God Has Begun a Great Thing

Last Sunday’s sermon for Pentecost was convicting, for most of us.  We, like the Apostles of old, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Our reaction: whether we stifle the Spirit within us or whether we open ourselves to God’s mission in the world- is our response to God’s leading.

The “sneers” of some at Pentecost, still resonate with us 2,000+ years later.  We are overly sensitive to the statements of others.  We so want to be accepted and loved by our community that most of us have been willing to sacrifice our Christian mission for that acceptance.  It can be hard to think of ourselves as weak in our witness- but I fear that is what we often are. 

There remains, however, hope.  We may fear and we may shrink, but, God has a plan.  God is in charge and has already begun great things in us.  GREAT THINGS!  We may not know what they are yet, but we can be sure that our Lord has not left us alone.  We hear this in one of my favorite pieces of scripture- Paul’s greeting to the Philippian Christians.  “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  Here’s the big news, though:  The church at Philippi was just another church.  They struggled and fought then as we do now.  They rejoiced at a baptism and celebrated God’s incredible grace and Spirit as we do now.  If God began a good work in them, then there is no reason to doubt that God has done the same in us.  

Kurt Hahn, the pioneer of Outward Bound adventure programs was made famous by one statement.  “There is more in us than we know.  If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

There is more in us than we know.  God, however, knows us inside and out, and has prepared us to do something great- in God’s name and for God’s glory.  

Prayer: God has created me to do some definite service.  God has committed some work to me which God has not committed to another.  I have my mission, I have my call.  I may never know it in this world, but I shall be told it in the next.  I shall be a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I but keep God’s commandments. Therefore I shall trust God.  Wherever, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away; God does nothing in vain.  Amen.    –JHC Newman

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Pentecost- Whoosh, Zap, Pow, Bam!

I’m always surprised by the story of Pentecost- it is such a mystery.  What really happened?  What did it look like?  What did it feel like?  How would I have reacted had I been there?  I  listen to the story and picture it in my head, yet somehow the events of that day are beyond anything I can fathom.  I come to a point, finally, where I just have to accept that, “Nothing is impossible with God” and leave it at that.

On that fateful day… Jesus’ followers had likely been gathered in the upper room all night praying and reading scripture together- a common practice during the Jewish festival of Shavuot (aka Pentecost).  A new day dawned with a great commotion- suddenly they heard the sound of rushing wind- and the Holy Spirit was upon them.  I once read a book that asked, “Could it be the same wind that swept across the dark waters- the wind of Genesis 1, the wind of creation?”  It’s a good question.  What was first heard, then is seen- divided tongues of fire hover over each believer.  Do you think they could feel the heat?  The tongues of fire seem to inspire the tongues of the people.  The fist gift of the Spirit is speech, testimony about the living God.  

The scene shifts from the room upstairs where Jesus’ disciples are meeting to the street down below and a crowd of people.  The Spirit calls the community to witness: literally, to testify to what they have seen: and so they speak, they cry out, they preach in the languages familiar to those passing in busy, metro Jerusalem. 

The people are unsure of what is happening.  Some are amazed and confused- asking, “What does this mean?”  Others don’t want to even think about what this could mean.  They created their own theory to describe such extreme religious outburst.  Sneering, they said, “They are filled with new wine” (a.k.a.- drunk).

How do we react when people don’t understand us?  How do we feel when people mock our devotion or our faith?  What to we do then?  What happens when you’re sneered at? 

Peter- remember him?  The impatient, impassioned, impulsive disciple of Jesus– it is he who gets us and responds to the condescending crowd.  His response is that of a witness-  someone who describes what he’s seen.  He stands up- with Spirit-given boldness, and speaks the words of truth: the Gospel message.  He doesn’t just speak, he preaches! 

…For those of us who consider the Holy Spirit to be something that is personal and private, a guide to our prayer and strength in dark times, Pentecost presents us an alternative so extreme that it puts our ideas to shame.  The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is anything but that.  The Spirit gives the church (and, of course, by ‘the church,’ I mean YOU and ME) the boldness to go out from our private places of prayer and to stand up as witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Whom Shall I Send?

Jesus, praying for his disciples: As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:18)

This summer, our congregation will immerse ourselves in the Acts of the Apostles, the “sent ones.” In Luke’s witness, a dynamic trait of the young Christian Church was their “dynamism” (It’s a word; I looked it up.) Those first apostles and their growing Church were filled with spiritual vigor and intense activity. They were in constant motion, truly “sent into the world” to share Good News. Luke testifies throught the Acts of the Apostles to the Spirit-fueled “boldness” of their ministry and mission – they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31b)

BOLD. That’s how Luke repeatedly describes the Church of those first apostles. I would be thrilled for others to see my faith and my Church as BOLD.

In my study at work, I have posted a few images and affirmations that lift and inspire me. This is “old school” posting — with tape on a visible surface above my computer. In contemplating our life in Christ, our calling to be BOLD believers sent out into the world with a life-changing, counter-cultural word, one posting grips me again and again. I read and re-read a statement attributed to a Zimbabwean pastor:

My past is redeemed, my future is secure. I am done with low living, small planning, smooth knees, mundane talking, chintzy giving and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, properity, position, promotion, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, or rewarded.

My face is set; my goal is sure. My road is narrow; my way is rough; my companions few. My God is reliable; my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, delayed or deluded. I will not flinch in the face of adversity, nor negotiate at the table of the enemy, nor meander in the maze of medocrity.

I am a disciple of Christ. I must go until he comes, speak of all I know of him and work until he stops me. And when he comes for his own, by the grace of God, he will have no problem recognizing me, because my colors are clear.

Dare we be so BOLD?

Anointed

We have found the Messiah (which is translated ‘Anointed’) John 1:41

All 26 young people stretched across the front of our sanctuary in almost-alphabetical order (the Christopher twins were inadvertently separated by a classmate). This long line of 8th graders, having completed an 8 month period of study, including memorization(!), stood before an overflow congregation. They confirmed their baptism or readiness for baptism by professing faith in Jesus Christ. Then all 26 (even Kaitlyn with her injured leg) knelt down for a baptismal blessing. Our church elder and I moved down the line, calling each young person by name with laying on of hands, baptism for those who had not yet received the sacrament, a prayer for God’s continued grace, and anointing with oil, marking the sign of the cross on all 26 foreheads.

The slightly aromatic oil we used comes from a small, ordinary-looking bottle I purchased at the Church of St. Peter – Gallicantu (“Crowing Rooster”) outside Jerusalem. I could tell that this ancient rite was certainly a novel experience for those 21st-century young people.

Now, an admission — as a Presbyterian pastor of just under 25 years, I am a novice when it comes to anointing with oil. Anointing with oil is still a novel, somewhat infrequent rite for me.

Anointing with oil, of course, has been around a LONG time — in ancient Israel and elsewhere, aromatic oils or ointments were poured as an act of hospitality, healing, appointment to royal or priestly office, preparation for burial. Many faith and Christian communities (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, among them) have practiced anointing with oil in particular rites and rituals throughout the centuries. we

With the Reformation, however, we Presbyterians set aside the anointing oil for several centuries, emphasizing “inward anointing with the Spirit.”

In the last generation, however, Presbyterians have reclaimed anointing with oil as a symbol act of divine consecration and appointment and that inward anointing. We Presbyterians are once again getting our hands oily! My own pastoral experience with anointing certainly increased with Sunday’s 26 confirmation blessings.

A few days later, I feel sure our 26 newly confirmed church members have washed the oily mark from their foreheads. But their place in God’s long line of royal and priestly servants is assured. And even more, their kinship with Jesus, the Anointed, the Messiah, remains steadfast.

Strengthened

FPC Tuscaloosa Mission Team April 26-29 2012

There are days when my alarm goes off in the morning and I think, “I don’t think I can do this today.”  These are times when I am not only physically tired, but emotionally and mentally spent as well.  This is how I felt last Thursday morning.  It’s a terrible feeling to have as you prepare to lead a mission trip beginning in a few hours.   I LOVE a mission trip, but I longed to roll over in my bed and pretend that morning hadn’t come.  I had no energy, and I knew that the group members’ excitement would only take me so far.  That morning, I woke up sick with a sinus infection, was being pulled in too many directions, and felt so very “over it.

Pouring a Foundation in Tuscaloosa

Sick or not, mission trip day or regular day, you know the feeling.  You’ve had the same thought when your alarm has gone off, I’ll bet.  There are days when you’d just rather not- not get up, not bother, not think.  Life is hard and it’s tiring. As people of faith we are called to work, to serve, to give and to give.  We have many responsibilities and we tend to keep moving until our patience and energy are shot. Eventually we wear out.

Building up the Body of Christ

It is then, that it is such a comfort to know that God never grows weary, that God isn’t going to say, “I don’t think I can do this today,” or “I’d rather not.”  God is never overwhelmed- God’s power and love are unending.

Working with and for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Though I was sick, this trip ended up filling me with blessings- the Lord teaches us in all places and at all times.  I found that  I was tired, but not too tired.  I was weary, but I received strength.  

Going with the group to Tuscaloosa reminded me of things I know but tend to ignore: I cannot do anything without God’s help.  I can do great things with the God who gives me strength.  We, as a family of faith, can accomplish what might seem impossible when we work together, building one another up and do everything to the glory of God.  We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  God calls us out of ourselves, to serve the Kingdom- here on earth- right now.  God will equip us for each task to which we are called. 

New Skills for Friends

The scripture below reminds us, and speaks to us about the One on whom it is our privilege to lean. 

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

  He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

  Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

  but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

 

Tired, but Strengthened

Are you feeling worn out?

Know that God gives strength to the weary and power to the weak.  May this be our confidence and our song, each day of our lives.

Amen.