Listening As an Act of Love (June 8, 2014)

sermonsLISTENING AS AN ACT OF LOVE

A sermon preached by George V. (Tripp) Hudgins
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Monday, June 8, 2014

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

The story of Pentecost always begins with a sound; the gathering of people and a sound. So often we focus on what is being said at the time in the story and ignore all the listening that takes place.

First, there’s a sound.
Second, people hear the sound.
An encounter with the Holy Spirit is predicated on a sound and listening.

I wonder what Peter was thinking that day…with all that noise.

When I read this account from Acts, it’s pretty clear that Peter’s first thought was, “Oh no! Everyone is going to think we’re drunk and it’s only 9:00 in the morning!”

But the Spirit moved and suddenly everyone needed an explanation.
I mean, look at this story.
Look at how many people notice.
Look at the text.
Everyone heard the Spirit.
Not everyone knew what it was, but everyone heard it.
Everyone.

The story of Pentecost is often told as if the most important thing that happened was the speaking in tongues…that people were empowered to speak. Indeed, it’s important. No doubt.

But first, first, they heard something. They listened.

“People will speak!” we cry out.
Language upon language upon language in an ecstatic bubbling proclamation.
Isn’t that cool?!
Yeah. But…no.
Today, I want us to understand that first there was something worth hearing.
The Spirit of God is worth hearing.

In 2010, Rev. James Forbes (former pastor of Riverside Church in New York City) spoke at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary’s commencement service. The famed Baptist preacher stood in the elevated pulpit of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, IL (a cathedral space just outside of Chicago) and addressed the graduating class and all who had gathered there that day. I was in attendance as a an alum and as local clergy. Dr. Forbes spoke of all the changes in the church but reminded us that it was not just in the church. It was everywhere. He gave us a list of all that was going on, a litany of change and discord. He spoke of it as a time of confusion of languages, of an inability to hear one another, of an inability to be civil and to listen. But, he said, the Holy Spirit is moving.

How do we know? Well, because everything is confusing

The Spirit is doing a new thing.
The Spirit troubles the water.
God’s Spirit is in the world
and it is up us to learn how to listen for it,
and how to listen to one another.

We have to listen to one another, he said, if there is to be positive, lasting change.

At American Baptist Seminary of the West’s commencement service this year, Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson preached to the students, faculty, and families gathered at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA. She spoke of her own discouragement at the present state of affairs in religious vocations. She had a long list of reasons to be discouraged, too. But in a stroke of homiletical skill she turned it all around. Dr. Jackson reminded us that the Spirit is moving, that God is doing a new thing, and that we must have ready hearts and minds to recognize what the Spirit is doing. She has great hope because God does not call people unless God has something for them to do.

We are not alone, O church. We are not alone.

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

 

All of it.
All flesh.
Not some flesh,
the good looking flesh,
the young flesh,
the tanned, toned, muscular flesh;
or those who aren’t drunk at 9:00am flesh,
but all flesh.

A recent Pew research study states that 95% of Americans claim to make their spiritual lives a priority. Let’s look at that statistic and take it seriously for a second. 95% of Americans claim to be spiritual, in-spirited, inspired, filled with God’s own breath. I have to think that the other five percent simply didn’t understand the question.

One of my favorite things about being Christian is that I get to say things like this: It is the last days, just like it was in Peter’s day.

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

My friends, it is always the last days.
The Spirit is always poured out.
Praise God for the end times!
Praise God for the Holy Spirit!

She just needs ready hearts to hear her. She needs someone to listen.
She needs someone to take her people seriously.
She needs someone to open their hearts
to the absurd possibility
that God is doing a new thing,
and that this new thing is happening everywhere.

Are we open to the Spirit? Or do we just think everyone is drunk?

The world needs people who are ready to listen. The world needs people who are ready to hear the truth…no matter how challenging the message might be. I believe that we, the church, are being called upon to listen.

Our question about the future of the church needs to change. When we hear “95%,” we need not ask, “How do we get them to listen to us? How do we get them in here?” What the world needs is for us to listen to it, to assume that the Spirit has been poured out upon all people.

What people need is someone who will listen to them as they tell their stories of encountering the divine. We need to listen to them.

Both of the commencement sermons I have mentioned here this morning have been offered in this time of transition and change. Seabury was in the midst of great change. It was graduating its last Masters of Divinity cohort before moving from the campus of Northwestern University to an office park near O’Hare airport, a shared campus in Ohio, and online. Fragmented. Dispersed. And Dr. Forbes asked us to listen, to get out out of our buildings and listen to people in the world. “Join the conversation!” he cried.

Likewise, ABSW as a member school of the Graduate Theological Union is witness to great transition as well. The GTU is increasingly inter-religious in focus. The Christian seminaries are struggling, yes, but the Islamic college is booming and a Hindustani organization has been announced as the newest member of the GTU. They begin teaching classes in the fall. They wanted a place where they too would be heard.

And it’s not only here in California, of course. Pope Francis recently announced that the Vatican will host a prayer service for peace between Christians and Muslims. This will be the first time in history that the Koran will be sung at the vatican. The Pope, I believe, is trying to show us how to listen, how to be open, to take risks, and to hear what others are saying. It very well may be that the pathway to peace assumes a posture of listening to one another.

Listening is an act of love.
It is an activity. You want to do something? Listen.
Do you want to change the world? Open your hearts and minds and listen.

Listen to the Spirit and be unafraid of the new thing that God is doing.

Listening is an act of love, of compassion. The world can feel fragmented. People are lonely…as they always have been. But the need seems more acute these days. Perhaps, you recall the social challenges that were outlined in the book Bowling Alone (2000). A simple example: The number of single-person households is up more than 100% from 1960 to just under 28%.

Think about that. 28% of American households are single-person homes. People live alone.

These are not all young people living alone.
Many of them are our elders.
People do live longer. Many live alone.

Is anyone listening to them?

The invention of social technologies such as Facebook or Snapchat are attempts to address the issue of loneliness. They connect us to one another in surprising ways and people are using these tools to craft new communities, to fashion opportunities to hear and be heard. Social technology is not a youth movement. It’s an attempt to stave off the loneliness, to find new ways of listening to one another.

“and your sons and
daughters shall prophesy,
and your young people shall
see visions
and your old people
dream dreams.”

The Spirit does not usher in a movement for some people.
This is a movement for all people.

Today the world is aflame like that day so long ago.
The Spirit is sounding, the very breath of God is moving out over our own chaos.
And people are talking.
All of them.
All at once.

Tongues of flame leap across the landscape.
They are in twitter feeds and lecture halls.
They are in cafes and along assembly lines.
They are in board meetings and sweatshops.
Young people are casting visions.
Old people are dreaming dreams.

It’s happening all around us.
But is anyone listening?
Are we listening?

I wonder if, like those who challenged Peter that day, we’re more ready to disregard what we hear. We can find any excuse to ignore the holy.

But that is not be our calling.

Open your hearts.
Open your minds.
Rejoice and be glad in what the Spirit is doing in the world around you.
Wisdom shouts in the streets. She stands in the public square.
The Spirit is poured out upon all flesh.

The world is in need of listeners, my friends,
people to offer one another the attention they so desperately need.
People need love, not programs.
People need someone to hear them,
not to tell them what to believe,
not to tell them what to think,
not to tell them anything except,

“I hear you, and I understand.”

Listening is an act of love.

Not for the faint of heart…

tripp-mandolinFriends of God,

This is not for the faint of heart.

An ancient poem goes something like this:

Understand these words well:
You absolutely must achieve freedom!
You definitely must go down the path
that leads to the shore.
With an undaunted heart and singing
with a bold strong voice you will cross over.
You will have to breast the waves cheerfully
in spite of the storm’s blasts.
Even if the entanglements of illusions
cause you to reel in bewilderment
you will still have to get release.
On the path there are indeed thorns;
trampling on them,
you will have to go on.
Don’t die fearfully
while you hold dreams of happiness
tightly in your embrace.
In order to have your fill of life
You will have to sustain the blows of death.

As many of you know, it’s been a rough road lately in our home. Friends have lost loved ones, young children. We have lost family, a young man of twenty-two. The new year has been a bit rough thus far. But that is the way of things. So often I am inclined to think that there is ever a time without difficulty, without someone’s deep loss. I only imagine that there is a time free of loss and grief in the world. The truth is that there is never such a time.

This is why we must cultivate compassion. We must.

Suffering and death happen. We all get to do it. We may wish to live as if that were not true, our own mortality being too terrible a burden (understandably) for many. But today I am holding death up to the light and saying, once again, God does not give us suffering. God does not send us tests. The death of a loved one is not a test from the “God who so loved the world.” No. Never. Stop it.

Don’t do that to the one whom God loved so very much. God is kind, slow to anger, long-suffering. God is compassionate.

I have been reminded that we serve a God who suffers and dies every day, a crucified Christ. Suffering and death are not tests. They are never tests. Nor are they “gifts.”

The saying, “God never gives you more than you can handle” assumes we know a great deal about what God gives us in the first place. I’m not so certain we can know what God gives except to say God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.

Instead, God suffers and dies.

Then there’s another poem. This one is from the Sufi poet Rumi. It goes something like this:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

A friend of mine recently said, “No matter how hard it gets I always say to myself, ‘I am glad to be alive.’” There is this thing we call joy, resurrection, suffering and death are never the end of the story. And though Lent will likely be a bit more deep and dark than usual for me this year, I am aware of where this season ends…

…Alleluia!
Pastor Tripp

The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying

An interesting post on language, affluence, and “blessing.”

The Accidental Missionary

*Writers note:  After reading your comments, I have been moved to revise the following piece.  In a post where the main point is to encourage others to be aware of how our choice of words can get in the way of conveying our true intent, I realize the irony that my choosing to refer to my lack of understanding of God’s purpose as “dumb luck” caused some folks to miss the meaning of the post itself.  Silly me.  While people may still disagree, I think this slightly revised version better captures my honest intent.

I was on the phone with a good friend the other day.  After covering important topics, like disparaging each other’s mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.

“So, how’s work going?” he asked.

For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and…

View original post 1,180 more words

A Feeling of Gratitude

Martin Luther King, Jr.Friends of God,

In thinking about what to write for this month’s article, it occurred to me to simply thank you. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of standing in your pulpit, Rick’s pulpit, and preaching for most of January. Thank you for the privilege of that work and the trust it assumes. I am grateful more than I can express.

We have spent the month talking about what it means to be “beloved.” We called one another “beloved.” We heard about Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community and the powerful challenge of liberty and responsibility. And then we heard from Henri Nouwen whose book, Life of The Beloved has been a favorite of mine for many years. He too understood the idea that our belovedness is more than “feel good faith” but a deep call to seeing the world differently and acting within it accordingly.

To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this. Every time we hear about ‘chosen people’, ‘chosen talents’, or ‘chosen friends’, we almost automatically start thinking about elites and find ourselves not far from feelings of jealousy, anger, or resentment. Not seldom has the perception of others as being chosen led to aggression, violence, and war.

This is the foundation to what I understand as “unity.” The unity of the church is founded upon this understanding of what it means to be a human being. The challenge, I think, is evident. We often laud competition. We think our way through problems. We forget, sometimes to feel at all much less honor our feelings as part of who we are with as much value as our thinking.

“God so loved the world” begins the famous scripture verse. “Loved” not “conceptualized.” God’s feelings propelled God into the human flesh of the birth, life, and death of Jesus the Christ. A feeling.

All of creation began with a feeling.

So, I wanted to share my feeling of gratitude.

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp

Who do you say Jesus is?

Jesus mosaicFriends of God,

This week we will welcome Pastor Rick back from his time away from us. I am looking forward to the insights he will share with us. Please take a moment and send him a note or make a quick phone call to welcome him back. I know he would appreciate it.

Doug Davidson, in his spiritual formation class entitled “Visions of Jesus” asked us the One Big Question: “Who do you say Jesus is?” So much of our answers to this question reflect all the various things we hold most dear and what we think about the Church, politics, family, and money. I’ve been pondering it with Doug’s idea about taking Mark Scandrette’s work in “Jesus Dojo” seriously. What could we take on this Lent as a community? What might we do
differently together? It’s a big question. Stay tuned for opportunities to meet and talk about what’s in store for us all. Who is Jesus to us?

The Annual Meeting approaches. So too does our Valentine’s Day Potluck. And, believe it or not, Lent and Easter are right around the corner. Things move right along here at First Baptist.

I hope you have found all the goings on to be a helpful and rich part of your spiritual lives. I find it all to be exciting and helpful. Essayist, Christian Harding writes on Christian contemplation:

Christianity presents people not with an idea, but with a life; not merely with sayings but with a sayer. It is easy to miss the significance of this, because it goes against the modern conviction that one should evaluate ideas purely on their own merits. But when Jesus talks to his disciples about their day’s work, he doesn’t say: ‘How do you think my ideas are going down with people?’ He wants to know who the people think he is. You can imagine him putting put his face up really close to Peter’s at this point, so close that his disciple smells the lunch on his breath: ‘And who do you say that I am?’

You can read the whole essay here.

As we deepen our relationships with one another, might we find ways of deepening our relationship with The Christ, in the face of friend and stranger alike. May the practices of welcome, worship, and work become clear invitations to all we meet to a shared life together.

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp

Follow the Beloved (January 26, 2014)

Rev Tripp HudginsFollow The Beloved
A Sermon preached by Rev. Tripp Hudgins
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto
January 26, 2014- Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Follow The Beloved

 Let us pray: Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us all the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Good morning, Beloved.

Two weeks ago we started this little series with the Baptism of Jesus and how we are all God’s beloved and we greeted one another with a word from God, “in you I am well pleased.”

Last week we discussed Dr. King’s Beloved Community, and the tension between liberty and responsibility. We spoke of the invitation to proclaim such a vision and how we do not do it alone. God will not delay.

This week, I want to visit this idea of “belovedness” one last time together. This morning’s scripture focuses things just a little bit for us.

We just heard the stories. John has been arrested. Jesus goes to another town (not a bad idea) and starts preaching. He also starts putting the band together. Peter, Andrew, James, and John…Why do these people drop everything?

It’s the age-old question, is it not? What would cause people to drop everything and follow someone? They leave their families, their responsibilities. Maybe this was the plan all along and these four friends were just waiting for the word. The scripture is unclear.

Maybe, if we search our own hearts, we already know the answer.

What has caused you to drop everything and go somewhere,
to do something that seems at first to be reckless and irresponsible?
Or even foolish?

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s always been love.

Love.

Love for a child, a parent, the love of longing and desire for a lover, the love that is loyalty and affection for a friend…

For love we might buy a one way ticket to a new city. For love we might call our boss from the airport saying, “Oh! Right. I won’t be at work this week.” For love we might get in a car and drive all night long to say good-bye to a beloved grandparent, to be by the side of our parents as they lose their parents.

For love, our friends will fill in for us, step into the gaps we leave behind because they too love us and know how to care for us. For love, many of us would do anything. We would make incredible sacrifices for one another and all for love.

You may remember a prayer request I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Some dear friends have suffered a terrible loss. Their five-week old son had died suddenly and unexpectedly. It is crushing news. Their grief is incredible. I cannot imagine it, but yesterday I saw it.

You see, my friends live up on Lake Tahoe. They run a summer camp called Camp Galilee. They had lived in Berkeley. That’s where I knew them, but just last spring they moved up to the mountains with their daughter for this wonderful opportunity to take over the summer camp.

When the news came of Fritz’ death people were already making plans. They were canceling previous engagements. They were picking music and sending cards. They were buying plane tickets and setting up car-pools. They were dropping their nets.

And so we gathered up in the mountains yesterday. Their friends, people from their church home in Berkeley and the churches they serve up in Tahoe. People gathered from all over…some for days…to share their love, to grieve together, to suffer together, to support those who have also loved them so very well.

“Of course,” we say, “of course we’d go.”

What heartbreak. What grief.

What love. What wondrous love. Wondrous, indeed. And reckless, inconvenient, terrible.

Loyalty, caring, compassion, shared suffering…so many people gathering around one another in a sign of deep and abiding love.

Impulsive. Romantic. Reckless. Abiding. Wondrous.

So what are these people in our Gospel reading doing?

What would cause them to drop everything like this?

Maybe it’s simple. It’s love.

They hear in the voice of Jesus the voice of The Beloved, God, the lover, calling to the loved.

The whole of the Gospel hinges on us recognizing The One who loves us, upon us hearing that voice and being willing to follow it.

It’s a terrible way to run a church, but it may be the only way to be Christian.

I think that the voice of The Beloved is always a voice of Love. We’re not always willing and ready to follow love. Paul’s letter this morning reminds us of that. We can become distracted. Confused. Our sense of obligation can become distorted. Often we refuse to follow love. We hear the voice. We even recognize it for what it is, but we refuse to follow.

Love is not expedient. Love is not rational. Love is not convenient.

But in the end, it may be love that turns us around. It might be one of the few things that causes us to drop everything and move to another town or make room for someone in our life in some deeply meaningful way.

Such a love as the love that God offers in Christ Jesus might remind us what it means to be human when we’ve forgotten just what that is.

I am reminded of a remarkable interview of Jack Leroy Tueller, a decorated World War II veteran. His incredible story says more about the power of loving your enemies than I could ever put into words:

This is two weeks after D-Day. It was dark, raining, muddy. And Im stressed so I get my trumpet out. And the commander said, Jack, dont play tonight because theres one sniper left.I thought to myself that German sniper is as scared and lonely as I am. So I thought, Ill play his love song.

And just this little act of grace, this message of love played out across the expanse of darkness is so wonderful. If the story ends here, it is still a beautiful story of human kindness. It seems almost unreal what happens next: the military police approach Tueller the following morning and tell him they have a German prisoner on the beach who keeps asking, Who played that trumpet last night?”

I grabbed my trumpet and went down to the beach. There was a 19-year-old German, scared and lonesome. He was dressed like a French peasant to cloak his role as a sniper. And, crying, he said, I couldn’t fire because I thought of my fiancé. I thought of my mother and father,and he says, My role is finished.

And he stuck out his hand and I shook the hand of the enemy. He was no enemy, he was scared and lonely like me.’  [see video below]

 You see, the sniper heard a love song, and in the hearing remembered what it means to be loved, he heard the voice of a lover…

He remembered what it means to be human. To be loved to be a lover himself.

Maybe the call of Jesus is like the peal of a trumpet. The trumpet sounds within our souls. It is passionate, urgent, and reminds us what it means to be fully human.

God bless Jack and his trumpet.

God bless the writers of love songs and those brave enough to sing them.

God bless those who drive hundreds of miles to sit at a bedside.

God bless those who risk everything for love.

God bless those who can hear and respond to The Beloved.

God bless people who, once set against one another, can hear the voice of the beloved in songs and cries, in words and the prayers that are mere groans.

For, you see, what drives fishermen from their boats and snipers from their trees is just this voice. It is the voice of the Beloved. It is the Lover who is the Beloved, who cries out to us, the beloved.

And all of this came to pass so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:.
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea,
across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

Beloved. The cry of the prophet, of The Christ, is the cry of God who is the Beloved, a lover’s call of longing and desire.

Things are afoot…

Pastor TrippFriends of God,

It’s the middle of the week and much is afoot at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto.

We’re gearing up for the Annual Meeting on February 2. Be ready to stay late. There will be childcare.

Pastor Rick is preaching that day as he will have returned from his sabbatical. Let’s welcome him back warmly!

The kids are raising money to buy 50 soccer balls for the Congo. They sold cookies last week and raised $100 in cash. Thank you all for your generosity. Clearly, we have a way to go. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

The building is abuzz with activity from the various groups who reside here. Music, dance, healing, and food make for a powerful extension of our ministry of presence in this neighborhood.

This coming Sunday we will explore one more time what it means to be beloved. This time we’ll talk about being beloved and being one in Christ.  Really.  It’ll be fun. I hope you will join us for worship.

Bring a friend!

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp