Pentecost: When God’s Kingdom comes to you!

Here is the manuscript of my sermon for this past Sunday. It was Pentecost. The scripture readings were Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

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For seven weeks now we have been focusing on the presence of God’s Kingdom.

Many have been sold a bill of goods that eternal life is only about what happens after you die.

Just because someone is selling a bill of goods doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Jesus never offered eternal life as something you pick up or receive after you die. He said that he came that we might live life to the fullest (John 10:10)  Jesus himself defined eternal life this way, in his prayer for his followers in John 17:  This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. (verse 3)

And this “living life to the fullest” and this “knowing the obly true God and Jesus Christ whom God sent” become real – reachable, attainable, graspable – for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death starts now!

Or, more accurately, Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death started almost 2,000 years ago.

And, just in case this isn’t clear, God’s victory over death isn’t just for God: it is for us!

It is for God because God created humans for fellowship – for partnership in caring for the beautiful world God has given us to live in! But it is also for us because God loves us and wants us to learn to live in the freedom and joy that comes from living as we were created to live in the first place!

This is why we are invited daily – maybe even more often than that – to come, enter the Kingdom! Because this is what God wants for us.

And we have all seen the Kingdom of God.  Many of us, if not all of us have spent some time there.  Many of us have had the great pleasure of opening the presence of God’s Kingdom to others and then received the indescribable joy of watching them, listening to them know the love of their Creator!

You’ve been there!

  • You volunteer in so many ways at South Euless Elementary.
  • You collect change to support the United Community Centers in Fort Worth.
  • You teach Sunday School
  • You help feed people at Arlington Life Shelter.
  • You travel up to 14 hours to spend a week sleeping on floors and taking cold showers to serve people you’ve never met.
  • You sing in the choir.
  • You work harder than your doctor probably wants you to to stock our Food Pantry and to serve food to those who, for WHATEVER reason humble themselves to come here looking for food.
  • You visit people in prison.
  • You smoke hams in December.
  • You serve in dozens of different ways in your church and community because you feel like following Jesus calls us beyond ourselves.

You’ve SEEN God’s Kingdom from here.  You’ve BEEN God’s Kingdom from here.

Ah, but today, today, we raise the bar.

Today we celebrate that God lives IN us.  With us ALWAYS and FOREVER.

Today, we welcome the Holy Spirit – our Companion, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth!

Today we celebrate Pentecost, derived from the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which was held 7 weeks following Passover.

You probably know this story: it was read for us this morning from Acts 2.  It’s known sometimes as “the birthday of the Church.”

Church starts when the Holy Spirit shows up. We traditionally remember this every Sunday with the presence of the open flame – on candles – on the table.

When, the Holy Spirit showed up “ They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.” Then they heard them all speak in other languages.

There’s a lot to be made of speaking in tongues. There’s a lot of debate about speaking in tongues.  While I enjoy discussion over differences, and sometimes even debate, today isn’t about debate.  Today is about the Holy Spirit coming and empowering us to live in the Kingdom of God now.

So whatever you think of speaking in tongues, look what happened thereby: people gathered from the known world ALL heard the good news!

May you and I, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, speak the Good News so that everyone may understand it!

May those who feel trampled on by all us religious folk be able to hear the good news through us!

May those who feel trampled by the world: economic, political, whatever, be able to hear the good news through us!

May those who do not have family or friends close enough to consider family be able to hear the good news through us!

May those estranged from their parents, or estranged from their children, be able to hear the good news through us!

May those dogged by addiction be able to hear the good news through us!

May those bearing the weight of depression be able to hear the good news through us!

May the hypocrite in each of us be able to hear the good news through us!

May the ones among us who feel they’ve been part of the church too long to actually open themselves to the kind of change and healing God and God alone can bring be able to hear the good news through us!

The Holy Spirit is here, among us! God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)

The Spirit took Peter to the book of Joel (from the Old Testament):

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Two more points, then I’ll let you out of this thing.  First, let’s go back to the reason all these folks were in Jerusalem to begin with.  The Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. referenced in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy (Exodus 23 & 34, Leviticus 23, and Deuteronomy 16) came to mark both the celebration of thanksgiving for the grain harvest and  of Moses’ returning from Mt. Sinai with the law.

Here’s how Deuteronomy explains it:

Count out seven weeks, starting the count from the beginning of the grain harvest. At that point, perform the Festival of Weeks for the Lord your God. Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God—you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites who live in your cities, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who are among you—in the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. Remember how each of you was a slave in Egypt, so follow these regulations most carefully. (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)

Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God….

So, these people had come from all over the known world: Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs. They were here to offer a spontaneous gift “in precise measure with the blessing” God had given them.

What blessings has God given you?  What would offering a “spontaneous gift in precise measure” look like?

All these people had come to do their duty, their religious duty. Shavuot was one of three annual festivals jewish men were expected to come to Jerusalem to celebrate. They came as they had likely come many times before.

They came to give to God “in precise measure” according to how God had blessed them.

They came to give, and in return they received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

They couldn’t outgive God.  We cannot outgive God.

Today is Pentecost. We celebrate and remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.

The law expected God’s people to give back in precise measure as they had been blessed by God.

And then, God blesses them beyond their imagination with the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the very presence of God.

They all heard and they all understood in their own language, in a way that they each could accept and receive.

Ok.  I think that’s a lot to grasp.  Let’s take a moment before concluding.

Take a moment just to breathe.

In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe.  Repeat.

Did you know that the average human takes 26,000 breaths a day? While we ought to breath deeply and take 4-6 breaths per minute, most of us breath shallow quick breaths at a rate of 15 per minute.

No matter how fast or slow, how deep or shallow you breathe, if you stop breathing you stop living.

Here’s a funny thing about that – about breathing – that I want you to know today.  Breath and Spirit are closer than you think.

In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words from which we get “breath” and “spirit” are related.

So much so, in fact, that in Psalm 51:11, which says, “Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me,” the word translated “spirit” is the same word as “breath.”

Here it is in context:

Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Could the Holy Spirit be God breathing into you?

Remember in Genesis 2, where God creates the first humans?  What does God do after they were formed out of the dust?  Breathed the breath of life into them.

No breath, no life.

And breath and spirit come from the same word.  Breath and spirit come from the same place.

Every time you breathe in, you welcome the gift of life that God has given you. Every time you breathe in, you can also welcome the Holy Spirit.

Please notice that life is more than just breathing in all the time.  If you breathe in, you must also breathe out.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into us, like breath, to be held, but to be let out, to be shared.

Take a moment just to breathe.

In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe.  Repeat.

Let us pray

Pentecost: When God’s Kingdom comes to you!

Leadership Meadership

I had a sadly disturbing conversationleadership recently.

I did much more listening than talking in this particular conversation, but that’s not what made it sad or disturbing.

I was visiting with someone considerably older than I and someone who is close to death. This person is aware that death is near, and is, for the most part, at peace with this knowledge.

So I listened to quite a few stories.  Like most of us, this person tells stories about success and accomplishment. This person has quite a history of leadership.

This person also has quite a history of brokenness.  Raised by parents, various counties, and extended family, this person fought through this adversity to, as the stories tell it, successfully raise 4 kids.

I really wanted to find a story of healthy relationship or hope, so I asked, “You’re obviously quite a leader.  Where did you learn your leadership abilities?”

It didn’t take 2 seconds before a rather sharp, strong, “Myself!” was blurted out as an answer.

Which really saddens me.

I don’t know exactly where I rank on any leadership scale, but I know the value of leadership. I’m pretty sure I’ve learned and grown a great deal in my leadership abilities since my first ministry job in 1984.

A lot of that learning and growth has been pushing and stretching and trying and failing.  Myself.

But almost everything I’ve tried and failed (or succeeded) and most everything that has pushed, pulled, or stretched me has some source outside myself.

I believe recognizing this makes me a better leader.

Whatever leadership I have gained, it has all come in knowing that I am, at the same time, following someone else.

So, while there is an “I” in leadership, there is no “me.”

I hope I find the grace to offer this the next time I have a conversation with this person.

Leadership Meadership

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

On this day, April 28, in 1992, the Bloods and the Crips, rival gangs in Los Angeles, declared a truce.

This was the day before the riots started in response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of police accused of beating Rodney King.

This is not written about what is happening now in Baltimore, or these days around the country. This post is not about police violence or the violence in communities that leads to police violence.

This post is about peace. Or at least truce.  The Bloods and the Crips can lay down their arms, their hatred, their distrust, their contradictory narratives of who is a fault or who is right and who is wrong.

They could stop fighting each other. They could, and did, stop killing each other.

It makes me wonder. Ooh, it makes me wonder.

Can Tea Partiers and Progressives stop fighting each other?

Can Republicans and Democrats stop fighting each other?

Can Sunni and Shia stop fighting each other?

Can evangelical Christians and progressive Christians stop fighting each other?

Can opposing factions in The United Methodist Church stop fighting each other?

Let’s see if we can learn this simple lesson from history: that on April 28, 1992, the Bloods and the Crips stopped fighting.

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

Rights v Right makes wrong

Having the right to do something does not necessarily make doing it the right thing to do.

Case in point: Jacyln Pfieffer was allegedly fired from her position as a teacher at Aloma Methodist Early Childhood Learning Center. Further, she was allegedly fired because it was learned that she was living in a lesbian relationship.

The discussions about this that I’ve seen, and been part of, on social media, tend to end up with people on either of two sides of this polarity

  1. The ECLC was within its rights as a religious organization to fire someone engaged in conduct they believe to be immoral; and
  2. Ms. Pfieffer was a victim of discrimination.

I am not taking sides on that polarity.

Knowing a little about Church-State matters, I expect the ECLC, related to its host Church, may well be perfectly within their rights to have fired her.

Even if they were within their rights as a religious organization, though, I think they blew it. They failed.  They did not represent Jesus well.

This is stronger language than I usually use on this blog, but this is serious business.

Whatever your position on sexuality and orientation and same-sex marriage, if you are a Christian, I assume you would agree that we (Christians) represent Christ, and therefore God.

I think you would also have to agree with this: whether we approve of someone else’s behavior/orientation/lifestyle/fill-in-your-preferred-term-here,we are commanded to love them. All of them; friends, enemies, strangers, etc.

Christians do not get to choose whom to love and whom not to.

But we do, according to the law, receive some leeway according to our religion, in choosing whom to employ and whom not to.

I believe that choice is far better made before hiring than after.

So, even if you fully support Aloma Methodist ECLC’s decision, you must agree that they would have represented Christ better had they been open upfront and refused to hire Ms. Pfeiffer in the first place than to fire her.

I don’t know where the law places the burden of proof. Should Ms. Pfieffer have self-identified as lesbian in the hiring process?

How self-disclosing are you when you apply for a job?

No; from my perspective – and it would be very, very hard to sway me on this – it is on the church-affiliated organization to be very, very clear during the hiring process what their moral expectations of employees are.

If Aloma Methodist ECLC presents itself as representing the God we know in and through Jesus, they owe it to the world around them, the culture in which they serve, to love the other. If this means anything, it at least means treating them with respect.

Simply put: I’m pretty sure that if Jesus wouldn’t allow a lesbian to work for him, he wouldn’t have hired her in the first place.

Go, thou, and do likewise.

Rights v Right makes wrong