Wednesday, May 30, 2007


This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost. Which is a pretty exciting thing--and gives me hope as I think about the challenges we live with as we seek to be the church in San Diego in 2007.

It's sometimes called the "Birthday of the Church." But, I don't want us to get to thinking we should celebrate it with cake, candles and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. (Wait: that's old fashioned. It's a bounce house these days, right?)

Actually, maybe the candles would be good.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit--GOD--descends on this wild and diverse gathering of people. Maybe "gathering" is overstated; they weren't really hanging out together, on purpose. They just happened to all be together in the city that day. They were from all different places, and spoke all different languages. Mostly, they just happened to be occupying the same physical space.

The Spirit comes to the disciples, and is visible to them, and tangible. Like a burst of strong wind. Like tongues of fire, that rest on each of them.

And the Spirit enables them to speak in languages they do not know. Which means the crowd gathered is enabled to hear--to comprehend and know--the Gospel message. All of them. In their own languages.

The Spirit connects them together in this powerful experience of God. It looks like a mess. So much so that others suggest they must be drunk.

It's understandable to want to try to explain away a powerful spiritual experience. But I give thanks that many of those there didn't let this experience get dismissed and explained.

Instead, it became a powerful beginning of the Church.

By empowering those disciples, that day, God's Spirit demonstrated its presence in and with us--enabling us to do the incredible work of sharing God's Gospel--the good news of life and love with God.

This Sunday, we also get to welcome the class of Confirmands who will join our church. They've been studying and discussion together this year, and are ready to commit themselves to the work of the church.

It's always cool to get to receive new folks into the church community. It's especially cool to receive young people.

Will you join me in praying that their spirits will help bring the Holy Spirit to our church and, even more, to our community and world?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

not what you expect

This week's scripture from Acts is a rollicking take of the adventures of those first folks who were figuring out how to be "church."

Paul and Silas are living the adventure of a life of faith, with intensity.

Do the stuff of "church": healing people and being living testimony to the power of the Gospel. And, as they do these things, they end up doing things that are not what the world expects.

Sometimes it gets them into trouble, and sometimes it makes them friends. It's definitely not what people expect. It's casting out spirits, getting thrown into jail, being freed by earthquakes and not running. And, about finding yourself breaking bread with the person who'd been charged with keeping you in chains.

This week, as you may know, we had a fire at our church building, in a room below our sanctuary. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the damage was fairly contained. I've been inspired by a spirit amongst our church leaders to not only persevere, but to be strengthened by this.

There have been overwhelmingly gracious offers of help from people--individuals and other churches and communities of faith. That people want to help us recover this beautiful church building is a blessing.

And, while I am glad for all this, I also wondering if it's not an occasion to remember what "church" really is: the gathering of those of us who are trying to be Christ's body in the world. Maybe now's as good of a time as any to remember that "church" happens most wondrously when we're out in the world.

I love the freshness and boldness of the faith Paul and Silas lived. Their faith (with the help of that earthquake) was rocking the world.

What do you think that would look like in San Diego, today?

A friend sent me the link to an article about a virtual church in the online world of Second Life. And, recognizing that I'm posting this on a little blog we call "virtual cove," I have to wonder at the distance between this kind of "church" and Paul and Silas's church. Both were a bit unconventional: one in a jail cell, and one in thousands of homes in front of computer screens (and with people, presumably, still in their pajamas. I am as I write this, after all...)

What I love about Paul and Silas and those other early Christians is that their faith lacked tenuousness, and certainly didn't have any of the buffers and safety barriers online life does. They weren't playing at being new people in Christ, trying on a different persona with the option of turning the computer off and becoming their old selves again. They were doing it, with the help of others.

I'm not saying that what we do in our church buildings on Sunday morning is a good recreation of Paul and Silas's lives of faith, either. (God knows that pantyhose and neckties were not part of their dress when they preached in that jail cell...)

I guess I'm just hungry for interaction, as the community of faith, that pushes us toward that vitality, joy and bold invitation.

Monday, May 14, 2007


We continue to read the end of the story this week, with another passage from This the end of Revelation. And it's got a river in it.

The river of life, it says, which comes through the middle of the city.

Since our church buildings are right in Mission Valley, in the very midst of the San Diego River floodplain, it seems like we're in a good place to be thinking about rivers coming in the midst of things. Too often, in spring rains, especially, the river reminds us that we are in its territory, as it floods streets we count on.

I, however, am caught enjoying the way this river of life, in this beautiful vision of God's incredible and fulfilling end to things, comes right in the city. And it nourishes a tree, which bears fruit in every season, and which has leaves that heal the nations.

I wonder what it would take for us to see ourselves as that tree--planted as we are in the midst of Mission Valley, at the edge of the San Diego River.

How might we be healing for our community, and for the nations? What "fruit" will we bear?

Monday, May 07, 2007

happy endings

When things seem stressful around the office, I like to remind people not to worry: I read to the end of the book, and it turns out well. (I stole this line from someone else, but can't remember who.) This week, we read part of that fabulous ending.

I love the last chapters of Revelation. This week, we read from Chapter 21. It's beautiful: one day, all our tears will be wiped dry. Our thirsts will be met with the abounding refreshment of the water of life.

The rest of the book of Revelation is a wild ride through sometimes horrifying, dramatic descriptions of an end-time; it's horror would look familiar to many who suffer the oppression, deprivation, violence and injustice of our world. But, then, at the end, this beautiful new reality emerges from the midst. Incredible.

So good, even, a band called Bad Religion can get it right: There will be sorrow no more.

I love imagining a better world. I love Micah's vision of vines and fig trees for everyone to sit under and, I suppose, feast on. (So much so that I planted kiwifruit and a fig tree in my own backyard this week...) I love how Isaiah told it, what with wolves and lambs hanging out together, and all being well.

This week, I was talking with some people about that vision of Isaiah's, about the wolves and lambs. It only works if everyone learns new ways of behaving. Otherwise, they can't hang out together. It won't end well. The harmony will be short-lived--maybe only 'til the photo op passes.

I wanna believe that this vision can last. Not just for a moment, for eternity.

I suppose that's why the makers of our lectionary, the three-year cycle of Bible readings we use on Sundays, paired Revelation with a story from Acts, in which we learn that Peter has learned a new way of behaving.

He's confronted by other religious people--folks who were concerned (to say the least) about his having totally blown the rules about eating "clean" things, with appropriate people. Peter, we learn, had not only eating off the holy diet, but he did it in the home of Gentiles. This is bad. When the people of Israel have disregarded holy rules like this before, they've ended up in exile for years.

Peter has a good answer: the Holy Spirit led me to do it. And it led that Gentile to invite me in, and to hear the Gospel preached, and to receive and be changed by that message. Then, he gets the best line in: If God did for them what God did for us, "like I'm going to stop God?!?" (That's my translation. Not official anything translation.)

The Spirit is at work in our world, making real this wild vision of God's future. Of a time when our tears are wiped away, and when we all have plenty of water of life to drink.

And, sometimes, it moves in such amazing ways that the best we can do is stay out of the way...