Sermon for 9 June 2019 – Pentecost Sunday
On this Pentecost Sunday, listen to a reading from Acts of the Apostles 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, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 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!
On Monday, Sharon Shields and I attended a rather interesting workshop. We went because of the title: Turning Sacred Space into Kingdom Cash. Admittedly, I was not expecting to sit through a full-blown lecture from a Professor of Finance about the steps to take in order to become a Social Entrepreneur. I wasn’t so sure what to do with his in-depth description on vetting market opportunities that included things like benchmarking to other commercial ventures and regulatory constraints and elasticity of consumers and profit maximizers. I looked around the room as he spoke and wondered if he forgot that we were a bunch of church leaders (mostly preachers); not young adults sitting in a university level business class! What did fascinate me in his presentation was his passion for church-based social enterprises. And the descriptions given at the workshop of not just one but three different church-based social enterprises this professor and his students have been about in the last few years.
Let me tell you about Spring Back – a church-based business that not only is improving the work force, but also is making money in serving the social good. Spring Back is comprised of men from the Isaiah 58 ministry of Belmont Church who are coming out of prison and trying to get their lives back together. At a warehouse off Trinity lane, Spring Back employees these men to whom Belmont Church has been ministering. They report to work for pay each day to take apart mattresses. Now, if you’ve ever tried to get rid of an old mattress, then you know absolutely no body wants them! Even the local dump would rather not take them because they are a huge fire risk. Spring Back teaches the men how to take apart each mattress which is made from something like 85% recyclable materials. Foam on one pile, steel on another. On and on they go with discarded mattress after discarded mattress until a profit actually is earned from the recyclable materials!
We heard too, on Monday, of a Farm to Table social enterprise of Nashville that is taking unused land to grow vegetables to sell to local restaurants. This Farm to Table business trains homeless men and women so they are able to work the land for pay. When harvest comes, two bushels of every crop are donated to local food banks while the rest is sold to restaurants wanting fresh, hearty homegrown food. Like Spring Back, it’s a social enterprise our Finance Professor would call a hit with its triple bottom line!
But I have to admit that the church-based social enterprise that blew my mind away was one called Three One Three. Founded by a passionate millennial who also was with us on Monday. While we listened, Brennon told what his Nashville-based Three One Three is all about. He explained that 3-1-3 or three hundred-thirteen days a year, which is all six days a week excluding Sunday, too many church buildings sit empty. As he spoke, I remembered reading the words a member of the twelve-step group now meeting here on Saturdays wrote just a few months back about lots of people today being disgusted with great big church buildings that lock their doors tight to everything but their own worship on Sundays. I can’t tell you how long I’ve sat year after year throughout the week as a pastor in church buildings where I was the sole human being for hours on end. Sometimes trying to work out of such offices is just creepy with the creeks and bumps empty old buildings can make. As a millennial who knows all about the contemporary craving for community, Brennon told about Three One Three’s co-working space located in a church building that otherwise sits empty 24 hours a day at least six days a week. Three One Three worked with the local church to transform some 10,000 square feet of under-used space into desks, private offices, and communal gathering spaces. Small business owners who prefer working alongside others in order to connect throughout the day or who would rather not tie-up their funds into permanently leased office space have membership in Three One Three. Kinda like getting your YMCA card for the year. Folks pay a monthly fee to have access to all they need to run their small business out of under-used church space. Three One Three members have the great experience of getting to know other Three One Three members – talking at lunch and at breaks about things like their latest struggles at home, their great new ideas in their work, their fears and their challenges in everyday life. Brennon says that kingdom-like conversations take place in church buildings that otherwise would be sitting empty. What’s more, in one year, over three-thousand people – mostly millennials and others who would never consider attending a Sunday worship service – have crossed the threshold of the church building where Three One Three is housed. A few even have become church members. Regardless if the church ever attracts them into the rest of their ministry, that’s three-thousand people being brought into a caring, supportive space where they can connect with Three One Three hosts and other Three One Three users to begin creating community. People come together. Under-used church space gets used. And cash is generated for congregations to further their mission – ensuring they carry on the work entrusted to them by God. Isn’t it absolutely amazing what happens when church folk take stock of what they do have that can be re-purposed to serve the social good?
It’s the kind of thing being preached that first Pentecost when the wind blew and the passion burned like flames dancing over each disciple. The Spirit of God was stirred up among the first followers. Though skeptics poked fun and curmudgeons complained, the Apostle Peter proclaimed that the prophesy of Joel was being let loose in the world. The Spirit upon all flesh! Sons and daughters making way for a new future. Youngsters seeing grand new visions. Elders dreaming dreams! It’s recorded in the gospel of John that Jesus himself once declared they would do greater things than he (John 14:12)! And look: they did! We have! God’s work will not be stopped! The Spirit stirs among us and the Church of Jesus Christ is carried on in bold new ways!
Pentecost is one of my favorite Sundays of the year! Because Pentecost asks us to pray for God’s Spirit to guide us anew! We may not be the kind of church that re-purposes our 13,000 square feet of upstairs under-used space the other 3-1-3 days of the year in a co-working social enterprise. But what do we have as a congregation that the Spirit of God might want used anew for the thousands of residents living around this building? Monday reminded me that as a congregation, this church has been entrusted with nearly nine acres of land in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood. According to the demographic information we now know from the quick overview given during our Capital Campaign, the people living closest to this facility report that they’re mostly not interested in religious institutions. Whether that’s how it’s always been in Hillwood-West Meade or not, those who first came together to begin this congregation had the vision of being located in the middle of this neighborhood for strangers to come together. For neighbors to become friends. For those in need to not have to walk alone. Times were different then, but the church set forth using this building to provide that for which local folks had an appetite. It’s never too late to go back to that beginning. We find our way forward, remembering the past purpose of this church, as we envision what will satisfy the cravings of the community today.
It’s easy to get really uncomfortable with some of the directions churches today are going. Then we can remember the people we know who have no church home. People who have been rejected by family members that get themselves shiny for worship each Sunday but live with such hateful hearts six other days each week. I know children I have loved for years who have grown into adults who aren’t about to get out of bed Sunday mornings to move through rituals that seem empty to them even if it’s always been done that way. I can see in my mind’s eye sisters and brothers of every age who think what we’re about here is irrelevant. Non-sensical. And totally boring. You know such folks too – your own neighbors and friends and family members who we haven’t yet figured out how to reach because we haven’t learned the language that makes sense to them.
I want the Spirit to stir among us again. The mighty winds of God to blow away the chaff of church and re-ignite in us a passion to take the good news of a gracious God out into the streets. I’m not talking about shouting hallelujah on street corners or anything crazy like that! But how about dreaming new dreams around the best things of Christ. Things like caring for those who are hurting. Loving those who feel totally lost. Using this space – this land to connect those who are lonely. Giving hope for a better tomorrow to those who feel nothing’s worth it anymore. None of us have all the answers alone and we might need to take the time to ask youngsters to tell us their visions for the future. We might have to ask those older than us what dreams they have for tomorrow – the best of life they want to make sure those yet to come enjoy.
Pentecost is our time to re-open to the Spirit. To renew through the fresh winds of God that are blowing. May every last one of us listen. Look. Dream. For it is absolutely amazing what happens when church folk take stock of what we do have that can be re-purposed to serve the social good.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)