Posted by: dacalu | 9 June 2019

Heaven and Earth

Today, I had the great pleasure of worshiping with St. Ninian’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. We celebrated the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Church. (NB: Pentecost comes from the Greek word for 50. It occurs 50 days after Easter.)

 

Prayer for Pentecost
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost)

Romans 8:14-17 (“that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God”)

John 14:8-17, 25-27 (“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” and “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”)

 

Sermon

Four hundred years ago there was a revolution.
	No, not that revolution.
There was a revolution in astronomy.
	Copernicus and Galileo suggested
	that objects in the heavens obey the same rules
	as objects on the earth.
Modern notions of mass, inertia, and gravity
	arose from a rather surprising insight
	that humans and planets have common properties.
This commonality of heaven and earth is now called
	the Copernican Principle.
All else being equal, we assume that things over there
	work the same way as life here,
	and vice versa.
It came with a realization that the Earth was not the center of the cosmos.
Instead, it was a planet, travelling through the void,
	along with the other planets, Mars and Venus and all.
Later authors speak of this as demoting Earth and decentering humanity.
	We left our place in the center of the cosmos.
	We became common.
At the time, many saw it as demoting the heavens,
	previously perfect and eternal spheres made of crystal and aether.
	Copernicus and Galileo made them gross matter.
I prefer to focus on the way that Copernicus and Galileo 
revealed our relationships.
The new science allows us to think about rocketry and distance in a new way.
	We travel to the moon
		and send robots to the outer limits of the solar system.
	We can study the effect of orbits and sunspots on the weather.
	We can track the path of comets and asteroids in a new and better way.
The Copernican revolution brought heaven and earth together.
	It broke the boundary between ground and sky.
	Or, more accurately, it allowed us to see that
the division never existed in the first place.
 
By now you should have some idea where I’m going with all of this
	because Pentecost also brought heaven and earth together.
Jesus’ incarnation might be a fluke.
Like a meteor, a piece of heaven brought down.
	We might be tempted to think that
that was the extent of the miracle:
		God made manifest.
	It was not so.
Jesus continues as the body of Christ.
	Jesus continues in tangible sacraments, the body and blood.
	Jesus continues in the Spirit of God that enlivens us.
	Jesus continues in the Church.
God continues to reconcile the whole world.

At Pentecost, the Spirit of God was pleased to dwell in us.
	It empowers us in a very special way.
	It allows us to communicate.
God connects what was separated:
	God reconciled with humanity in Jesus – at-one-ment, atonement;
	Jesus broke bread with his disciples,
		his very body broken to reunite us –
		Holy Communion;
	the Spirit connected the disciples with people from every nation.

The English have an expression
that always sounds a bit humorous to Americans.
You may have it here as well.
“Mind the gap.”
As you get on and off the train, “mind the gap.”
I’m asking you to do the same thing
	every day.
Mind the gap between you and God.
Mind the gap between you and your neighbor.
Mind the gap between heaven and earth.
Mind the gap, and remember that it can be bridged.
	The Holy Spirit allows us to step over the gap.
 
Some will say that this is not miraculous.
	It is as simple as reaching out to someone new.
	It is as simple as sharing a meal.
	It is as simple as letting the past be past and moving forward.
	Those are easy, aren’t they?
	
No.  They really aren’t.
I’m a terrible introvert. 
Oh, I’m good on a Sunday, 
but I can be terribly shy and inward most of the time.
	It’s very hard for me to reach out to others,
		to build relationships.
	How many of you have made a new friend in the past week?
		Not just an acquaintance, but a genuine friend.
	How often do you really listen to someone you’ve never listened to before?
	How often do you go beyond your comfort zone?
We live in an age of growing tribalism.
	We have difficulty reaching across political divides,
		much less across national and cultural divides.
The solution to that isn’t easy.
Without Christ, it may not even be possible.
	No, I’m not saying that it only works between Christians.
	That’s the very nonsense I’m preaching against.
It works because God became human and so sanctified humanity.
God showed us that the boundaries are neither permanent
	nor impenetrable.
God crossed the gap.

How about forgiveness.
	Is it easy to forgive?
	Raise your hand if you think it is.
	I know, terrible question.
	We do not interact with the preacher.
		What are we, Methodists?
	I imagine Scots Episcopals are even worse.
	Dour and inscrutable, no.
	But forgiveness is miserable for everyone.
	It takes work to forgive.
Christianity gives us tools.
	It primes our imagination.
		God forgave humanity, 
even when humanity was particularly nasty to God.
	It teaches us to listen with love and patience.
	It teaches us to value love and connection. 
We break bread together.
We attend to brokenness – both within us and between us.
We mind the gap.
We practice confession and reconciliation,
	verbally in worship and tangibly at the table.
We go out into the world
	and share the gift that God has given us,
	the gift of being one.
We have not mastered it.
	We may not even be good at it most of the time,
	but we practice
	and, miraculously, God binds us together.

Christianity must always be about there and here.
	It must embrace the perfect heavens,
		eternal and perfect.
	It must also encompass the messy, painful, 
unsatisfactory earth.
We witness to God when we bring harmony and connection.
We share the Spirit when we share our true selves
	in faith, hope, and love.
I ask – and I work – so that God’s will may be done
	on earth as in heaven.
And God answers.
	Not as dramatically as I might like,
		but God answers, nonetheless.
	God allows me to see as I would be seen,
		to understand as I would be understood,
		to love as I would be loved.
	God invites me in.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

We are called to mind the gap.
And we are called to close it.
The Holy Spirit gives us power to forgive
	in a way that remembers and responds to past mistakes,
	but is not overcome by them.
	Practice forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit give us power to love
	in a way the respects our differences
	but doesn’t let them to separate us.
	practice love.
The distance can seem impossibly far.
	It is not.
	God crosses it every day.
 
Heaven and earth are not the same place.
Neither are they completely separate.
We have discovered that God’s rules apply in both.
Some will say that I disrespect heaven by saying so
	Would God descend to our level?
	God did.
Some will say that I devalue humans,
	by making earth our true home –
	at least for the time being.
	Are we animals? Are we bodies?
	We are.
	Of course, we are God’s animals, and God’s body.
But I prefer to think of the way God reveals our relationships.

The breath I breathe is not my breath alone;
	it is the breath I share with you.
“Holy Spirit” is a modern translation for spiritus, pneuma, breath.
Let the same breath be in us as was in Jesus.
Let our life be his life,
	concretely and tangibly.
I’m a biologist and I take the biology of the bible quite literally.
The abstract heavenly meaning does not exclude
	a tangible earthly meaning.
We share breath and food with one another.
We are one body in Christ.

No matter how foreign someone seems…
No matter how fragmented the church and the world become
	or seem to become…
No matter how divided you feel, even within yourself.
No matter.
God dissolved the boundary between heaven and earth.
God opened a path for us,
	a path of peace and community.
God’s Spirit moves in us,
	bringing heaven and earth together.

 

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