A True Friend
Scripture: John 15:12-17
Preached on June 11, 2017
@ Trinity U.M. Church, Lafayette
By Tracey Leslie
Near the last year of his life, when my dad was moved to the memory care unit of a Methodist retirement community, my sister and I took the brave step of clearing out his house. It was hard. Dad had always been the pack rat and mom (who preceded him in death by more than a decade) had been the organizer; so my dad's house became a daunting task for my sister and me. There were important items that had seemed to disappear in those last couple years. Had they been thrown away? Would we find them somewhere buried and unexpected? There were boxes of dryer lint. Were they concealing something of worth or simply a by-product of his disease? It was a painful and painstaking process. But there were also some rare joys amidst that stress and strain. Now I appreciate the modern convenience of email but I mourn the loss of something as enduring as a letter. When we cleared out dad's house we found several letters. And among them, tucked in the drawer of my dad’s nightstand were love letters exchanged between mom and dad during their teen dating years. Letters more than a half a century old. What a priceless gift to read of their young love. Notes that said things like: “I am sitting here in class but hardly able to concentrate. All I can think of is you and how happy I’ll be to see you this evening.” Those love letters were a window revealing the nature of their relationship that had deepened in intimacy over the course of decades. Mom was barely 16 when they met. To find those letters and to be able to remind ourselves that they’d had so many precious years together long before time and diseases had ravaged their minds and bodies. What a gift those letters were. Correspondence, written communication, capturing the character of their relationship.
Communication both actively constructs a relationship while also revealing the nature of that relationship.
So what if we were to think of prayer in that way: as communication between two lovers – so to speak – that both constructs and builds the relationship while also revealing its character?
I’ll be honest: I consider prayer the most mysterious of all spiritual practices and maybe that’s not unusual. After all; communication is complex. It goes beyond mere words; it encompasses our acute awareness of “the other” when we are in their presence… and, of course, we are always in the presence of God.
The sermon series I’m beginning this morning is based on a book I’ve been reading called Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer. In it, author William Barry says that prayer can be understood at its most basic level as our conscious awareness of God’s presence; an awareness that is cultivated through honest communication that results in mutual self-revelation.[i] Barry contends, as does the writer of John’s gospel, that God desires friendship with us.
But it’s important for us to understand what friendship meant in the ancient world. Because we don’t speak Greek – well, most of us don’t – we are not apt to detect how significantly friendship factors in John’s gospel. You see, the word used for “friend” in the scripture I shared this morning is philos which has only one letter that is different from the word used to describe Lazarus in chapter 11 of John’s gospel. Lazarus, you might recall, is the dead man Jesus restores to life. When the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus about their brother’s serious illness; in order to lend power to their appeal, they describe their brother as the loved one of Jesus. “He whom you love,” they say, “is ill.” And that word for “loved one” is phileo. Now if I’ve lost you in the Greek, don’t worry about it. The point here is, in the gospel of John, “friends” of Jesus are those whom Jesus loves; love in the sense of fondness or affection.
But far more than that was involved with friendship in the 1st century Mediterranean world. In that culture, the label “friend” could be used to describe two categories of friendships. That culture, as I’ve discussed in the past, was a patron-benefaction culture. There were a small number of wealthy, powerful individuals and many who belonged to the peasant class. There really wasn’t a middle class in ancient Palestine. Those in the peasant class could have their needs met by a wealthy patron who looked out for them. But this went beyond a professional relationship. There was fondness in this relationship and so the wealthy patron referred to the one they helped as a “friend.” The friendship was distinguished by generosity and kindness on the part of the wealthy patron and distinguished by loyalty and public praise on the part of the one being helped. This was a “friendship” among un-equals. But it was very much so, a relationship, a friendship. There was a second kind of friendship in that culture and it was a friendship among equals; probably more similar to what we would define as friendship in our culture today. In this kind of friendship there was a level of vulnerability and intimate knowledge of the other that resulted in trust.
Now why am I bothering to “school you” in ancient understandings of friendship? Because both of those are present in our relationship with Jesus when Jesus is our friend. I mean; let’s be frank. It is a relationship among un-equals. Jesus is the Son of God; according to John’s gospel, one and the same with God the heavenly Father. That’s not a power we can rival. And we rely on the heavenly Father’s provision when we pray in the name of Jesus, our friend. So Jesus tells his disciples, “The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”[ii] Jesus meets our needs with resources – blessings, we call them – we could never conjure up by our own power. They are beyond us; yet God bestows those blessings upon us. And God’s blessings, his gifts toward us, ought to inspire loyalty on our part. In the ancient world, love was not an emotion in the way that we speak of love today. In the ancient world, love was expressed as loyalty and loyalty was displayed through obedience. So Jesus tells his disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”[iii]
But that is not our only experience of God as friend. While our abilities and resources can never begin to match the resources and abilities of God; while this relationship is clearly a friendship among un-equals that is not all there is to our friendship with God. Notice what else Jesus says to his disciples, “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”[iv] Let me say that again and let’s pause for just a minute so that can really sink in. Jesus says to his disciples, to those whom he loves, “I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”[v] Jesus reminds his disciples, in relationships of un-equals, the lesser one doesn’t have intimate knowledge of the other. The servant doesn’t know what the master is all about. But Jesus puts it all out there for his disciples. This friendship involves intimacy and vulnerability. And I think this second kind of friendship – this one I’ve just described – is the one we have the most difficulty embracing in our relationship with God. It’s easy for us to understand our relationship with God as something unequal. It’s easy for us to understand our relationship with God as our being dependent on God’s help. But think about what it means that Jesus introduces the elements of intimacy and vulnerability – not as a one-way street, but as a two-way thing – into our relationship with God.
Friends, Jesus came to express to us what it is that God desires in a friendship with us. God desires to reveal himself to us in an intimate way and God, so clearly in Jesus, chooses to be vulnerable or open with us. And so, as Barry writes in his book, “for God friendship seems to come down to mutual self-revelation, to telling the truth about ourselves to each other.”[vi]
And so over the course of the next six weeks, we’re going to look together at what it means for us to be honest with God in our positive and negative experiences, feelings, and attitudes; to be honest with God about the things that make us mad, the things that make us sad; the things that bring us joy.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Are you saying I should describe to God something going on in my life right now that’s making me angry? Why do I need to do that? God knows everything. God knows what’s been happening to me and God knows I’m angry.” And that’s true. But here’s my question: Just because your spouse knows you love them, is that a good enough reason to never say it to them? Just because your son or daughter knows you’re proud of them is that a reason to never say it? Just because your best friend knows you appreciate them being there for you, does that mean you should never say it out loud?
Remember; communication reveals the nature of a relationship. But it also continues to construct and shape the relationship. When we take the time to communicate our experiences and thoughts and feelings, it impacts the relationship. It builds intimacy and it builds a rhythm of speaking and listening; it builds awareness of the other.
In his book, Barry writes of his own experience with prayer. He writes of a day when, during his time of prayer, he sensed God communicating to him. Barry describes what God communicated to him that day. It was as if God was saying to him [and I’m quoting from his book]: “Most of time when you ask me what I want from you, you’re looking for something to do for me. I don’t want you to do anything for me; I want you to be my friend, to let me reveal myself to you and for you to reveal yourself to me. [Then] The things-to-do will take care of themselves.”[vii] That was what Barry felt God communicate to him that day. Now, I don’t think Barry means to imply that God doesn’t care about our behavior or our Christian conduct. Rather, I think he means to remind us that it is through our relationship with God that we are truly changed. Relationships, authentic relationships marked by mutual self-revelation and truth-telling, cannot help but impact who we become at our core. Communication – honest, truthful communication – both reveals the nature of a relationship while also continuing to construct and shape that relationship.
I hope that this sermon series on prayer will help you to deepen your friendship with God and I want to invite you to begin by trying something out this week. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to consider if you experienced any intense emotions or thoughts that day. Did something really captivate your attention? Did something make you angry or deeply sad? Be honest. And if it did, describe not only your feelings but even your experience to God. Don’t worry that God already knows. Describe the experience in your own words and describe what it made you think or feel and then, take a few moments to breathe deeply and be still and listen. If it’s easier for you, you may want to write it out on paper and then, in those few moments of silence, fold the paper and hold it up with outstretched hands… as if you’re offering your experience, your thoughts and your feelings to God and simply listen. If that quiet time of silence feels awkward to you or you feel preoccupied with wondering how much time has passed, set a timer for 3-5 minutes and simply try to breath and rest and listen after you have poured out your words and your heart to the God who most certainly says to you, “I want to be your friend.”
[i] Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer. By William A. Barry, SJ. Loyola Press; 2012. pp. 1, 7
[ii] John 15:16b
[iii] John 15:14
[iv] John 15:15
[v] John 15:15
[vi] Ibid. p. 7
[vii] Ibid., p. 6
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Job 3:3-5, 11, 20-26
Life is not fair; pure and simple. “Just deserts” are a myth. No matter who you are or how you behave, there will be – undoubtedly – days when, despite your most noble efforts, things go horribly wrong and you will want to rail against God and shake your fist toward the heavens. While on other days, you will humbly bow your head and give thanks that you got off so easy.
This morning marks the second week of a sermon series on prayer. It is based on a book I’ve been reading called Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer by Catholic priest William Barry. Last week I introduced the premise of Barry’s book that prayer can be understood as our conscious awareness of God’s presence; an awareness that is cultivated through honest communication that results in mutual self-revelation.[i] Last week I discussed the impact of communication on a relationship. First, communication builds or constructs a relationship. But secondly, communication reveals something about the nature or character of that relationship. Both of our biblical creation stories reveal that our God is a relational God and that God desires a friendship with the humans he creates. It is a desire voiced by Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John when he tells them that he no longer identifies them as servants because servants are clueless about their master’s affairs; ignorant about the master’s business. But Jesus identifies his disciples as friends with whom he has shared intimate divine knowledge. To be in a real and authentic relationship with God, we must be in communication with God and that communication must be honest, not merely reverent and polite.
Now, while we might like to cling to clichés like “you reap what you sow” and “what goes around comes around,” the reality of everyday life betrays that myth of “just deserts.” And when life is not fair, we do no service to God, ourselves or others to pretend that we are not sad or angry or frightened. Times of sorrow and suffering should call forth honest communication with God, truthful prayer. As I’ve often told people, there is nothing you can say to God that will make God stop loving you. And, there is nothing you can say to God that God can’t handle. God can take it.
Within his book, in the chapter entitled “Telling God about Your Sadness,” Barry references many of the lament psalms in which the psalmists pour out their hearts to God. The lament psalms of our bible follow a clear 5-part structure that includes (1) appealing to God for help, (2) describing their trouble or affliction, (3) justifying why they should be heard by God, (4) affirming their confidence in God’s willingness and ability to do something about it, and (5) promising to praise God when the deliverance comes. Lament psalms are beautiful in their poetic form. Yet sometimes life is so messy, it defies all structure and form and it can get ugly. So, while Barry references many wonderful psalms of lament, this morning we will look at a messy, unorthodox lamenter by the name of Job.
The story of Job is well-known. It’s even spawned clichés like “the patience of Job…” though it’s a rather poor cliché since Job is anything but patient.
The book of Job begins by introducing us to its main character, a man whose life has, up to now, been picture perfect. Job is one of the shiny, happy people; righteous and abundantly blessed… That is until a satan, an adversary (that’s what the word “satan” means), offers up to God the possibility that Job is only righteous because he has been blessed. Would Job be so holy, the satan queries, if his life weren’t so easy? And so God permits the satan to strip away Job’s blessings to discover what lies beneath. Job’s children perish; his herds are decimated; his wealth and reputation evaporate and, finally, he is plagued with sickness. Thus the experiment begins and this biblical book of 42 chapters raises two existential questions: 1) why do the righteous suffer? And 2) what is the motivation for their righteousness? Are we good merely because we hope to earn God’s favor? To what degree is “righteousness” a strategy to ward off evil?
Struck by tragedy and stripped of all blessings, Job’s initial response is to profess faith in God regardless and resolutely cling to what is appropriate and orthodox. But eventually, Job sinks into a silent despair. Three “friends” arrive to console and comfort him. They weep and rend their robes and heap dust upon their heads. They sit in silence with Job. But after seven days and nights, Job seems to rouse from his numbed state of shock and finally gives voice to his despair. I shared a portion of this initial soliloquy as this morning’s scripture. Job goes so far as to curse the day of his birth, even the night of his conception and such words turn out to be more than his so-called friends can handle. In the ancient world, it was widely accepted that suffering came directly from the hand of God as punishment for people’s sins. That was the party line and – so long as you weren’t the one suffering – it was a good and comforting theory. But here’s the truth: our holy scripture (not to mention life itself) provides no single, uniform cause for suffering. In fact, even within our gospels, Jesus gives more than one rationale for suffering and, let’s be frank, there’s not much comfort in that. Job’s so-called friends want to cling to the party line and so they challenge Job’s self-proclaimed innocence. They refuse to entertain the possibility that he has done nothing to merit this unimaginable horror. As bible scholar William Brown puts it, “Job unleashes a barrage of questions and accusations against God that so perturbs [his friends] that they must brand him as an unrepentant sinner [in order] to maintain their [own] moral sensibilities, if not their sanity.”[ii]
Most of the book of Job then consists of this back and forth between Job and his three “friends.” In chapter 32, yet another character enters the story. A young man named Elihu. He is more forceful in condemning Job than Job’s friends and peers. He speaks boldly in God’s defense. I mean, if God ever needed a public defender, this would be the guy and he is determined to make a closing argument that cannot be rejected. The young Elihu, Job and his three friends have had a great deal to say about God; but after 35 chapters of people talking about God, God finally speaks on his own behalf when he answers Job from a whirlwind. But the answer is not nearly so clear-cut or comforting as one would hope. In fact, Job’s individual suffering is never really addressed. While Job has been complaining and accusing God, our gaze has been narrowly focused on Job; he has been the center of his own universe. But God zooms wide the lens to offer a cosmic perspective on life, a cosmic view of the universe. God reminds Job of how vast and intricately woven his creation is. How can we even begin to comprehend it all?
Now if the story of Job were to end there, it would be a very unsatisfactory story. But there is more. After God speaks to Job in poetic and cosmic terms, God turns his attention toward Job’s companions and here is what God pronounces: that they are the ones worthy of judgment. Job spoke to God sincerely, truthfully. But his friends spoke a bunch of nonsense. God is angry at Job’s so-called friends for what they said to Job about God. They have misrepresented God. And here’s what God requires of them: they are to take an animal to sacrifice and they’re to sacrifice it in the presence of Job while Job prays on their behalf. Wow. I bet they didn’t see that coming down the pike. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message: God Almighty says: “My friend Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer. He will ask me not to treat you as you deserve for talking nonsense about me, and for not being honest with me, as he has.”[iii]
Now, if you read what Job said to God, it’s some pretty harsh stuff. But here’s the thing: there’s no pretending to it. Job is completely honest with God; he lets it all out. And at the end of it all, God calls him friend. Friend: not because Job was polite and reverent and orthodox; but because Job was honest. He didn’t try to hide his feelings or opinions. And Job’s brutal honesty means far more to God than his friends’ neat and tidy orthodoxy.
Job does pray to God for his friends. And God restores Job’s fortune. And here is one of the most fascinating parts of this story. At the end of the story, Job has seven sons and three daughters. But we’re not given the names of the sons; only the daughters and we’re told that Job gave them an equal share of his inheritance. That wasn’t supposed to happen back in those days. Inheritance was only for sons, for males. Something curious has happened to Job; he seems now to see everyone a little differently.
Author Dorothee Soelle wrote of stages of suffering. Often, in the earliest stages, the sufferer is mute and paralyzed as Job sat in silence for seven days and nights. But this stage can be followed by a crying out, an angry cry; a cry often discouraged in the church where – like Job’s friends – we may deem it heretical. But the sufferer knows that something is not right, is not just; and they are not afraid to say so. And if they can give voice to their raw suffering, they may arrive at a place in their journey where they see life a little differently and certainly see their sojourners differently. They may learn a new way of living and believing and being in relationship with God and with other people.
When I was in middle school, I recall a conversation I had with a group of girlfriends. We were discussing what life was like in our homes. I shared that my parents sometimes had heated arguments with raised voices and angry tones. One friend was shocked. She couldn’t imagine that the pastor and his wife would argue or be angry with one another. Her parents, she assured me, never raised their voices, never had so much as a disagreement. “Never?” I asked. “Never,” she declared firmly. Within the year, her parents were divorced. Years before their honest communication had ended; it had been reduced to social niceties. But there is nothing enduring about pretense and politeness.
Friends, if there is sorrow in your life, talk to God about your sadness. Don’t be afraid to let God have it. God can handle it. You may never find the answer to why bad things happen to good people; and perhaps such an answer does not even exist. But God will hear you out and God will continue to work within your life, to form and fashion something new. God will not leave you. He’ll draw near to you. And as you pass through that valley of suffering, you may find that you emerge with a different understanding of God, of yourself, and of others. God wants to hear the truth from you; God wants to be your friend.
[i] Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer. By William A. Barry, SJ. Loyola Press; 2012. pp. 1, 7
[ii] Interpretation: a Journal of Bible and Theology; July, 1999; “Introducing Job” by William P. Brown; p. 231
[iii] The Message by Eugene Peterson; NavPress; 2002; p. 908
Pentecost Power by Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Acts 2:1-12
Preached @ Trinity UMC, Lafayette on June 4, 2017
Popular preacher and professor, Fred Craddock, tells this story about his experience as a guest lecturer at a West Coast seminary.[i] Just before the first lecture, one of the students stood up and said, "Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal."
The room grew silent. I was taken aback, [Craddock writes] so I said, "Do you mean to ask if I belong to the Pentecostal Church?"
He said, "No, I mean are you Pentecostal?"
I said, "Are you asking if I am charismatic?"
He said, "I am asking if you are a Pentecostal."
I said, "Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?"
He said, "I want to know if you are Pentecostal."
I said, "I don't know what your question is."
He said, "Obviously, you are not Pentecostal." And he left.
Pentecostal is an interesting adjective. But, just what do we mean when we say that a person or a church is Pentecostal? Is it the name of a denomination? Is it a description for a particular worship style?
Well, Pentecostal is one of those church words often misconstrued. I would rank it with – what I call – the "holy trinity" of misconstrued churchy words. (The other two, by the way, are "saint" and "charismatic.") You see, the adjective "Pentecostal" is inaccurately applied when it is used to describe a denomination or worship style because it is, in fact, descriptive of all churches. A church cannot be a church without being Pentecostal because to understand ourselves as Pentecostal simply means that we link our identity with the event of Pentecost, that day long ago when the Holy Spirit birthed the Church into existence. On Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit breathed life into those first apostles and the Church was born. The Spirit, God’s breath, is always the origin of life. Life is in the breath. When a baby is born, what is that great moment of suspense in the birthing room: it is that moment just before the newborn baby cries. Months down the road, when the parents are wakened in the night – night after night – they will pray that cry to cease. But at the moment of birth, it is music to their ears because the cry is the audible signal of respiration. Life is in the breath.
In each of our biblical creation stories, life begins with God’s breath. In Genesis, chapter 1, life begins when God’s breathe blows over the watery stew of chaos.[ii] In Genesis, chapter 2,[iii] God shapes the man from clay and breathes into his nostrils like some primordial, divine CPR. Life is in the breath; the breath of God’s Spirit.
So again, on Pentecost, that day when the Church will be birthed, God's breath, God's Spirit, blows through the house where the followers of Jesus had huddled together to wait and pray.
It is a packed house, according to Acts. Some 120 people, chapter 1 tells us.[iv] Now the actual historical probability that the early disciples, generally peasants, would have had the resources to rent a piece of real estate large enough to hold 120 people gathered for days doing nothing but waiting and praying is suspect. There is likely some exaggeration here. But the point comes through clearly: those early disciples took seriously their admonishment from the resurrected Jesus that they prepare for the arrival of the Spirit in a very particular way: by being together and being in prayer. Certainly there must have been some coming and going as followers fulfilled other necessary daily duties. But this central location, where prayers were poured out continuously and life was lived together, drew them like a magnet and let me just say, it would have been a bummer to be the dude responsible for the doughnut run who missed out on the action that morning when the long-awaited Spirit showed up with an intensity of cosmic proportions.
Now, before Pentecost became the Church’s birthday, it was a Jewish holiday, the Festival of Weeks. It required faithful Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Even at this point in history, Jews were widely dispersed, having settled in places where Hebrew and Aramaic were not the everyday languages. And that is why the Holy Spirit falls upon these disciples causing them to speak in a myriad of languages. It must have been quite a cacophony.
I didn’t grow in tornado territory so, I confess, I still love a mighty wind. Years ago when Britt and I were going through a challenging time in ministry, friends offered us a few days at their cottage at Lakeside, Ohio on Lake Erie. We spent time resting and praying and discerning and our final morning there, the winds were extreme. I went and stood at the shoreline and closed my eyes and listened and felt the power of that wind. I literally opened my mouth and felt as if God was pouring into me.
Gale force wind grabs our attention as it did for those Jerusalem pilgrims on that morning long ago. People stopped and stared and listened to this mighty wind and a bunch of Galilean peasants proclaiming the word of God in a multitude of languages simultaneously. I mean, who wouldn’t stop to check that out? But then the murmurs and mutterings begin to run through the crowd as well: “Who are these people and what’s behind this commotion? Is something wrong with them; are they drunk?” Now captivated by this assortment of languages; it’s a curious crowd and a reversal of Babel. Do you recall that story? Another old story from Genesis.[v] Near the dawn of time when those ancient humans God created decided to see if they could climb up into heaven, a presumptuous plan. So God confused their speech, creating a myriad of languages that caused them all to disperse, to go their separate ways. After all, it’s unsettling when we can’t understand what people are saying around us. Perhaps you’ve had that experience of being on public transit. A group of people are speaking another language. One of them glances your way; someone says something and the others laugh. And you become nervous, paranoid. Are they laughing at you? You slouch down in your seat and pretend to read the paper or something on your smart phone.
We grow uneasy and nervous when we can’t understand one another. Without a common language, how can there be a common life or a common cause... for a community called to live life together, life in common.
On that Pentecost day, those myriad of languages served to unite an enormously diverse crowd; a crowd of thousands, according to Acts.
Today in a world of mass communication, just one tap away from a world wide web of thoughts and ideas and opinions, we still struggle to connect with those down the street and around the world.
Those disciples had a message too important to be lost or misconstrued. So Peter stands before them and puts it into perspective. They are not drunk; they are inspired by a Spirit of a different sort. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on them just as the prophets foretold so that they might proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus of Nazareth, more than a man put to death on a cross; he was God’s Son, who God raised from the dead to be Savior and Lord.[vi]
Pentecost Day; the day the Church was born. God’s breath filled his people and they cried out the gospel proclamation. The breath of God’s Spirit rushed down from the heavens and filled those common peasants with an uncommon power: the power to connect, to proclaim, to forge community in the midst of diversity. Roberto Gomez writes:
By enabling the people present to speak different languages… the Holy Spirit breaks all kinds of barriers, indeed frees the gospel from a particular first-century Galilean rabbi to a universal message of hope and salvation for all people.[vii]
But, I wonder; how well we are doing today... Perhaps we need some fresh wind, some fresh power; that divine CPR so that the message of hope and salvation in Christ might reach others through us. Life is in the breath. So, breathe on us, breath of God. Pentecost was that day when God flooded the hearts and lungs of his people and they cried out giving voice to the gospel.
Rebekah Jordan Gienapp points out that the commonality of that Pentecost day wasn’t about eliminating diversity. She reminds us that: “The particularities of language and culture are preserved in this story, even while they cease to be barriers between peoples.”[viii]
I fear we American Christians insulate ourselves. We view our pluralistic world with trepidation. We retreat into our “Church world” where we “practice our faith” by attending lots of church meetings, fretting and wringing our hands over the church’s budget and expenses, evaluating our buildings in light of our own comfort-ability and traditions, and serving the needy with latex-gloved hands.
If I were to ask you to name five friends – not acquaintances, but actual friends – who aren’t Christians, could you do it? According to research, many of us couldn’t. But what if we made some new friends; people who don’t speak our language, so to speak. Carey Nieuwhof writes that most of the interactions we have with non-Christians are “situational and observational rather than truly relational.”[ix] Friends, that Pentecost day long ago, the renewal movement of a Galilean rabbi became a multi-cultural Church through the power and intervention of God’s Spirit. Those disciples, who at the time of their Lord’s passion fled in fear, now become prophets and preachers. Peter who once couldn’t even admit to a servant girl that he was in any way affiliated with Jesus[x] will now stand before a crowd of thousands to preach and the Church is birthed; a Church that, according to the Acts, goes on to shatter one social-cultural barrier after another. A Church that systematically breaks through religious barriers, ethnic barriers, economic barriers, sexual barriers, gender barriers… you name it.[xi]
And it wasn’t easy and, according to Acts, that’s what most of their early Church meetings were about. But they didn’t give up and that’s why we’re all here this morning. And we are called, just as they were, to pray and to welcome the unsettling power of God’s Spirit to grow the Church through us: ordinary people through whom God’s Spirit can achieve extraordinary things. Remember; the life is in the breath. But will we do it? Will we welcome the breath of God’s Spirit pouring down upon us? Will we welcome the Spirit taking hold of our tongues? Will we accept that the Church is God’s gift for people who are very different from us? Will we be willing to “speak another language” and embrace other cultures? It’s not easy; but it is clearly God’s plan and it can be done. Life is in the breath; new life; so breathe on us, breath of God. My friends, take a deep breath, say a prayer, and get ready.
[ii] See Genesis 1:1-3
[iii] See Genesis 2:7
[iv] See Acts 1:14-15
[v] See Genesis, chapter 11
[vi] Peter’s Pentecost sermon is found in Acts 2:14-36
[x] See Luke 22:54-62
[xi] See, for example, Acts 4:32-37; Acts 6:1-6; Acts 8:4-39; and Acts, chapter 10.
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