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Signs and Wonders…Be Bold

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You can watch Pastor Kris’ sermon, Signs and Wonders… Be Bold, HERE.

Earlier this spring, during the season of Lent—the 6 weeks leading up to Easter—I frequently heard the comment that we never really left Lent 2020 behind. ALL of 2020 had been very “Lent-y”. Lent is the time we take each year in the church to prepare ourselves spiritually to walk into Holy Week. Some of us make personal sacrifices. Others of us intentionally took part in faith practices which focused our attention on Jesus’s life and teachings. 2020 was laced with its own griefs, its own sacrifices, its own moments of recalibrating our lives in faith practices and encountering God in new ways.

In all of the challenges and grief we experienced together during the past 14 months, it seems to me that there has been another narrative woven into the lament. In the Jewish faith, Pentecost… or more properly the festival of Shavuot, follows 50 days after Passover marking “… the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and encourages (the Jewish people) to embrace the Torah’s teachings…”[1] Thus, our neighbors who are Jewish recently celebrated Shavuot. In the Christian calendar, we celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’s resurrection—50 days after Easter—as God doing yet another new thing. That “WHOOSH” of the Holy Spirit which fills us all.

Which leads me to wonder: What would happen if we flipped over the narrative? What happens when we make the shift from lingering on the lament and isolation of the past year and move into telling our stories, our personal stories, about the ways in which the past 12+ months have been a Pentecost year? A time in which the Spirit has been poured out. In what ways has God been doing something new HERE, at Memorial UCC?

How have the past 14 months been a Pentecost year?

In a moment I want to hear YOUR stories. Where have you seen good news happening at Memorial? How has God been active HERE? I invite you to start typing your responses in the chat on Zoom or in the comments on FaceBook. I will be sharing whatever you type later in the sermon.

Think about it. Within and without the life of our congregation… as we have journeyed through the pandemic and are now preparing to return to worship in the building… What do you see as the Good News we have experienced together? What stories should we be remembering? In what ways have we best been the Church? Where have you experienced God?

In the Bible, there are several images for the Holy Spirit. For example, the author of Luke and Acts describes the moment when, at Jesus’s baptism “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22, NRSV). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that… the peaceful, dove-like Spirit… fall upon us today as we seek a return to order? A life which is tidy and calm?

It is easy to forget that immediately after Jesus’s baptism this seemingly gentle Spirit drove him into the desert “where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:2). We would prefer a peaceful, dove-like Spirit to fall upon us—not Holy Chaos. Our human tendency is to want to hold onto routines and rituals which are orderly, contained. So today’s reading makes me nervous—for the arrival of God’s Spirit is more often wild, surprising, uncontrollable, incomprehensible.

Remember: God does new things in great gusts of the Spirit. God is all about new creation… all the time. From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2b). God spoke, and from the raging waves and swirling winds creation emerged. Day and night. Land masses and water formations. Plants, sea creatures, birds, microbes, land animals.

Eons later, in Exodus, God does a new thing for people who had been enslaved by Pharoah. Moses receives the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Words chiseled in stone. In the giving, the Bible tells us there was thunder and lightning. The mountain shook and billowed forth smoke. “The people were afraid and trembled” (Exodus 20:18). Once again, creation is intensely sensory. It is something you feel in your mind, body, and soul. We can see, hear, taste, touch and smell it.

As we heard read in Acts, fifty days after Jesus’s resurrection God again did something new. What was it like to witness this Pentecost moment? To be in community and hear what could only be described as the “rush of a violent wind?” Can we imagine seeing, and feeling, the presence of the Divine raging “as of fire” filling the hearts of everyone there? Everyone HERE? All were filled. All spoke. ALL were given ability. Even us.

That means you. Me. “We” as a congregation.

So… tell your story of the Pentecost year. 2020. 2021. Let the Spirit rush out.

Minister Candance Simpson, referring to Acts, points out “The Book of Acts follows a group of people who are trying to develop shared principles and ethics. They’re trying to return to the teachings of Christ. But most importantly, the people described in this scripture were not strangers to each other. This is a community of people who have committed to shared ideas, not just shared possessions.

They prayed together, broke bread together, rehearsed the story of Jesus and his resurrection. We can infer if they broke bread together, they likely raised and watched each other’s kids. We can infer if they rehearsed the story of Jesus, they likely also cried together. The only reason this community gelled for the amount of time that it did was the foundation they set outside of ‘work. We cannot only come together to struggle or work together; we must also support each other spiritually, socially and otherwise!”[2]

Beloved, as our pandemic pilgrimage leads us back to the church building we continue to write our own story… the Acts of 2021.

What were the visions and dreams of the people who gathered together following Jesus’s death? What are the visions and dreams God has for the Church now and in the future? For our stories and experiences of the past year can provide us with clues to what God is doing.

Let us know. What do you see as the Good News we have experienced together? Where have you experienced God in the past year?

Pastor Kris opened up the sermon to the congregation. People shared their thoughts via the chat on Zoom, or the comments on FaceBook. Responses included:

  • Memorial’s continued participation in Luke House and the Personal Essentials Pantry
  • The church’s new collaboration with the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness
  • The emerging Creation Justice initiatives
  • Memorial’s developing relationship with Arbor Covenant Church and Foundry414
  • Much to my surprise, I felt that I got to know people on Zoom, in both Fellowship after worship, and bible study
  • Zoom worship and Bible Study were much more intimate than I expected
  • Every time I see shoes in the shoe bin outside of Memorial. Each pair is a gift and a symbol of hope for a family in need who will soon get those shoes to sell in their stores to support their family
  • The many participants who helped out with the annual church clean-up day a week ago

As we continue to prayerfully navigate the weeks ahead, God shakes everything up with winds of change. The cornerstone on the front of our church states, “Behold, a new thing.” Behold, and be bold. The signs and wonders around us point to this being a season of being bold in faith. Bold in our gathering. Bold in action. Bold in sharing our stories. Bold in God.

Let us lean into the WHOOSH of that Spirit which lives with, and in, and through us.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Acts 2:1-4, May 23, 2021

[1] Tina Wasserman, “Shavuot,” Reform Judaism, May 11, 2021, https://reformjudaism.org/jewish-holidays/shavuot.

[2] From “Liturgy That Matters, May 30, 2021.” Enfleshed, 2021.