Elders were together in the Gathering Place. To begin each Session meeting, we share what shapes us individually and in church life together. She spoke of joining another Presbyterian Church years ago. Visited regularly for a while, more familiar and settled in heart. She wrote a letter to the pastor about what moved her to tears and commitment. Details about a Sunday sermon dovetailing with events around her father’s death, even same hymns chosen. The Spirit moved. As she read, I was filled with her gratitude for wise care, sensitivity, routine attention of ordinary church people. Profound.
As the meeting ended another elder prayed. We go through life with so many things to do, God, and personal difficulties to manage. Still, we spent such a good, meaningful time together that night, trying to do your will, here and now. All of our servant hearts … with Holy Love shining through us all.
We speak, friends, literally in all the many meetings here each week—doing business, learning together in classes, offering grace. We speak teaching our Sunday School kids or crouching with friends at CtV asking what we can hold in prayer with them. We speak, singing lyrical harmonies that praise God’s holy name. We speak ringing bells surrounding us with holy sound. We speak in greeting cards others use to send love and care, and then in an egg casserole recipe to feed 90 on Wednesday. We speak passing the peace, holding bread and cup for communion, making coffee, or bringing a meal train dish to the door. We speak in our efforts to tend our building and grounds and Pine Island garden, to steward our finances and all our resources, to sew and proofread and curate the Library. So many ways / languages of words and actions through which we proclaim God’s love.
And people from near and far respond. Thanking us deeply for a meal that’s more than food on a plate. Lauding our home after gathering with recovery companions, or for a KSO concert. Former members and pastors join us online each week, then converse by email about how well the choir sings; how our time with children radiates love, joy, welcome; how sermons spark a core of their faith, like: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart … and God will make straight your paths.”
You know, some of us lead our speaking up here, but as in life, we all raise our voice. I’ll long remember Ash Wednesday a couple of years ago. This Covid-ized sanctuary sat empty for so long. When people like you first joined in speaking responses, your voice moved me to tears. Today in the Spirit of Pentecost, we celebrate our voices. Vocal and bell choir members and all the ways people hear good news of Holy Love through us. Barely a wrong note or rhythm, right!
Here’s the miracle of the first Pentecost. Ordinary people like you and me conveyed good news in many languages, however others needed to get it. It was like tongues of fire rested on each person. You see, Roman coins often depicted Caesars with tongues of fire around their heads. Luke’s saying this Divine Power to shape life isn’t just in one person on a lofty throne. We all share it. All the names Lester practiced diligently and read confidently. It’s a United Nations of the ancient known world. All people collaborating amid diversity, not dictating uniformity. More than whatever languages we’ve dabbled in over the years, even nice moments when words are lost but still we connect as humans, or the commercially curated Disney Epcot … it’s more like the powerful impact of teaching ESL on steroids. In a world where powers of Rome and religion oppressed, fear-induced, as people sneered. In a room where closest friends and followers of Jesus huddled, anxious, uncertain after dreams and visions for God’s reign were crucified, it’s nothing less than liberation. Resurrection.
That’s what came to me as Dougie MacLean sang on my car radio on a particularly Scottish-weather-like day this week.
For too long they’ve been laughing at our dreams,
ridiculing and ignoring what it means to us.
Pushing fear to keep us in our place, pacify anger with disgrace,
destroy, degrade but we see a shining light and we aren’t afraid.
When the people speak, it’s not a thing that’s mild and meek.[i]
Yeah, Dougie could be singing about the first Christians. Beyond all barriers—gender, age, social status—people get power to dream, prophesy. Even amid scary times of blood, fire, smoky haze, the Lord will come among us. All who call on that power of grace and peace will be saved. Friends, that’s the purpose of church from the day it was born to every birthday like this.
We know church isn’t what it once was in society—our place, stature, respect, our voice around moral questions and current affairs. There’re so many reasons, some I lament with others—tragic abuse, twisted hypocrisy, selfish greed, cold conflict. Still, I see the goodness. I hear your voice. Even those of us a bit burned out or feeling limited. I feel the holy breeze of the Spirit move. I know the presence and power of the risen Christ among us. So, I ask with determined hopeful realism, what will we, the church, be? How will we adapt as we still claim what’s most who we are; proclaim why we’re here?
You know, early Christians to whom Paul wrote letters didn’t gather in big sanctuaries. They met in people’s houses, much like those disciples awaiting Pentecost Spirit. They’d 100% get what Luke said about holy power. Trouble is, like many humans, their diversity sparked conflict and division. They sang a little off the key of love, strident in tone, out of rhythm with one another. They needed Carl to write another arrangement. That’s why Paul wrote to the Corinthians. It’s striking, that amid their factions and fractiousness he appeals for unity using language of politics in his time. One body, many gifts, same purpose—it’s values they know, a vibe they cherish in society. God, wouldn’t it be nice?! And in the end, he urges what Luke does in Acts; what every gospel writer wants us to believe about Jesus, Emmanuel; what all the Bible echoes like we face today. Here it is. Jesus is Lord. Not Caesar. God’s Love brings true abundant life. Not other tempters and pretenders. Keep looking for Jesus. Give our lives to serve that purpose, spread that real power and we’ll know joy and peace greater than anything else.
Friends, we all receive gifts. No two alike, thanks be to God. Talents and intellect we hone, resources we steward, stuff we do in everyday life … all of it, no splitting sacred and secular. All these gifts aren’t for personal status. They’re for communal service. Personalities as varied as hues of red we wear, food we prefer. Activities as diverse as music we like from Telemann or Tchaikovsky, to James Taylor or Tina Turner. Life as beautiful as colors in a rainbow … all empowered by the same Spirit to be used for the common good.
I don’t know what church will be in the future. I see the glory of what we are right now. This house church we build, where saints children tell how the love of Christ dwells and ends division. This house church we build, where prophets speak words strong and true, where the cross stands as witness to how we claim the faith of Jesus. Some time ago, someone spoke by anonymous note after our “finding Jesus” sermons. “In case our little Jesus takes a hiatus, or someone you know needs their own, here is a ‘clone’ for you. I have a few more if needed … Grace and peace to you.”
You see, friends, on this Memorial Day weekend, that’s how Paul sees us. Be a living memorial … to Jesus. We are the body of the Risen Christ, he calls us. By the power of the Holy Spirit we say: Jesus is Lord! Here’s what that looks like. When we sing with joy and serve with generosity, we proclaim Jesus is Lord! When we see with compassion and seek a better world with passion for what God wants, we proclaim Jesus is Lord! When we listen for goodness and offer forgiveness more than lambast and outcast, Jesus is Lord! When we hear the news, face the diagnosis, even sense the darkness, and still we hang onto to hope and dream of life and envision our myriad ways to love, Jesus is Lord! And he comes again at this table and every time we feel the power of the Lord come down.
As I finished breakfast yesterday my pocket buzzed. I recognized the number but didn’t know who it was. Oh, thank you, for answering, she began. I won’t bother you very long. I imagined her huddled in her apartment. I’m just so anxious about the world—debt ceiling, wars, conflict among our leaders. It’s good to hear your voice, I said. I just wish everyone would follow Romans 13, 14, 15 and Colossians 3, she continued. Well, you’re quite the biblical scholar, I complimented. Oh no, she demurred, at 93 going on 94 I feel like I’m just starting to read and get it more than I ever have before. Well, better than a Bible scholar I said, you’re a faithful loving person trying to live God’s way of love and peace every day. I don’t feel peaceful, she said. I just don’t know what to do. Well, I joked, this is all a bit like what I’m thinking about for tomorrow. As if, God said, hey, you know that sermon you’re working on … let me help you! I encouraged, we may not have presidential power, but we all make a real difference in our own relationships—people we know and meet who need to hear a good word of love, peace, encouragement, empowerment … in all the ways we can speak it.
When the people speak, it’s not with corporate lies, not with indecision or academic bows and ties, MacLean sings. When the people speak, it thunders through these hills and city streets, it’s not a thing that’s mild and meek when the people speak.[ii] Let every instrument be tuned for praise! Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise! And may God give us faith to sign always: Alleluia! Praise Jesus, our Lord!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Abridged from Dougie MacLean, “When the People Speak” on Marching Mystery, 1999