Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost, 2020-A: Our continual becoming

Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 7:37-39

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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

We are a people of story. Our collective Christian story is chronicled for us in our Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The story of our redemption is found in the gospels; and the way the church was born and grew following the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is told in the remaining books of the New Testament - but that is only the beginning of the story.

Pentecost marks what many call the birthday of the church, the day Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit came to us, to dwell within us and among us and guide us on the path of divine love that would lead to the reconciliation of the whole world to God. On that first Day of Pentecost the church began its journey to reach all people of all languages, nations, and tribes by the gift of the Spirit of God.

On that day God demonstrated that everyone who believed would able to share the Good News of redemption in Jesus Christ to everyone else. Language would no longer be a barrier because, as we heard, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

The work begun that day continues to this day.

Our collective story is being written continually by God. The barrier we face today isn’t language. Almost anything can be translated with a push of a button due to our advanced technology. The barrier we face in this moment of our collective story involves the shutting down of our churches and other cultural systems due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This moment in time points to seismic shifts in all of our systems: family, religion, education, medicine, finance, business, agriculture, and social safety nets for the poor, infirm, and mentally ill. All of our assumptions are being challenged, and our systems and processes are up for re-examination as we work to find our way through this global pandemic moment.

Those early Christians also experienced a seismic shift in their way of being. The nascent church was formed in the midst of persecutions and atrocities, and their emergence involved a courageous breaking free from oppressive systems replacing them with a culture built on the principals of love inaugurated by Jesus.

This is our moment and the situation we face is remarkably similar. How we adapt, how we share the Good News of the world’s redemption in Jesus Christ, will determine how our chapter in the continuing Christian story is written. Thankfully, we have the power to write our own story. More than that, we have a commission to do so.

The same Spirit that descended on those first believers descends upon us now and works as powerfully through us. Those first chapters of our collective story speak of marvelous ministries and colossal growth, as people who hungered for hope and thirsted for life, true life in which they were valued and free to be who they were created to be, found it in the newly forming and expanding Christian community.

When Peter quotes God’s promise to pour out God’s spirit on all flesh, men and women, slave and free, enabling dreams and visions - he couldn’t have foreseen our time of closed church buildings and Zoom worship, online school, and virtual medical care. Yet, God continues to fulfill this promise in us today, so we must be awake and open to God accomplishing marvelous ministries and colossal growth in the way of love today.

This is, after all, the same God who our psalmist proclaims as creator of the “great and wide sea with living things too many to number, creatures both great and small.” This is the same God who created the Leviathan then and the duck-billed platypus now - just for the fun of it.

Our Good News is that the God who created all that is, is the same God who is creating and recreating us now, lavishing us with gifts to be used for the common good. This may be the most overlooked feature of our collective story in modern culture: that the gifts God gives us as individuals who are part of the body of Christ, are given so that we can serve. As Jesus said, he didn’t come to be served but to serve. The same is true for us.

As many of you have heard me say: I believe that each church is unique, uniquely gifted, and has a divine purpose. God gathers a particular group of people together at a particular time, and commissions us to respond to the world around us as Jesus taught us to do until the whole world, all nations, languages, peoples, and tribes are reconciled to God in Christ.

The Christian story is one of continual becoming and the believers in each era are co-creators with God in that becoming. It is our faith that gives us the confidence to examine all of our systems and respond as the Spirit guides us.

The shutting down of our churches and cultural systems has raised up for us in the clearest possible ways, where those systems weren’t working before. The number of people who are unemployed and those who are food and shelter insecure continues to surge here and around the world.

One would have to work very hard these days not to see that people are hungry for hope and thirsting for life - and we have it to share. Jesus tells us that out of the hearts of believers will flow rivers of living water, meant to soothe anyone who thirsts.

In my non-profit work, my partner, Martin, and I talk about moving not toward a new normal, but a better normal. So many of our cultural and religious systems were not working for the common good. What if it can be written about our part of the collective Christian story that we were co-creators with God of a better normal that rises like a phoenix out of the ashes of this pandemic?

We, like those who came before us, will confront those who will try to stop us, even persecute and oppress us to preserve the old way of being, but it’s too late. That way is already gone. What comes next is our choice. Will we passively allow a restoration of what was, knowing it didn’t work except for a privileged few, or will we actively co-create a better normal, one that works for the common good?

It seems like a big decision, a risky decision - and it is. The hope we have, though, is that the same Spirit who guided those first believers, as imperfect as they were, guides us too, as imperfect as we are.

It must have appeared to many of them in their present moment, that they weren’t achieving the outcomes they’d hoped to see. We have the advantage of historical perspective, however, so we know that redemption takes time, meaning we can be patient and confident as each new step is formed, re-formed, and incorporated into our collective experience.

Redemption is the promise we believe. In every moment we cling to the belief that all things, all peoples and nations, all creation will be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ the Redeemer.

We also believe that we have been chosen by Jesus to serve in his name in our time. Jesus has made us sources of living water, of hope and life in the way of divine love. God knows the way we should go and will guide us there. Guaranteed.

This may be the most hope-filled moment in recent history and in our collective Christian story. The whole world is seeing how intimately connected we truly are. This shift from national to global citizenship could be for us what the shift from the Jewish community to the Gentile world was for those first Christians. I pray we respond faithfully as God reaches farther and farther - through us - to draw everyone into one family of love.

Happy birthday to the church in our continual becoming. Amen.

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