And So It Begins

Sermon 5/20/18
Pentecost Sunday
MB McCandless’ Last Sunday

pentecost-painting2

Acts 2:1-21

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.’

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Up until this point in the Book of Acts, the author has been setting the stage for the main direction of his story – the beginning of the church, with the message of the gospel spreading out from just Jesus’ first followers, out from Jerusalem, out to the regions and nations beyond, near and far. First in this book, we get the story of Jesus ascending into heaven, leaving the disciples behind but telling the to wait there in the city until what he calls “the Paraclete,” what we call the Holy Spirit, comes to them. So as this story begins, they’re still there in the city some fifty days after the Passover, fifty days after the crucifixion, now observing the Jewish festival of Pentecost, or Shavuot, celebrating God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. And by this time, the disciples must have been wondering just when, and how, this “Paraclete” was going to show up.

Then, all of a sudden, they find out. They have this amazing experience – wind blowing, and tongues of flame dancing in the air over them, and suddenly they’re speaking languages they hadn’t known before. The Paraclete had arrived. The church is now established, and the disciples have been empowered to do the work Christ had called them to. And so it begins.

Wherever Jesus uses this word, “paraclete,” to describe the Holy Spirit, we usually translate it as “Advocate” or “Comforter.” We often think of the Holy Spirit comforting us in times of anxiety, loss, or grief. That’s certainly part of the work of the Holy Spirit. But at least as often – and certainly, in the instances where the Holy Spirit appears in New Testament stories – the appearance and work of the Holy Spirit is, at least at the beginning, something unsettling – something more discomforting than comforting. Whenever the Holy Spirit begins to move, we can be sure there’s going to be some disturbance; the pot’s going to be stirred; there’s going to be some kind of change to the status quo.

This word that Jesus uses, “paraclete,” literally means to come up alongside, in the sense of helping to lift up, and supporting, and helping to move someone forward in some way that you couldn’t do otherwise. This past week, I read about Franklin Roosevelt, who we all know now, but few people did at the time, was paralyzed. He wore heavy steel braces on his legs that with difficulty and some support, enabled him at least to stand upright, but didn’t really allow him to walk on his own. So his son learned how to walk alongside his father, locking their arms together, actually bearing most of his father’s weight and learning to do it without showing any strain on his own face, and helping to move him forward giving the illusion that his father was walking under his own energy. It was an amazing, loving deception, and as I read about it, I thought that this was actually a pretty good analogy of how the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, works in our own lives.

I’m firmly convinced that at this moment, we’re experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the “discomforting comforter,” just as surely as those disciples did in Jerusalem. The holy winds are blowing within our midst, catching up MB within it, who is here with us for our last Sunday morning together. Soon, she’ll find herself in a completely different pastoral and congregational setting, with all of the excitement, and fear, and possibility, and uncertainty that will bring with it. That same wind is bring change to us, too, as we try to discern how and where we’re being led in terms of our Spiritual Nurture and educational ministries. Whenever that wind blows, whenever the Spirit moves, there’s sure to be some time of discomfort and adjustment. That’s a normal part of the way God moves, and the way we grow in our faith and mission. In the end, though, God will lead us all into paths that are good, and healthy, and which proclaim the gospel of God’s love for all, in ways even greater than before.

God has called MB, and us, into new, and different, and better things; all for the proclamation of the gospel, for the continuation of Christ’s work in the world, and for the glory of God. The winds of Pentecost have blown. And so it begins.

Thanks be to God.

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Belonging

(sermon 5/13/18)

baptism water

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

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John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed,] ”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

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Last Sunday evening, the church staff and their spouses gathered at my place for a little farewell get-together for MB. It was a nice evening, filled with friends, and food, and stories, and laughs and sharing our thoughts about MB, her time here, and her new call. And then, just as we’d had enough to eat and were relaxing a bit, Warren got out of his chair, walked over to the piano, and said, “It’s time.” He sat down and started playing song after song, some requests from us and others that just popped into his head, and we all scrambled to google the lyrics on our phones and sang along.

At one point during that, I sat there looking at the smiling faces, all of us coming from different places, with different backgrounds, different stories, all brought together in this moment, smiling, laughing, singing – and I realized that I was in the middle of one of those very special, almost other-worldly moments that on very rare occasion, we’re blessed to be part of. Surrounded by good friends, and love, and laughter, and music. And it went deeper than it being just an ordinary gathering of friends; this was a group who had been knit together by God, brought together through our common love for God and our desire to serve God, and we were all a part of this truly magical moment. I felt so blessed, and grateful, that I was a part of it, and connected to these people. It was a deep feeling of belonging.

Both of today’s scripture texts deal in different ways with the sense of belonging. In the Acts text, we hear the story of the Apostles naming a new member of the twelve, to replace Judas. They had two equally qualified candidates and basically rolled dice to choose between the two. That sounds pretty arbitrary to our ears today, but even now, every once in a while you’ll hear about an election that results in a tie, and the winner is determined by flipping a coin. Of course, over the years, different parts of the church have come up with different polities, different ways of trying to discern God’s will when faced with making a decision. Some trust the authority of a bishop. Some rely on a congregational vote by the congregation to decide everything. We Presbyterians trust our representative, connectional polity to be the most reliable way of hearing God’s will. The truth of the matter, though, is that whatever the method that we humans come up with to try to hear God’s intentions, God is present in the process, and God will find a way to work within it.

This Acts text deals with finding who God wants to belong to the group of Apostles, and to me that point is important today – whatever the methodology used to hear it, God does call us into being a part of Christ’s Church, and a part of God’s realm. God calls us into this special kind of belonging.

We bear witness to that today, in two ways. Earlier in the service, we recognized the teachers and other volunteers who God has called to a special way of belonging in the life of the church. And in just a little while, we’ll baptize _______, in a sign and seal of God having called him into this special kind of belonging. In his baptism, _______ will begin a lifelong journey of faith, a lifetime of being a part of the covenant, the promise that God has made with us, that we will always belong to the family of God.

But this goes beyond just belonging. Along with that belonging comes the assurance of what Jesus was praying about in the text from John’s gospel that we heard this morning – that _______’s belonging is forever, and that God’s holding and protection of _______ is forever, too.

_______ will grow to know and experience all the joys and sorrows, all the awe and wonder, all the love and loss that this life brings us all. We can, and we do, pray that the laughter will outlast the tears; and that the good will outweigh the bad.  Mostly, we pray that he will always know love – love of family and friends, and church, and most of all of God. However all the chapters of his life will unfold, we all know that through the reconciliation that has been achieved through Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, God has forever claimed him; and that he has been called God’s own and that he will forever be kept in the palm of God’s loving hand – in short, that he belongs. And for that, we can all rejoice, and say

Thanks be to God.