Connected: Connected to the World 5/20/18

Connected: Connected to the World

Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens

Sermon Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Sermon Text: 

There are so many ways to talk about and tell stories of the Holy Spirit. Our readings and scriptures focus in on some of the images we use traditionally to help us picture and engage the Holy Spirit–the wind and breath of God filling up dry bones, the tongues of fire and inspiration of language that connects us to one another, and the way in which the Holy Spirit sends us out to continue to connect with the world.

These are ways that are gifted to us through scripture and the stories of ancestors leading us more deeply into our present reality and into the future. The truth is that the Holy Spirit is revealed in these stories and the Holy Spirit is not bound to them. The spirit is free–like a dove– to bring inspiration, to bring depth of the knowledge of God, and move in people’s minds and hearts in multitude of untold ways. The key to knowing more about the movement of the Holy Spirit is to ask and tell the stories of our lives that connect us and bring the spirit of God out in the open and present reality of our lives. This means sometimes telling non-traditional stories of the Spirit and keeping our hearts and minds open to God’s movement among us.

We are celebrating the opening of the North Side renovation and addition today. To many this may not seem like a celebration of the Holy Spirit to add on to a building, upgrade a kitchen and bathrooms, and move offices to create more space in the worship area. Picking paint color and countertops and carpet and adjusting to fire codes and city regulations can seem pretty opposite of ‘spirit filled’ at times. But this story begins and flows and will end with movement of the Holy Spirit in spite of dust and sewer back ups and power outages. I was reminded last week by one of the building team members that this story began with one of our long time members saying–”We just really need some new cabinets in the kitchen and I am just going to go get them.” She was determined to make the space work better for all the needs–the funeral receptions and large church dinners, the meals for homeless families and the making of coffee and treats on each Sunday morning. This spirit of hers, this desire and hope to be able to serve our community and others better than we had been sparked something and quickly it moved beyond new cabinets to a conversation about mission, vision, and our place in the community.

To many, upgrading and adding on to a building can seem self serving or just wanting to keep up with the times — but that is not the spirit of this story. This story keeps at its core the heart and mission of this congregation to welcome, serve, teach and connect one another and our community.  And at this place and time this means to seek to be a physical space open for gathering and being centered on the gospel message–centered on connecting in the many told and untold stories of the Spirit. This story continues to flow through this community and today we celebrate being in the middle of the story of the spirit.

Part of the middle of this story is another one of connection. On Friday we had a memorial service for a man not known to our congregation, but known to those connected to our congregation through the building process. Rod Hartley worked for many years in the flooring business in this area. He was actually the original person assigned to our flooring design and needs, but because of declined health due to ALS, he was not able to carry that work through. Rod was a good friend, important colleague, and co worker of many who are working with Hillside on the construction project and when he passed away, we became a point and a place of connection, grace, and refuge for his family and friends. The spirit moved them to gather here to remember and celebrate, to gather around cookies and coffee given by this community, to gather to tell stories in our sanctuary and fellowship hall, to gather to share in a moment of God’s breath pouring mercy into tired and aching hearts.

I share this story because it shows we just don’t know how and when and where the Holy Spirit will show up. We don’t always see how we are connected until we are standing there, connected. We can’t always anticipate what the spirit will do or how God will use us, but we remain in the story and when the spirit moves, we show up and move with her.  

In Pastor Fred Castor’s new book, Spiritual Musings, he writes about how the spirit’s flow can be a conscious part of each of our days. He writes that instead of waking up and going through that list of things to do today–get the groceries, service the car, call that person back, respond to the emails–you know that litany that begins running in your mind and dominates your flow of movement as soon as you open your eyes–or maybe as soon as you try to fall asleep!  Instead of that, interrupt the list and ask, “God what will you have me be about today?” He gives this idea of a prayer: “Thank you God for inviting me into your day, giving me the joy of having you dwell with me, leading me in everything I do. Grant me the willingness and courage to embark upon this journey, where it might take me. Amen” While this prayer may not take the to do list way and while you probably still have to go to grocery store in order to have food on the table, this framing of the mind–God what will you have me about today–creates space for the spirit to dwell, to whisper, to connect, to be free in the motions of our daily living and to be free in the moments we share together

The Spirit is active and alive in this congregation. This is true. We have a particular call and a particular gift to come together to listen, receive and respond to God’s calling. Together we ask –God what will you have us be about today–tomorrow–and for future generations? In this way, the Spirit has moved this congregation moment by moment, spirit story by spirit story from its beginnings in a school to a worship space to education wing to a new sanctuary and now to continue to serve by finding new ways and new spaces and new connections that deepen our grace with one another and expand our ability to adapt and adjust to the needs of our community. In the middle and throughout all these phases, the spirit moved in hearts and minds and continues to flow through and into each of us.  This is how we remain in the spirit’s story–connected to one another and engaged in our congregation. This happens in so many ways– through time together in fellowship and volunteering to move boxes and clean or serve in worship or bring cookies or teach children or visit those who are lonely or ill or share our music or open our space to people who need connection in a variety ways–we remain open to the freedom of the spirit and our part in God’s love, justice, and grace stirring right here and moving out into our worlds.

It is not always easy and it is never what all may consider perfect, but it is always in spite of ourselves, held in God’s grace and love.

I know that we have many told and untold stories of the spirit sitting in the hearts and minds of this room just waiting to be free. There are stories of hopes and dreams fulfilled and stories of heartache and struggle. There are stories of families and individuals being built up in love amongst these walls and there are stories of people being sent out to build up in love in other places. Today, as we connect in celebration and as we connect in continuing to be in the middle of our story together, tell those stories. Share how this congregation has connected to you another person, to the word of God, to music, to God, to your own spirit. Ask one another in the car ride home or while you eat a donut/talk after worship. Tell your story in a journal writing or in a prayer. As you do, remember the wind and breath of God flow through you. The fire of God burns in your soul and the language of God’s love fills your heart and lips and moves you as a gift of the freedom of the spirit out for the sake of the world.