Pastor’s Perspective – August 2020
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[a] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2: 9-11 NIV
Every year this passage is read on the day of Pentecost. Most preachers try to avoid this passage. We find ways to strategically edit the verse, primarily due to those who simply cannot pronounce most of the odd places from which these peoples hail, but it has always struck me as incredibly essential to remember these people and their legacy. Never more so than today. Never more than on this Pentecost Sunday.
This is the world that God is reaching. In all of it’s variety and oddness. We are all strange people from weird and exotic places. Enemies and adversaries. Partisans and racists. Men and women. Young and old. God is calling us all toward a harmony in the Holy Spirit.
Over the years the Church has attempted to create unity in the midst of diversity, but time and again we have fallen short. We have split over race, and sexual orientation, political affiliations, and simple cultural differences. We tend to congregate around our own tribes and feel a sense of achievement when we gather enough of our own tribe to sustain a ministry or fill a building.
Sadly, we have spent our lives preaching to our own choirs (or if you would the praise team).
Only the coming of the Holy Spirit can unify us. Only the transformation of God’s mighty wind and God’s winnowing fire can change our hearts and bring us the vision that can cure our rage, hatred, and sin.
Without the Holy Spirit, there is no vision, future or hope. The Holy Spirit opens our doors for the Church that God wants to build. She moves us out of our comfort zones and prepares our hearts for change. The Holy Spirit removes the obstacles of race, language and culture and burns away the remnants of who we were. But not everyone wants to be transformed. Not everyone can hear the voice of the Spirit even when she is present.
Do not expect the winds of the Spirit to be without controversy. The first attack on the Church was to demean those who spoke on that Pentecost morning. They were accused of being drunk on new wine. They saw the movement of God and they called them drunks. Not just drunks, but weak and cheap drunks. Guys that get drunk on cheap booze. The attackers didn’t hear the word of God that was preached. To those who heard it, it was God’s word, to those who didn’t it was rubbish, babble. Nonsense.
Peter gets it. He doesn’t react to their taunts. Instead, Peter defends the reputation of God, not the character of God’s followers. Peter doesn’t say, ‘we are not drunks.’ He doesn’t allow himself the ego to be offended. He only makes a simple argument that even fools aren’t drunk at 9 am. They are hung over and do not speak at all.
Peter then directs them to what is important. What is important in these last days. God has given to us a direct word in Jesus Christ. God is moving. God is calling for us to be transformed. And the time is growing short.
The church needs to follow Peter’s lead and not get caught in the controversy of our lack of character or the supposed paucity of our leadership. We are not led by Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, or Martin Luther King Jr. Neither are we led by their sons or successors. We are led by God. We don’t need new leaders. We need a people who are devoted to God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And don’t think you are exempt if you are a sinner. That is who God always calls.
Many will say that the Church is made up of historical or current racists. They will point to your past or your present. They will attempt to divide the body of Christ by your flaws.
Do not defend yourself. Defend the Gospel and the righteousness of God.
Listen to the truth. We are sinners. We discriminate. We are often wrong. We fail to equitably see the world and provide true justice in the way we live and act. We love inadequately. We are (almost always and uniformly) wrong in our judgements. Though we are the messengers, we are not the message.
Like those angelos who delivered the message of the Kings of old, we are not royalty. We are not good. Our message is not OUR righteousness. It is not our goodness. It is not our work that we share. We share Jesus. Christ crucified for the redemption of humanity. We are here to share Jesus. God the Son. Whom the Holy Spirit is preaching.
We aspire to include everyone. We want to reach all people. Everyone is included. Young & old, sons & daughters, people from all nations & races. Everyone needs to feel the heat of God’s transforming Holy Spirit. Everyone is called to place their sins, biases, frustrations, and rage at the altar of the Cross.
We understand it because we have our own. Yet we do not see our sins as banners to be lifted high, but barriers to be transcended and removed. We are disposed to sin, but we are called to freedom. We are caught in hatred, but we are called to love. We are trapped in violence, but we are called to peace.
We understand the violence and the rage, but we neither recommend nor endorse it. We seek a better way. For all of us.
We preach a gospel that transcends tribe, race, gender, and age.
We are calling you to join us in praying for a nation that is trapped in a cycle of retributive violence and structural transformation. A nation that has rejected God and sees those who call upon the name of Jesus and endorse the sacrificial love of the Cross fools and drunkards. A nation that needs not just political change and new leaders, but new hearts, new eyes, and a new Spirit. A nation that desperately needs the fire of the Holy Spirit to cleanse the heart and not burn the city. A nation and a world in need of salvation.
This is the work of the Church. This is what God did at Pentecost, and this is the gospel that we preach to the racists, the haters, the rioters, the looters, the bankers, the physicians, the preachers, the politicians, the heteronormative and the homosexual, the black, the white, the yellow and the tan; the sick and the well, the weak and the strong, the male and the female and every gender variation that our messed up society can manufacture or consider. To all of these we offer hope, new life, and salvation.
Come to Jesus, now. Repent, believe and receive His grace. Let go of the vices, angers, and attitudes that have made a mess of our world and cling to the grace of God given to us through the blood of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is all about Jesus. This is the day. Come Holy Spirit. Change your Church. Change our world.
This month’s Perspective was excerpted from my Pentecost sermon delivered on May 31, 2020.