Living Spirit, Living Word
Last Sunday, one of our parishioner asked me a question that stumped me. It happens a lot that I can’t answer your questions. You guys are smart. At the end of Basic A, our class for new members or refreshers, I often let the class ask whatever they want. I end up saying I don’t know a lot…
So the question was this: why does Passover fall so far away from Easter this year? And I couldn’t answer. Usually, the two are very close together, in fact, the Last Supper is a Passover meal in John’s gospel. Easter is a lunar date, the Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox. If you are me and you are not so good at calculating equinox dates there is chart of Easter dates in the back of the Prayer Book lasting until 2030 or so.
So, I went to the Internet. Turns out that the Jewish lunar calendar inserts a whole extra month every two or three years to get itself back in sync with the solar calendar and the seasons of the year. And since Easter fell early this year, the two ended up very far apart. Who knew?
I have wondered for years about Peter’s wife. She would have been a good Jewish wife. We know that Peter had a wife because Jesus heals his mother-in-law of a fever. Does Peter’s wife die? If not, Peter is a rather bad husband. He takes off on a walking tour with Jesus for about three years leaving his wife to fend for herself and then he travels more after the resurrection. Peter goes from being a simple Jewish fisherman to being a bishop in the church. Talk about an adjustment. Where was his poor wife in all this? Was she OK with the changes?
Peter was a devout Jew. He followed all the kosher laws and dietary restrictions. His wife would have cooked in such a way as to never mix meat and dairy. They would have only eaten the meat of animals with cloven hoofs who chewed their cuds, like cows and sheep and lamb. Pig were off limits for sure. And not birds of prey, only chicken and turkey and ducks and geese. All the animals would have to be slaughtered in just the right way so as not to cause the animal any pain. It all made good sense and Peter would have known no other way to eat. It was more than a diet, it was a way of life, a way of being obedient to God.
But once Jesus rose from the dead, things began to really change. Jesus sent down this presence of God called the Holy Spirit, a presence that not only lived in and among the disciples, inspiring and motivating them, but a presence that communicated to them, leading them and guiding them. With the Holy Spirit, all bets were off. Things changed fast and furiously. Everything changed. And everything is still changing today.
Peter was busy telling the Jews about Jesus when the Holy Spirit gave him a vision. All this food that he had never been allowed to eat, it all came down from the sky in a big sheet and God told him that he could eat it. All the dietary laws that his wife and he had spent so many years following, all went out the window with that vision. It must have seemed crazy. But, as Peter later explained to those who asked him, “Who am I to hinder God?”
The coming of the Holy Spirit made the followers of Jesus into a new kind of religion. No longer were they Jews who followed Jesus, they became a new kind of disciple. The rules all changed. The relationship with God began to trump the rules. They went from strict obedience to law to a living, breathing relationship with God. No wonder Jesus breathed on them when he gave them the Holy Spirit. They became living members of a living relationship.
I drive through Dunkin Donuts on the way to church early on Sunday mornings. A number of months ago, I felt a nudge from God to ask the sleepy young woman at the drive through window if she needed me to pray. She did. Ever since then, I have offered prays to whoever is working that window. I have prayed for everything from weight-loss to healing a sick child to making more money. And every single Sunday, I feel awkward. I am an Episcopalian! Who am I to offer spontaneous prayer? Why did God ask me to do this?
That’s the really scary part of what happened to Peter. God was basically saying, I can change the rules. Heck, I made the rules! Just listen to me and I will take you step by step, day by day. But you can’t just assume you know what I am asking of you. You must be in aliving relationship with me. And I may surprise you by what I ask.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like surprises. If God asked me to leave my family and follow Christ, I’d probably rent a UHaul and bring them along. If God asked me to eat different food, well, that would not be such a stretch. But if God asked me to heal someone, well, I might pretend that I didn’t hear.
I think sometimes that we are limited not by the power that God gives us but by the fear we have of moving beyond our limitations. We say to God, No, I can’t do that. No I can’t do that. But it is God who gives us the ability. It is God who makes the rules and who breathes into us the breath of life. Don’t you think that God knows what you are capable of? The only reason we lead small lives is because we are limiting our own potential. But, as Peter said, who are we to hinder God?
In the beautiful movie, Mr. Magoriams Magical Emporium, Mr. Magorium runs a magical toy store. It is time for him to die and give his store to a young woman named Molly Mahone. But there is only one problem, Molly does not believe in herself. So Mr. Magorium, on the night before he dies, says something profound to Molly. He says…Your life is an occasion, rise to it.
Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.
Listen to the living God. If you are worried about what God may ask of you, there is really only one guiding factor. Love. Whatever God asks of you, it will be love. You will be asked to love.
Now, go forth and listen for that living spirit.
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead