Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sermon: Does Jesus Hate Families?

Matthew 10:24-39

One of the challenges in reading the bible is that sometimes it rushes us through a bunch of teachings in a very short period of time. So we barely have time to absorb one teaching before we are on to the next one. At first glance, the passage from Matthew today is almost that style of scattershot teaching. Jesus talks about greatness, he talks about being called names, he talks about secrets and revelation, fear, and assurance that we are valued, he talks about acknowledging or denying him, about bringing a sword, dividing families, and picking up our crosses and following him. Whew!

But if we really look at his conversation, Jesus seems to have a central purpose.  Essentially what Jesus is doing is teaching the disciples about the religious conflict they would face in following him.

He doesn’t want them to think that they won’t face persecution, or that they won’t make enemies, or even that they won’t be killed for their beliefs. That’s the overall message, it is just the specifics that are all over the place. So all of those smaller teachings are specifics ways that Jesus encourages us to stay strong in our faith and to hold onto him even if we face persecution, discrimination or death threats.

So does that make sense and help bring it all together? Now I admit, you might not like the message, because in general we don’t like the idea of suffering for our faith.

But here is the thing, even though it makes sense, there is still one section of Jesus’ teaching that makes us particularly uncomfortable. Even when we know he is trying to encourage us to hold onto the faith. It is Jesus’ statement near the end that he has come not bringing peace, but a sword; and that because of him people’s enemies will be members of their own households. It is a disturbing and problematic teaching for most of us, who in general believe that Jesus is pro-family.

What makes it difficult for us is that we forget that the realm of God that Jesus proclaims is essentially such a radical shift from the norms of his time that he expects it to cause disruption.

I have been reading a book called The Power of Parable, and in it John Dominic Crossan explains how paradigm shifts work  

Do you know what a paradigm is? It is a way of viewing the world that organizes how we think about things. For example, long ago people thought there were only four elements in nature: earth, air, water and fire. But then chemists came along, and they began to understand that there were atoms, and there were a lot more than four types of atoms. That breakthrough allowed people to explore chemical reactions, and even create new chemicals that have changed our world.

Another example was the idea that the sun went around the earth. The idea that our world was the center of everything. Eventually science realized that this was wrong, the earth went around the sun. This was a paradigm shift.

But paradigm shifts are tricky because people don’t like to change the way they think about the world. It doesn’t matter if we are scientists, religious leaders, or politicians – once we see the world one way, it is very hard to change our mind. Max Planck, one of the originators of Quantum Physics, said in his Scientific Autobiography, that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grow up that is familiar with it.”[1] The same is true with religious paradigm shifts.

What Crossan points out in The Power of Parable is that none of the conflicts that Jesus mentions in this passage are conflicts between members of the same generation, in other words, Jesus expects that the older generation will reject his teaching and it will take a new generation to accept it.

He understands the pattern of change. Jesus was not going to convince his opponents, and he knew it. They didn’t like what he had to say, and nothing he said would change that. Rather he was appealing to the new generation of young people to accept what he was saying, and he was telling them, that they may face conflict with their parents and other elders in their community.

Of course, that helps us to understand why Jesus would say this to his disciples, but what does that say to us though? Certainly there are still places in the world where the gospel message is so new, that its reception is very much the same as it was for the disciples. Those who accept Jesus’ message are making very definite splits with family tradition and are likely to face conflict with the older members of their families. I am sure that John could attest to that. And there are a few times when this happens even here in the United States where a family is so new to the gospel message that a person who comes to faith faces strong opposition from their family.

But for most of us – who live in a relatively comfortable Christian culture, where the older and younger generations should both be holding to his teachings, there should no longer be family conflict, right?

Well, not necessarily. One thing that happens is that over time society often blinds us to parts of Jesus’ teachings, or we get caught up in the way we have always done things that we aren’t open to change. But then someone rediscovers the power of one of Jesus’ teachings and its application for today, and there is conflict between the generations again.

Let’s look at one example. In late 19th century many Christians looked around at what was happening with industrialization.

They saw the “economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.”[2] One pastor, Washington Gladden, began to read Jesus again, and realized that a lot of what Jesus teaches is not about heaven, but it is about earth, and how we treat one another. He wrote a book in 1877 in which he said that “Christian law covers every relation of life,” including the relationship between employers and their employees. But although what Gladden was pointing out was true, people didn’t accept it right away. Pastors like Dwight Moody said that preaching about social issues would distract people from the lifesaving message of the gospel.

It really took at least a generation for Gladden’s work to be heard. Groups like the Salvation Army, the YMCA emerged. World missionaries no longer just preached the word, but brought medical help with them. Christianity regained its social message. That was a paradigm shift, that challenged the “status quo Christianity” to re-look at what Jesus stood for and consequently challenged the whole social structure of our nation and how we reached out to other nations. You have to believe that this pitted generation again generation as they talked about what it meant to be Christian. It had to be too easy for people to say, “these new teachers and preachers are trying to change what Jesus said, don’t listen to them. Stick with the old, with what we know and trust.” In fact some of that conflict still exists today as some people think Christianity shouldn’t talk about social issues.

So I hear Jesus encouraging his followers not to just hold on to the old religious views and practices simply because they are the old religious views. He was challenging Jewish belief that had stood for at least 1000 years. He expected it to cause intergenerational conflict. I suspect he is also reminding us along the way that there will come new issues, new challenges to faith, and that we may have to re-evaluate things that we have done for 1000 years.

I do think that Jesus gives us some guidelines in evaluating these changes in paradigm:

Does it acknowledge God? For he tells us that “everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Is it open to evaluation or does it try to claim secret knowledge? Jesus reminds us, “don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops.”

Don’t give in to fear-mongering or threats.

Jesus instructs us, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Finally, when we look at the changes in thought and approach, Jesus final statements in this teaching are: “Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.” I think he is telling us the kingdom of God turns things on their head, and we must look for that which is truly the world-changing and  builds of the realm of God. True change requires deep risk.

We live in a time where religious practices are quickly shifting, along with that, many religious beliefs are also being challenged. I believe that Jesus understood that process of change, and that he would remind us that when generational ideas clash, families suffer. It isn’t that he hated families, he just understood the dynamics. He would also remind those of us who are parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to listen carefully to what the next generation is saying, it just may be that they have heard Christ more clearly than we have, and they are calling us into faithfulness in a place where we have lost track of what is important.

And one last thing, I know that he would also comfort us, although we are told that we are going to be at odds with even our family,

“Don’t be afraid. Even as every sparrow is known, so are you. Your thoughts, your worries, your love, your faith. God knows all of these. Yes, you in all of your completeness are known by God. And you are loved and valued. Even when everything else is changing, this does not.”

[1] The Power of Parable, p. 132.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sermon: An Oak or A Squash

Romans 5:1-8

Earlier in the service we showed a video with the kids and the story of the oak and the squash.

Oak Versus Squash

Most of us know that the quick and easy answer seldom makes us stronger. That for us to be shaped into oak trees takes time and it takes struggle. There is a part of us that knows that really is through struggling, and perhaps even through suffering that we are made stronger. What is the saying right now? “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Not that we like that or enjoy that, but we understand that if we want to be strong, we have to live through some trouble. The Apostle Paul says something like that in Romans 5:1-8.

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Whenever I read a bible passage, I always look for a phrase or two that jump out at me and catch my attention. That is part of spiritual practice of bible reading that suggests that those phrases jump out at us because God has a message for us in those phrases. So as I read the passage from Romans, I noticed that the apostle Paul says a strange thing – he says that “We even take pride in our problems.” That statement caught my attention. It jumped out at me. It made me think.

My first thought was that many of us we try to pretend we are strong and we don’t admit there are any problems in our lives. We try to ignore the fact that we struggle with pornography or alcohol addiction. We don’t tell people about our marital problems that happen behind closed doors. We never let on that we struggle with our emotions like depression or anxiety or anger. We may be unable to pay our bills, or fighting health concerns, but we don’t go trumpeting the fact from the rooftops. Because the fact is we are ashamed of them, not proud. So we are far more like to pretend the problems aren’t there, to cover them up. What Paul is suggesting goes against the natural pattern for many of us. He is saying stop being ashamed of your problems and take pride in them. I’ll come back to this.

Of course, as I thought about it, I was reminded of the people that I know that seem to take too much pride in their problems. They are always in crisis, and their crisis is always worse than yours. You know what I mean, if you had a relative die, they had two relatives die. If you had triple bypass surgery, they had quadruple bypass surgery. They take pride in their suffering – perhaps too much pride. It is like life is a competition for who got dealt the worst hand, and they are bragging about how awful theirs is. They always seem to have a problem, a crisis, and they are telling you about it. I do not think that is what Paul is talking about here. I don’t think he is talking about being the loudest whiner about how lousy our life is.

So if Paul is challenging our natural reactions to life, if he is telling us not to be ashamed of our problems, but rather to take pride in them – how can we do that without becoming whiny?

Actually Paul talks about it right away. He follows up his statement on taking pride in our problems by telling us that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

It isn’t the problems themselves that we are proud of; it is the fact that those problems provide opportunities for our growth through the grace of God, for our learning from life. In The Book of Joy that I gave to the graduates a couple of weeks ago, the Dalai Lama says, “Many people think of suffering as a problem. Actually, it is an opportunity destiny has given to you. In spite of difficulties and suffering, you can remain firm and maintain your composure.” In the same chapter the Archbishop Desmond Tutu observes that we are not strong in spite of our difficulties, rather that we are strong because of our difficulties. In many ways, these two are saying what Paul said, suffering is an opportunity to build your endurance, your character, and ultimately your hope.

Specifically in Romans, Paul says that there is a progression there that we should be learning from. Endurance, character, hope.

Let me return to the image of an oak tree. As the acorn first sprouts it is small and relatively frail. During its first year it must face the blistering heat of summer, and the blizzards of winter that will cover it completely with snow. As the years pass it must survive the times of drought and low rainfall, and the times when there are heavy storms that batter the tree with wind and torrents of rain. All of this produces within the tree a power to endure all situations.

As it endures, the tree itself is shaped -- it grows deep roots for strength to stand, to reach into reserves of water that are beyond most plants. It becomes strong yet flexible. It is as though time itself is shaping it into that which is good and right. Not only is the tree able to endure, but it is a better tree. If it were a person you would say that it was building character. So when we face our problems and through them and through God’s help become better people, when we grow in our ability to love others, when we discover a deeper sense of purpose, when we find joy in things we once took for granted, when grow deep roots, become strong and flexible – when that happens the Holy Spirit has been at work at us, and then not only have we learned to endure the sufferings of life, but that endurance is producing character, and we have moved to the second step.

From character Paul says we develop hope. This is harder for us to see in trees, since we cannot really see into their souls and know if they feel such a thing as hope. But the idea is that as we face life’s problems and we learn to endure them, as we learn to see that we can actually use them as opportunities to grow, our attitude about suffering changes. Through each of those troubles, we have turned to God, and God has poured God’s love into our hearts. So no longer is the pain of this world a thing which makes us feel hopeless, no longer are our troubles things which bring us down – rather in them we are reminded that God is at work. We learn that in every time of pain, in every grief and sorrow, God was there. And so when we face a new trouble we are not overwhelmed by it, but rather we know from experience, from having endured, from having grown, that God will be there in this one as well.

That’s why Paul is able to say that we can take pride in our problems, not because we are in some whining contest, but rather that the sufferings of the world, the troubles we face, if we face them with the correct attitude, can actually be things which turn us into saints who truly believe that God is in all things working for the good.

It is boasting in the hope of God’s glory, that by grace God takes squash, people who are weak and sinful, filled with guck (that’s the official name for what is in the middle of squash, guck), and over time --- usually over years -- God transforms us into oak trees. Paul reminds us that Jesus dies for us while we are ungodly people. You would think we would be of little value to him. But God loved us enough to enter into our lives, to gift us with the Holy Spirit, to see beyond our now and into our potential, so that we might grow through God’s grace to be mighty oaks. So as Paul says in another place, “The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” But to do that we have to be willing to look at suffering differently – not whine about it, not pretend it isn’t there but allow the power of Christ to be at work in us to produce endurance, character and eventually unconquerable hope.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Handcrafted, Artisan World

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Our family likes to joke about how certain words come into favor and describe the strangest things. Like the word artisan lately. What advertisers want you to know is that their product is made with special skill, it is done hands on. It isn’t made by a machine, turned out at thousands of products a minute.

But the word gets abused, for example artisan pizza by Dominos. Sure they touch it with their hands, but is that enough to get it called artisan? Sometimes I think pizza companies just call something artisan when it isn’t quite round, when it is misshapen and lumpy.

Another word that gets misused is handcrafted. Especially when a company like Jim Beam used it to describe their whiskey. They make 500,000 barrels a year. Let’s be honest, that isn’t what we think of as handcrafted.

Now I am not trying to tell you that Dominos and Jim Beam are evil, I am just saying that sometimes the words we use are misapplied!

To me this is what I think of when I think of handcrafted and artisan. [show the RedHot Glass – South African Glass Making Video:

Translate the following phrases:

·         Potensiaal: Potential·         Liefdevol gevorm: Lovingly Formed·         Vormbaar gehou: Kept Moldable·         Laat groei: Let Grow·         Tot eer van God: In honor of God

To me that is artisan, and that is handcrafted!

So why the big discussion of handcrafting at the start of my sermon?

Our scripture passage today makes an amazing claim – the claim is that God was hands on when creating the universe, that God was intimately involved in forming it – in other words, the scripture says the universe is handcrafted, it was really made by an artisan. The universe! Our world! And us!

This passage about creation was probably written while the people were in exile in Babylon, and the author wanted to make sure that people understood that the God of the Israelites was different from the Babylonian gods. In the Enuma Elis, the Babylonian creation story, the earth and the sea are created when one God, Marduk, cuts the dragon goddess Tiamat in half. One half of her body forming the earth, the other forming the sky. The world is a result of a battle, and the remnant of a dead goddess.

This story may be trying to say to that story, “No, our world was lovingly made, it is not the result of a hateful act, or a war, but the God of the Hebrew people is in relationship with creation, even making parts of it resemble Godself.

And if you think about it, those two stories of how the universe is created affect what you think about our life. If you think that our world is the result of a god’s anger and destruction, then you aren’t going to look at this world very positively. The purpose of life then might be to destroy, to conquer, to show your power through force and domination.

But if you look at this world as the result of God speaking it into being, calling it forth into existence, and then describing it as good, you are going to think very differently about life. Life is about relationship between light and dark, between plants and animals, between God and humanity.

Actually this passage argues with many in the religious community who act like the world is evil. There are Christians who act like God is only the God of heaven and that the world we live in is ruled by the devil.

 There are people who act like this life and all that goes with it is evil. And yet, that is clearly not the perception of the writer of this part of the bible. After each and everything is made, including people, God pronounces it good. Even though we are capable of evil, even though we can do great harm, at our base, at our foundation, at our very essence we are good. Why?

Because God is very actively involved in our formation – speaking the words that cause the light to separate from darkness, making human beings in God’s image (male and female), and even evaluating the finished product and calling it good. God is not hands-off, but intimately involved. In fact, it is crafted with a loving touch, a desire to bring order, to create beauty, and the joy of sharing life the gift of life with others. The writer felt it was important for us to know that. And it is.

So part of the message of this passage is to remind us that our view of the world around us should be one of seeing its goodness.

One writer in Seasons of the Spirit reflects: “Take just a moment to step outside. Look at the sky, what is happening there? Are there clouds or stars or is it brilliant blue? Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear birds or traffic or insects or voices? What can you feel? The sun on your face, the wind blowing gently or throwing things around? Open your eyes. This is God’s good creation, formed by love and you are part of it. Offer your own thoughts and prayer to the God who loves you.”

That’s the message. This world isn’t the result of a great battle, it isn’t a dead body, or even the tarnished creation of an evil mastermind. It is formed by love.

Now I admit, we do not live in an era where people believe that the world was created by warring gods. But we do live in an era of science.

And this scientific era is tempted to say that the universe has no heart – that there is nothing either good or evil about it, that it is loveless and cold, random and perhaps even apathetic. One of the dangers of science is that we reduce everything to numbers, to formulas, molecules and chemicals.

And that too can affect how we look at the world around us. Because if all we see is heartlessness, survival of the fittest, and there is no good or evil, we are going to live as heartless, survivalists, with no moral values.

But this passage says to that worldview, “no. Creation is good. It is touched by God.”

Now, I don’t think that we should be reading the passage as an argument against what science has learned about how stars form, or how old the universe is, or how species evolved. I think science is probably right on those things.

But what this passage tells us is that behind the scenes, as these grand and marvelous events unfolded across the ages, God was involved. Like the glass in the video, God is spinning the hub, breathing life into it, putting color and texture on, shaping and reshaping. God is involved in every moment of the process, so that it can be declared good!

You see, I believe that humanity has compassion because God has compassion. I believe that the life sprang forth in our universe because God values life.

And that changes how I live. It changes how I interact with others and with the world around me. Life has value, people have value, relationship has value. Because each of these things are the result of God’s handcrafting. God carefully made sure they were there!

Now I admit, to think that God has done this with billions of stars over billions of years is overwhelming, I am not sure how God could do that. What it makes me realize is just how big God is compared with my smallness. And yet, at the same time, it tells me that even though God is so big, so beyond my capacity for understanding, God still spoke, let there be light, and there was light; God still made human beings in God’s image, and God still called all of this good. And I can live as though it is good – act as though it is touched by God, act as though you are created in God’s image. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sermon: Unbabbling Babel

Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21

So earlier in the worship service we read about the tower of Babel. In the Genesis story people are united around a common purpose, they are going to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven. They are going to prove the greatness of humanity. So in response, God and the heavenly beings disrupt human unity by giving them different languages and making it so they can’t communicate. The people are scattered, divided and as a result they give up building the city.

In many ways this is a disturbing story. What is it trying to teach us? Not to build cities? Not to build skyscrapers? Why is God threatened by that? It is not as if we can actually build a tower all the way to heaven. Is God afraid of humanity? Is our power so great?

If we look at the interpretations of this passage throughout time, the main interpretation seems to be that the builders were not just trying to reach heaven, but that they were trying to challenge God, perhaps even rebel against God. One retelling of the story has the builders saying, “God has no right to choose the upper world, and to leave the lower world to us; therefore we will build us a tower, with an idol on the top holding a sword, so that it may appear as if it intended to war with God.”[1]

However, another retelling suggests that that it was not the idea of the tower that was so upsetting to God, but the morality of the builders. “The Tower had reached such a height that it took a whole year to hoist up necessary building-material to the top; in consequence, materials became so valuable that they cried when a brick fell and broke, while they remained indifferent when a man fell and was killed. They behaved also very heartlessly toward the weak and sick who could not assist to any great extent in the building; they would not even allow a woman” in childbirth to leave the work.[2]

As you can see, readers for a long time have been disturbed enough by the original story that they have crafted other stories around it to help us make sense of what God does.

But there is another disturbing question that arises from this passage -- if our power is so great as human beings that we can work together to build a tower to heaven, why can’t we learn to communicate around language barriers? Why are we so easily divided against each other by something that isn’t all that hard to overcome? So this passage brings up all sorts of questions. Questions about God, about God’s goodness, about human power, about human division, and so on.

Yet when I think about it, those are some of the similar questions that seem to crop up in our debates around religion, ethics, and even politics today.

When a new technology is created that has great power, people say that we are playing God – suggesting perhaps that we are somehow challenging God’s power. And sometimes the creators of those things do have god-complexes, and symbolically they want to put an idol with a sword on top of their accomplishments in rebellion to God. As if we can even come close to challenging the creator of the universe.

And people still have trouble getting around language barriers – distrusting and fearing those who speak other languages rather than doing the rather easy thing of working together despite the differences.  So perhaps the story of Babel is disturbing because the same problems occur today. It is one of those bible stories that starts discussions rather than offering us answers. Discussions about human motivations, God’s power, and human unity.

But there is also in the bible another story, another situation in which God takes the story of the tower of Babel and reverses it. We call it Pentecost and it is the holiday we celebrate today. Listen as I read Acts 2:1-21

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

    Even upon my servants, men and women,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.

The sun will be changed into darkness,

    and the moon will be changed into blood,

        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Instead of confusing languages, the day of Pentecost, as the disciples are gathered with people from many nations, features a miracle in which God’s power comes on humanity in a new way, and which overcomes the language barrier. Each listener hears the disciples in their native language. And again this leaves us with questions. What has changed since Babel? What are these people doing that is suddenly so acceptable to God that God would undo what God had done before?

The obvious answer to those questions is that Christ has come. It is as though God is saying, the upper world is no longer just for me, but for all of you. But you must allow the presence of my Spirit to fill you, you must follow the teachings of Christ (you can no longer be builders that are more concerned with material things than with human lives, you must grow in your sense of justice and love), and then you may come. If you do all that, you are now ready to work together to build the church, which will be a path to heaven. Which is a wonderful thing, when you think about it.

But here is the problem. We as Christians don’t work together very well.

We are among the people that fight against human unity the most. We are among those least likely to want to work with other nations, among those least likely to trust people who speak other languages. We are like the people on the sidelines who would rather call the disciples drunk than participate in God’s spiritual miracle. We seem to prefer living in the limitations of Babel rather than taking up the miraculous gift of the Spirit which empowers us to change the world for good.

God has called us to reach every nation, to remember that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone. Even if they speak Arabic, or Spanish, or Swahili, Chinese or Russian. But we frown upon that idea. God didn’t divide us, we did it ourselves. Instead of building the church as one united effort, we split ourselves, and we call each other names.

But think about it: If we were to unite, and work together across our differences, around our language barriers, with the Spirit of God filling us, and the teachings of Christ behind us, God would blow like a mighty wind through our world, tongues of fire would touch lives, and miracles would unfold!

The potential of humanity as empowered by God would be unbelievable. Young and old alike would see visions of God’s plan. We would share the dreams, the hopes of God, and the kingdom of God would come on earth as in heaven. And everyone who called on the name of God would be saved.

You see, Pentecost is a celebration of God on the move in our midst, bringing us together for heavenly work. It is time we caught the Spirit, allowed ourselves to be filled, and took up the challenge of building God’s city, God’s community and God’s world.

[1] Gen. R. xxxviii. 7; Tan., ed. Buber, Noah, xxvii, et seq. – cited by
[2] Greek Apocalypse of Baruch iii, cited by