A New Thing

May. 24, 2015

Acts 2.1-21; Ro. 8.22-27; Jn. 15.26-27, 16.4b-15

From time to time seminary students, as a part of their training to become ministers of the church, are sent out on missions. Here in the great rural south and other places, students of the gospel go out to evangelize. I heard about a particular exchange between two seminary students and the wife of a farmer on a hot day in the Deep South. As the students approached the farmhouse through a sweltering heat, the dust from the dirt road was choking the air as they came up to the house, through a gauntlet of shouting children, squawking chickens, and barking dogs. They knocked on the screen door. And the woman inside stopped scrubbing on the pot that was in the sink, and she brushed back her frazzled hair, wiped the perspiration from her brow and went to the door to ask them what they wanted. "Well," said one of the young men proudly, "we've come here to tell you how you could get everlasting life". The woman took a long deep breath, and holding the sweat soaked hair out of her face, she gave them a very exhausted look and said, "I thank you very kindly for your offer, but I just don't rightly think I could last that long." A lot of people think that life with God will just be an extension of life that we know here...but our life here, even on the best day we've ever had, is, as St Paul says, not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed! We all want to go to heaven, just not too soon. We cling to what we know, and we cherish this world as imperfect as it is. But God is calling us out. God is calling us to a life that is beyond anything we could hope for or imagine.

In the Greek NT, the word for "church" is εκκλεσια. It literally means to be "called out". The church is not a building. Rather it's a spiritual place. Today, all across the United States there are more than 275 million people who will not have darkened the door of a church building this day, but that doesn't mean that they are without grace or a not part of God's Church. The Church is a particular collection of people who have heard God's call and stepped out to follow a new way. We may think it was our idea, but God in Christ has already extended the invitation. And God's invitation is not just to be a better human being, but also to become a grace-filled being. It happens through the Spirit of God.

This is Pentecost. It marks the beginning of the church. It's the day in which the Holy Spirit came upon regular men and women just like you and me and empowered them and us to establish a witness...a living expression of the love of God. It isn't a passing phenomenon...it's a living and breathing expression of the love of God that continues to inspire us and move us to good works. Think about the Christian peoples everywhere who have established institutions that have made so many lives better. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists...peoples of all sorts and conditions have been moved by the Spirit of God to establish schools, colleges, and clinics, hospitals, soup kitchens, thrift shops, and so much more to address peoples' needs. The reason those works were begun and continue, springs from the Spirit of God that moves regular people like you and me to love and to care in extraordinary ways. Sometimes we are like leaven in the bread that makes the whole thing rise. Sometimes we're the builders of institutions that serve as a great Noah's Ark to deliver humankind from disaster and death. God's Spirit erases the divisions of color, or ethnicity, or nationality, or anything at all that may divide us.

I love the story about Billy Graham when he held a historic crusade in Montgomery, Alabama, in the turbulent early 1960s. This was the city of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Graham insisted that the choir at the crusade be integrated. The Montgomery newspaper editorialized that Graham had come to Alabama and that that had set the church back a hundred years. Graham's answer was classic: he said, "Well, if that's the case, then I failed in my mission. I fully intended to set it back 2,000 years." That's the meaning of Pentecost! It means discovering a totally new perspective on an old life through the Spirit of God. Like St Paul said, "In Christ we are a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." Living in Christ, and through Christ, and with Christ is possible through the Spirit of the living God.

Oh, a lot of things can be accomplished with blood, sweat, toil and tears...we could adopt the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We could learn the techniques offered in a self-help book that may promise to reshape us, but if that really worked...why are there literally thousands of them lining the shelves of every large bookstore! Shouldn't we just be able to get one and read and follow the advice and we'd be all better! The Germans who seem to have a word for every mental and spiritual state of being...call this Zerrissenheit that means "falling-to-pieces-ness". It means in all our searchings, there's no core meaning, no organizing principle. When we're multitasking and pulled a hundred different directions at the same time...we have no guiding principle, no sense of what has to be done. But through God's Spirit, there is an order. Just as the disciples on Pentecost were gifted the ability to speak in the language of the foreign pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem so at the core of it all is God's Holy Spirit guiding the process toward the ends that God intends. It works out because God made and continues to make us into a Church... And God takes fallen, incomplete, sinful human beings like you and me and transforms our hearts and intentions into something God given and grace filled.

That's why this day is important and why we celebrate it...because it represents what God has done and will yet do through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you're thinking..."Me? What can I do?" It's important to turn that question around and ask, "What can't God do if I just listen and follow?" You'll see it's not just more of the same...but God calling us to do a new thing. AMEN.

The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 5/24/15