First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kate Dalton
June 9, 2019
Scripture: Acts 2:1-11, Numbers 11:16-30
As we start this morning, I want you to take a few moments to come up with a list of American values. What is it that our culture values – right now, in this time and in this place. According to USAhello.org (a website to help immigrants and asylum seekers build successful live in the United States) American values include:
Time and efficiency
These values are the air we breath. They surround our everyday life. Some of them guide our personal decisions and some do not – but all of them affect the world in which we live.
Our scripture story this morning begins with the disciples gathering for Pentecost. Pentecost was the Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover that marked the giving of the Torah and was also the time of giving first fruits at the temple. So the followers of Jesus are gathered together in a room. Remember Jesus died about 50 days ago. He seems to have sporadically popped up and appeared to them – but I’m guessing they felt pretty lost. Their incredible charismatic leader who had disrupted their lives and all that they had known was gone. Now what? He seems to make vague promises of something to come and support them – but given the amount of times the disciples were confused about things Jesus said, I can only imagine a promise of something like the spirit was not terribly reassuring.
But there they were – gathered as faithful Jews would be, in Jerusalem for Pentecost. And something happens. Something that changes them and the world forever – the holy spirit appears and compels them to share the story – to share the good news of Jesus and God’s love with those outside of their circle. They are empowered to spread the good news. Amy G. Oden, visiting professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City says this:
This gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the birth of the church is a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement, those who had lived displaced in a language-world not their own. We cannot miss this! It is a spiritual gift given not for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening. God’s gift reaches outward to those outside of this immediate circle of Jesus followers. It seems that one mark of the Holy Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.
David Lose, Senior Pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis says this:
the Holy Spirit does not come to solve our problems but to create them. Think about it: absent the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples could go back to their previous careers as fishermen. I can almost hear James and John explaining, “Sure, it was a wild and crazy three-year-ride, and that Jesus sure was a heck of a guy, but maybe we needed to get that out of our system before we could settle down and take on Dad’s business.” Once the Spirit comes, however, that return to normalcy is no longer an option. They will now be propelled throughout the ancient world to herald the unlikely message that God has redeemed the world through an itinerant preacher from the backwaters of Palestine who was executed for treason and blasphemy.
The legacy that we receive we from Pentecost is the obligation to connect with others outside of the Jesus movement, outside of Christianity. We are called to witness publicly to our faith and connect it to the world around us – not just share it with one another on Sunday mornings.
This might seem daunting but Lose offers this additional comment on the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit doesn’t prevent failure but invites it. …As inspired as I was by the Mission Control dictum during the crisis of Apollo 13 that “failure is not an option,” I think that kind of mindset is paralyzing to many of our congregations. Failure is not only an option, it is inevitable. The problems this world — and our congregations — face are too great, too complex, and too significant to imagine that we will hit upon the best solution the first time out…or maybe ever. Once we’ve identified a worthy challenge, we must experiment…and count on failing, innovate…and count on failing, invent…and count on failing again. An English teacher in my children’s middle school once told me, “I tell my kids to make a mistake every day — just not the same mistake!” Each mistake, each set back, each false start, each failure is not to be lamented but learned from.
Further — and living in a success-obsessed world can lead us to forget this — ultimately it’s neither about us nor up to us. God is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of this cosmos, and only God can bring the kind of redemption we long for and need. Our job is to partner with God’s work wherever we can discern it. If the cross teaches us nothing else, it teaches that success will not always look like success, and victory may often come disguised as defeat. The question isn’t whether we’re successful, but whether we’re faithful. Or, as Cornell West once said, “Sure it’s a failure, but was it a good failure.”
What values did Jesus propose? Hear Jesus message from the Message Translation Matthew chapter 5 verses 1-12
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Remember the values of American culture that we reviewed at the beginning – independence, privacy, competition, time and efficiency, consumerism. They are a different language.
We’ve got a story to tell! As followers of Jesus, as heirs of Pentecost, we are tasked with translating God’s language into a message that reaches beyond our walls and out into the world. And we have a lot of work to do. May God bless us as we try, as we fail, and as we succeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.