The Cost and the Joy (Pentecost)

At the top of my stairs is a photo. It’s the first photo to appear in Sylvania United Church of Christ’s directory. It’s Kate and me and Eve with her finger pointing at her mouth. I just love it.

It was taken in 2010 for the “new” directory. But we know what happens when you call something new. One day, it’ll be old. I remember that period of my life. We were trying to get our feet on the ground in N.W. Ohio. I was trying to figure out what was expected of an associate pastor and a new parent.

But y’all know that we’ve had another child since then. Sam was born a year later. It would be wrong to say that that photo is incorrect. It was correct at the time. Much like the creeds we’ve been studying for this series.

The creeds we can treat, like Quaker minister Philip Gulley states, “Like an old family photograph on the wall.”[1] That photo is what my family looked like in 2010. We have changed and grown since then. Just like the Creeds. The Nicene Creed is what God looked like in the early 320s when we had to deal with Arius who didn’t think Jesus was divine.. It is a snapshot of what we thought God looked like then. We have changed and grown since then. So has our image of God.

Many of us were raised with exclusively male images for God. There are many passages that use the pronouns “he/him/his” for God. Even Jesus calls God, “Abba.” This is the Greek familiar word for Father, so the Lord’s Prayer would more accurately start, “Our Papa” than the formal “Our Father.” Masculine image. No doubt about it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is the exclusive use of male images ignoring the feminine images of God. We have changed and grown since then.

The personal name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine.[2] Also this name originally has no vowels. It’d be unpronounceable. I love how there’s a tradition that states that it’s the sound of our breathing. “Yh” on the inhale, “wh” on the exhale. From your first breath to your last, you are saying the name of God.

The word “ruach” which we say at the beginning of every service, often translated as “Spirit of God” or “Wind of God”–that word is feminine.[3] The word for the Wisdom of God referenced throughout Proverbs and the Prophets is “Sophia.” So if you know anyone named Sophia or Sophie, they bear a name of God.

The Hebrew Scriptures have a whole bunch of feminine imagery for God. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of biblical support to use feminine imagery and pronouns for God. It’s all over the Hebrew Bible and Jesus knows this and uses feminine imagery for God as well. Jesus tells three stories with the same theme. Something is lost. God searches. God finds. Rejoicing.

A sheep is lost. God the Good Shepherd searches and finds it. Rejoices.
A coin is lost. God the woman sweeps the house and finds it. Rejoices.
A son is lost. He finds himself and returns home. God the father rejoices.

Jesus gives us three stories of God’s love for us. And how God will always find us and rejoice over us, no matter what. That is good news! And the sneaky thing is, in the middle story about the lost coin, God is a woman. God is like a woman, who loses a coin, sweeps the house and finds it. Then calls her friends together and rejoices. I tell you there is joy in the presence of angels of God over one person who thinks differently about God.

We also know that God is beyond gender. We want our young men and women and our nonbinary folk to see themselves in the life of God. You are named and claimed. You are created by God as a gift to this hurting world. You’re home here. You are the church. I begin every Sunday morning worship service with the greeting, “Good morning, Church!” The church is not the budget. It is not the building. The church is the people. It always has been, it always will be. God has made covenants with people and not institutions. The institutions of religion exist to remind people of their covenant relationship with God (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 42:6 and 1 Peter 2:9-10).

The church in the twenty-first century has forgotten this fact. The church always gets in trouble when it forgets itself. Other definitions have crept in, and we have forgotten who and whose we are as the church. The church is coming out of an era when it could think of itself as a budget, structure, or process. This time is ending. Those are old pictures on the wall. I believe it is my call to help remind God’s people of who and whose they are.

Like our cover. I encountered this artist through his blog while I was still in seminary. David Hayward was a pastor in Canada and started drawing cartoons. They were funny. Provocative. And usually produced wonderful conversations. I met friends on that blog. Jay and John from Canada. Yael, a Jewish woman in the states. We had wonderful, challenging conversations about our images of God. They, along with the art of David, helped me grow and expand my images of the divine. I saw God in each of these friends.

This image is my thesis. My entire doctorate is this picture. When Jesus takes a selfie, you’re in the picture. You are the hands and feet of Christ. You are God’s covenant promise for the forgiveness of sins. No one will do this for us. Church is who we are together. We act as Christ to the world: healing hurts, restoring sight with new perspectives, reconciling people to themselves and their neighbor, welcoming the outcasts.

I love this cartoon. It’s a beautiful reminder that you, wherever you are on life’s journey, are not alone. You are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness. You are part of the image of God. You are a divine image-bearer. You are a gift to the world. All of you. Your triumphs. Your pain. That thing that happened to you that no one knows about except maybe your closest family and friends and your therapist. All of it is in the life of God. All that life has cost you, and all it’s joy. The cost and the joy are all there.

On Pentecost, Peter finally understands the goal. He finally understands that this wasn’t just Jesus coming to do it for us. Jesus came to do life with us. There’s a big difference. This church thing is not about going to church but being the church. It’s not a passive thing that we do once a week, for we’re more than church on Sunday. This is a 24/7, multi-gender, multi-race, non-creedal experience. Bring many names. Bring your image of God. Bring all your family photos. This is how we pictured God then. Here’s how we’re picturing God now.

I’ve spoke of the aberrant time before. It’s the time that many of us think of as normal for the church. That post WWII era until the late-1960s. But what many of us think of as normal was really aberrant. Never before in church history did we experience such a rise in church attendance. That’s when we had all those women’s circles. We don’t have those anymore. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t still finding meaning, fellowship, or leadership here. It just looks different. Here’s how we did it then. Here’s how we’re doing it now. Women are still a vital part. They are giving prophesy, seeing visions and dreaming dreams. As are the men here.

The church is changing. It changed five hundred years ago, and it is due for another. What form the church will take is unclear. Yet who the church is remains clear. The church will be what it always has been: Christ’s people. The church is God’s beloved community united in covenant communion to further the mission of God. The marks highlighted in the creeds of valuing one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic are still true.

We are non-creedal which means we can choose. We can learn from all creeds. They were made in a time and place by people facing challenges and pressure just like us. They followed the Spirit. And we must as well. We are not called to be any previous expression of church; we must be us. We could, if we are so lead, write our own creed to add to the historic witness of the global church. But there are plenty of creeds and we learned about a lot in this series. Which was your favorite? Was it one found in the Bible? Or Ignatius of Antioch’s first attempt at a creed? The Apostle’s Creed with the Harrowing of Hell which states not that there isn’t a hell, but with a God like ours, is there anyone left in it? The Maasai Creed with “Jesus was always on Safari”? I just love that line. Or the Nicene Creed with the values of one, holy, catholic and apostolic? The New Creed which isn’t so new anymore that reminds us that we’re not alone? Or our own UCC Statement of Faith that tells the grand story of our faith? So many good ones to choose from!

And now I get to say the last paragraph of my doctoral thesis, this is really exciting!

It is a time when the church is changing. It historically has, time and time again. Let us celebrate the death of deadly institutionalism and welcome the age of the Spirit, where we become more like Christ as we love and serve our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Everyone. With God’s help, Christ’s example, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we be the church.

 

[1] He stated this in his Chidester Lecture series weekend March 15-16, 2014 at Sylvania UCC.

[2] https://theconversation.com/what-the-early-church-thought-about-gods-gender-100077

[3]  https://www.uccmedina.org/sermons/the-spirit/

At the top of my stairs is a photo. It’s the first photo to appear in Sylvania United Church of Christ’s directory. It’s Kate and me and Eve with her finger pointing at her mouth. I just love it.

It was taken in 2010 for the “new” directory. But we know what happens when you call something new. One day, it’ll be old. I remember that period of my life. We were trying to get our feet on the ground in N.W. Ohio. I was trying to figure out what was expected of an associate pastor and a new parent.

But y’all know that we’ve had another child since then. Sam was born a year later. It would be wrong to say that that photo is incorrect. It was correct at the time. Much like the creeds we’ve been studying for this series.

The creeds we can treat, like Quaker minister Philip Gulley states, “Like an old family photograph on the wall.”[1] That photo is what my family looked like in 2010. We have changed and grown since then. Just like the Creeds. The Nicene Creed is what God looked like in the early 320s when we had to deal with Arius who didn’t think Jesus was divine.. It is a snapshot of what we thought God looked like then. We have changed and grown since then. So has our image of God.

Many of us were raised with exclusively male images for God. There are many passages that use the pronouns “he/him/his” for God. Even Jesus calls God, “Abba.” This is the Greek familiar word for Father, so the Lord’s Prayer would more accurately start, “Our Papa” than the formal “Our Father.” Masculine image. No doubt about it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is the exclusive use of male images ignoring the feminine images of God. We have changed and grown since then.

The personal name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine.[2] Also this name originally has no vowels. It’d be unpronounceable. I love how there’s a tradition that states that it’s the sound of our breathing. “Yh” on the inhale, “wh” on the exhale. From your first breath to your last, you are saying the name of God.

The word “ruach” which we say at the beginning of every service, often translated as “Spirit of God” or “Wind of God”–that word is feminine.[3] The word for the Wisdom of God referenced throughout Proverbs and the Prophets is “Sophia.” So if you know anyone named Sophia or Sophie, they bear a name of God.

The Hebrew Scriptures have a whole bunch of feminine imagery for God. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of biblical support to use feminine imagery and pronouns for God. It’s all over the Hebrew Bible and Jesus knows this and uses feminine imagery for God as well. Jesus tells three stories with the same theme. Something is lost. God searches. God finds. Rejoicing.

A sheep is lost. God the Good Shepherd searches and finds it. Rejoices.
A coin is lost. God the woman sweeps the house and finds it. Rejoices.
A son is lost. He finds himself and returns home. God the father rejoices.

Jesus gives us three stories of God’s love for us. And how God will always find us and rejoice over us, no matter what. That is good news! And the sneaky thing is, in the middle story about the lost coin, God is a woman. God is like a woman, who loses a coin, sweeps the house and finds it. Then calls her friends together and rejoices. I tell you there is joy in the presence of angels of God over one person who thinks differently about God.

We also know that God is beyond gender. We want our young men and women and our nonbinary folk to see themselves in the life of God. You are named and claimed. You are created by God as a gift to this hurting world. You’re home here. You are the church. I begin every Sunday morning worship service with the greeting, “Good morning, Church!” The church is not the budget. It is not the building. The church is the people. It always has been, it always will be. God has made covenants with people and not institutions. The institutions of religion exist to remind people of their covenant relationship with God (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 42:6 and 1 Peter 2:9-10).

The church in the twenty-first century has forgotten this fact. The church always gets in trouble when it forgets itself. Other definitions have crept in, and we have forgotten who and whose we are as the church. The church is coming out of an era when it could think of itself as a budget, structure, or process. This time is ending. Those are old pictures on the wall. I believe it is my call to help remind God’s people of who and whose they are.

Like our cover. I encountered this artist through his blog while I was still in seminary. David Hayward was a pastor in Canada and started drawing cartoons. They were funny. Provocative. And usually produced wonderful conversations. I met friends on that blog. Jay and John from Canada. Yael, a Jewish woman in the states. We had wonderful, challenging conversations about our images of God. They, along with the art of David, helped me grow and expand my images of the divine. I saw God in each of these friends.

This image is my thesis. My entire doctorate is this picture. When Jesus takes a selfie, you’re in the picture. You are the hands and feet of Christ. You are God’s covenant promise for the forgiveness of sins. No one will do this for us. Church is who we are together. We act as Christ to the world: healing hurts, restoring sight with new perspectives, reconciling people to themselves and their neighbor, welcoming the outcasts.

I love this cartoon. It’s a beautiful reminder that you, wherever you are on life’s journey, are not alone. You are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness. You are part of the image of God. You are a divine image-bearer. You are a gift to the world. All of you. Your triumphs. Your pain. That thing that happened to you that no one knows about except maybe your closest family and friends and your therapist. All of it is in the life of God. All that life has cost you, and all it’s joy. The cost and the joy are all there.

On Pentecost, Peter finally understands the goal. He finally understands that this wasn’t just Jesus coming to do it for us. Jesus came to do life with us. There’s a big difference. This church thing is not about going to church but being the church. It’s not a passive thing that we do once a week, for we’re more than church on Sunday. This is a 24/7, multi-gender, multi-race, non-creedal experience. Bring many names. Bring your image of God. Bring all your family photos. This is how we pictured God then. Here’s how we’re picturing God now.

I’ve spoke of the aberrant time before. It’s the time that many of us think of as normal for the church. That post WWII era until the late-1960s. But what many of us think of as normal was really aberrant. Never before in church history did we experience such a rise in church attendance. That’s when we had all those women’s circles. We don’t have those anymore. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t still finding meaning, fellowship, or leadership here. It just looks different. Here’s how we did it then. Here’s how we’re doing it now. Women are still a vital part. They are giving prophesy, seeing visions and dreaming dreams. As are the men here.

The church is changing. It changed five hundred years ago, and it is due for another. What form the church will take is unclear. Yet who the church is remains clear. The church will be what it always has been: Christ’s people. The church is God’s beloved community united in covenant communion to further the mission of God. The marks highlighted in the creeds of valuing one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic are still true.

We are non-creedal which means we can choose. We can learn from all creeds. They were made in a time and place by people facing challenges and pressure just like us. They followed the Spirit. And we must as well. We are not called to be any previous expression of church; we must be us. We could, if we are so lead, write our own creed to add to the historic witness of the global church. But there are plenty of creeds and we learned about a lot in this series. Which was your favorite? Was it one found in the Bible? Or Ignatius of Antioch’s first attempt at a creed? The Apostle’s Creed with the Harrowing of Hell which states not that there isn’t a hell, but with a God like ours, is there anyone left in it? The Maasai Creed with “Jesus was always on Safari”? I just love that line. Or the Nicene Creed with the values of one, holy, catholic and apostolic? The New Creed which isn’t so new anymore that reminds us that we’re not alone? Or our own UCC Statement of Faith that tells the grand story of our faith? So many good ones to choose from!

And now I get to say the last paragraph of my doctoral thesis, this is really exciting!

It is a time when the church is changing. It historically has, time and time again. Let us celebrate the death of deadly institutionalism and welcome the age of the Spirit, where we become more like Christ as we love and serve our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Everyone. With God’s help, Christ’s example, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we be the church.

Works Cited

[1] He stated this in his Chidester Lecture series weekend March 15-16, 2014 at Sylvania UCC.

[2] https://theconversation.com/what-the-early-church-thought-about-gods-gender-100077

[3]  https://www.uccmedina.org/sermons/the-spirit/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.