“Spreading the Flame”
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
May 15, 2015
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about hope.
I have often been asked “how do you come up with your sermons each week? It must be hard thinking of new things.” Well I must admit sometimes it is easier than other times. I know colleagues who pick their topics out a month in advance, others who write their sermons on Mondays, and some who get up at 4am on Sunday morning to finish writing. I fall somewhere in the middle.
This week as I read our scripture I kept thinking, I want to talk about evangelism and how to motivate and empower the congregation to speak about their faith. Since today is Pentecost, the birth of the church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, evangelism seemed like an okay sermon topic. But then I reminded myself and prayed, “Dear God what do you want your people to hear?” I had to remind myself yet again that it is not about what I think or want to do, but it is about God. It is about what we believe God is guiding us to do.
So as I was unsure where God was guiding me, I decided to take crazy Charlie on a nice long walk. We went on one of our favorite routes, down to the beach and around Webb Park. As we walked I thought about our scriptures for today. I asked myself what stood out to me and what meaning could I make from what I read. As I thought about the scripture I also remembered the two meetings I attended this week, the Addiction Awareness Night and the Compressor Station meeting.
As the warm sun beat down, Charlie and I continued walking, his tongue was beginning to hang out while he grinned enjoying the fresh air and the big blue sky. While walking and talking with God, I was thinking about where I had noticed God that day and in previous days. “Where do you see God in this or that?” is one of those typical “clergy type” questions. Just then I looked to my left and sitting there on the ledge separating the sidewalk from the beach there was the word “HOPE” spelled out in little white shells. So there it was, my inspiration for today’s sermon, HOPE.
Our scripture today from Acts to the Apostles depicts the electric day of Pentecost. The outpouring of the Spirit is an event that has been promised again and again, but one that still comes with startling force. There is a rushing loud wind, fire and speaking in multiple languages.
Fire throughout scripture has accompanied the divine presence, remember Moses and the burning bush? But usually when God shows up it is to only one or two people. The truly amazing thing about today’s event is the revelation of the divine to the masses, and not just to one individual. This event opens the door for us all to receive the Holy Spirit.
This is huge my friends, this is the “next chapter” in God’s work. The universal understanding by the people can be read as a reversal of the universal confusion of Babel from our first reading from Genesis (Gen 11:1-9). In the account from Genesis, God took humanity, separated them and created new and different languages. Now here at Pentecost, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). All of God’s people are reunited, all of God’s people are included.
In response to this crazy event there are two reactions: 1) amazement/astonishment and 2) supposing the people to be drunk. Listen again v. 12 “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Upon hearing this Peter stands up and gives his first sermon saying: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.” (v. 14) Peter continues to interpret the Old Testament and believes these events of Pentecost are fulfilling the prophecy in Joel, when God’s spirit is poured out on the people. But unlike anything seen before the spirit is poured out on all human beings, not just the chosen ones. It is poured out on sons and daughters, slave and free, young and old …they will prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams!
The spirit is poured out on all of us. Peter mentions everyone because the spirit works through all of us, all the time, and is the source of our hope.
Let us make note that hope is different than optimism. Optimism claims everything will be all right despite reality. The glass is half-full, I am sure something will work out, every day may not be good but there is something good in every day.
Hope on the other hand accepts reality. Professor Henderson of Montana State University states, “Optimism depends on the world’s dark realities relenting—they will not. Optimism requires externals to work themselves out—they will not. Hope, on the other hand, doesn’t ignore external realities; it simply knows the human heart’s capacity to withstand those realities, and it trusts in the inexhaustible power of our hearts to choose love over fear.” The difference is the human heart and love. The difference between optimism and hope is the Holy Spirit. Hope is releasing the burden to God, hope is turning to God, hope is in the Holy Spirit.
So why talk about hope and the Holy Spirit? Because there is so much in our world that we cannot control:
the heroin crisis,
the compressor station,
keeping our children safe all the time,
someone dying too soon,
mental health issues…
It can seem so dark, like there is nothing that can be done, like there is nowhere to turn and no way out. These feelings are not unique to our place and time, yet what are we to do?
We are called to turn to hope. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 18:24-25)
Sometimes all we have is hope. Hope is not being passive, rather it is taking action. Hope is actively seeking help. Hope is knowing that this is not the end of the story. Hope is not dwelling on the past or present, rather it is turning towards God. Hope is calling upon the Holy Spirit to intervene.
We come here every Sunday and sometimes forget that the Bible is not a finished product. God’s work is not just in the scriptures, God’s work is still in progress. Take heart, my friends that God is here among us working through our hope. God is working to solve the addiction crisis, to protect our children, to guide our community and to guide our thoughts and dreams as we walk the beach, even with crazy Charlie.
The flame of Pentecost still shines bright; we are called to continue passing that flame and to enable the Holy Spirit’s work among, around and through us.
To do this we must keep hope.
Our God works in ways beyond our imagination. Every day that we awake we must remind ourselves that we are living acts to the Apostles. We too are the apostles and our acts are happening now. Our story, God’s story, continues.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)