Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Feast of Pentecost: 21 May 2009


Feast of Pentecost: 31 May 2009
(Acts 2:1-21/Psalm 104:24-34, 35b/Romans 8:22-27/John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)
Our Loquacious God

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth.
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Our God is loquacious, a description I first heard from William Willimon, though now I see it everywhere I look in Scripture. Loquacious: isn’t that a wonderful word? Loquacious: talkative, chatty, noisy – clamoring to be heard. No matter its true etymology, I think it’s a Southern word. A genteel Southern belle sits on the veranda sipping sweet iced tea, the smell of magnolia in the air. She’s surrounded by rambunctious, young nieces and nephews. She tilts her head just so, smiles at one of the mothers and says, “My, but your little one certainly is loquacious, bless her heart,” in the unique art form of Southern backhand compliment. “My, but your little one certainly is loquacious,” translates to, “My goodness, will this child ever be quiet?” Southerners understand without translation.

Our God is as loquacious as one of these children: talkative, chatty, noisy – clamoring to be heard. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, not by manual labor, but by speaking them into being. “Let there be,” God said, and there was, and it was good. God is loquacious and there is a cosmos to show for it.

The Lord said to Abram:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2, NRSV).

God is loquacious and there is covenant, there is blessing to show for it.

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” spoke the voice from the bush.

“The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:6 ff).

And when Moses demurred – he could not speak for himself, much less for “I Am That I Am” – our loquacious God promised to make him loquacious.

“Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to speak” (Ex 4:11-12, NRSV).

God is loquacious and there is a liberated people, a free nation to show for it.

Our loquacious God spoke to and spoke through warriors and judges, priests and prostitutes, prophets and kings, and on at least one occasion, an ass. Loquacious: talkative, chatty, noisy – clamoring to be heard.

Sometimes people listened. Other times they tilted their heads just so, smiled and said, “My, but your little god certainly is loquacious, bless his heart.” These latter ones learned too late the power of God’s word: the depraved world of Noah’s generation, the wicked ones of Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh and his armies, the Canaanite tribes, idolatrous and complacent Israel, rebellious Judah – all judged by the word of our loquacious God.

And though God speaks judgment, judgment is never the final word of our loquacious God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things come into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14, NRSV).

In Jesus, St. John sees God at his loquacious best, speaking light, and life, and redemption to man and restoration to all creation. From the fullness of our loquacious God and the word he spoke in Jesus, we truly have received grace and truth (John 1:14 ff). But even in Jesus, our loquacious God did not say all that can and must be said. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was betrayed. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13, NRSV). There is more to be said and another voice yet to speak: the Lord, the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV).

Rushing wind, tongues of fire, gifts of languages: clearly the attempts to silence the Word of God on the hard wood of the cross have failed. Our loquacious God has no intent of being silent. His word will go forth to every tribe and language and people and nation, creating a new kingdom of priests for our loquacious God, until myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands gather round the throne giving voice to all creation as they sing with full voice,

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing (Rev 5:9 ff)!

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs: this is just the beginning. The sound of this mighty, rushing wind will go out to all lands, its message to the ends of the world (cf Ps 19:4).

It starts here in Jerusalem, though it will soon move to Judea and Samaria and beyond. It starts now, with the disciples speaking about God’s deeds of power. It starts with Peter – a fisherman – addressing a crowd of thousands in the name of the crucified and risen Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit of our loquacious God.

“This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Acts 2:16-21, NRSV).

What will Peter say on this great and glorious day? When our loquacious God breaks the silence of the tomb, when the Word rises victorious trampling down death by death, when the flaming tongue of the Holy Spirit rests upon Peter and the words burn in his bones, what will Peter say on this great and glorious day?

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-24, 32-33, 36, NRSV).

“Write as if you were dying,” Annie Dillard challenges writers in her book The Writing Life – a challenge that applies equally well to preachers – perhaps better.

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?[1]

Peter, what will you say to dying people that will not enrage by its triviality? Know with certainty this Jesus God has raised up and has made him both Lord and Messiah – this Jesus whom you crucified. This is the voice of our loquacious God in the person of the Holy Spirit, speaking through sons and daughters, young men and old men, slave and free, men and women – through Peter – speaking a new word: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39, NRSV).

And three thousand people heard the Lord God call that day. Three thousand people were baptized. Three thousand people received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand new tongues began to give voice to our loquacious God that day, and the word went out among them and through them, and we are their children. Our loquacious God is not silent; the word he spoke on Pentecost he speaks today. When the last benediction was written by the last apostle in the last book – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Rev 22:21) – when the last Amen was sounded, our loquacious God did not fall silent. The word he spoke he speaks still, through the body of Christ, the church, in whom the Spirit dwells: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Our loquacious God has spoken through warriors and judges, priests and prostitutes, prophets and kings, and on at least one occasion, an ass. He has spoken in a bush, in tablets of stone, in a still small voice and in a mighty rushing wind. He has spoken in dark cloud and blinding light. He has spoken in the Word made flesh, and in the disciples of that Word. And he is speaking still in the church, the pillar and foundation of the truth (cf 1 Tim 3:15). Loquacious: talkative, chatty, noisy – clamoring to be heard.

And, he is speaking through you – through all who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27, NRSV).

When we are bewildered and perplexed, when our prayers are reduced to inarticulate sighs, when our loquacious God seems strangely silent, we have this promise: the wind will blow and the Spirit will come with tongues of flame to speak in us and through us, and God who searches the heart will hear the intercession of the Spirit. Never is God silent. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” Paul writes (Eph 6:18, NIV). It is the only way we truly can pray. Our fathers in the faith tell us that if we devote ourselves to such prayer, the time will come when we fall silent and the prayer will pray itself through us – our loquacious God speaking again. Such is the work of the Spirit.

Yes, our loquacious God spoke on Pentecost and is speaking still, in myriads of voices: in Scripture, in the church, in the prayers of the saints. God’s is the voice of creation – of new creation. When God speaks, when his Spirit goes forth, we are re-created and all creation is renewed (cf Ps 104:30) – all a work in progress.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:22-23, NRSV).

We wait, we groan, we listen for the word that God is speaking to us, into us, and through us – a word that is making us new, re-creating us in the image of Christ, making us truly ourselves. Robert Benson speaks of this word.

We are, said Bob Mulholland, “an incarnate word, spoken by God, still being spoken by God.” And because we are still being spoken, the questions we have…are, in part, questions about listening for the incarnate word being whispered into us. They are questions about learning to open up to and becoming the word that was whispered into us. And is still being whispered into us.

Somewhere deep inside of me, perhaps in the truest and most holy part of me – the part of me that is the most me there is or ever will be – there is an echo of the Voice that spoke me into being and is still speaking the incarnate word who is Robert
[2]

or whatever the name is by which God calls you. Our loquacious God speaks our name and we listen and we are made new.

Our God is loquacious: talkative, chatty, noisy – clamoring to be heard. Pentecost is the promise that he speaks still: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.


[1] Annie Dillard. The Writing Life. Harper Perennial. 1990.
[2] Robert Benson. The Echo Within. Waterbrook. 2009.

2 comments:

Robert Benson said...

JOHN—

Thank you for reading THE ECHO WITHIN in the first place and for sharing a bit of it with your friends. I am humbled by the first and I am grateful for the latter. Be in touch.

Namaste —

R. Benson
thelongpew.com

John Roop + said...

Robert,

As always, it is my pleasure to read your books and to share them with friends. I have a large box of copies of "Living Prayer" -- now almost empty -- to give away to friends whose hearts long for what you express. "Living Prayer" ruined my life, calling me from my father's house into a strange land that the Lord is even now showing me. And for that I am ever in your debt.

Peace of Christ,

John