CONTEXT - Below is a sermon written for the Sunday evening Service of Broad Street ministry(BSM). BSM is a ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and is housed in the church building of a congregation that was dissolved approximately 8-10 years ago. BSM grew faster than anyone anticipated and it became clear that deacons might be necessary to reach out to those who were experiencing regular life traumas (loss of loved ones -death, divorce or decision; illness; hospitalizations - you get the point) For approximately ten months I worked with several people who were "designated" as having the natural gifts of caring, support and encouragement. May 31, 2009 the day of Pentecost was "designated" as the day for installation. I created and led the service and preached the following sermon.
Last week my three year old grandson was screaming and crying so loud that my daughter had to stop the car and let him call and talk to me. You see they had just left my house and they were on their way home. When he was at my house he asked me at the doorway to each bed room “is this your room?” thinking nothing of it I told him yes, and eventually he learned that all the rooms were “mine”. As he put it “All the room is Noni’s! All the rooms.” Somewhere between that event and the time to leave he had decided that I was alone, that I had no friends and most importantly that he, his brother and parents should not leave me! In his mind it was clear that his “Noni” should not be alone. His message to me and his parents was so simple and so clear that I was really too mushy to tell him that Jesus left the disciples but provided the Holy Spirit at Pentecost!
It is significant to me that this incident about being alone and leaving and being cared for occurred the week before Pentecost. From the gospel lessons we learn that Jesus had to go…that his time on earth was done…he had been crucified…he had risen from the dead…he had hung around talking to folks and handing out final instructions and such… and now it is just time to go. So while I don’t envision the disciples screaming and crying like Christopher, they still did not want Jesus to leave them. In response Jesus provides the disciples with the Holy Spirit to fulfill his promise to never leave them or us alone. From the beginning God saw that it was not good for humans to be alone and created one for the other. In Acts the gathering in Jerusalem occurs fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus. It is important for a number of reasons one being that this is when the Holy Spirit was given to us; to protect us from aloneness and to unite diverse people in a community with Christ at the center. Before I go further let me give you a little information about Pentecost.
- Pentecost means fifty and is celebrated fifty days after Easter.
- Pentecost is the only holy day that must be counted to determine the date of celebration. And there is this whole discussion about which event or day you start to count from. I am so not getting into that! So on to some other facts.
- Pentecost is the great festival that marks the birth of the Christian church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Pentecost is as important as Christmas and Easter but it doesn’t have secular activities and celebrations tied to it.
The Acts text is full of imagery and lots of points of discussion and even debate. However, for me there is much in the text that points to the importance of us being together… supporting, encouraging one another despite our differences, despite the fact that we experience God in different ways or hear God in different languages.
As someone who follows the lectionary, I can tell you that there were two significant passages designated for today. At first glance though, the passage from Ezekiel did not seem to fit. But the more I pondered the two I saw that the juxtaposition allows us to see in not only both passages, but in our lives that God provides a way for dry bones to put on flesh. It happened here when God took the dry bones of Chambers Wylie Presbyterian Church put flesh on them and transformed them into Broad Street Ministry. In the Acts passage we see that God provided a way for the disciples—sad, shaken and caught in the grip of fear—to be bold in the spirit.
Being alone in the world is problematic. I’m not talking about alone time or solitude. Alone time or solitude is another issue. Alone time or solitude is something we crave when we are very busy, when lots of people are all around us and our responsibilities overwhelm us. But being truly alone with no one, any one to wonder how we are and what we are doing is unwise and unhealthy and is not what God wants for creation.
And so God designated the Holy Spirit to be present for us. And it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the church becomes what she should be in this day and time.
In Acts we are witnessing the beginning of the church, the bare bones of the church so to speak. Now the church has grown and it needs more flesh… some structure… some polity. The church now needs to organize in a way, such that we can clearly and continually make space for the gifts of the spirit in every facet of the church. And so as we grow and make space for all, some tasks become assigned. Some tasks become designated. But this does not mean that these are the only persons who can and must perform these tasks. Becoming designated to be the pastor, or an elder or a bishop or a deacon, does not deny what Calvin lifted up as the priesthood of all believers to serve and glorify God together through their gifts. Becoming designated does not let the rest of us off the hook.
And so on this day I am thankful for the movement of the spirit. I am thankful for the power of the Holy Spirit in those women and men of God who prayed that this not be the end of their witness in this space. Who had faith in spite of evidence to the contrary that “divided tongues as of fire” would appear and would rest on this place and fill it once again with the power of the Holy Spirit. I thank God for each of the men and women who began this journey way back in September. I thank God for those who planned and prayed and participated. I am grateful also that God continues to move and brought together women and men from all walks of life to minister to the community here. So in the spirit of gratitude I call up E__, H __, A__ and C__ so we can recognize what God has done and is doing on this day of Pentecost.
 Acts 2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
Designated Text: Acts 2:1-8 Preached May 31, 2009 Broad Street Ministry - Philadelphia, PA