany — for God to…wham…appear to us? Not just God’s gentle and sustaining presence behind all of existence, not just evidence of God’s providence, but an honest-to-God explosion of an appearance of God to you or to me? Do you?
This Sunday, I am continuing to help us work our way through the Acts of the Apostles. Even though Pentecost Sunday is long past this year, the story of Pentecost is central to, and interpretive of, the entire book. So I am going to take this story up again this Sunday, and probably also the Sunday after.
Here is the punch line for this Sunday. In contemplating the story of Pentecost in Acts, it occurred to me yesterday that this story is indeed about a theophany, a different kind of appearance of God than recorded in scripture previously, one that is perhaps gentler and less terrifying, but one that is much more demanding. In fact, all of our New Testament is about a different kind of theophany. Isn’t it.
Let me give this away a bit, to encourage you to come and participate this Sunday. I am convinced that, in our Pentecost story, the ones who experience the theophany…BECOME the theophany.
Our main scripture:
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 2
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? …12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” …
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ …
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being rescued.”
Glad to be back.