Sunday, May 24, 2015

"The Holy Spirit is Still Blowing into our Lives." A sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday at Littlefield Presbyterian Church, on Acts 2:1-21

In some parts of the Christian church, they celebrate Pentecost with sheet cake with birthday candles... and maybe some red punch.   People call it the “Birthday of the church,” which I think is partially true.  But it is just that--  a partial truth.  And it’s a very tame way to celebrate Pentecost.   So I think if we really get what Pentecost is about—we probably won’t celebrate it by singing “Happy Birthday” to the Church.
The story we just heard from Acts is no sweet, sentimental birthday story.   At the so-called birth of the church, there was no organ.  There were no pews fastened to the floor.   There were no greeters handing out bulletins.  There was little resemblance to what the church has become in the early part of the 21st century. 
On Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together, waiting and hoping for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.  And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What happened was truly “bewildering,” “amazing” and “astonishing!”  That’s how the crowd gathered in Jerusalem experienced what happened.
Those who were gathered together waiting and praying were filled with the Holy Spirit.  The miracle of Pentecost is that the Spirit gave them the ability to speak in other languages so that the people from all over the known world were able to understand. 
The miracle of Pentecost is clear Gospel speech.  On Pentecost, Peter was given the power to preach the Gospel clearly and boldly,  to proclaim the coming of the Messianic age preached by the prophet Joel,  a time when all people will preach the good news of Jesus the Messiah, as the world awakens to the great gift of the Gospel.  “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
But what does that mean?  What is the gospel for our time?  We are in a time that I think can be spiritually bewildering… and discouraging.     I think a lot of people are wondering, with Ezekiel::  “Can these bones live?”

We are living in a time of huge change… and cosmic SHIFT:  technological, cultural, political, and religious.   Think about it:  When I was in the process of moving here to Dearborn 18 years ago, I was a fairly early adopter, with an email account, and a few of you had email.  Technological things that we take for granted now—websites, Google searches, Facebook, Twitter, Pintarest,  e-books, etc.—we didn’t have any of them 20 or so years ago. 
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life reported in a massive study that 22.8 percent of Americans identified with no organized religion, a dramatic rise from 16.1 percent in 2007, the last time the nonprofit research group took such a sweeping look at religion in America.. [1]
Other things have been changing fast in our society and in the world, and it’s hard for a lot of people—especially older people.  The Presbyterian Church voted last June to allow same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.  Yesterday, voters in traditionally conservative, Catholic Ireland chose overwhelmingly in a popular vote to change their nation’s constitution to allow for same-sex marriage. 
Society is changing.  And, according to Harvey Cox, we are now experiencing the biggest shift in Christianity since the 4th century.   So it’s no wonder we feel bewildered… disoriented… and  maybe afraid.
But I think we’re in a time when God is trying to do amazing new things.  The Spirit is on the move!
Harvey Cox has been saying that we’re living in the “age of the Spirit,” which began around 1900.  Diana Butler Bass says we’re living in a time of “awakening.”  Whatever we call it, it’s a time when we need to open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit to help us discern what the good news is for our time and to empower us to proclaim it.  
A few years ago, I heard Diana Butler Bass suggest that some people in the church have been functioning like we’re on the Titanic-- when actually we are on the Mayflower.  We’re headed to a new world,  as we creatively re-appropriate the core practices of what it means to be Christian:  prayer, worship, hospitality, mission, discipleship, spiritual formation, and praise.
In order to respond effectively and faithfully as the church…  we need to creatively imagine anew,    and embody again what it means to follow Jesus Christ into his coming kingdom in this new world today.  On the feast of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit still blows into our lives today.
            One of the primary ways in which we see the Holy Spirit working in the story we heard from Acts was as a TRANSLATOR--  the one who carries the meaning of the mighty acts of God, particularly the mighty act of God in Jesus Christ--  to all those present.  This translation is necessary because God has done... and is doing something new in the world--  something which both creates and requires understanding...  and love...  and unity. 
            The Holy Spirit translates God’s redeeming work to us...  and our deepest desires and thoughts to God...  and in that translation, binds us together with God and with each other.
            When we are divided by our differences in the church, I believe that the Spirit has the power to translate from a language of division to a language of unity... from the language of exclusion, barriers, and closed doors--  to the language of open doors...   from the language of individualism, isolation, and competion--  to that of fellowship and koinonia. 
            The Holy Spirit is still in the business of filling us with the boldness we need to respond to those who question...  still in the business of helping us break down barriers and build bridges...  still in the business of spreading the word that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  That business is called “The Church.”

            At the end of an all-day meeting for the purpose of reform of  one of our sister denominations, one of the pastors stood up and said that he thought reform was impossible.  The old structures are too entrenched, he said.  People are too slow to change.   Et cetera.
            “What gives you any hope that we will now or ever change?”  he asked the assembled crowd.
            They sat in silence.   But then a voice called out from the rear of the room, “THE HOLY SPIRIT!”         

            There are times when it’s hard not to feel discouraged.  But we have Christ's promises--  to be with us always...  and to lead us by his Holy spirit.  And so--  let us not lose hope.  
            We are kept on tiptoes--  expectant, eager, maybe even a little nervous!  For the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church continues to prod, cajole, and urge us forward.   
            It’s been this way since the beginning of the church.  Just when we get settled down, comfortable with present arrangements, our pews bolted securely to the floor, all fixed and immobile--  the right number of pews-- there comes a rush of wind, or a still small voice...  a breath of fresh air...  tongues of fire.
So let us keep gathering together and praying and listening for the Spirit, and know that the Spirit is being poured out afresh on us, empowering us to carry the Gospel into the world.
Come, Holy Spirit!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
May 24, 2015

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