Preached at the University Place Community of Christ Congregation on Sunday, May 19, 2013
I was 15 years old when I attended my first Community of Christ World Conference in 2000. My grandmother took me. I wasn’t a delegate but every single session there I was sitting in the balcony just soaking in all that was going on. My first very vivid memory was walking into the Temple the first night. First, just being in the Temple for the first time was almost too much to handle as it is. I toured the Temple when it was still being constructed but it was my first time since completion. As I walked into the Temple Foyer that Saturday evening a choir from French Polynesia were joyfully singing songs in their native tongue. I didn’t necessarily know the words but I knew they were of love and praise for Jesus. And that is the thing about World Conference, prayers are offered in native tongues from around the world, you walk through the halls and pass by groups of people from around the world talking to each other in their beautiful languages. And the Holy Spirit comes over you. And you get it. Maybe not word for word of what is being said but you get it. And you are filled. And you experience true community with people of different cultures from around the world. And through that experience you leave World Conference more empowered to serve and to bring the message of Christ to others. And For me, World Conference is very much my Pentecost experience. I have been to the past seven World Conferences and every conference has been unique and different but I always leave sensing the Holy Spirit and the urgency to share the Good News!
On this Pentecost Sunday let us listen to the scripture story from Acts. As I read the story I encourage you to breathe in these words. Allow the text move within you. Close your eyes if needed to allow you to truly focus on these words. Before we do though, let’s go to our Heavenly Creator in prayer.
Holy one. The one who strengthens us and moves within us to do great and wonderful things. We ask that you rest upon us at this time as we prepare to listen to your Holy text. May we be open this morning to the promptings of your Holy Spirit and allow these words to speak to us in possibly new and profound ways. May this be our prayer. Amen.
Breath In, Breathe Out…
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.’
On this Pentecost Sunday there are three things I invite you to take away from this scripture text.
One, that true community is needed and for true community to be formed we need to unite in our diversity. What does it mean to live in true community with each other? I am sure we all can think of experiences where we have leaned on others in times of need. This is community. Times when we have spent hours laughing and telling stories with friends we haven’t seen in a while. This is community. When you know that your neighbors are looking out for your children and you are looking out for theirs. This is community. Now it gets tougher. When you can look into the eyes of those who are different than you (whether it be cultural, ethnic, religion, sexual orientation, physically, politically)…yes, When you can look them in the eyes and truly love and accept them and see them as a brother and sister in Christ. This is community. When you no longer live just for yourself and your family but for the wellbeing of all. When you no longer support structures that seek to oppress populations of the world. Even to the point of death. This is community. And maybe the hardest of them all…When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with God and others. When you share your weakness, and insecurities, and fears, and struggles, and pain with those close to you. And folks, we are horrible at this in our congregational life. These are those people that we should be able to come to. We have a tendency to keep things bottled up inside and let them fester instead of working through them with each other. When we allow ourselves to become vulnerable with each other and with God. This is community.
Two, we need to let the Holy Spirit breathe through us and around us. We need to be constantly engaged in practices where we intentionally allow ourselves to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We have to be intentional about this. For when we become intentional in focusing on our spiritual lives then it evolves into our way of life.
I have attended Spiritual Growth retreats where I will have these mountain top experiences and will feel so close to God. Where I am overcome with presence of the Holy Spirit. Then I go home. And I go about my daily tasks. And it fades away and I’m no longer intentional about it. We must become disciplined about opening ourselves up. And when we do, amazing things can occur in our life. When we let the Holy Spirit in then transformation can occur. And when it does then other lives will be transformed as well because we used our transformation as a tool to bring the message of Christ to others. Our transformation becomes a part of our testimony. When I opened myself up the promptings of the Holy Spirit it was strongly impressed upon me that I was to serve in the Puyallup Community. And for three years I did that. And I know that I was called to be there during that time to work in the community with the poor and oppressed. Then last summer it was apparent to me again that I was to move. And I had this profound experience that I was to move to Southern Oregon. And I responded.
Three, that we take the challenge in the final verse of our text this morning where it says “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That as Disciples of Jesus Christ we take this to go forward in mission and be the message of the peace of Jesus Christ. Folks there are people in our neighborhoods who are in desperate need for the uplifting power of the Peace of Jesus Christ in their lives. There are people who are in need of radical transformation. And it occurs when in relationship with those who represent Christ. Those that have said, “Here Am I, Send Me.”. Relationships are crucial to our ability to bring the message of Christ to others. To being the message of Christ to others.
We, not just Community of Christ, but the entire Christian tradition, are so good at playing church. But for what cost? We spend all of our energy and resources and focus on keeping building, our “holy” structures, open 1 morning a week. In some congregations it might be more. Whose lives though are truly being transformed and coming to know Christ because of this? How many Disciples are we really creating by playing church? And yet, as a Christian tradition, we continue to respond this way time and time again.
And you know there is little Johnny in the apartment building down the road who on some days of the week might go without a meal. How is Johnny’s life being changed because there is a Christian church in his community? And, in reality, most of the time it’s several Christian churches. Or Susan in the house across the street who is beaten by her husband and gets by because of the excuses she makes to her friends. Who struggles with wanting to justify it because of her own poor perceptions of herself. How is Susan’s life being healed because of the churches in her community that spend more time being concerned about how they worship on Sunday morning than they do about being in relationship with their neighbors? It may not be intentional but it is the message that Christianity is sending, especially in the U.S. where Christianity is dying because it is seen as being no longer relevant to those around us. Or maybe we spend so much time in committee meetings or priesthood meetings disagreeing on how we should move forward that we never get the work done. We need our own Pentecost experience to move forward. It’s not that we’re speaking in our native tongues but we’re speaking from our diverse opinions and views that we don’t truly listen to the person next to us is saying. We need a Pentecost awakening that unites us despite all those things that can separate us. A Pentecost awakening that unites to move forward in mission and be about the work of Jesus Christ.
Earlier I mentioned the structures that oppress. The structures related to economics, businesses, politics, education, and so on. You see this is where we start to get nervous that the preacher is going to start talking about politics from the pulpit. These are not political issues though. They are issues that are politicized but they are social justice issues. As a people of faith we must stand up and speak out on the social justice issues that we witness. The atrocities that are committed against groups of people. The oppression that we often times even enable and justify it because of our own perception of what our wellbeing is.
I was sharing in a small group session at the Youth Leaders training yesterday. I had purchased M&M’s for a mixer that we were doing. The Chocolate we choose to buy is one of the major times that we choose whether to oppress or not. Most of the popular chocolate we buy in the stores is produced by child labor and trafficked children in parts of Africa. Children who are illegally trafficked to work in cocoa fields. Children as young as seven who are taken into these dangerous cocoa fields and made to work. All so we can have our Hershey’s bar. And it hit me again yesterday while in the workshop that here I was, with this knowledge, buying M&M’s and justifying it because I needed it for this game. Instead of buying fair trade chocolate we buy what’s cheap and taste good and justify it because we are blind to the realities of the world or because just one today is not going to hurt anything in the grand scheme of things or because it just simply tastes so good. With so many decisions we make, especially decisions at the store, we are choosing whether we are supporting oppression or not.
And as a people of faith, we have to better than that. As Disciples we have to do better in reaching out to those in our community who are in need. We have to do better in supporting structures that positively impact people’s lives. Because we are Disciples of Jesus Christ. And As a Disciple of Jesus Christ we have chosen to enter the waters of Baptism to become a new creation of God and serve God by living out the teachings of Jesus Christ and serving others. D&C 164:5 reminds us that, “It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.”
On this Pentecost Sunday allow the Holy Spirit to work through you and empower you to move out and create communities of Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace by fulfilling the Mission and Message of Jesus Christ. The Good News is that Jesus came to bring his message to the poor, in all of its forms, and bring them hope. So must the people that bear his name. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit moves through us to transform us and send us forth to serve. When we respond, others will respond as well.
I leave you this morning with the words of one of our beloved hymns, revised by Evangelist Danny Belrose for this time and place:
Send me forth with Christ’s commission; Fill my soul with new resolve. Let my hands and feet be agents of God’s grace, and with love I will erase the lines of prejudice and hate.I will share enduring values of my faith.
Melt my fears and trepidations! Grant me courage for life’s path.Set my eyes on new horizons to pursue, and with joy I will proclaim God’s love in all I say and do.I will join each helping hand to make life new.
Be a voice of transformation, gently hands to help and heal. Be an ear to hear creation’s wounded plea. Be a friend to those who have no friend and in God’s blessed name we will demonstrate God’s dream for unity.
Call me forth, to active service andmy prompt response shall be, “Here am I, send me!” Hand in hand we’ll work together building peace and harmony. We will share the peace of Jesus with all we see.