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Why Bother?

Sermon - 5/23/10
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Romans 8:  14-17

Romans 8 is our text, verses 14 through 17::

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.


If we were to rate the importance of various holidays on the church calendar, I wonder what kind of list we would come up with? First would be Easter, and close behind that Christmas, and the four Sunday's of Advent that are always so special, and Palm Sunday with the palm branches, and maybe the five Sunday of Lent. And then, of course, we have to have Mother's Day, because it is after all the third highest-attendance Sunday in the church. And if we're going to do Mothers Day, then there's Father's Day, and Thanksgiving Sunday, and church in the park on July 4th with Powerhouse Ministries, and let's see, have I left out anything?

There's something I'm missing. Oh yeah, Pentecost! You see, that's precisely the point -- Pentecost isn't very high on our list of church holidays. We were decorating yesterday, getting this all setup, and there was a wedding earlier in the afternoon, and some of the wedding folks were still here cleaning up, and one of the groomsmen came walking through and said "What are you doing?". We said we're decorating for Pentecost, and he said "I've never seen anything like this". And we said "Neither have we" :).

And then he said "I didn't know tomorrow was Pentecost". At least he knew, or had heard of Pentecost. But it wasn't on his calendar. I've complained for years that you can get Christmas cards and Easter cards and Thanksgiving cards and Father's Day cards and Mother's Day cards, and Groundhog Day cards. But no one ever makes a Pentecost card. And then Robin Cushman made this picture for me, of Pentecost:

You can just see the spirit in the church coming alive :). I shared that last year on Pentecost and wasn't going to bother with it again, but then I saw the cover of the bulletin that our office staff came up with, and I said now I've got to use that picture, because there we are, right there, FILLED with the spirit :).

I've been making the case every year for the importance of this date on the church's calendar. One of the reasons we go to all the troubles of these decorations, and having a combined service, and even got our maintenance team to put up the other set of the red doors (how about that -- applause). But you have to wonder, does anyone out there notice? Does the world care about our obscure little rituals and celebrations? If it doesn't result in hundreds and millions of dollars in gifts and cards and flowers and big family gatherings, why bother? Can it be that important?

When we consider the ramifications of the oil spill in the gulf, or the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the effects of the recession, or the consequences of climate change, or whether or not the Ducks can sell enough tickets to fill that new $200 million basketball arena (you know, the really big issues :), why bother with a 2000 year-old event in one tiny occupied country in the Roman Empire?

And given personal struggles that many face today, with record unemployment and people struggling with addictions and health problems, families in crisis, homeless on every other street corner, why bother with this obscure church holiday that few outside of the church understand (and I'm not so sure about those inside the Church)?

Does Pentecost matter?

Well, for starters, consider this: Pentecost teaches that God is not satisfied with the status quo. 50 days had gone by since the incredible good news of that Easter morning and how many new followers of Jesus had the disciples made? Zero. None. 50 days, not a record of a single person being added to the ranks of Jesus' disciples. There was the replacement for Judas, but he was from the ranks of the believers, and then we never heard from him again. No one else, kind of sounds like Disciples of of Christ today, at least in some communities.

Pentecost is God's way of lighting a fire under those disciples. Pentecost is God's way of breaking us out of our lethargy and our apathy. Getting us going. Of saying that the church matters. And that the body of Christ needs people.

Why bother? Pentecost is God's message to us that the status quo can be changed. That with a little help from the spirit, we can make a difference. We can transform our lives, our faith, and our world. And that change begins with people who are willing to stand up and be counted and say "Yes, I'm one".

A great scene in that musical "You're in Town" when the hero of the story is rallying the troops to revolt against the company that controls the public amenities, because they've privatized bathrooms. And you have to pay a fee to use the public amenities. And they've raised the prices, and so hero of the story is rallying the troops in this rebellion against the company. And he's getting them all fired up, and they're with him and then then he says "It may take years" (they step back), "decades" (they step back further), "some of us may not make it there, maybe all of us won't make it (they keep backing up and backing up, and wondering whether they really want to be in this rebellion.

But, you see, to be in the church, the text in Romans says that we have to be willing to go through that suffering to experience the glory with Christ. It's a challenge, isn't it?

That transformation, you see, begins with us. Maybe we can't stop that oil spill, but we can lesson our dependence on that oil. Maybe we can't stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we can create an environment of peace and nonviolence here. Maybe we can't perform miracles, but we can welcome a stranger and make our guests feel at home.

We're going to have a wonderful opportunity next Sunday when we start our Sunday breakfast for the homeless, and if you haven't signed up for that, find Phyllis Weare, next Sunday we're going to start that. It's going to be a welcoming place for those folks to come and get something nutritious on a Sunday morning. That transformation begins right here.

There may be a hundred ways, or more, every day that we can make a difference. We can change the status quo, and demonstrate the power of the Spirit working through us to make this world a little better for someone else.

Why bother with Pentecost? Consider the whole issue of immigration and look again at that Pentecost story. People from all corners of the earth, speaking all different languages, brought together and united by the spirit of Pentecost. Think about the whole issue of immigration that we're struggling with in this country. And think about that story, and make that connection. Do you really think God cares if we're North American or South American or German or French or British or Mexican or Chinese or Japanese? Do you think that in the kingdom of God nationalities are important? Or even exist?

The clip I was going to show was of that scene played out in the classroom this week for a national audiences, with President Obama and Mexican President Calderon discussing important matters of state, and they sent their spouses to the grade-school, because that was a safe place. You know, put them there with the little children and everyone will smile and say how sweet. And what happens? One of the little girls says "My Mommy says that Barack Obama is going to make people who don't have the right papers go back to their country". And Michelle says "You know, we have to fix that", working for immigration reform. And then the little girl says, "But my Mommy doesn't have the right papers".

Imagine what that's like for that little second-grader. You know what? She wasn't in school the next morning. Or the next. Reports in the press are that the family has gone underground, quietly disappeared. Think about the impact to that one little girl.

Does it matter?

How do we as a church hold up an image of a place where all nationalities are welcome as long as we have the right papers? Is that consistent with the story of Pentecost?

Last night, in watching the video "For The Bible Tells Me So", for the families struggling with the issue of homosexuality in their own families, including the Robinson family, the parents of Gene Robinson, the Bishop in the Episcopal Church around which there was much controversy a few years ago, they are members of a Disciples of Christ congregation in the South, and you see a picture that Church in that video and hear them tell their story.

At any rate, at the end of the story, they have a clip of Bishop Tutu, and I can quote it, but it's much more fun when you hear Bishop Tutu, who says: "I don't think, in heaven, that God is going to say to a black person 'You should have been white'. I don't think in heaven, God is going to say to a woman 'You should have been a man'. He's not going to say to a homosexual person "You should have been heterosexual", and punish them for the way they are.

Here's my point: the diversity of the church, gender, race, nationalities, sexual orientation, age, and all of that, is based on God's all-inclusive love, and is God's intent for the body of Christ -- to represent all humanity is its glorious diversity. That's why we refer to the Disciples of Christ as a 'movement for wholeness in a fragmented world'. That's the Pentecost vision. This is our calling, to live out that diversity, to demonstrate as God's people that all are welcome and included at the Lord's table. Here, especially here, there is no racism, there's no sexism, there's no xenophobia, there's no homophobia around that table because all are welcome.

We may be predominantly of one particular group in this church, but you know we have quite a bit of diversity here. Our Sunday-school classes are beginning to look like a miniature United Nations: children from India, children from Africa. We have members from China, and Japan, and Korea. And we have folks here from Ecuador and Mexico, and Germany, and Corvallis :).

And we love them, even them, especially them!

Why bother with Pentecost? Think for a moment about Easter Sunday, recall the beautiful transformation that we witness when we take that ugly cross and we bring all our flowers from home and we transform it into something of beauty. It's a powerful moment and a powerful day. And the church is always full because, I think, people want that power, they need to experience that power. And it must be a lot of power because we don't see half of them again for another year :).

But the Easter story is the story of one person. The Son of God, well, it's easy for him. But what about us? Is there any reason to believe that power is available to us as well? Is there any evidence that we are included in that story of Easter?

Yes, there is. It's called Pentecost.

Without Pentecost, Easter would have been long forgotten. Because of Pentecost, Easter has become our story. Paul says in this text that we are heirs with Christ through the Spirit of adoption. You see, Pentecost is to the church what Easter is to Jesus. That transformation is not just for one man, it is for an entire group of people. Indeed, in the Pentecost story, this is all of Christendom up to this point that is included.

People often ask me, what does it mean to join the church? In a nutshell, it is this: it's to make the good news of the Jesus story, your story. You are now part of it. You are a witness to the good news. It's no longer someone else's story, those people in the Bible are our people. These people in the church are our family.

Why bother with Pentecost? Pentecost is the story that includes us, that makes us part of the body of Christ. As Paul says, it is that very spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, joint heirs with Christ. Yes, there are all kinds of problems in the world, major problems that may even threaten our existence. Yes, people struggle with all kinds of difficulties in their lives, challenges that may threaten their lives. We celebrate Pentecost not in spite of those things, celebrate Pentecost because it is with that spirit of God that we have hope of overcoming those things.

These are the times when we most need the fresh winds of the spirit to turn our turbines. This is the time when we need the breath of God that gives us live.

So why bother? An engine without fuel is powerless. A sailboat without wind goes nowhere. Light bulbs without without electricity are useless. The church without the spirit is dead.

Pentecost is the fuel for the fire. The wind in our sails. The power that keeps us going. The breath that gives us life. Pentecost is God's gift of the Holy Spirit to us. People of God, claim that spirit, share that spirit, be a part, as we celebrate the gift of God, the gift of the spirit given to us.

[19 new members joined First Christian Church on Pentecost Sunday, 2010]


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