After a “peace-filled” Mother’s Day, we turn our attention to Pentecost. This Sunday everyone is encouraged to wear red (or orange or yellow,) symbolic of the flames of Pentecost, and our custom. Because Pentecost coincides with Peace Month this year, we are not using the traditional Pentecost texts. We are looking at what happens in our lives, after the Spirit comes, that moves us more toward peacemaking. Psalm 85 speaks of peace and righteousness kissing; Galatians lists peace as one of the “fruits of the Spirit”; and we find Jesus’ first followers living together in peace and harmony, caring for each others daily needs. What can we learn from these ancient texts about living more peacefully on this planet, aided by the breath of the Spirit?
In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will spend time considering the theme for this year’s Baptist Peace Camp, When Did We See You in Prison? Breaking Social and Structural Injustice. Many of us believe that the criminal justice system in this country is long overdue for reform, given harsh sentencing, overcrowded conditions, and racial injustice, among other issues. How can we practice peacemaking in regard to the prison reality in our land?
Sunday afternoon, the fine community choir, “Resounding Achord,” will present a concert in our sanctuary. I highlight this not only because the artistic director is my niece, Kristina Nakagawa, but also because the concert focuses on songs about “social injustice, oppression, resolution, and peace.” They will be performing a couple of spirituals, as well as the Cherokee version of Amazing Grace, which they used to heal their wounds, and a two-chorus arrangement of “Weeping,” a story about arms proliferation and peace, which is a mash up with the South African National Anthem. The Carlmont High School Chamber Singers will be guests, singing “Matthew” — a heart-wrenching choral work in memory of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming for being gay. So, you see, the concert fits right in with Peace Month.
Come join us for any or all of these opportunities Sunday, starting at 10:00 AM. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us as we explore the things that make for peace.
Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
The story of Pentecost always begins with a sound; the gathering of people and a sound. So often we focus on what is being said at the time in the story and ignore all the listening that takes place.
First, there’s a sound.
Second, people hear the sound.
An encounter with the Holy Spirit is predicated on a sound and listening.
I wonder what Peter was thinking that day…with all that noise.
When I read this account from Acts, it’s pretty clear that Peter’s first thought was, “Oh no! Everyone is going to think we’re drunk and it’s only 9:00 in the morning!”
But the Spirit moved and suddenly everyone needed an explanation.
I mean, look at this story.
Look at how many people notice.
Look at the text.
Everyone heard the Spirit.
Not everyone knew what it was, but everyone heard it.
The story of Pentecost is often told as if the most important thing that happened was the speaking in tongues…that people were empowered to speak. Indeed, it’s important. No doubt.
But first, first, they heard something. They listened.
“People will speak!” we cry out.
Language upon language upon language in an ecstatic bubbling proclamation.
Isn’t that cool?!
Today, I want us to understand that first there was something worth hearing.
The Spirit of God is worth hearing.
In 2010, Rev. James Forbes (former pastor of Riverside Church in New York City) spoke at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary’s commencement service. The famed Baptist preacher stood in the elevated pulpit of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, IL (a cathedral space just outside of Chicago) and addressed the graduating class and all who had gathered there that day. I was in attendance as a an alum and as local clergy. Dr. Forbes spoke of all the changes in the church but reminded us that it was not just in the church. It was everywhere. He gave us a list of all that was going on, a litany of change and discord. He spoke of it as a time of confusion of languages, of an inability to hear one another, of an inability to be civil and to listen. But, he said, the Holy Spirit is moving.
How do we know? Well, because everything is confusing
The Spirit is doing a new thing.
The Spirit troubles the water.
God’s Spirit is in the world
and it is up us to learn how to listen for it,
and how to listen to one another.
We have to listen to one another, he said, if there is to be positive, lasting change.
At American Baptist Seminary of the West’s commencement service this year, Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson preached to the students, faculty, and families gathered at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA. She spoke of her own discouragement at the present state of affairs in religious vocations. She had a long list of reasons to be discouraged, too. But in a stroke of homiletical skill she turned it all around. Dr. Jackson reminded us that the Spirit is moving, that God is doing a new thing, and that we must have ready hearts and minds to recognize what the Spirit is doing. She has great hope because God does not call people unless God has something for them to do.
We are not alone, O church. We are not alone.
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
All of it.
Not some flesh,
the good looking flesh,
the young flesh,
the tanned, toned, muscular flesh;
or those who aren’t drunk at 9:00am flesh,
but all flesh.
A recent Pew research study states that 95% of Americans claim to make their spiritual lives a priority. Let’s look at that statistic and take it seriously for a second. 95% of Americans claim to be spiritual, in-spirited, inspired, filled with God’s own breath. I have to think that the other five percent simply didn’t understand the question.
One of my favorite things about being Christian is that I get to say things like this: It is the last days, just like it was in Peter’s day.
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
My friends, it is always the last days.
The Spirit is always poured out.
Praise God for the end times!
Praise God for the Holy Spirit!
She just needs ready hearts to hear her. She needs someone to listen.
She needs someone to take her people seriously.
She needs someone to open their hearts
to the absurd possibility
that God is doing a new thing,
and that this new thing is happening everywhere.
Are we open to the Spirit? Or do we just think everyone is drunk?
The world needs people who are ready to listen. The world needs people who are ready to hear the truth…no matter how challenging the message might be. I believe that we, the church, are being called upon to listen.
Our question about the future of the church needs to change. When we hear “95%,” we need not ask, “How do we get them to listen to us? How do we get them in here?” What the world needs is for us to listen to it, to assume that the Spirit has been poured out upon all people.
What people need is someone who will listen to them as they tell their stories of encountering the divine. We need to listen to them.
Both of the commencement sermons I have mentioned here this morning have been offered in this time of transition and change. Seabury was in the midst of great change. It was graduating its last Masters of Divinity cohort before moving from the campus of Northwestern University to an office park near O’Hare airport, a shared campus in Ohio, and online. Fragmented. Dispersed. And Dr. Forbes asked us to listen, to get out out of our buildings and listen to people in the world. “Join the conversation!” he cried.
Likewise, ABSW as a member school of the Graduate Theological Union is witness to great transition as well. The GTU is increasingly inter-religious in focus. The Christian seminaries are struggling, yes, but the Islamic college is booming and a Hindustani organization has been announced as the newest member of the GTU. They begin teaching classes in the fall. They wanted a place where they too would be heard.
And it’s not only here in California, of course. Pope Francis recently announced that the Vatican will host a prayer service for peace between Christians and Muslims. This will be the first time in history that the Koran will be sung at the vatican. The Pope, I believe, is trying to show us how to listen, how to be open, to take risks, and to hear what others are saying. It very well may be that the pathway to peace assumes a posture of listening to one another.
Listening is an act of love.
It is an activity. You want to do something? Listen.
Do you want to change the world? Open your hearts and minds and listen.
Listen to the Spirit and be unafraid of the new thing that God is doing.
Listening is an act of love, of compassion. The world can feel fragmented. People are lonely…as they always have been. But the need seems more acute these days. Perhaps, you recall the social challenges that were outlined in the book Bowling Alone (2000). A simple example: The number of single-person households is up more than 100% from 1960 to just under 28%.
Think about that. 28% of American households are single-person homes. People live alone.
These are not all young people living alone.
Many of them are our elders.
People do live longer. Many live alone.
Is anyone listening to them?
The invention of social technologies such as Facebook or Snapchat are attempts to address the issue of loneliness. They connect us to one another in surprising ways and people are using these tools to craft new communities, to fashion opportunities to hear and be heard. Social technology is not a youth movement. It’s an attempt to stave off the loneliness, to find new ways of listening to one another.
“and your sons and
daughters shall prophesy,
and your young people shall
and your old people
The Spirit does not usher in a movement for some people.
This is a movement for all people.
Today the world is aflame like that day so long ago.
The Spirit is sounding, the very breath of God is moving out over our own chaos.
And people are talking.
All of them.
All at once.
Tongues of flame leap across the landscape.
They are in twitter feeds and lecture halls.
They are in cafes and along assembly lines.
They are in board meetings and sweatshops.
Young people are casting visions.
Old people are dreaming dreams.
It’s happening all around us.
But is anyone listening?
Are we listening?
I wonder if, like those who challenged Peter that day, we’re more ready to disregard what we hear. We can find any excuse to ignore the holy.
But that is not be our calling.
Open your hearts.
Open your minds.
Rejoice and be glad in what the Spirit is doing in the world around you.
Wisdom shouts in the streets. She stands in the public square.
The Spirit is poured out upon all flesh.
The world is in need of listeners, my friends,
people to offer one another the attention they so desperately need.
People need love, not programs.
People need someone to hear them,
not to tell them what to believe,
not to tell them what to think,
not to tell them anything except,
We had a “spirited” day last Sunday as we celebrated Pentecost. Thanks to everyone who helped make the service “go” and to all those who attended for their flexibility. We are still experimenting with what makes for meaningful worship for our cross-section of folk, including our children and youth. Maybe we will always be experimenting to some degree as the Spirit continues to “blow where it wills.” It’s great to have a community of people who are willing to go along on this journey, especially when it takes us out of our comfort zones. It is delight to have colleagues like Tripp and Jan and Oleta as journey partners in planning and executing what it is for us to be a worshiping community.
In Adult Spiritual Formation, our consideration of Cathleen Falsani’s book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace is going quite well, with some spirited sharing and discussion. We will continue the conversation this week and then on June 2, we will be privileged to have Cathleen with us for worship and Adult Spiritual Formation.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. In worship we will focus on God, the “three-in-one.” The ancient concept of the Trinity is really not mentioned in the Bible per se, though we see signs of it in the different faces of God that are shown. It is a very human construct trying to make sense of the complexity of God, which is ultimately beyond our grasp. What it does show us, though, in a significant way, is the relational nature of God. It says something about the need for us to be in relationship with one another, as well as with God, in the practice of our faith. So, invite a family member, a friend or neighbor, colleague or stranger to come along for our celebration of the Trinity as well as our exploration of grace. See you Sunday at 10.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
Thanks again to Joanne Jones for her lovely music last Sunday. It was also a delight to have so many from her family, including all 5 of her beautiful daughters with us in worship. In spite of her decision to retire from the Palo Alto Philharmonic after 25 years, Joanne still plays with grace and beauty. And, of course, she also oversees our hospitality, in addition to all the other ways she serves our congregation. We are blessed to have her.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Everyone is encouraged to wear red (or orange or yellow – something to help symbolize the tongues of flame that lit on the disciples’ heads when the Holy Spirit came to them.) The children and youth created some stunning décor for the sanctuary. This will be an intergenerational service in which we celebrate the “birthday of the church.” So come prepared to join in the festivities.
We began an excellent series in Adult Spiritual Formation, with our consideration of Cathleen Falsani’s book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace. We will continue the conversation this week and next. Then on June 2, we will be privileged to have Cathleen with us for worship and Adult Spiritual Formation. Invite someone to come along for this exploration of grace and to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as well. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday at 10.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us. Pastor Rick