June 04, 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Every year we arrive at the feast of Pentecost and hear about the rushing wind that first blew among the gathered faithful, and the staggering effects of the tongues of fire lighting upon them.
We hear about the way the Spirit allowed the onlookers to hear those empowered 120’s witness to God’s deeds of power in their own languages, and how that new found understanding threatened some and emboldened others.
They are drunk! said some, presumably some of those with the most to lose if all these scattered masses suddenly began sharing stories, and bank accounts, and a common purpose to resist all efforts to keep them divided.
God’s promises are coming true, Peter says, and that means renewed vision for the young, and the return of dreams for the old.
The day of the Lord, a day of justice and judgment, a day of creation’s redemption and fulfillment is coming…nay is indeed already here…because Christ has been risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and we are witnesses to the world’s restructuring and fellow builders of the kingdom of God that has no end.
After having shared the Spirit with the disciples immediately following his resurrection, Jesus ascends into heaven, and the Advocate, the Comforter, comes to bind and guide all those who choose to exercise ministry in the name of Christ…in the name of Love.
If you have been coming to church for many years, you are most likely aware of these stories, and you may even know a bit more about how this abiding Spirit allowed Paul and Ananias to become brothers, or how Peter was able to raise a woman from the dead, or about how the 12 grew to 120, then began to grow beyond measure, as more and more people became convinced of the testimony about Jesus, and began witnessing to God’s deeds of power as well.
That story of a movement that eventually grew to change the world—a movement we call the Church today—is a powerful one and a story in which we are challenged to participate with our own gifts and energies.
In fact, that is what I most care about as I stand before you today, praying for the Spirit’s guidance and interpretation as I offer these words—hoping that as they reach your ears and heart, they will penetrate any frozen and dead areas of your soul, and inspire you to get up and testify to God’s deeds of power today, and in the days to come, with renewed vigor and purpose.
My honest desire is that you will experience resurrection as the earliest disciples did, that you will experience community in such powerful and meaningful ways that you will let go of petty resentments, and let go of categories of success that the world uses to measure others, and let go of anything that prevents this church from being a hopeful and transformative beacon of God’s healing and reconciliation in a hurting and lost world.
The reason I have this hope, and the reason that I doggedly refuse to relinquish it, is because I have seen the Spirit’s work among us…have seen how such a world is not only possible, but probable, when we give ourselves over to it together.
Last Sunday I saw a church full of people from all over the world—Nigerians, Ugandans, Egyptians, Ecuadorians, Americans, Europeans—offering prayers and praises to God in multiple languages that were made understandable by the Spirit, and saw us all breaking bread together as one Body due to the extra-ordinary offering of time and expertise by the teams of workers who helped prepare the feast.
Take a second to realize how revolutionary such an act really is.
An ambassador from a predominantly Muslim country joyfully eats with a Christian from Nigeria.
Italians sing hymns and praises to God in languages of the home countries of refugees who are arriving on Italian shores.
People of all races, languages, tribes, and nations seeking to celebrate each other and understand one another instead of looking for ways to degrade or destroy each other.
And that was just last week!
The Spirit is at work among us, and I wager that no one who attended last week’s celebration could fail to see how wonderfully that work is manifesting itself among us.
The challenge that we all face, including me dear brothers and sisters, is that it is far too tempting to minimize how important such outpourings of the Spirit are in the face of the overwhelming sadness, failings, and fallen-ness of the world in which we exist.
Especially because of our contemporary ease of quick communication, we weigh the glory and hope of such a gathering against attacks in London, or bomb in Kabul or Manchester, or the breaking down of international relations and accords that lead to mass scale environmental degradation, or the countless stories and examples we have of how human beings DON’T seek ways to live in harmony and work together as we have been called to do so in the Church.
We can feel tempted to dismiss the presence and acts of God among us, and choose to focus instead on “how far we have to go;” opting for either a sort of apathetic resignation to our collective diminishing state, or a similarly dangerous despair that rots the core of our faith and hearts.
I imagine that not one of us has escaped these feelings—all of us have at one time or another felt like the wave of this world was bearing down on us…gathering to crush us for good under its impending weight.
Fear not sisters and brothers. Such feelings are normal and were no stranger to Jesus either.
Remember his words on the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
We are not called to excise such concerns from our common life.
Nor are we called to ignore ways to confront those concerns through sustained and concrete actions.
But we are called to not let them divide, control, or deter us.
We are called to trust in the Spirit that has been delivered to us and let the fear of these realities be driven out by the light of the Resurrection.
And we are called to LIVE as a free people according to the witness we have received, and be bold and bullish about witnessing to that reality so that others may know the truth of new life in our God, and become witnesses to such salvation as well.
In my own life, such a commitment manifests itself as giving more of my energy, time and effort to figuring out how to strengthen the connections we have through this church, than in incessantly lamenting abuses of power and fomenting division through social media channels.
I feel more called to invest in the improved services and programs of the JNRC, and in building up our many guests, volunteers and staff, than in spending all my time worrying about how we will get the money we need to keep the center open.
I give the majority of my time to people who want to work toward strengthening the Body of Christ and the human community, rather than comfortably sitting at the table of gossips and manipulators.
That is part of the way of I witness to the power of God, and I have seen so many of you doing the same, even if you may believe your witness to be incomplete or minimal.
I truly believe that our “success” as a church and as a body is tied to how we give ourselves over to witnessing to God’s deed of power, and the extent to which we love each other, love the loveless, love the stranger, and work together for God’s purposes.
The good news of Pentecost is that our ability to succeed in these ways is not entirely dependent upon our skills or our own efforts, but rather, our willingness to do so, while trusting that God’s interpretation will do the rest.
Those earliest witnesses could never have dreamed that the Spirit would lead them to stand up to the Roman Empire and to build a movement large enough to span the entire globe.
The question I ask today is this: What might the Spirit empower this church to do, if we allow it to flow through us and guide us?
We have seen how it can unite us across potential divides, and reflect the character of our eternal home.
But are we willing to go where it might lead us, trusting that God’s purposes will be done, even though we may not know, or even approve of, the way?
Are we willing to abandon the things that are fading away, and hold fast to that which lasts?
If we say yes to this—day after day—then the Holy Spirit will empower us and use us to witness to God’s deeds of power in the days to come with renewed vigor and purpose…in our many languages and expressions… and the movement that began with some fishermen in Galilee, will yet bring to others life, light and hope, within the darkness of these present days.