Excerpts from my sermon Sunday based on Acts 2:1-21. To all the liturgy nerds, yes I know that Pentecost was May 15th, not May 22nd, but we had to move the Christian calendar around to make it all work. (this is one reason I’m Methodist and not Episcopalian, flexibility)
So the backdrop for a lot of what I felt compelled to share was the mood, tone and feeling emanating from General Conference via twitter, live stream, Facebook and the blogosphere. I want to be clear on this because I was not at General Conference nor did I have 10 days to devote to watching the live-stream and therefore had to pick up my information 2nd or sometimes even 3rd hand.
Lastly, I do recognize that I am a person of privilege in my denomination. I am a straight young white man in a church that loves straight white young men. So owning this as part of who I am and knowing that some folks will disagree with my perspective (which I get), here’s a bit of what I preached Sunday.(oh yeah it might make more sense if you read Acts 2:1-21)
I can remember being confused, bewildered and a little unsettled the first time I traveled to my wife’s childhood home in Franklin, Indiana almost 10 years ago. As we drove from the airport to her neighborhood I just kept noticing that there were no fences, anywhere…there were no fences around homes, around schools or even around office buildings.
See I grew up in the suburbs of the southwest, El Paso and Scottsdale, where we had fences and walls made of stone and cement helping us to delineate, define and structure our neighborhoods. To me the notion of a fenceless neighborhood evoked a sense of chaos and fear. I asked Allison at one point, how does all this work? Doesn’t everything just kind of seep into one another’s yard. She said well yeah, sometimes, but that’s just life.
Truth be told, we human beings build all types of fences do we not. Not just literal fences or course but emotional, ideological, cultural, linguistic and spiritual. We seem to be pretty darn good at noticing and highlighting all the things that divide us, all of the barriers that stand between us, those things which set us apart from one another, that make us different or unique.
Sometimes we feel more comfortable making comparisons rather than finding commonalities. If you are like me it just seems easier to live in a clearly defined and fenced-in neighborhood rather than a community like Franklin Indiana where you don’t know where my life ends and your life begins.
In his sermon Peter give us quite a vision of God’s kingdom and at the same time he models for us how we should interpret scripture. Peter uses this old text from the Hebrew Bible to give shape, meaning and understanding to current events.
He’s saying remember that story from our history, what we are experiencing today is the same manifestation of that enduring truth that God’s power is horizontal not vertical, that God’s Spirit is made known through the least likely of people, and that the beloved community of God is bound together by the indiscriminate love of the Holy Spirit.
Peter in his sermon reinforces this vision of what God is doing in our world through the power of the Holy Spirit. He evokes this image of the Spirit being poured out on all people, and then he emphasizes four particular groups of people: old people, young people, male and female slaves. Now the societal structure of this time would have excluded every one of these types of people from having a place of importance at the table.
Old people, well they’re vulnerable and weak. Young people, they’re inexperienced and impulsive; slaves, they’re not really a person but a commodity to be bought and sold at will. These are not the inheritors of God’s promise.
But Peter, this Galilean, accent and all, proclaims that God’s Holy Spirit is being poured out on all people, even upon those people society would push to the margins.
He paints this picture of a new kind of community based upon the humble-life-giving love of Jesus made present through the Holy Spirit. He lifts up those who are down-trodden and says no matter what language they speak or what their accent is, no matter if they are useless in your eyes or just merchandise to be traded, they are made in the image of the divine creator of all things, they have inherent sacred worth, they are children of the most high God, and so are you.
Peter’s vision of the kingdom of God is a bit more like a neighborhood in Franklin Indiana. A place without the fences of age, race, education, politics, sexual identity. It is a community striving to love first and at all the times the way Jesus loves us all, without judgment, without condition, and without prejudice.
Peter’s vision of God’s kingdom is a place where we listen to one another for the truth of God’s indiscriminate love no matter how different the person speaking may be from us. Old people listen to young people, young people listen to old people, privileged people listen to oppressed people, and men listen to women. I think the world might look a little different if we really tried to listen to one another without any agenda.
Peter’s vision of God’s kingdom is what we strive for as the church and the truth is we sometimes are able to live into this vision and other times we fall pretty short, like really short.
We have witnessed the church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, speaking truth in love and opening up new possibilities for reconciliation, restoration, wholeness and grace. We have seen the church standing on the side of the oppressed, advocating for the poor, being in solidarity with the weak and reminding us of the sacred worth of all people.
But, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes we get it terribly wrong. Sometimes we twist our faith to justify prejudice or erect fences to clearly define who’s in and who’s out.
The truth is sometimes we live in the fullness of the Spirit and sometimes we are divided by sin.
There’s a church in Denver called the House for All Sinners and Saints pastored by a Lutheran minister named Nadia Bolz-Weber. She relays a story in her book Pastrix about their new comer gathering for folks who are interested in learning more about their community. The evening includes some stories and testimonies from lay members of the congregation. They often share of the way the congregation cares for one another, their worship life together, the way they pray for one another in their need. It is a 25 minute infomercial of all the wonderful things they do inspired by the Holy Spirit. Pastor Nadia describes her talk in this way
“I am always the last to speak at these events… [she says] This community will disappoint them. It a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid or hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.’
The church is enlivened by the Holy Spirit and populated by human beings which means that at some point along the way we will disappoint you. There will be times when we are so in line with the Holy Spirit that we are able to listen to one another, to hear the truth of God’s love speaking through the mouths of those who seem radically different from us, there will be times of transcendent sacred unity in bonds of love.
There will be other times as well, when someone does something or says something you disagree with, find offensive or you think is just plain wrong. Don’t leave, stay in Jerusalem so to speak, wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to come to be with you, to be with us, to break open our hearts to new realms of love, mercy and grace.
And if you are like me and you feel uncertain about living in a fenceless neighborhood, look to the Holy Spirit for strength and courage to live without fear and if it gets to be too much for you to handle, don’t worry you don’t have to save yourself, because all who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Thanks be to God. Amen.