St. Paul’s Congregational Church, UCC

May 23, 2021, Pentecost Sunday

New Beginnings

Ezekiel 37:1 –14; Acts 2:1-21


Last week when we noted Ascension Sunday, Jesus told his disciples they would be clothed with power from on high. They had followed Jesus’ instructions and had returned to Jerusalem with great joy – on their arrival they and found themselves in the middle of the crowd who had come for a religious observance of gratitude. When the disciples, though, found themselves in the midst of his huge crowd, even though they had gotten advanced warning from Jesus that stunning events were ahead, all this was way beyond their expectations. It was quite an event – violent winds, noise, confusion, tongues of fire, and then when everyone was speaking in their native language, wonder of wonders, they all understood each other!

This is the day when the church was born – and the disciples, thinking, “is this the time Jesus told us about?”, did recognize it and went with it! Pentecost – the day when those disciples, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus, would go forth and transition to their role as apostles, establishing communities of believers throughout Asia Minor, northern Africa, and southern Europe over the remaining years of their lives. They would face persecution and prosecution, largely at the hands of the state. Most would be martyred. Jesus had called them into community with him and one another, called them into ministry on behalf of him. And the Holy Spirit was here, equipping them for the ministry – their life ahead – new beginnings, new life.

I wonder, do we recognize the Holy Spirit in our midst calling us into new life, equipping us for new life? What’s your image of the Spirit? It’s hard to describe isn’t it – and then, how do we let it move us? God knows after the past 15 months of quarantine because of COVID, we’re ready for a return to normal but it’ll be a new normal, new life, for us and our churches – new opportunities if we’re willing to see the Spirit at work today.

Some thoughts from a group of clergywomen who shared their images of the Spirit at work today:

“The deep audible sigh that intervenes when words fail; the breath of God.”

The Holy Spirit is the feminine side of God. She germinates us with fire of radical love, and worlds are born anew!

The Holy Spirit is the power for ministry, what weaves us together in connection; the surprising and unexpected voice calling us to us and others, inspiring us and empowering us.

The Holy Spirit is the disturber, the transformer, the justice-maker, the unexpected, the sustainer, the inspirer.

Our helper, here to point us toward the work we are called to engage, as God’s ambassador and the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

My connection to the interconnectedness of all things, and my anchor that keeps me grounded in a life centered on compassion and hope for a broken world.

I especially like this reflection: the Holy Spirit is an auntie who bids you climb up into her lap as she sits in her rocking chair on the porch, where she envelopes you in her embrace as you bury your face in her chest and feel her arms around you and you burst into tears as you feel safe for the first time in a LONG time…and she rocks you and comforts you as your shoulders relax through the tears until you are done crying as you continue to receive her love and comfort – for as long as it takes.

One more – Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small”. I’ve been pondering, this writer says, that the Holy Spirit is the welcoming power that helps us draw the circle of family larger and larger.

How and when have each of you experienced the Holy Spirit coming, even intruding into your life and empowering you in ways you never imagined?

Cameron Trimble writes of such a time:

Dr. Gloria Wilder is a pediatrician who for many years has been providing healthcare in Washington DC’s poorest neighborhoods. She drives a bright blue van through the urban war zone that is DC’s southeast side, with its high rates of crime, teenage pregnancy, and infant mortality. Violence has sometimes broken up her medical sessions. A drug-addicted mother once pulled a knife on her, she’s witnessed murder, but she walks into public housing without security, armed only with a stethoscope and sometimes a baby scale. Asked if she was afraid, she said no, inner-city poverty and desperation had been her life. Raised poor in the slums of Brooklyn, NY, she was a patient in this city’s free clinics which inspired her early in life, to pursue a career in healthcare. Though some of the doctors and nurses were kind, she felt the whole system was designed to humiliate people like her and her mom, who couldn’t afford to pay for treatment.

It was in church when she first heard a quote by Dr. Dr. Martin Luther King who said “of all forms of injustice, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” It was as if a fire began to burn within her and her calling was born. One of the most powerful lessons Gloria ever learned was the day her mother gave her 100 pennies, which was all they had and sent her to the local grocery store for some bologna and bread. Little Gloria, was embarrassed at the thought that some kids might see her hundred pennies and realize how poor she was. Her embarrassment turned to shock when the store owner whisked the pennies off the counter. He called out to one of the stock boys telling him to fill a big bag full of groceries, including a few precious peaches for her and her mom. As she started to leave the store the owner said “Gloria, wait up a minute, you forgot your change” and he gave her back a quarter. And then he said to her, “Keep the faith, child. Keep the faith.”

Today, Dr. Gloria is saving countless lives and bringing hope

to a new generation of kids trying to break out of poverty.

Sometimes God shows up in the strangest ways but at just the right time: that’s the lesson of Pentecost! God's gift to us on that Pentecost day so long ago was the promise that God's Spirit is with us always, often acting with and through each of us. It's in the kindness of a store owner offering words of encouragement. It's in the courage of a doctor who braves danger to serve her community. It's in each of us when we do what we can to make the world more just and generous. When has God showed up in your life in a strange way but at just the right time? When has God showed up in the life of this church in a strange way but just at the right time? Did we recognize it? Or were we moving too fast to realize the Spirit was moving among us? Or were we afraid…..

Sometimes we forget that the calling of God is always accompanied by the equipping and the presence of God. The Spirit of God breathes life, creates, and renews – that’s a promise.

Friends, we’re all called. On that first Pentecost day, the Spirit met the disciples as they gathered together in unity waiting for the breath to fuel their ministry and give them the words to proclaim and testify. Here’s the thing, though – while unity was instrumental in this moment, uniformity was not required. The beauty of the Spirit is that it affirms the unique character, life experience, gifts, and even language of each person and brings them together as a community united around the person of Jesus Christ with the call to spread the good news of God’s love manifested in the world.

The Spirit can and will certainly do the same thing for our community here in Nutley – are we as open and receptive as those early disciples, our mentors in the faith, were?

Jennifer Brownell, pastor of Vancouver United Church of Christ, wrote in yesterday’s daily devotion for the UCC, entitled Seeing our Gifts:

“This morning, I walked down by the Columbia River and watched a mighty ocean-going ship chugging toward the sea, heavily laden with enormous logs. Having lived my whole life in the shade of big trees, I know intellectually that there are places that need logs enough to transport them all the way across the ocean. But I don’t always remember that trees, which surround me in abundance are not available everywhere.

We can’t see the forest for the trees the old saying goes. But I think our problem is really that we can’t see the trees for the forest. In our churches, the enormity of challenges looms so large, it can be hard to see the small gifts growing up all around us.

For lots of us, our church building is a forest – a big old building full of rooms that over the years have one by one turned into storage rooms. But what if each of the rooms in your church building was a tree, a gift that is waiting to be seen and noticed as if for the first time? What might you be able to give to the world, if you could see with new eyes the gifts that your congregation has to give?

New eyes. New beginnings.

On this festival day, the Resurrection people are now called to become Pentecost people. The community will expand beyond that original circle to birth new communities and the life of the Spirit will breathe through all of them. Resurrection people have discovered that life has transformed death; Pentecost people live in the authority of that new life to partner with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit to realize the vision of God’s beloved community. Resurrection people see the glory; Pentecost people engage in the work. God’s people are called to both.

The church has been called to complete the work, to spread the good news by proclaiming it, living it, and manifesting it. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us as our partner in hope, our encouragement in despair, and our guide in the wilderness – for each of us individually and as a community of faith – that’s the promise.

So, let us bring new life into our observance of the Day of Pentecost this year. Let’s consider it a new season of being the church. Let’s look around and see the dry places and hear where the Spirit would have us bring new life. Let’s find ways to be more inclusive and diverse in our communities while being united by the love of Christ and the abiding of the Spirit. And let’s be the church for a new age, in a new way, creating space for the Spirit to do what the Spirit does–comfort and encourage, challenge and convict, move and guide.

We pray: Come Holy Spirit, come. Renew your church. Ignite our hearts. Open us to new understanding. Propel us to greater ministry. Breathe on us.

So may it be. Amen.