All Together In One Place – May 20, 2018
All Together In One Place
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
May 20, 2018
Main Idea: Together we are the church.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning we have gathered together to worship and to pray. We are glad to be all together in one place but honestly some of us are tired and some of us are discouraged. We are not certain about our plans for the future. We have seen our big plans turn out differently than we had expected. We have been busy with meetings and planning. We have filled all of our volunteer slots but we seem to be stuck, we are just waiting for guidance and inspiration.
Suddenly our room is filled with light and sound and wind. We feel the wind around us; pushing us and holding us at the same time. The sound is like a F35 taking off right next to us, drowning out all other speech. And we see the light, like flames, lighting up the faces of everyone around us. For the first time we can see each other as God sees us and we begin speaking to each other, communicating in a new and better way. We get up and go outside to find that people from all over the world have gathered. They have been drawn by the sound of the wind and our voices. We continue speaking of God’s love and those outside listen, for we are speaking in language that they can understand.
Some of those outside say “Aren’t those the crazy Christians, who hole up in their churches to judge people and pray? How is it that we can understand them? How can they speak in our language? English, French, Karen, Democrat, Republican, Progressive, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Fox News, PBS, MSNBC. How is it that in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power? What does this mean?” Some say, because they have no better answer, “Well, it must be that they are drunk on new wine.”
But Peter stands up on the church steps and says,
“People of Burlington and all who live in Vermont, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, we are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 10:?? 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 women shall dream dreams. Even upon the poorest of the poor, 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, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Peter continues, “Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus our Christ lived and died and lives again to reveal the heart of God which is love. This love is more powerful than evil, or sin, or death. The Spirit which moves among us testifies to the power of God’s love and the Spirit empowers us to share that love with everyone, to share that love with you. For the promise of God is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls.”(2:39)
And the people listen, and they experience the Spirit among them. 3000 people are added to the community that day and they live and work together, sharing worship and providing for each other with glad and generous hearts. And day by day the Holy Spirit moves among the people and out into the world.
The experience of Pentecost cannot be reduced to an extraordinary occurrence from long ago. The Holy Spirit moves among us today. And today we embody the gifts and the challenges given by the Spirit.
This morning we are all together but we are not all the same. We are united in the common purpose of following Jesus but we are blessed with our beautiful particularities of age, of gender, of skin color, of place of origin, of economic status. We share a diversity of abilities, of histories, and of perspectives. We come from different places and we speak different languages and the Spirit empowers us all, each one of us. “Pentecost invites us into a new way of engaging with difference – not just with different languages, but with all the ways we are marked as different from one another. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit speaks through the differences without converting them to sameness. People aren’t invited to give up their languages, their cultures, and convert to the same way of speaking and thinking….Through the Spirit, difference is made holy.” (Isaac S. Villegas, christiancentury.org).
Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit does not have an official language or official way of doing things, as much as we like to think that the way we do things is the best way. In fact, the language of the Holy Spirit is outside of any “official” sanction, it is spoken “out on the street” in myriad ways. The Spirit speaks to each person, inside or outside of the church, in the language that each person speaks, that each can understand. The Spirit empowers us to learn new ways of communicating with people. This gives us opportunities to try new ways of reaching out and to show love concretely through acts of service and solidarity.
Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit leads us in ways we do not expect, although perhaps we should. The Spirit always leads us beyond where we thought we could go. 30 years ago, the Spirit led Rev. Rodney Patterson to gather the congregation of New Alpha as a community of color in this whitest of states. When they started they did not anticipate the many new people from around the world who would make their homes here. New Alpha’s ministry and witness has helped to lay the foundation of welcome to people of color in the greater Burlington area which is now much more diverse than it was 30 years ago.
For many years First Baptist has worked with refugee resettlement but we did not anticipate the arrival of the Karen community or the great blessing that they would bring as they joined our congregation. We did not expect the arrival of the Nepali community which worships here on Saturday. These sisters and brothers in Christ are gifts of the Spirit which leads us to ever widening inclusion and welcome. It was the Spirit which led us to be worshipping today with New Alpha and it is a great gift and a great blessing.
Our world is in dire need of the power of the Holy Spirit. In this country and around the world, we are increasingly divided by our differences. The level of fear and hatred continues to grow as we retreat into the mindset of us versus them. Even the language that we use begins to mean different things to different groups. The world needs God’s love to be shared in ways that are meaningful and understandable. The world needs to hear of God’s love and to see God’s love and to experience God’s love. The world needs a model of community where our differences are recognized as our strengths, where our voices are heard, and where all, in our beautiful particularities, are valued and cherished. A community where each one of us is empowered by the Spirit to share the good news of God’s love. A community like this one!
The Holy Spirit is here among us. The Spirit has drawn us together and the Spirit empowers us to leave these cozy confines to share God’s love with those outside our walls. The Spirit enables us to speak in language that can be heard and understood. The Spirit blesses our unity and our diversity. Today after the benediction we will walk and sing our way to City Hall Park and once there we will pray for the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in this city, in the various communities in which we live, and in the whole world. The Holy Spirit is loose in the world, enlivening and empowering humanity to share God’s love in the vast kaleidoscope of languages and cultures that make up our world. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray,
Astounding and sustaining God, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit which enlivens and empowers us. We thank you for the gift of Jesus our Christ who reveals your heart. Give us courage and energy to follow the Spirit’s leading into the world so that we might share your love. Amen.