Saturday, August 8, 2015

Knowing too much

John 6: 35, 41-51

When my boys were little, they were learning what was called the “new math.” They were trying to explain to their Grandpa how the new math worked. They wrote their answers in these little boxes called screens, and sometimes they took the numbers apart and used several screens to get to the answer. Grandpa said, “I don’t understand what you are doing. In my day, we memorized the addition and multiplication tables. When we knew the basics, we could do anything.”
It’s easy to dismiss something new as not good enough, as not measuring up to our standards. We like to think we know the best way to do something, and new ideas are not welcome. Jesus faced that same problem.
While many folks came to him to be healed, and many were fed from a boy’s lunch, they were more interested in the food itself than where it came from. They forgot the real source of the manna and quails that God sent when Moses asked for it.
Jesus tries to remind them, and they begin to question his motives. Isn’t this Jesus getting full of himself? What does he mean, he came from heaven?! Isn’t this the son of Mary and Joseph, the boy who grew up with our own children? We know where he came from, and we know he’s just like the rest of us. How can he possibly make the claims he is now making?!
These folks knew what they knew, and weren’t open to any new ideas, especially when it came to what they knew about God. Scripture, traditional interpretations of scripture, traditional worship practices, and social customs were not subject to new ways of thinking and believing and doing. Jesus was challenging everything they held sacred about life and about God.
… Sometimes, we, too, don’t like our beliefs and practices to be challenged. We want to worship the way we have always worshiped; we want to sing the songs we’ve sung since we were children; raising our hands in praise to God is not done here; clapping our hands in time to the music is not appropriate. When I include a joke in the sermon, the response is, “I’m smiling as loud as I can.” It is as if we believe we honor God only by keeping our emotions and our bodies under control.
Perhaps we have experienced some out of control worship settings; we have seen on TV some frauds being healed with a slap on the head; we have seen people fainting in church, overcome by the experience of the Holy Spirit. We are afraid of such emotional expression in life, and in worship. (Except maybe when our favorite baseball or football team is winning.) We know what we know about worship, about church, and we are reluctant to have anyone challenge what we know.
When we hold such opinions, it is hard for the Holy Spirit to enter into our midst and make God-things happen. It’s hard for us to remember that God is always doing something new.
Worship is different in Pentecostal settings. Recently, I was at a conference comparing and contrasting Lutheranism and Pentecostalism. Many beliefs in Pentecostal churches are very similar to Lutheran beliefs, including the importance of God’s grace and mercy. In some settings, grace is earned, but in others it is always a free gift.
Pentecostal worship includes singing, praying, and a teaching sermon which lasts about 45 minutes. If something happens during worship, changing the order of worship, stopping to pray in the middle of a song or the sermon is no big deal. Testifying about miraculous healings and what I call God-incidences (instead of coincidences) is common.
What makes the difference? We Lutherans like good order. We have an order of worship and expect to follow it. We want God to show up but we want God to be quiet and not make any waves.
Pentecostals also expect God to show up. They call on God to be present and are open to experiencing the Holy Spirit at any given moment. They are open to Pentecost moments all the time, in our time, not just 2,000 years ago as described in Acts of the Apostles.
… We pray regularly to be guided by the Spirit. Do we really listen? Are we really open to going where the Spirit wants to lead us? Are we open to expressing our joy in God’s love with clapping to a great song? With learning new songs? With trusting God with our cash? With speaking the name of Jesus to people who don’t know him? With trying new ways of reaching out to the people in our community?
Must we know what we know, or can we be open to learning something new from Jesus? Can we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us as a congregation? As individuals?

Please pray with me. I invite you to join me in raising your hands in prayer and looking up instead of down. Holy Spirit, we invite you to come to us. Help us to not be so sure about what we think we know about you and your ways. Help us to be more open to your movement among us and to embrace your power. Amen