Tag Archives: Future

Celebrating the Spirit’s Work

A Sermon for 20 May 2018 – Pentecost Sunday & 60th Anniversary Celebration

 

A reading for Pentecost from Acts 2:1-21.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

When the day of Pentecost had come . . .  and the disciples of the Risen Lord were all together in one place in Jerusalem just fifty days after Christ’s crucifixion . . . . something incredible took place!  Like the sound of a violent storm rolling in.  Like people aglow – beaming with light all around as they live fully in the flow.  The whole gathered assembly was filled!  Stirred up – in a good way!  As the Spirit of God infused each one for everyone to leave from that place to accomplish the task needed next in the world:  telling the truth they had seen.  So that the movement behind the crucified and risen Christ would spread.  So that the resurrecting force of God would guide all who would come to believe!  . . .  The power of what can happen when God’s people get together took place on Pentecost!

Here we gather, week after week, hopefully with a sense that something is supposed to happen when the people of God get together.  When we come together for worship, or a few moments we have the chance to be still together.  And to open our mouths in praise together.  To humble our hearts together in confession of our sins and of the sins we see taking place in the world, for which we beg God’s mercy.  Collectively we gather to give our thanks; thereby remembering that we are not our own.  In fact, apart from God, we really can do nothing – except maybe mess things up in our personal and public lives.  Worship is intended to give us space together to be taken up into the presence of the Living God – to be filled, like those first disciples, filled up with the Holy Spirit.  Not because it can’t happen anywhere else in our lives; but because in good days and in bad, we can count on it to happen here.  If not in ourselves, then in the person down the pew who is basking in God’s steadfast love.  In the little child across the sanctuary who is eager to learn.  In the stranger who is grateful to find acceptance here.  Even if it has felt like a million years since the Spirit of God has been flowing through us individually; together here, we are a part of the body of Christ.  Enlivened by the Holy Spirit to be miraculous in the world each day!  Living lives that show what can happen when God’s people come together.

We celebrate that amazing day today – that first Pentecost festival after Christ had risen.  It was customary for faithful Jews to observe Pentecost – sometimes calling it the Festival of Weeks.  “As the fiftieth day after the presentation of the first sheaf of the barley harvest,” Pentecost came to be “considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Sinai” (Donald K. McKim, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 4 & 6).  The day marked the reminder that the law was meant to guide the people of Israel in living according to God’s will.  That way, the community would reflect the very nature of God.  . . .  For the church, Pentecost marks the advent of a new guide.  A new advocate – a new power that dwells within as we seek to live out God’s will as shown to us in Jesus, the Christ.  One commentator has written that “the story of Pentecost . . .  seeks to communicate how important the church is and how inseparable it is from Christ.”  She writes:  “Pentecost serves as a catechetical instruction that continues to tradition the church into its identity and purpose.  Every year, on the Day of Pentecost, we are reminded of who we are as a church, what we proclaim, and the source of that proclamation.  It is a message to the church from the church, passed down through millennia to each generation” (Kristin Emery Saldine, Ibid., p. 4).  That we might be guided by the Spirit today!  That together we might accomplish the task needed next in the world around us.

Today we’re also celebrating the roots of this congregation.  Roots that flow from Pentecost, through those first hundred years of Christ’s followers trying to survive the hostile environment of an empire that wanted them silenced, through dark times as ignorance seemed to fall upon the face of the earth, through the rebirth of enlightened minds and fervent hearts that led to necessary reforms of a church that had strayed from the Way, through new expressions of faith taken on by communities and individuals alike; until, in a land far away, in a place called Tennessee, a handful of folks excited about the possibilities of a new residential community called Hill Place, ensured that this facility was built.  The chapel was named for a primary benefactor Mr. H. G. Hill.  And about 20 classrooms, upstairs and down, eventually would be added.  Where little ones like Tom (who was here 60 years ago) could gather – along with a few of the rest of you who remember jam-packed Sunday School rooms each week.  Over the years, some of you were a part of Youth Groups that certainly contained adventures whose details are best left in the past!  Ladies’ Teas and studies and missions.  Stalwart adult classes digging into the Scriptures.  The years have included missions in which homeless folks found here a hot meal and respite for the night.  And young people of Nashville’s Monroe Harding Children’s Home and Martha O’Bryan Center were given hope.  And those in Honduras whose lives were threatened by unclean water met the diligent hands of Presbyterians from here who changed the course of those villagers’ lives.  . . .  Because those first members and friends of this church came together, marriages took place here – how many of you were married here?  And baptisms – any present today who were baptized here?  Or had your child baptized here.  What about a grandchild baptized here?  Several of you have gathered here after the death of a loved one – your parent, your spouse, or your child, or your dearest friend.  If I were to ask, I hope some of you would raise your hand because you have learned here in this place something vitally important about God and about your worth in God’s eyes and about God’s desires for your life.  I hope at least one person has met a lifelong friend here in this sanctuary – or has introduced one to this church.  And that hundreds have been comforted in times of difficulty here, and even challenged to grow a little bit more through this congregation’s ministries of worship, service, education, and fellowship.  . . .  This church has glorious roots that give witness to what can happen when the people of God come together.

AND this church has the gift of an adventurous future ahead!  Another pastor reminded me this week that no one ever has been able to see exactly what the future will look like.  I’d be willing to bet that the first families who came together to worship in this sanctuary in 1958 could never have imagined what this congregation would look like today.  They couldn’t know what we would carry from our hearts unto God.  The things that would terrify us today and the possibilities we can see.  I’m pretty sure no one in 1958 would have anticipated that 6-week-old infants would need nurturing care every day in classrooms once intended for Sunday instruction.  I doubt anyone in 1958 would have been wondering about how this church could get involved in partnering with a non-profit agency just four miles from here that is filled with women of every color who are trying to heal from their addictions as a part of rebuilding their lives.  Or anticipated work on a more interactive presence for this church on something called the world wide web.  I’d be willing to bet that in 1958, very few pondered how to live faithfully alongside neighbors who call God by a different name – and others who aren’t even interested in calling upon the name of God.

In 60 years, the people of God have changed dramatically – and we will change just as much in the years to come as we seek to accomplish for God the tasks needed next in the world.  Though the future of this and every other Christian church will not look like the past, one thing will never change – Pentecost proves it!  Miraculous things will happen when God’s people come together!  The future will unfold.  The Holy Spirit will guide.  Mysteriously moving in, among, and beyond us for God to accomplish through us what is needed in the world around us now!  . . .  For 60 years gone by, for 60, or 600, or more years yet to come; thanks be to God!  Now and forever!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Life from Death

It was so uplifting Saturday to be at a regional meeting of church folk (a.k.a. a Presbytery meeting).  I know!  If you’ve ever been to one, then it may not seem a credible statement.  But it was for me.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reflection lately on the church, contemporary culture, and change.  In many ways, it’s been my passion for the past decade.  Inevitably, it leaves me wondering often about what of the church needs to die.  I dream too about what might be able to grow if in fact those within the church (like me) let go of what we’ve always known.  It’s scary.  It calls me to dig deeper into that vow to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

I used to care about needed changes in the church for reasons like job security, and to ease my frustration over things that drive me bonkers about the church, and to create ways that might be easier on all.  The deeper I go in it, the more I see that I care because my own life is full of all sorts of people who I love immensely and who want nothing to do with communities of faith in which I have lived my whole life.  Many of the folks in my life used to want to be a part; but for whatever reason, they no longer can be.  Some have been burned badly, or been raised with terrible theology that still haunts them, or find themselves totally bored in worship by things that seem absolutely irrelevant to daily life.  I even find active church folks who desperately want something different, something more; but don’t have the foggiest idea what that looks like or how to get there.  Of course, I know there always will be people who aren’t at all interested.  They never have been and they likely never will be.

My heart breaks for us all.

Just to be clear:  I think it’s wise to turn away from a people who label themselves with Jesus’ name but act like the antithesis.  I think it’s tragic to feel isolated or lonely or unloved or unlovable and have no community to turn t0 — especially because some expressions of church today are at their best and do offer the needed healing balm.  I think it’s deplorable to be seeking — or worse yet:  to already have connected deeply to the Life Force — only to be told that such things are NOT of God (which, in fact, they are!  The Divine is about the journey of awe and wonder; not certainty and fact).   I think it’s sense-less that the hearts of a people who claim the name Jesus aren’t breaking for the eclectic array of people Jesus went out of his way to welcome home.  It’s not ok to me for people to be unaware that they are beautiful, cherished treasures.  And it’s even worse to me for any to be deemed unacceptable by others who believe they know.

Recently I saw an amazing clip on The Work of the People in which Rachel Held Evans made a matter of fact statement that rocked me to the core:  “Empires worry about death.  Gardeners do not worry about death”  (To watch the clip go to http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/creating-something-new).  A few day later I watched a clip by John Philip Newell on “Dreaming Forward” (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/dream-forward).  Newell quoted the Dalai Lama regarding hope for the future.  He said:  “‘Of course I believe there is hope for the future.  The future hasn’t happened yet.'”  My mind once again blown, I went off to the Presbytery meeting Saturday where we heard from three different young adult women (interestingly all were women) who spoke passionately about the meaning they have been finding for life through their involvement in Presbyterian Campus Ministries.  They have connected with others and that which is beyond, they have built relationships and learned from those much different from themselves, they have helped the hurting and shown love to those battered by life.  I left that meeting so excited that these young women are the church today:  the future hope in our midst.  The people who passionately and honestly seek to follow the Way of Love.  Ones who want to make a difference in others lives, not just seek to have their own needs met.

Maybe it’s just a handful and maybe as they get older the flame will fade.

Or maybe . . . just maybe, their lives (and the fruit of who they are) are the new growth.  And maybe, just maybe, all can learn a thing or two from them as we seek to breakdown in ourselves the walls of cynicism, self-focus, and indifference.

Then . . . maybe, just maybe, our own fresh growth will unfurl under the blazing sunshine in the grand garden of this world.

Here’s hoping . . . here’s to hoping!

 

Peace & Love prevail,

RevJule