Monday, May 16, 2016

We are More - Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:39-45
Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 5:1-16

“The Holy Spirit is not a blessing from God.  The Holy Spirit is God.”  ~ Colin Urquhart

“The counting [of 50 days from Passover to Pentecost in Judaism] is a reminder of the important connection between the two holy feast days.  Passover freed Israel physically from bondage, but the giving (not receiving) of the Torah at Sinai [which is the celebration of Pentecost/Shavu’ot] redeemed Israel spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality.  (, “Judaism 101”)

They were shown that they are “more”.

Even in Christianity, Pentecost is still the Jewish feast of Shavu’ot.  It is not a brand-new holy day created by Christianity, for the day still belongs to The Lord.  He revealed Himself in His Covenant at Mt. Sinai in His instruction to His people Israel, and He had revealed Himself yet again in Jerusalem.  And in that Holy Moment, Pentecost became “more”.

So it is too bad this same important connection expressed in Judaism is not more widely felt for the Christian celebration of Pentecost as much as for Easter or Christmas because the Pentecost is yet another Divine Promise fulfilled when our Lord assured His Church: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). 

So following the celebration of Messiah ascending into Heaven’s Glory, this is an important consideration for the Church today – especially in answering the false notion that The Lord does not care for His creation and does not interact in history or ministry … or in the Sacraments of the Church.  “I am with you always”.

Because we live in a largely post-Christian society (greatly diminished Church influence coupled with Church pandering to secular values in a vain effort to be culturally relevant or “popular”), taking note of these important days, how they are connected in perpetuity, and what they mean to the entire world become all the more important to us who are called to be “more”. 

Pentecost, then, cannot be just another Sunday on the Christian calendar because it is the fulfillment not only of Divine Promise as with Christmas and Easter but also of Holy Purpose, as our Lord Jesus assured His disciples this Day would come: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

On this day some 2000 years ago, on the Jewish feast of Shavu’ot (Pentecost), the Church was breathed into life for one reason, and one reason only: “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).   

We are shown in the Acts of the Apostles that thousands were convicted and drawn to the communal spirit of the Church.  They did not get “personally saved” and then go on about their business as if nothing happened.  They become “more” than an individual.  Even in the periods of great persecution, though many were forced into hiding, they hid together, protected one another, and continued to worship; and people were still coming to answer the call of the Holy Spirit not just to join but to become an active part of this new “Way”, a Way like no other before or since. 

As it is written, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day The Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).  

I submit to you that numbers of new believers being added “day by day” happened not only because of the Power of the Holy Spirit but also necessarily because of the faithfulness of the peoples’ response in “having the goodwill of all the people”.  That is, actually possessing Divine Love in their hearts for God and for one another.

The only way this cannot have meaning for us today is if we do not understand – or reject altogether – the Holy Purpose of the Church.   Do you notice that we often disagree as to exactly what this Day looked like (‘tongues of fire” or “speaking in tongues”) while we overlook completely what came as a result of this sudden rush of the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of the Holy God Himself. 

The highest ideals of the Kingdom.  Commonality.  Accountability.  Connectedness.  A shared sense of being in Holy Purpose.  Genuine care of and concern for neighbor so much so that all they had and all they owned was put into one common pot so that no one would go without the basic necessities of life and living – the most profound and most basic necessity of all, of course, being fellowship, being connected, being cared for, being loved, and knowing rather than being stabbed in the back, someone had your back.

We don’t have this so much today.  In fact I submit it does not exist at all except in theory and maybe in very small, very exclusive groups.  Within the greater Church universal as well as within the individual churches, there is a dominant “to each his own” mentality and mindset.  Oh, there are sub-sets of groups who may look out for one another and maybe will extend beyond a group as long as it is no real inconvenience, but on the grander scale this idyllic notion of community and Holy Purpose is a thing of a very distant, almost unrecognizable past.

There is often only the curse of eternal condemnation toward those who will not agree or go along with us”.  There is a good talk about unity among the political party loyalists and even such talk as at the UM General Conference.  Unity among humans according to strictly human behavior and human desire, however, is a myth.  We can seem easily to agree to a common enemy, but common purpose is lacking because within us as a Body there is lacking the very Substance of who we really are; “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14).

*IF* we are “led by the Spirit”.

We United Methodist Christians have our Book of Discipline which is our covenant (not strictly “rules”) with and to one another.  It is the covenant we freely join as members and as clergy.  We expect (demand?) our bishops to uphold certain portions of that Discipline (especially the parts pertaining to that issue), but on the local level we almost completely reject those other portions of this same United Methodist Covenant which demand accountability to our vows and care for one another. 

In all this human frailty and imperfection there is the Divine Promise to those who live and love and witness according to The Lord’s Holy Purpose.  This is unconditionally true regardless of our individual responses because this Divine Promise is not according to human will, and it is certainly not according to conditional human involvement or desire.

In spite of these divisions among us, “we are more”.  Those who choose to live in covenant and in peace are more than those who choose not to.  Even those who choose not to are more than even they realize; but they will not know this unless or until it is brought to their attention and they are held accountable.  United Methodist Christians only seem to be fixated on that issue because of the secular media, but in reality we are much more than just that single issue that haunts us every four years.  

We are more than the empty promises of predatory “something for nothing” lotteries; and we are more than a single moment of escape in drugs, alcohol, or inappropriate relationships.  We are more than even this great nation of ours, and yet we can be no more than the cry of a hungry child, the lament of those who are imprisoned, or the hopelessness of those who have no home to rest in.  We are no more than the Gospel of the Lord, and yet the Gospel is precisely what we must become.

We are more than the constant bickering and infighting that seem to be the hallmark of the Church universal today.  We are much more than our petty differences, and we are more than even our most profound disagreements.  We are more than our notions of individual salvation.

It all began at Pentecost.  In The Lord’s giving of His Covenant and Holy Law at Sinai and in The Lord’s giving so fully of Himself in Jerusalem on this blessed and glorious Day, we are surely more than we have often settled for!  And because we often settle for less rather than to reach for more and live for more, we defy the Eternal Word which is Christ Jesus and we cheat ourselves and our neighbors out of the fullness of joy and blessedness that is the Divine Promise given – but not always received - on this blessed Day throughout the generations.

We are more than anything this world can possibly offer because we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light on a lampstand” which must shine brightly and boldly.  We are ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are the people of the United Methodist Church and members of the Church universal.  And now that this time and Day has been named, it is time to claim it, and to live it – all to the glory of God our Father in Christ Jesus our Redeemer, our Savior, our Brother, our Friend.  Amen. 

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