Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Of tornadoes, destruction and hope.

After watching the emotional news over the last few days on the destruction of the tornado in Oklahoma, the loss of human life, from infants to the elderly, the utter, total loss of property, I am reminded of the stories my father would tell us about his life on a farm in Tornado Alley. Although he was born on a farm near Paris, Texas, he grew up on a farm near Gould, Oklahoma.

Dad lived a hard life, but a full one in Oklahoma. He was one of 10 children of William and Mardie Moon, one of those children dying as an infant. Eight boys and one girl, the girl being the youngest in the family (along with her twin), so the boys in Gould treated my aunt Nonie like a princess (if they didn't there would be 8 Moon boys to see to it they did!) Grandpa was a sharecropper, never owned the land he farmed, and they lived through drought, tornadoes, and bad crops. Dad would tell us of his time picking cotton, he said that was the worst thing they ever raised, because they couldn't afford the equipment for a cotton gin. The cotton would cut their hands even through the gloves they wore.

Of course, Dad loved to recall how they would WALK into town for the Saturday Night movies and get home around 1 in the morning, only to get up at 5 to start the day again. How they would walk to school 10 miles, uphill both ways! He had to work from the time he could walk, of course, living on a farm, but he also drove a school bus while he was in high school. School revolved around the planting and harvest seasons, they would be out of school during those times and basically in school all the other times.

Dad told us of tornadoes that would tear through the farmlands, destroying farmhouses, chicken coups, any other buildings that were around. Buildings were not as well built as they are today, so one could imagine how fast these buildings were destroyed when we see the speed at which this most recent tornado destroyed Moore, Ok. Of one of those tornadoes, I would like to share with all of you. It was a very bad twister, one that had already taken out many homes and barns. Afterwards, they went out into the town and saw a few dozen chickens lying in the road dead, still warm, but dead nonetheless. Dad said they thought about taking them home and cooking them, but when they went to pick them up he knew it would be impossible since the chickens were also full of wood splinters from the barns and such. This twister also took out an entire side of a house in town, but did not touch the piano that was next to the exterior wall, there also was a rose in a vase on the piano that was not touched.

Times were tough back in the day. There was no warning system, except the dark skies, etc. but no Doppler Radar or cable/satellite T.V. The results of the tornadoes are always the same, destruction. But, like my Dad, who lived through many of them and rebuilt their lives, helped their neighbors do the same, the good people of Oklahoma will rebuild, they are already helping their neighbors, and hope springs eternal.

God Bless Oklahoma.

(To my family: If there is any misinformation in this story, please let me know. My memory isn't what it used to be, but the stories that Dad told are still fresh in my mind.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Homily for Pentecost 2013

Pentecost Sunday: May 17, 2013

          Paq en tak kawi. Bon bon kawi wah. Who here understood what I had just said? It is a legitimate language, from the South Pacific Islands which one I don’t remember, but it was a phrase we learned in my linguistics class I had in college. If I remember correctly, it is a greeting.  The reason I bring this up is to highlight what today is. 

          Jesus’ disciples were together in one place, when a “mighty rushing wind” came in and then appeared as tongues of fire and rested on each of them, being filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different tongues, languages, as the Spirit enabled them to do. The crowds were amazed at how these simple people, many of them fishermen, others laborers, still others could have been the wives of those there in the room, could talk in different native languages from the various parts of the Roman Empire.

          The feast of Pentecost was one of the three major pilgrim festivals of Israel. Originally it was an agricultural feast marking the end of the grain harvest, also called feast of Weeks, because it was celebrated seven weeks, or 50 days after the feast of Unleavened Bread. As the other two pilgrim feasts, it took on historical importance, commemorating the giving of the law on Sinai. The fact it was a pilgrim feast explains why devout Jews from every nation where in Jerusalem at the time.

          This is an outpouring of the Spirit of God, an outpouring to show that the Gospel is for all to hear, for all to understand. Look back at the 11th Chapter of Genesis to the Tower of Babel, where men were trying to build a tower to heaven.  Language was confused at that point, so that man could not complete this project. The world was fractured at Babel, and at Pentecost the outpouring of the Spirit and the understanding of all can be seen as the reuniting of the human race and the gathering of all into the reign of God.

So Pentecost is a feast of the Holy Spirit, and his movements, his guidance in our lives. We see in Paul’s letter to the Romans, exactly how the Spirit of
God works in our lives. If we are in the flesh, meaning all of our human nature and its limitations that sometimes moves us away from God, we cannot please God. On the other hand, if we live in the Spirit, we are attuned to God. It is in that dimension of the human experience that can be joined to the very Spirit of God. 

Jesus says that if we love him, we will keep his commandments, and he will ask the Father to send another Advocate to be with us always. We follow his example of obedience to the Father. Obedience isn’t the requirement of love; it is the consequence of it. Such love is not an emotional response, but a state of being, it is how one lives, it permeates one’s life, allowing them to live in intimate relation with the Father and the Son, through the Spirit.

So at last, the plan of Salvation has been brought to a conclusion. The risen Lord has been exalted to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, and he has sent his Spirit to fill the earth with God’s power. Our world is charged with divine energy, but it needs a spark in order to ignite it with life and excitement. In Acts, this excitement explodes onto the scene in an extraordinary way, tongues are loosed and speech overflows its restraints in understanding; charismatic gifts flood the valley of humanity; barred doors are burst open and frightened hearts are calmed. The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. Today, we gather for one reason, but we discover that God has another in mind We may come for personal devotion, but we find us wrapped up in communal divine worship. Through the Spirit of God, we are reconciled to one another and we spend ourselves for the common good. Through the Spirit of god the world is renewed, the community is revitalized, and we come to know the mysterious yet all-pervasive peace of Christ.

If all this has really happened, why does our world look the same? Why is there so much religious and ethnic rivalry? Why do we continue to make distinctions between Jew and Gentile, free and slave, man and woman, documented and undocumented, immigrant and citizen, distinctions that favor one at the expense of the other? Why is there so little peace? Why do we refuse to forgive or to be reconciled? Is Pentecost merely a feast we celebrate in red vestments? Has the face of the earth really been renewed?

The answer is YES! A resounding YES! The Spirit has been poured forth and works wonders wherever human hearts are open to his promptings. The earth is renewed each time rivalries are resolved, distinctions are recognized as merely expressions of diversity, peace is restored, comfort and solace are offered, and forgiveness is granted. We are immersed in the vigor of the Spirit of God; all we have to do is to open ourselves up to him and the reign of God will be born in our midst.