Sunday, June 29, 2014

Origin Stories by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Sometimes we sit around the dinner table and tell our family stories. Sometimes the kids groan and complain that they have heard the stories before, but now and then Kurt and I think of a new one. They especially like to hear stories of their two grandfathers who died before Kurt and I met. They like to hear stories of their grandmothers and their parents when we were young, especially the embarrassing stories, and the ones of us getting into a little bit of trouble. We all need to pass on stories of our history to the next generation so we know from where we come. These are our origin stories. 

The Bible starts with origin stories too. The first book in the Bible, Genesis, is a book of stories of some of the first families in our history with God, at least those of us in the Judeo Christian family. And, of course, the first two stories are creation stories. Yes, by the way in case you didn’t know it, there are two versions of the Creation Story, one in chapter one and a second version in chapter two. The second story is actually the older and shorter version. It’s the one that talks about Adam and Eve. The first story is the one we read today: it’s the one that tells the story using the poetic frame of 7 days with the refrain: “It was evening, it was morning, day one…” and so on, at the end of each day. 

This creation story was developed in about 600 BCE during a time when the people of Israel were in exile. They had been taken away from their land as prisoners and were living in Babylon. The story was written in poetry form, and is written for the purpose of what we call proclamation, or telling the story of God. We might call it a sermon. 

The creation story was not written as a historical document, got that. And it was certainly not written as a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe, you can quote me on that. But let’s just take a moment now, to address that. I asked a couple of our science teachers in the congregation how they deal with that question. Because I know it’s common for people to think that you can’t be a Christian be a scientist, because scientists believe in evolution and creation and evolution just don’t seem to jive with one another. One of our science teachers told me that she gets asked on a regular basis by her middle school students: “Are you a Christian?”  She treads lightly, as teachers should on speaking of personal belief.  Because they don’t think scientists believe in God. And they don’t think Christians believe in evolution. She tells them that she is a Christian and that she is a firm believer in the science she teaches. Of course, one way to deal with their question is that each day in the Bible is not a 24 hour day. 

But I would invite you to look at this story in a completely unscientific way. The ancient people who wrote this story never intended for us to read it as science. The story was written to give hope to people who were living in exile. As Walter Bruggemann points out, the creation story was not written as “an abstract statement about the origin of the universe” (Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1982, p 25). It is “a theological and pastoral statements addresses to a real history problem. The problem is to find a ground for faith in this God” when their experience seemed to deny God” (ibid). The creation story calls them to put their trust in God when their current experience includes “sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, that is, every human experience of abandonment” (ibid). 

So you have these ancient people, who have put their trust in God, and they are feeling abandoned. And so their religious leaders draw upon this ancient creation myth that is part of their religious tradition and craft it into poetry and hymn of praise all rolled into one. 

Myth you ask? Did Pastor Cheri say myth? What does she mean by myth? Is that like on Myth Busters? Something that may or may not be true? Myths are made up stories, aren’t they? No, fables are made up stories.

By contrast, myths are stories that are part of our sacred tradition, much like a story that is told around the family dinner table. They give meaning to our life together. We tell them to explain why we are the way we are. “You like to take things apart and have ever since you were a little boy; you remind me of your grandfather, let me tell you a story about that.” Will we tell the same details of the story in the same way every time? No. Will the story perhaps get more interesting every time we tell it? Of course. Is the story true? Yes. If we get a tiny fact a little bit off does that mean we are being dishonest? No. That is not the point of the story. We are telling the child how he is like his grandfather. We want him to feel a connection to his grandfather. That is the point of the story. And that is what is true. That is a family myth: a story that explains something and connects the past to the present and to the future. 

There were many creation myths circulating in the ancient world. The creation story that we have in Genesis chapter 1, made its way to the Israelites in exile in ancient Babylon. It was similar to one among the ancient Egyptians. The story has truth because it tells us important things about how God relates to us and we relate to God.  Now let’s be honest, no human being was there when the world was created, so no one was there to record the order of things. But we have this story, and so as people of faith, we have to discern whether or not some truths have been revealed from God to ancient people which ring true to us. As I read this origin story, I find some truths that are compelling as part of the human story in relation to God. 

The first thing we notice is this, God speaks the creation into existence.  The idea of call is an important one in the relationship between God and God’s people. We are going to spend several weeks this summer in Genesis, looking at origin stories, and we will see call stories. God speaks; God calls us and people have a choice. Will we respond to God’s call? So it is striking that in the story of creation we find God calling, or speaking, each part of creation into existence:  God spoke, light and it appeared;  God spoke sky and it appeared.  Over and over again God speaks and creation responds.

The next thing we see is that everything that God creates is good. For people who are living in exile, these words give great comfort and encouragement. All is not lost. When creation began it was good. God pauses every day to see the creation. When God pauses to see the creation God delights in what God has created. We are God’s creation. The creation brings God joy. We bring God joy! Writer Debie Thomas puts it this way: God  “steps back to behold all that is taking shape before his eyes. Like a musician who thrills at a swelling harmony, like a poet who gasps at a beautiful turn of phrase, God lingers over his creation — every leaf, every wing, every stream, every child. He's perceptive, and patient. He observes. He attends. He notices. I come from a God who pays delighted attention” (Source: Debie Thomas 

Remember that this creation story was written down for people living as prisoners under foreign rule. They held onto the promise that God delights in God’s creation. As they heard their origin story of creation, they believed that goodness can be restored.   We can believe that too.

Another thing they learned as they heard the story was this. God does not just create something static, like a builder builds a house and then walks away (Bruggemann, p 18).  God’s creative work is ongoing and vibrant.  Frederick Buechner writes, "Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you're seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you're crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again, either."  (quoted in

Our relationship to God as our Creator is ongoing.  Remember in our story from scripture this week (Genesis Chapter 1 from the Message paraphrase for those following along from afar): 

                     God says: Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
                     Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
                     for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth

The story tells us that as part of creation we are in this with God. The creating acts will continue and God expects us to work with God in caring for this creation. We are in this together. We keep creating with God. 

And then on the 7th day, God rests and the tradition of Sabbath rest begins. The Creation Story reminds us that we are people of rhythm, work and rest, production and renewal. God expects rest to be part of the rhythm of life. This has been the way of things from the beginning. Rest is in the first chapter of our holy book. How can we possibly fail to take care of our bodies and our spirits? How can we fail to renew our souls when from the beginning God has reminded us to rest by God’s own example? This is our origin story as the family of God.

So where do you find yourself in this origin story? There are several, four to be precise, messages in this story. Any of one them might be the message you need to hear today. 

11)    God calls creation into relationship. We each have a relationship with our Creator because at a moment in time our Creator called us into being. We each have a bond to our Creator. This is a spiritual bond that draws us to God. The connection between Creator and Created One is, I believe, one of the most powerful forces in the universe. 

22)   Our Creator delights in us because we are God’s creation. We bring God joy. That is our job and we do it just by being. In the story, the creation does not do anything. It just is and God says it is good. We bring God delight and joy simply because we are. 

33)   The Creator God is continually creating. You just have to look at the world to see this is true. Every Spring we see it. Every time a baby is born we see it. With the gift of every new relationship with see God’s creative action. When we experience the call of God on our lives, that is God’s creative force in action. God creates. As God’s created beings we are part of this creative action. We get to be creative too, because we are made in God’s image. Every creative ability comes because we connected to God. 

44)   Even God rested and we are commanded to rest with God. A balanced life demands both productivity and rest.
        The creation story is rich with meaning for our lives today. This Origin Story of the human family tells us who we are. We belong to our Creator God. Our Creator God delights in us and continues to create with us. And our Creator values Sabbath rest as part a balanced life.

This week I invite you to respond to this creation story in some way. It’s summer so it’s a great time to enjoy creation and delight in it with God. Perhaps this afternoon you can enjoy some Sabbath rest and take a break from your work: both your work for pay and your house work. Do something that relaxes you and give thanks to God for time and space just to be. Or maybe you want to do something creative: paint, draw, or sew and remember that you are creating because you are made in the image of the one who created the universe.

The Creation Story is our Origin Story. We belong to God. The Creator created all of creation. And God said, “It was good, so very good.” Let us share in God’s delight of this wonderful creation.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Forgiveness by Rosie Best (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Pray with me:

God, surround us with your love. Give us wisdom to know you better. Speak through me clearly, plainly, and with words of challenge, comfort and growth. Amen

            Two households both alike in dignity in fair Toledo where we lay our scene . . . it’s o.k., this isn’t a sermon on Romeo and Juliet.  It’s a statement of the reality of my life.  After an interruption, which caused me to be living elsewhere for a while, Linda and I have been reconfiguring our house and merging two households back into one. As a result of the merging, we have had to actively engage in purging. When I was living independently, I needed to have all the things for a house that we already had at home. So, it’s the surplus that is being eliminated, a.k.a. STUFF! So, I missed church last Sunday because we were engaged in that great American tradition known as the GARAGE SALE. And getting rid of STUFF! How is it that we accumulate so much stuff? Twenty years ago, when I came to the States, I had what I could carry on the plane . . . and now, SO MUCH STUFF! Can anyone relate? Please tell me I am not the only accumulator in the house!

STUFF… The physical footprint of things that you have been involved in… Hobbies that you no longer participate in, activities that you have grown out of, the exercise bike which was going to be the answer to your healthy goals of 2011, 2012, 2013, and has become a glorified clothes hanger … STUFF. Then there is the STUFF that goes with it –the memorabilia: cards, knick-knacks, tickets, photos… memories of the things we were involved with… When we are hurt, one of the first responses we have is to get rid of the things that previously meant so much to us. We want to be done with the pain that we are feeling and so we try to erase the memories, and remove the physical evidence of our involvement. People tear up photos and get rid of letters.  And yet, it’s not so easy to erase the emotional memories, or scars that are etched into our being. We want to lash out at the one who hurt us; to try to make them feel the same pain we are experiencing. Those feelings start to churn, and settle, or fester inside. The emotional STUFF begins to take up room in our lives, which means that we don’t have space to grow, because we’re being disabled by that stuff.

Which brings us to today’s bible story where a servant who is forgiven a great debt (modern day equivalent would be millions of dollars) by the master. Leaving the master’s house, relieved, another servant happens to be there, someone who owes the equivalent of a few cents to the first servant. But, the first servant, instead of showing the same mercy to the other, has the second servant thrown into prison. What was the ‘stuff’ between these two, which means that there wasn’t a ‘paying it forward’ moment? It’s easy to self-righteously imagine that I would never act like that, and to become incensed by the servant’s lack of compassion, but then I remember that I can lack the same compassion when I don’t extend mercy to those who have hurt me.

            Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to say that it is easy to forgive. Or that it is my favorite thing to do; rather, I am saying that, if I acknowledge that God has extended to me outrageous, lavish, and generous forgiveness, then it is important that I do the same. I believe that God understands our struggle to forgive, and is able to lead us step-by-step through the journey of forgiving . . . which is often a journey of letting go of pain, rather than a single act of resolve.
And this is where the sermon gets hard. I know that there are some who will bristle at the word forgiveness, because they have been so brutally hurt at the hands of others.  Callous words, bitterness that has been spat in their face.  Please understand that I am not trying today to gloss over the intense struggle that this journey is for you. Also, I am not in any way trying to claim to be an expert on forgiveness. In fact, I must be a slow learner, because I keep finding myself needing to redo the lesson on forgiveness. However, I believe that forgiveness is a necessary choice that we must make, if we are to rid ourselves of the emotional STUFF that causes us to become bitter and broken and reactive and angry.  Forgiveness is the only way to get through to joy and peace.

            Recently, I picked up a book by one of my faith heroes. “The Book of Forgiving” is by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his youngest daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu. Though it has come out of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa, it outlines the fourfold path to healing ourselves and our world. This book identifies the challenge that forgiveness presents to us: whether it is the atrocities of apartheid, the abandonment by a faith community, or the more personal betrayal of a friend, forgiveness is tough. Just after I started reading this book, my sister sent me a video clip through Facebook. I’d like us to watch that now.

Prayer Before the Prayer

I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor's eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon

            The text for this is the first stanza of a prayer in the beginning of the book, and I think it beautifully captures the struggle that we face with forgiveness. We want to forgive, but we aren’t always ready. In fact, I believe there are some things that we are never READY to forgive, but as Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

In the book, the Tutu’s identify four steps along the path for healing. They are:

Telling the story
Naming the hurt
Granting forgiveness, and
Renewing or releasing the relationship

Breaking up into steps this challenging journey of forgiveness has been really helpful, because I can see that I am at least moving along the path to forgiveness, which is better than just resisting… (keeping secrets in silence, and suffering in an ongoing manner) which is sometimes what happens when someone who is abusive in our lives continues to be abusive.

Instead, I can see that I am in the process of releasing the emotional STUFF that is taking up space within, first, by telling the story of the hurt that I’ve experienced. In order to know how I am hurt, I need to be able to identify the hurt, rather than pretending that I am not. When we have been wronged, there are so many different emotions: grief, loss, betrayal, anger, etc.… This is how we can be sure that when we forgive, we are not simply letting someone off the hook, but rather we are taking the courageous steps to feel those feelings and then let them go. We no longer are allowing the wrongdoer to determine our present or future feelings about ourselves, or the world. Indeed, Jack Kornfield says "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past."  When forgiveness is needed, we can’t change what happened.  We can only change how it impacts us now.

The church where I was a member when I first came to the States was my USA home. This was where I made first friendships, the place where I lay down my spiritual ‘hat.’ It was where I first began to take root. In worshipping with this group of people, I felt that we were a faith community that valued integrity: that our goal was to have our outsides match our insides. So, when I realized that I was, in fact, gay, I felt it was important, and an act of integrity, to reveal this to the senior pastor. I knew that this would be a hard thing for the church to accept, but I felt that there would be space for all of us to experience grace as we struggled to understand this truth.

Imagine my surprise then, when I was met with condemnation! I had to be present at two meetings with the elders and pastors, who challenged me to participate in a bible study so that I could understand where I was wrong. They expressed their utter disappointment in me, especially when my response to their call was, “I will if you will!” The way I saw it, if I was meant to discover that I was wrong, maybe they should be open to the possibility that they were. They didn’t understand what I was saying; after all, they WERE NOT WRONG! I was asked to leave the church and not return. They later held a church meeting to inform people about my departure, because there had been so much gossip and guessing as to why I had gone. I was the youth pastor, so people knew me.  People were counseled to stop being in contact with me until I had realized the error of my ways. The final insult was they contacted the church in England where I was from, to out me, and suggested they check the young people for any gay cooties. This, even though I had been in the states about eight years!

The journey to healing took a long time to complete: much ‘telling of the story’ and ‘naming the hurt’ to frame it in Tutu’s model. However, it wasn’t until I became a citizen that I realized that I had indeed completed the granting of forgiveness and had released the relationship.

When I became a citizen, I was asked to be one of two speakers, because we had a group of social studies students from TSA who were going to be present to see the ceremony. When I entered the judge’s chambers, I realized that I knew the other person who was to speak, he was a member from the congregation where I was no longer welcome. Instead of panicking because the sting of the rejection was welling up again, I found myself giggling! “Of course!” God had promised to lead me step-by-step when he brought me here, and God had faithfully brought me through. I had moved on, and this situation no longer had any power over me. I was able to stand up and speak, joyfully, about my life in the States, because I had truly forgiven their decision and the actions that followed.

As an ongoing act of grace, I have found myself getting reconnected with other members of the church, who now realize that there was an injustice that happened when I was asked to leave. Grace has continued to come to me as these friends have become reconnected to me. In fact, I would have to say that these events which started at a meeting that happened about 12 years ago, are continuing to be redeemed. It gives me great hope to know that I have been able to successfully work through a really painful experience with forgiveness, because I have another, in many ways more challenging, situation to work through at the moment. I don’t want to be like the unmerciful servant. As a recipient of God’s full, free, and outrageously lavish love and forgiveness, I believe he calls me to grant forgiveness to others who have hurt me.

What about you? Do you relate to the idea of “stuff” clogging you? Are you in a place of being reluctant to take a step on the journey towards healing? Have you embraced the ‘need to forgive’ but feel stuck? Has this prompted you to remember something for which you need forgiveness? As I pray, I want you to imagine that whatever it is that is in your way is physically in your hands… to imagine that it is flowing into your hands, and allow God to let you release it. “God, we come to you as broken beings, sometimes so hurt we don’t know which way to turn.  We realize that holding onto the anger, pain and hurt, clogs us up.  God, please be at work in our hearts, cleanse us, bring forth courage to let go of the stuff that is getting in the way.”

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thinking About Prayer by Pat Groves (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

When I knew I was going to be doing this sermon while Cheri is gone, I asked myself, “what have I been thinking and praying about?”  I looked up Biblical passages, and found the one you just heard in our scripture reading.
In it, Jesus says that some things are so complex, we just have to give them to God.  In the scripture, the demon was driven out and the boy was cured. No matter what, God can make something good from the bad.  Jesus faced painful death: God brought resurrection.   Jesus goes on to talk about his death and resurrection.  The disciples had no idea what he was talking about, didn’t know what to do.  They didn’t understand.  We still don’t really get the resurrection.  It takes a long time for us to really understand what resurrection means.  I think many times in our lives, God acts that way.
We often decide what we think God should do.  But very often God does something strange and miraculous, and it takes a while for us to see that something good has happened. Give it to God and let God make something good.  Maybe not what we want or expect, but something good.
I am person of action.  I face things head on and come up with a solution.  If God would just do the things I think should be done, this world would be awesome.  I have to remember that God is in charge.  God will make it good.  If I sit back and zip my lip, God will take care of it.  When opportunity comes up and looks good, I take it.  I may be missing out on what God actually intends for me. 
What would our world be like if we took less actions and prayed more? 
I was at Lakeside last week and met a 14-year-old girl.  She knew about the children’s hospital in Haiti and discovered the hospital was completely leveled in the earthquake.  She has spent much of her time raising money to rebuild the hospital.  She listened to God and did what God called her to do.
One of my heroes for many years has been Gordon Cosby, founder of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC.   He passed away in March at age 95.  He was a young chaplain in the trenches of Normandy during World War II.  He was counseling the young soldiers in the 101st Airborne who had grown up in the church. They knew they were likely facing death the next morning, and he was devastated as a spiritual leader to realize how inadequate our mainline churches — Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, and all the rest — had been at preparing these young men to face death. Their church homes had failed to nurture them to become mature Christians.
He vowed that if he got home, he would do better.
He was “ . . . feeling that denomination and race were artificial constructs and that people should live in regular life as they would in war — willing to lay down their lives for their neighbors, viewing their faith as an urgent tool to change the world.”
The Church of the Saviour was never a conventional church. It has no pews, no Sunday school, not even a Christmas service. Instead, for 60 years this small, unusual group based in Northwest Washington has quietly fueled a revolution in faith-based activism. 

Thousands of people are served by dozens of organizations started by the church, part of the intense social justice work mandatory for members. One of its programs found jobs for 800 people last year. Another provided 325 units of affordable housing. There's Columbia Road Health Services; Christ House medical services for the homeless; Miriam's House for women with AIDS. There’s a coffee house where people can gather and pray and support each other.

News focuses on outcomes of this ministry. But what has struck me is that the process gives us a more important lesson: when Cosby came back from war, he gathered a small group of seven committed people. They prayed for 15 years before the Church of the Saviour actually came about. They didn’t tell God what to do, they had no idea what to do.  They listened to God, and eventually this small group of highly committed people began to grow through a mix of prayer and action.
Pastor Cheri and I heard the following story at the meeting in Lakeside.  It is a story about a pastor who was very busy, but he was in the habit of clearing away his schedule one afternoon a week, so he could go to a local monastery and spend the afternoon in prayer. Then, a new project started taking up most of his time, so he decided he needed to spend not one, but two afternoons a week praying.  Cheri and I looked at each other. Who does that?  

I don’t expect us to do that, to be Gordon Cosby, but what would happen to us as individuals and as the Village if we did less and prayed more?  If we stop and listen to God?  We can pray on our good intentions and let God lead us to act only when the greatest good will come of it.

If we wait for God to speak to us and lead us, the outcome will be wonderful.  Let’s bring God into our lives.  Let’s wait for God to speak to us and lead us to prayerful action. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

HOPE IN ANY LANGUAGE by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Sometimes I just sit and marvel at how the systems for transmitting information have changed in my lifetime. When I was in high school, I remember my dad saying to me: “Cheri, one day, everyone will have a home computer. And we will all have a phone that we will carry around in our pockets and the number we have will just move with us when we move from city to city and state to state.” 

That was about 35 years ago and I could not imagine such things and thought he was kind of crazy. But my father loved to read about technology developments and so of course, he knew what was coming. Compared to when I was growing up, things have changed so much. Now we have the ability to get personal messages out to groups of people in so many ways it boggles my mind. 

I can post a celebration about my kids on FB and get 100 “likes” in a matter of a few hours. A famous person can do something outrageous on Twitter or Youtube and get a million hits in no time. Social media can be used for trivial things, but it can also be used for something really important, to change peoples’ attitudes, or to get the word out. 

Take, for example the girls in Nigeria. That incident should have gotten world-wide attention from the moment it happened, but it did not. On April 14, 2014, 276 girls disappeared from a school. These girls were leaders. They were trying to improve their lives as they completed their education. They were taken by the Boko Haram in Nigeria, an Islamist militant group. The group is known to be opposed to Western education and used violence on several occasions. (Source: (“The First Multi-Media Blowup Moment,” ON Scripture, Karyn Wiseman)

At first, you could not find a story anywhere about this in the mainstream media.  It wasn’t on Television, Radio, in print media, etc. After about ten days, on April 24th the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was trending on Twitter. In just a week it had been used over 1.5 million times. Eventually, it showed up on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and just about every other social media platform worldwide millions of times. 

The mothers of the girls started the campaign using signs at a rally in the capital of Nigeria. Many other people joined in across the world.  People like Michelle Obama, posted photos of themselves with signs saying “Bring Back Our Girls.” 

As my colleague Karyn Wiseman points out, “Twitter and Facebook “blow up” almost daily about any number of topics – politics most often.” (“The First Multi-Media Blowup Moment,” ON Scripture, Karyn Wiseman). “However, the #bringbackourgirls campaign has sparked the international community to now send troops into Nigeria and has launched additional campaigns to bring attention to the issue of child slavery, kidnappings and abductions, and the role of hate groups internationally….this situation unites just about everyone behind one cause – freeing these girls” (ibid).

This “blow up” on social media is kind of like what happened on the day we call Pentecost. Pentecost was a huge multisensory event in which a message got out to a huge number of people. These days, we have social media as a way to get a message out fast. In the year 30 AD, they did not have such technology. They had something better. They had the Holy Spirit. So here is what happened (Acts 2:1-21 from The Message paraphrase for those following along on the web) .

The disciples and close friends of Jesus were together in one room and the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Scripture says it was like wind and fire. It was like nothing they had ever experienced before. Jesus has promised them when he ascended into heaven that if they went to Jerusalem to wait, that the Spirit would come to them and give them the power to carry out the mission in the world.  Here it was, THE DAY HAD COME!

Pentecost was a Jewish Festival that came fifty days after Passover. Jews had traveled from all over the Mediterranean world to come to Jerusalem to celebrate this Festival of Pentecost. So it was a multicultural festival, a gathering of people from many countries who spoke many languages. But suddenly, these disciples, from Galilee, not well educated fishermen, found themselves speaking in the native languages of all these people from all these other countries. It was a miracle.

People heard in their mother tongues, from people who could not have known that language previously. But here is the thing, God wanted the message to get out there. God wanted a “blow up”, an explosion of knowledge, of information, of the message of God’s love.   

The people said: “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

You see, God wanted everyone to get the message. So God created this huge event with wind and fire and miraculous translation into many languages. And then Peter preached and told the people to listen and he quoted from the prophet Joel and reminded them that Joel has promised that there would come a time when God would pour out God’s spirit and men and women would prophesy, that means they would tell the truth, and whomever calls out for God would be saved.

When we celebrate Pentecost every year we remember it as the day the church was born. This is the day the message spread like a story that goes viral on Twitter or Youtube. Sometimes it is a story of something beautiful or something funny. Sometimes it is a story like the one of the girls in Nigeria. The world needed to know that Boko Haram kidnapped those girls. Someone needs to do something.

Our message is the message of God’s hope and God’s love. Our friends and neighbors are facing many challenges in the world. Some of our friends are in despair. They have not been close to God for a long time, if ever. They gave up on church a long time ago for a variety of reasons. They have problems of all sorts: money problems, relationship problems, health problems. They are worried about crime, global warming, and our crumbling infrastructure. Our friends and neighbors need hope.

So for us, on Pentecost, the question is this: How can we make God’s message of hope “blow up” and rise above all the other messages that people hear? Because there are a lot of messages out there.  How can we make the message of God’s love like a powerful wind and a fire that is never vanquished, how can we show people that when we decide to line our lives up with God, we have hope in the face of despair? 

The message of hope that Jesus brings is more than a FB status update that we post one morning, wondering if people will like it. This hope drives us to be a force for change in the world.

The power of Pentecost living in us, means that we live as a people of hope. And then we translate that hope into the languages of people in all sorts of walks of life: East Siders, West Siders, blue collar, white collar, college educated, those who never finished high school, Michigan Fans and Ohio State Fans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and people who don’t vote because they have given up hope in our government.

We have one message: HOPE. Jesus had one message: HOPE, hope that comes from putting our trust in God. The churches that those first disciples planted spread like wild fire because they had hope. They did not give into despair no matter what sort of personal or communal challenges they faced. They put their trust in God, and that made all the difference.

We can have a Pentecost moment here too.  It can be more powerful that any “blow up” on Youtube, Twitter, or Facebook. When we put our trust in God, HOPE starts showing up where despair once lived. Every had one of those moments of despair?  I have had them.  But Hope is powerful force, like wind and fire that fills a room and propels us to go out and change the world.

My friends, today is Pentecost. And the Spirit of God lives in us. So let’s trust God. Let’s live as people of hope. Let’s go into the world show them what it means to live with HOPE.  Amen.