Ezekiel 37:1-14Acts 2:1-21
We are creatures of habit. There is something about being human that constantly brings us back to what is familiar to us. From the music we appreciate to the food we enjoy, there is something in our nature that continually plants us back in comfortable territory.
We are creatures of habit. And this character of ours is most definitively true in times of uncertainty or fear. When our world is shaken, when the storms smash our boat of safety and security, we need something to give us that balance and keep us from getting thrown overboard. So we grab hold of the familiar perhaps even until our knuckles turn white. It becomes our security blanket, our safety net, our pacifier in this ambiguous, ever-changing world.
We are creatures of habit.
The disciples, too, were creatures of habit. We can see this in our story this morning from the book of Acts. As the story begins, we find the disciples in a familiar place: they are together in that Jerusalem Upper Room. It has become their haven for the past few weeks. Less than two months ago, they gathered there with Christ for the Passover meal, breaking bread together. Within hours, their Lord was betrayed and arrested, tortured and crucified. So they returned to that Upper Room, locked the doors, and hid for fear that they would be next. Even after they learn of the miracle of resurrection, they return to that Upper Room to gather. It is there that Thomas proclaims his doubt and Christ appears in their midst.
Until about two weeks before our story this morning, the risen Christ has been with them since his resurrection, teaching them and sharing with them until his ascension from the Mount of Olives. And the next thing we know, the disciples have returned to that Upper Room. It is there that they devote themselves to prayer and choose Matthias to replace Judas. And on that Pentecost day, that great feast day when the world gathers in Jerusalem, the disciples are back in that Upper Room.
In the past few months, their world has been shaken, their teacher and their Christ taken from them not once but twice, their lives turned upside down. If we had been through all they had experienced, it is likely that we, too, would return to that Upper Room, seeking sanctuary from the chaos surrounding us.
And it is in this tendency to seek the familiar that we find in the disciples, that we can see something of ourselves as Christians of the North American Presbyterian persuasion. In a world of chaos, of stresses and illnesses, of uncertainty and even fear, there is something that draws us back to this room, our sanctuary, week after week. There is comfort in the familiar, those things that act as our spiritual anchors in the midst of trying times: the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, our favorite hymns. And the familiar rhythm of our common worship (the reading of Scripture, the sermon from the pulpit, the gathering at the table, the music both new and old that sings our praise to God), that rhythm of common worship brings us closer to those early disciples gathering together again and again and again in that Upper Room for fervent prayer and mutual support.
But on this Pentecost morning, as we gather here in this room, our sanctuary, it is my hope that we would experience something of the disciples on that ancient Pentecost day. As we sit beneath these fluttering streamers, let us keep our senses open for that rushing wind filling this place. As our eyes take in these brilliant reds that surround us, let us look for those tongues of fire resting on each one of us. And as we hear this multitude of languages spoken by Christian brothers and sisters around the world, let us listen for that still, small voice of the Spirit, calling us and shaping us, and giving us the wisdom and the courage of Peter to take to the streets that we might share our faith with the world gathered outside the door to this our sanctuary.
It has been a mere six months since I was installed as your pastor. And in that time, God has been gracious to us and blessed us richly. We are still only at the very beginning of this, our journey together as pastor and congregation. And yet, this Pentecost morning, it strikes me as appropriate that I might share with you where I sense the Spirit calling us as a church in the days to come. As I do so, I begin with this caveat: I do not for a moment pretend that I know the mind of God. I do not claim to be a reader of tealeaves. And I am well aware that I may very well be wrong. But as I share my thoughts with you this morning, I do so in hopes that we might start a series of conversations in our common discernment about where the Spirit is calling us. I will touch on four areas of our common ministry, beginning with evangelism.
First and foremost, as a church, we are called to share the good news of the gospel, of forgiveness in Christ and relationship with Christ; to share that news with our neighbors, with our community, and with the world. Many of us are aware of the dramatic changes taking place in Lynwood Park, as old houses are being torn down and new ones are being built. This is surely an opportunity for us and the other churches of Brookhaven, as many of those arriving will be looking for a church home. At the same time, I remain concerned about what this means for our historic neighbors in Lynwood Park. OPC has shared important relationships with them for decades. And now, their community is changing before their eyes. There is a scattering of their families and friends all over the city and throughout the Southeast. It is not easy to know what is the faithful thing to do in the midst of this transition, but I believe that the Spirit is leading in several directions: to care for our brothers and sisters in Lynwood Park in their struggles; to expand our ministry of hospitality to our new neighbors; and to seek the healing of the community that is at our doorstep.
At the same time, I want to remind you what I sense is precious about this place, and that is our intergenerational fellowship that spans the decades. It is, I believe, a gift from God, and in an increasingly mobile society where young and old alike are sequestered and quarantined from one another, I do believe that many in our community are seeking just such a family of faith. It is our task to embody those welcoming arms of Christ and invite the world at our doorstep to be part of our precious fellowship.
Second, I would like to touch on Congregational Care. As we continue this journey of fellowship together, we know that we will receive new members into that fellowship. We also know that we will say goodbye to precious brothers and sisters in Christ. And in between those moments of welcome and farewell lies our calling to care for one another. As one body, we mourn together, and we rejoice together.
We have been discussing this care ministry more intentionally over the past few months. Given our demographics, the need for this ministry will increase in the coming years. And whether it is through the establishment of a Board of Deacons or through some other mechanism, I do believe that the Spirit is calling us to creativity and intentionality as we approach these ministries of compassion and care, and to continue these conversations in a spirit of openness and faithfulness as we seek to do God’s will in this place.
Third, I turn to our ministry of Stewardship. At the beginning of this year, our Session presented us with a significant fiscal challenge: a budget that projected a shortfall of close to $60,000 by the end of the year. It is, as the Finance Ministry has reminded us, an unsustainable course. It would not be many years, at this rate, before we would need to decrease our staff, our program, or both. The good news is that our membership has responded well and with characteristic generosity. Our Session and staff have kept ministry costs at a minimum. However, it is still early in the year. In May, in fact, we spent more than we received. I do believe that the Spirit is calling us to continue this pattern of good stewardship that we have charted early in the year in order to fund the important ministries and witness of this place.
And alongside that ongoing stewardship, I do sense that the Spirit is calling us over the next few years to begin serious consideration of a wider capital campaign. Such a campaign, I believe, would not only provide funds for overdue repairs to our building and help us to improve and update our facilities. It would also contain a significant mission component as we seek to expand our ministries of compassion and connection with the broader Church.
And it is with this broader Church that I bring my thoughts to a close today as I look at our ministry of Outreach. I do not believe that it is mere coincidence that you have called a former missionary as your pastor. Just a few months ago, I shared with you the changing face of the global church, one of powerlessness and poverty, as missionaries from the two-thirds world come to North America and Europe to bring the good news of the gospel. And I am convinced that the Spirit is calling us to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. I am also convinced that this connection begins very naturally in our own backyard. In Chamblee for example, just five minutes away from here, 75% of the population was born outside of the United States. The world is, indeed, at our doorstep. As we begin a tutoring program this Fall of English as a Second Language, and as we continue conversations about the possibility of hosting an immigrant fellowship, I do believe that we are responding to the Spirit’s leading in this regard.
Friends, this is not an exhaustive list of the places where I see the Spirit already alive and at work at OPC, or challenging us and reshaping us: time does not permit me today to share this all with you. I share these thoughts with you about our ministry not as gospel, but as my own flawed discernment of the Spirit at work in our midst. I look forward to how our common wisdom will shape us for the journey ahead. But I do know this much certain: that for our ministries, whether they are familiar or new, if we are not listening for God’s calling, if the Spirit is not present to give life, then these ministries are like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. They may be covered in flesh, but without the Spirit, they will draw no breath. But with the Spirit in our midst, and all of our senses open to that presence and strength, our ministries thrive and themselves give life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we discern together where the Spirit is calling us, as we share this holy wisdom with one another, let us not be tongue-tied. Instead, let us speak with that wondrous variety of tongues, both familiar and new, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, always open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
And as we do, on this Pentecost day, as we gather here in this room, our sanctuary, let us remember that the whole world is just outside our door waiting for us. Amen.