Sermon Transcript Pentecost June 5, 2022
Sermon Summary Pentecost June 5, 2022. First UMC Fort Scott
Romans 8 is one of my absolute favorite scriptures - the whole chapter is full of verses that just give life and among the most powerful are the ones that Jean read for us today about the Holy Spirit interceding the Holy Spirit intercedes with the saints according to the Will of God.
The saints that have gone before us, the saints among us, the saints yet to come. The Spirit intercedes. God is active in our lives, here and now.
The Spirit also intercedes “with sighs too deep for words.” That is a verse that I turn to repeatedly for comfort when the news is just too heavy; when the latest shootings don't make the news unless six or seven people are killed. It's not enough for four to be wounded anymore… when racism and sexism and violence are still permeating our society. When the everyday sufferings of life interrupt our plans. When loved ones receive a diagnosis or you get word of the fire… or the car accident… or all of the things that happen in this life… the Spirit intercedes “with sighs too deep for words.” We are not alone! We live in this time of now and not yet, knowing that love has already won; knowing that Christ has already accomplished the victory… and yet still we suffer and that's where Romans 8 is once again helpful.
Paul writing to the Christian communities as our faith spread around what we now call the middle east. Jews in Jerusalem and into the diaspora. Gentiles increasingly a part of it, as Paul and other people's preaching - a church in conflict trying to figure out what the rules are. Do you have to keep kosher? Do we still have to circumcise? What are the rules? Can we eat together if some are adhering to this diet and some are not? How do we interact with the larger society as we're being kicked out of the synagogues? Are we still Jewish if we've let gentiles come in and we can't go to the synagogue? It was chaotic. Paul writes to the church in Rome - and remember when we're reading Romans… it's perhaps the apostle Paul's masterwork. It's certainly the most theologically deep letter that he wrote because every other letter he wrote was to a community that he knew. Communities that. in most cases, that he had founded. He's already spoken with them in person about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He's already shared the core of his theology in person and now in the letters we're just working around the margins in Corinthians and Galatians and Philippians… But in his letter to the Church in Rome - Paul doesn't know these folks. He's introducing himself and his theology - so he goes a bit deeper, and he's writing to a Jewish faction and a gentile faction in a community where the Jews had been kicked out (clarification – after civil strife, the emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from the city in 139BC and then emperor Tiberius did the same in 19AD) and have only recently returned and so unlike everywhere else in the Roman empire, the early Christian community is not a Jewish centric church that is allowing gentiles in… it's a gentile centric church that is welcoming the Jewish Christians back and trying to figure out how we proclaim our shared faith together in the midst of our diversity. With all that, Paul writes - it's almost a throwaway line – “we who have the first fruits of the Spirit.” He means we're still working this out; we're not done yet. God's not done with us yet… the first fruit line that Paul uses is not incidental. It's deeply woven into Jewish theology. From Friday sundown to Saturday sundown just this weekend - because their holiday calendar often overlaps with ours especially around what we call Easter and Pentecost, our Jewish brothers and sisters have, just this weekend, celebrated Shavuot. It is a celebration of the giving of Torah, the giving of the law and many Jews will stay up the entire night studying Torah, the first five books of the Bible, singing praises. That was true in the first century too. By then, Shavuot had become a harvest festival in addition to celebrating the Torah. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the first fruits, the initial spring harvest of crops and there are rituals and celebrations and great feasts and in Jewish cultural centers - especially Jerusalem to this day and very much in that day. Jews from all over the known world will gather, speaking dozens of languages with different traditions, different ways of celebrating. They will all come together in these holy places. This is a modern image from, I believe 2018. I'm sure covid threw monkey wrenches through their plans like it has everyone else's plans over the last couple of years, but this gives you some sense of scale. This is the western wall, a great courtyard and you can almost see the divisions in the lines. To the left side, closest to where the Temple would have stood, are the ultra-orthodox and then there are some partitions and you have just the merely orthodox, gradually getting closer to reform and then there are some more partitions because the right side of the image here is Reformed jews and they allow women to be rabbis - which is not allowed by the other factions. So they have to have a screen so the orthodox and ultra-orthodox won't have to see the women… and we laugh… but it's only been 50 years since Methodists ordained women to be pastors… So we're struggling to figure out what it means to be people of faith together too.
Our familiar Acts 2 story, when the Spirit descends with wind and flames - Peter and the disciples, about 120 people all told now, are gathered. These are the earliest Christian followers. They're hiding from the authorities in an upper room. Acts tells us there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven, living in Jerusalem. This is one of those festival gatherings. Pentecost we call it - each one heard in their own language being spoken. Peter comes out and begins that great speech. He draws from Joel and other prophets and he proclaims what is happening in their midst and each person hears in their own tongue. Peter doesn't speak multiple languages – rather each person hears in a way they can understand! Pentecost, it literally means 50th. It's the 50th day after the Passover festival. 50 days before is a celebration of the liberation from Egypt for our Jewish brothers and sisters there is a lamb ritually prepared, there is a meal that is eaten with great ritual, remembering the liberation from bondage. Blood spattered on the doorpost that the spirit of God that was striking down the Egyptian’s firstborn might pass over the Jewish households. This story from Exodus leads to liberation. It is a great festival and of course we know it as Easter. Good Friday, especially in the gospel of John, the Passover lamb is prepared and sacrificed and Christ *is* that lamb. In John's theology Christ suffers and dies and on the third day… Friday sundown is the end of the first day, Saturday sundown is the end of the second day, into the third day the morning of Sunday - Easter morning we celebrate the risen Christ, the empty tomb. The Spirit of Christ is alive and among us but Christ is no longer in that bodily form that the disciples knew, now Christ is among us as the advocate, as the Holy Spirit.
In John’s gospel, after the resurrection - Christ appears to the disciples in a locked room. According to John he shows them his wounds. He is somehow no longer the physical body, but he still bears the wounds, and he says to them “peace be with you.” Again, he says “peace be with you.” Imagine the chaos. They've seen their leader die, now they've heard reports of an empty tomb, now they see him before them and he says, “peace.” Calm yourselves, be filled with my Spirit, and he breathes on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit!”
How do these stories go together? For a long time I wondered - because they don't mesh up quite right. If they've already received the Holy Spirit hee, why is the Acts 2 story necessary? Okay, there's some other people there… maybe the Spirit is being given to more people… but it's Peter that reacts and gives the great speech… If you already received the Spirit, why does this need to happen again? For a few weeks I’ve talked about the danger of a single story and that the Bible does not give us a single story. Some of us - I'm speaking for myself here, certainly not for you - but some of us need a few reminders every now and then sometimes we don't get it on the first try. Not even if Christ himself giving us the gift. We still struggle. So Peter now gets it – finally the gift takes hold. No longer are they in the locked room hiding - now he goes boldly out in the midst of the throngs from every nation where Jews have spread, which is pretty much the entire known world, and he speaks and they hear and they understand and the world is transformed. It is a powerful moment, but it's just a moment.
Paul hasn't even begun preaching yet, his letters are still decades to come. We're still figuring it out and yet the Spirit is yet with us. The Spirit empowers us to speak even if it takes us time to get there. We've seen this gradual growth of faith before especially in the gospel of John when we looked at chapter 4 and the woman at the well. She sees a man, they have this conversation and she's amazed. He must be a prophet. By the time she's gotten to her hometown… “come and see… he can't be the messiah can he?” By the time the people come, she believes. He's the messiah and very soon they believe he's the messiah. It's a gradual growth. The man born blind in chapter 9. Jesus comes, makes mud, puts it on his eyes and tells him to go and wash himself in the pool called sent.. and he goes and he can see! Who healed you? I don't know- a man…
and he's interrogated: “this man works on the sabbath, he is a sinner! What do you say he is?” “He's a prophet!” – same conclusion the woman had come to. And then, having been cast out of the synagogue, he meets him. “Do you believe in the son of man?” “Tell me who he is, lord, I want to believe.” “It is he who is speaking to you.” “I believe! I see! It is the messiah!”
This gradual growth of faith and understanding. Granted both of those happen within about a day, but it's a gradual growth. We often think of Paul's life. He sets out to persecute Christians and he sees this vision, this light on the road. He's blinded for three days. He sits unseeing. Ananias, one of the ones he has persecuted, hears God's voice saying “go to the street called straight, lay your hands on Paul, baptize him.” Now Paul sees and he spends the rest of his life working out what has happened to him. What this amazing grace has given him. We don't just have to go to Bible stories to find this pattern, in our own tradition, we have this growth modeled. John and Charles Wesley are already ordained Anglican priests. They've gone through seminary in their time at King's college, they have gone into the family business of being ordained Anglican priests. They have gone on mission trips to Georgia to share Christ and yet John, especially, is just uneasy with his faith. He has these experiences. He sees Moravian pietists and others that seem to have something he lacks. May 24th is Aldersgate day. John writes in his diary “very unwillingly he went to a Moravian prayer gathering at Aldersgate street and they're reading and introduction to Romans by Martin Luther and as Luther is writing about “the change which god works in the heart through faith in Christ” John writes: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation.” John Wesley's world is transformed. The Spirit is moving. He moves from inside the Anglican churches into a renewal movement that sweeps through England and on to the colonies and to which we owe our legacy. He begins preaching out of doors. He begins taking the Sacraments to people who are too poor to come to church or are forced to work. England saw a division of wealth and poverty unseen perhaps until our day again. In John Wesley's time, if you were wealthy enough to pay the pew tax ,literally a tax, you'd get your name on a pew and you were a member in good standing whether you sat in it or not. You were a in good standing. You'd paid the pew tax. But… if you couldn't afford the pew tax, you frankly weren't welcome in worship.
Wesley, his heart strangely warmed, he sees how wrong this is and he begins taking the Sacraments to the working class, to the poor. They begin building schools and hospitals and England and the colonies are transformed. We are witnesses. We are called to proclaim that God so loved the world that he gave his only son… that Christ has taken on our brokenness, our sinfulness, our unjust systems, and broken them down… and yet God is patient. God is waiting for us to participate in what the Spirit is doing; yo join Christ in the work of redemption and reconciliation.
First UMC, founded as First Methodist Episcopal Church, has stood proudly on this corner, through a couple of different buildings, for well over 150 years. We have a rich legacy and yet sometimes we get a little too comfortable locking ourselves in this room and when the service is over we don't really take what we do here into the rest of our lives. As a Church, we do some very good things - we started Feeding Families - it grew from a meal of 30 to 50 and more… when encountered COVID and couldn’t eat in house, that didn't slow us down - we continued to gather volunteers and feed people via drive through - we now have people from four or five different churches and a couple of civic groups that help out every month. Every week we feed 300 – 350 people. It is a magnificent ministry. For, I think it's 20 some years, we've gone to the hills of Kentucky on the ASP mission trip and we have changed lives we have rebuilt homes. We've done good work - but too often we buy a sandwich, we make a donation, but that's all we individually do and we look around and we wonder why there's not a next generation to hand the leadership of this committee off to - because we expected people to flock to us instea of our connecting with them. Sometimes in history that has been the culture, and it's been easy – in the 1950s and 60s it was culturally necessary to belong to a church and so people would come. We are in a different kind of time now - it's increasingly counter-cultural to belong to a church even more so to actually attend - and yet Fort Scott is a mission field. There are people in Fort Scott desperate for the kind of theology that we can offer a grace of healing and wholeness. We have to be sharing that with them.
While I was walking around Good Ol Days after the parade, I noticed this tent. This is a group of people from Pittsburgh, Kansas that think Fort Scott is worth driving to to share their faith. It's what, almost an hour away… setting up a tent… paying the deposit… to have a booth at Good Ol Days to share their understanding of theology. They're going to rent out the theater and they're going to try and start a new church plant here. I'm thrilled. I disagree with their theology… we actually have some common origins in the Wesleyan movement, but I disagree with where they've taken it and yet by their witness, they are giving us a challenge and an opportunity. They are starting a conversation about faith in this town, in this mission field, that we are invited to join. There are some people, whatever disagreements I have, for whom their church will be the right next step. But there are also people in this town for whom THIS church is the right next step and they don’t know about us. We’re just that big, stone, usually locked up building on the corner. We need to be the people of God. We need to be inviting them and we need to be serving them and building relationships. Now… we can't make inviting people to church be about us. This is not “come be like us so we don't die.” I don't know about you, but I don't want to join that group.
This is about “come experience the Holy Spirit moving in this place that is transforming our lives, that is leading us to reach out in service. Whether you ever come or not we want to know you, we want to serve you,” that is my vision, I think that is God’s vision for First UMC and we've begun doing some things this year to add on to our wonderful legacy of mission trips and feeding families. We've becoming more active than the community. People are giving as they are able to money and food and time and we'll be talking about how we do even more of that.
When I return from the mission trip and my son's wedding and some vacation time, we're going to be talking more about membership, about prayers and presence and gifts and witness and service and how we live out our faith as the people of First United Methodist Church Fort Scott - a people who the Holy Spirit is moving among. We're going to have a couple of tools to help us do that - we debuted on our Good Ol Days float our fall theme “Reconnect to Faith.” We once again got free materials from Outreach through the United Methodist Communications grant and then nationally United Methodist communications is running a #BeUMC campaign, talking about who we are as United Methodist - giving us resources that might help us when those conversations come up. Tools that might help you find ways to share why it is that you come here on Sunday mornings or Wednesday mornings to work with the work crew or Wednesday nights to help feed people or reading groups or sewing or whatever is it that draws you. That that you might share with your neighbor… who sometimes has those heavy times… the diagnosis… the news… days they feel overwhelmed. Days they need to know that the Holy Spirit is moving among us and they need to know that the Spirit sighs with them; that the Spirit intercedes for them. That WE will intercede for them, in prayer and in service, that's what I believe thanks be to God. Amen.