Signs of the Spirit – Pentecost – 5/11/08 – Acts 2:1-21

Being the season of testing and final exams and comps, here’s a question for you: What does it look like when the Holy Spirit comes to rest on you? Does it (A.) feel like a thunderstorm with strong winds and fire, filling one with passion and charisma and special spiritual gifts? Does it (B.) compel one to speak openly and confidently about the good news that one has experienced as true? Does it (C.) cause one to be silent, still, contemplating mystery, breathing deeply in wordless and humble gratitude? Does the Holy Spirit (D.) lead one to do works of justice, advocacy, protest, reconciliation, and peacemaking? Or Does it (E.) inspire one to look inward, into one’s own heart, to seek personal holiness and virtue in thought and speech and action. Or, is it potentially choice (F.), ll of the above? Being an open book exam, please cite examples to support your answer.

Should we ever be asked this question, we might first think of the Acts 2 passage in which the Jesus-followers, all gathered in one room – experienced “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.” We also consider our charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters around the world whose style of worship includes these kind of high energy experiences often accompanied by the special ability to speak in tongues and interpret the unknown words. Choice (A.) appears to have some validity.

We might then think of the way that the Hebrew prophets allowed themselves to be mouth pieces for the Word of the Spirit. And how Jeremiah said that “If I try not to speak the words of God, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9) We also see the evangelical emphasis on vocalizing to others that which we have experienced as good news. Choice (B.) is legit.

And then there’s the words of the Psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) and also the repeated phrase, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from God comes my salvation.” “For God alone, my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.” (Psalm 62). And we remember the ancient monastic tradition, and present day contemplative movements like the Taize community in France where hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, mostly youth and young adults, have come to worship together through liturgy, meditative prayer, and chanting, sung and spoken in many languages to represent the diversity of the global church. Choice (C.) is a sign of the Spirit.

And we can’t leave out the words of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisons” – a statement so important that Jesus adopts it as the mission statement of his own ministry when he preaches in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth in Luke 4. It affirms what the Torah proclaims in Deuteronomy: “Justice, and only justice, shall you pursue, so that you may live.” (Deut 16:20) And we call to mind the abolition movement, the civil rights movement, the ONE movement to end poverty. I don’t think I have to convince this group that the coming of the Spirit looks like choice (D.)

And finally, there’s (E.), personal virtue, holiness, uprightness. We recall the words of Jesus, warning that we have it all wrong if we’re looking to correct someone else without first taking a good look at ourselves, like trying to pluck a tiny splinter out of another’s eye while we have a 2×4 sticking out of our own. The words of David also come to mind: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Think of AA, psychotherapy, small group Bible studies and sharing, personal devotions and prayer, all agents of the Spirit’s work on our internal word.

This diversity of the Spirit also shows up in other religious traditions – the ecstatic, charismatic experiences of the Sufi mystics of Islam, meditation in Buddhist monasteries and Hindu ashrams, and the nonviolent soul-force movement that Gandhi led in India to help the nation gain independence from the British empire.

What does it look like when the Spirit comes to rest on you? Given all this, it looks like the best option would be to get out your #2 pencil and fill in All of the the Above, Choice (F.)

A friend of mine at seminary once joked that his entire college education could be summed up as learning to think in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

This is certainly the case when it comes to the ways that we experience the Holy Spirit and what that looks like in how we worship and live.

Jesus told the disciples that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, like a series of concentric circles that keep rippling out wider and wider. Becoming known through more languages, being seen in more cultures, leading to more forms of expression and demonstration of the divine creative restorative energy, more leaders for the Israelites in the desert along with Moses. Peter cites the prophet Joel to demonstrate that these ripples do not miss anyone on account of gender, age, or class. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your young and your old shall see visions. Even upon the slave, the lowly class, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.” With the Spirit it is always and – All of the above. This and this. These people and these people and these people. This form of worship and this act of generosity and this way of prayer and this act of compassion, and, and, and.

Last Sunday Jean pointed out that this month is CMF’s 10th birthday in this building, with the original dedication being May of ’98. And thanks to some hard work, we’re having quite a party. Pentecost marks the birthday of entire church of which we are a small part. The upper room of Acts 2 is the labor and delivery room for the infant church – the birth of a Spirited community called to embody all of these multi-dimensional signs of the Spirit.

One of the ways that we celebrate our participation in this local and global community is through the annual signing of our covenant. It’s a way for us to say Yes to the work of the Spirit among us and a way for us to remember the particular gifts that we bring to the broader church – some of the signs, dimensions of the Spirit that are especially strong in the life of this congregation that we commit to living out together. This, and this, and this, and much more.

As a way of affirming our covenant, let’s read it through together:

Jesus Christ is Lord. We choose to follow the way of the gospel and be members of Christ’s church.

This time and this place are God’s gifts to us, and we are called to be God’s active presence to all those around us.

As a Christian community rooted in Anabaptist principles, we worship God as we:

  • Experience the power, grace and love of God;
  • Discern and share our gifts and resources
  • Prepare and equip each other to live Christ-like lives;
  • Nurture all who are present in our community;
  • Participate actively in the life of the congregation and the denomination; and
  • Reach out to others in service and invitation to faith.

As Mennonites we are committed to bringing peace, justice, reconciliation and the Good News to each other and to the world around us.

Declaration of Membership

We declare ourselves members of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship. We affirm the covenant and commit ourselves to participate in our congregational life as followers of Christ.

Signs of the Spirit Part II

After noting the broad, wide, even-widening work of the Spirit, let’s bring this back down to a narrow focus. One particular way that we as a faith community living in the United States of America in the spring of 2008, may be a sign of the Holy Spirit in the next couple of months.

As we keep hearing, almost as a daily mantra, our national economy is not doing well and people are struggling to keep up with rising costs of food and gas and health care while wages stay flat. Internationally food prices have soared and people are struggling to have what they need to survive. A recent article in the Mennonite Weekly Review about Mennonite Central Committee’s work with the international food crisis says that “In the last month, food riots have taken place in 10 countries where MCC offers programs relating to food security.” (MWR, May 5, 2008) Some of these nations include Haiti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Indonesia.

In the midst of this, our government has decided to stimulate our economy by offering tax rebate checks to 130 million US recipients totaling over $168 billion dollars. The theory behind this is that people know better than the government how the money should be spent and that putting money in the hands of the people will be empowering and positive for families and the nation. The assumption is that people will use the money to purchase consumer goods, the effect of which will be a jumpstart to the stalled economic engine.

As a community living under the reign of Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit, it is worthwhile to take a step back and ponder what we’re being presented with here. We’re being told that the money is best utilized through how we would choose to use it. Whether we agree with the policy or not, the money is on its way. Perhaps some of you have already received a direct deposit into your checking accounts. So now that we are being empowered to choose how we will use this extra, above budget, money, how is it best utilized?

I have been encouraged over the last couple of months to see that one thing all this has stimulated in our denomination has been creative thinking on how we might turn this into a sign of the Spirit and the work of the Kingdom of God. Denominational leaders, our Ohio Conference Minister Tom Kauffman, and other pastoral and lay leaders are asking us to approach this with a fresh, counter-cultural perspective. In the same MWR as the MCC article, there’s an essay by professor and pastor Tim Neufeld of Fresno, California telling of why he is giving all of his $1800 rebate away to different charites. He notes that he tells his 9-year-old son that there are three things you can do with money: spend, save, and share. And we are always having to decide the percentage we use for each of those three. Through all that’s been written recently I would say that we have added our own Holy Spirit spin to this situation and that we could re-think of this as a generosity stimulus package.

What we’re being challenged to consider, and what I challenge each of us to consider, is that this is a great opportunity to demonstrate our values and our commitment to kingdom stewardship. Just as the needs of many are rising, so our resources to provide for some of those needs are being increased. We’re being given above budget funds to use however we see fit. It’s interesting that in the book of Acts, a direct result of the Pentecost experience is a redistribution of funds on the part of the disciples. In the same chapter as the coming of the Holy Spirit, chapter two, Luke also reports that “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) An economics of sharing. Investing in those who were in need and seeing the whole community benefit. What might it look like now if all disciples in this country participated in another kind of redistribution of funds?

This spring and summer, starting next week and running through the end of July, during the time that these checks are being sent out, we at Cincinnati Mennonite are going to be experimenting with a form of this economics of sharing. For these two months we’ll have a special offering where we will give whatever portion we choose to give out of our generosity stimulus package. The standard, long standing figure for the tithe is 10% of income. For those doing well financially, for whom this is all above and beyond budget, you may want to consider a reverse tithe – keeping 10% for yourself and giving away 90%. Maybe this is too much but you’d like to do a 50-50 split. You could also decide to give a double tithe, 20% of these funds, keeping what you need to pay down debt, save, or make a special purchase. If you’ve already designated all the money for certain purposes you may wish to still give a small gift. We’ll collect these funds together, potentially thousands of dollars, and then give all of them away, half to our local Oakley community to address poverty and hunger near us and half to the international work that MCC is doing with the global food crisis. We’ll have details on these two different areas where we’ll give next week when we start the offering.

We’re fairly private with our finances, and I do find myself hesitating slightly to make this kind of a challenge to all of us. But maybe this is the very kind of challenging and accountability and generosity stimulus that we should be all about as a Spirit filled community. The Spirit is a free gift but it also asks something of us. Covenant asks something of us. It asks that we always be open to another and of the Spirit – influencing our thought and speech and actions, and prayer, and financial generosity, and, and, and. Perhaps this is another way that we are being nudged to be a sign of the ever widening and expanding influence of the Spirit and a witness to our culture that an economics of sharing is possible and that it is an important long term investment in the health of our community and planet.

This Pentecost Sunday may we receive the Spirit of calm and charisma, speech and silence, justice and peace and personal virtue. And may we always be ready for another and to be added to our lives.