The Unity of the Spirit

John 17.20-23

Five Fingers Make a United Fist
In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
Source unknown

Acts 2.1
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

Acts 1.14
They all joined together constantly in prayer…

Ephesians 4.1-6

KJV, translates the Acts passages “one accord”; together; one mind; one; unity

Many biblical references to oneness
Children of one family; one Father; John 20:17
Disciples in one school; one teacher; John 13:13-35
Sheep in one flock; one shepherd; John 10:16
Members of one body; one head; Eph. 4:15
Stones in one building; one foundation; 1 Peter 2:3, 1 Cor. 3:11-12
From the Book of 750 Bible and Gospel Studies, 1909, George W. Noble, Chicago

Unity as prerequisite and product
Holy Spirit came as they prayed in unity; Holy Spirit produces unity. (True of holiness, as well.)

United in belief
In Jesus Christ; that he was God; that he died and was raised again to life. They witnessed his ascent. They heard his teaching, saw his miracles. They saw every word that he said come true as he told what would happen to him. And now he promised the Holy Spirit … and they believed.

Unity in obedience
Their belief is made concrete in their obedience. They waited. They prayed. They expected the gift of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know how he was going to come, they didn’t now what exactly to expect; but as Jesus had told about his death, as he talked about the temple being torn down and built up in three days, they knew that Jesus’ word was true even if they didn’t fully comprehend how it would happen, and even if they couldn’t picture what it would look like if it happened.

Do we sometimes overlook God’s action in our lives because it doesn’t look like what we expect?

Unity in prayer
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. -Matthew 18:19

They prayed together; they were brought into unity as they prayed. They believed in the power of prayer. They believed prayer to be communion with God, bringing them into one with God and with one with each other.

Unity in purpose: Mission
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. -Acts 1.8

Their mission is to be witnesses to the world. Their mission is to share Christ with the world. An awesome task, only possible if they are in agreement, only possible with the power, enablement, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. To this one purpose they prayed together.

Unity as witness: love
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. -Ephesians 4.2,3
This verse names four of the Fruit of the Spirit named in Galatians 5.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. -John 13.34,35

It is love that binds them together. As they are united in love, this be a witness to a world. John 13 and John 17 above say that this love and this unity will be “that the world may believe.” As love is a gift of the Spirit, it serves to accomplish the purpose of mission: proclaiming Christ.

The love shared between the Father and Son, is now available to believers. A love made visible in the incarnation. A love more full and complete than ever witnessed prior.

Jerome on John
John was known in the ancient church for his concern for love. Jerome tells of John in his extreme old age saying, whenever he was carried into the assembly, "Little children, love one another."
When his disciples got tired of this, they asked, "Master, why do you always say this?"
"It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough."    Jerome Commentary on Galatians at Gal 6:10

You Got to be Together
The Atlantic Monthly (11/94) told about superstar tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performing together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men.
“You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music,” Domingo said. “You can’t be rivals when you’re together making music.”
That’s also true in the church.    Leadership, p. 68

In the church, we are not rivals, not as individuals, nor as churches. Our aim and purpose is one. And we do not concentrate on the music, but on God. If He remains our focus and our hearts are open to him, he will bring us into oneness: in belief, in obedience, in prayer, in mission, in love.

Moving Forward!

I’m thinking a lot about transition these days. Today is my last Sunday at Petersburg, and it’s also the last Sunday for Alexandria and Barree as seaprate congregations. Next week, these two congregations will become one new church, "Hope UMC."

There’s a lot of transition in the Scriptures, too. Today, we’re going to look at one case, in partciular. Twenty-five years after entering the Promised Land, Joshua who has been the leader since their entrance, is nearing the end of his time as the leader of God’s people.

Read Joshua 24.14-24

There are some great challenges for God’s people, including us, in Joshua’s words …

  • Honor God
  • serve God wholeheartedly
  • Serve the Lord alone!
  • Choose today whom you will serve!
  • Get rid of your idols! "Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped" and "Destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD."

Read Philippians 3.8-18 (The Message)

Times of transition are good times to …

  • Refocus our vision
  • Re-evaluate our ministry
  • Remember our purpose

As Followers of Jesus we are Jesus’ missionaries to the world! As the Christ’s body, we are his hands and feet in the world, sent to proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ to a world in need of transformation!

And, speaking of transitions, as Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven, he also spoke some challenging words of challenge to those he was (sort of) leaving behind. Jesus said, "I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28.18-20).

Questions for reflection:

  • Will you serve the Lord alone?
  • Will you serve the Lord wholeheartedly?
  • Are their "idols" in your life that you need to put away?
  • Where is God calling you to serve and to be a pioneer for Christ?

O God, as we take on new responsibilities and prepare for new things, we pray that your Spirit will stand in front of us, walk in front of us, and always go before us. Help us to follow the leading of your Spirit in all we do that that in the future when our spiritual descendants look back on us, they will be thankful and challenge by our pioneering spirit! Amen.

Power for Mission 2.0

[Note: Joleen and I traded places today. Joleen preached at Petersburg and Alexandria/Barree and I preached at Wesley Chapel, Ennisville, and Faith. We each repeated our sermons from Pentecost Sunday two weeks ago to give our churches another perspective on the importance of Pentecost. You can read Joleen’s Pentecost Sunday sermon here: Can We Talk? And, you can read my Pentecost Sunday sermon here: Power for Mission. Because the end of my message was pretty different this time around, I’m posting the new sermon here.]

Today is Pentecost Sunday.

Just before Jesus returned to heaven, he instructed his disciples,
“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you what he promised.
Remember, I have told you about this before. John baptized with water,
but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts
1.4-5).

I imagine the disciples had a pretty high level of expectation as
the Feast of Pentecost drew closer. Major things happened during the
recent feasts, including Jesus dying on Passover, being buried on Feast
of Unleavened Bread, and rising from the dead on Feast of Firstfruits.
Now, as the Feast of Pentecost draws closer, they are filled with
anticipation about “the promise of the Father.”

Read Acts 2.1-8

God poured out his Spirit to empower his people for ministry in the world.

“But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8)

So, let’s talk about our response to God’s Spirit, God’s work in our lives …

>> Follow the Teacher (Holy Spirit)!

The Holy Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.

“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about what to say in your defense, for the Holy Spirit will teach you what needs to be said even as you are standing there.” (Luke 12.11-12)

“But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative–and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you.” (John 14.26; see also 1 John 2.27b)

>> Be bold and courageous!

Compare the disciples on the pages of the four Gospels with the same disciples on the pages of the book of Acts. In the Gospels, the disciples are uncertain, immature, and timid. But in Acts, they’re bold and courageous.

For example, one day the disciples were called in and threatened to stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of being depressed and discouraged, they were grateful for the opportunity to suffer for their Savior. I especially love the end of their prayer: “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4.29-30)

What happened in response? “After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God’s message with boldness.” (Acts 4.31)

>> Transform your community!

God has called and empowered us to transform our community for Jesus Christ! That was Jesus’ mission, and it’s ours too …

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61.1-3)

>> Care for the poor!

Pentecost is about harvest. And with harvest, there’s also a connection with helping the poor.

“When you harvest your crops, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop–do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners who live among you, for I, the LORD, am your God. (Leviticus 19.9-10; see also Leviticus 23.22)

“And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need.” (Acts 2.44-45)

>> Be the church!

I imagine when most of us think of the word “church,” we tend to envision a church building. But in reality, the church is not a building; the church is a people. Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3.16)

Praying the Scriptures:

“Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow.” (Psalm 25.4)

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.” (Psalm 143.10)

Tear Down the Walls

Joel 2.28-29

The Berlin Wall
At the end of WWII Germany became divided into occupational zones. The capital city of Berlin found itself divided as well. East Germany had a Soviet-style authoritarian government and many of the people longed for the political freedoms and prosperity of non-communist countries. Many East Germans fled to these non-communist countries via West Germany.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 to prevent this mass exodus. The wall became a symbol of Communist tyranny, especially with news of those shot down trying to escape to West Germany.

With the decline of the Soviet Union border restrictions started to relax which culminated in mass demonstrations and eventually the fall of the East German government. President Ronald Reagan will probably be most remembered for saying, “Tear down this wall.” In 1989 masses of East Germans approached and crossed the wall. The were welcomed by West Germans in a celebratory atmosphere. And over the coming weeks the public dismantled the wall.

Jesus Christ tore down walls
Jesus Christ was and is in the job of tearing down walls. The church was commissioned and continues to be at the job of tearing down walls.Jesus ate with sinners. As a Jew, Jesus traveled through the avoided country of Samaria. Jesus allowed women to sit at his feet and be educated. Jesus touched the untouchable (the lepers, the possessed, the unclean). Jesus gathered the children (who in that day were considered of little value and a nuisance) around him and blessed him.

In Jesus there is no age discrimination, no race discrimination, no gender discrimination. Jesus tore down the walls. In his death and resurrection he spiritually tore down walls. When we are baptized in Christ, Jesus tears down the walls that society has erected in our lives.

Galatians 3.26-29

Annual Conference

Annual Conference celebrated anniversaries of the tearing down of walls. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist tradition. Just 11 days after the adjournment of the 1956 General Conference Maud Keister Jenkins to receive full conference membership. Maud Jenkins spent 44 years as a full-time missionary to Korea. She received these credentials in abstensia while in Korea.

It also marks 50 years of inclusiveness. You know that the Methodist Church is divided into geographic regions called Conferences and we are a part of the Central PA Conference which reaches north to the New York border, south to the Maryland border, west to Altoona and east of Harrisburg. We are a part of larger section called the Northeastern Jurisdiction.

There was one conference, the Central Conference, that was not designated by geographic bounds, but by race. The Central Conference was composed of the black or African American churches. Until 50 years ago, the Conferences were segregated. In 1956 churches were permitted to transfer from the Central Jurisdiction to their appropriate geographic conference. Mitchell Memorial Methodist Church of Harrisburg became the first congregation in the denomination to do so.

So the Central PA Conference made history on two counts in 1956 as walls were torn down. And we continue to tear down walls. The mission report was given on Friday. Much of that report was of the ministry through Mission Central. Because of you, $1,747,566 in aid was sent to Katrina victims via UMCOR (100,000 relief kits, 6,000 flood buckets – 1,000 more directly to UM Churches). These supplies came not only from churches from this Conference by 12 other Northeastern Jurisdictional Conferences. And not only from churches, but schools, businesses, government agencies, civic clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and countless unnamed individuals who just dropped supplies off at Mission Central.

Mission Central, a ministry of this Conference, is tearing down walls geographically as materials are received across geographic and church and state borders. Mission Central is tearing down walls as supplies are distributed across state lines as wells as ocean containers sent to the Congo, Guatemala, Africa, and Liberia. You have witnessed the walls coming down as JV students sewed desperately needed school bags.

What walls do we need to tear down?
Maybe it’s these church walls (not literally.) The church is not merely the meeting of people on Sunday morning. We are to be the church outside these walls. We are to carry the message of Christ beyond these walls. Let us continue to allow God to tear down the walls around us and in our hearts. May God open our eyes to the needs around us and give us hearts filled with compassion to reach out those in need. May he give us courage to reach out in love.

Our Communities: Right Here! Right Now!

[Note: Instead of a typical "sermon," today we took time to reflect on and discuss Annual Conference.]

"Our Communities: Right Here! Right Now!" That was the theme of Annual Conference (Central PA Conference of the United Methodist Church) which took place during the last few days at Messiah College (Grantham, PA). It’s part of the larger theme of "Claiming God’s Frontiers."

Today, we (our Lay Member to Annual Conference and I) will share brief reflections, thoughts, and reactions to Annual Conference. This conversation will continue over the next several months at our Council meetings (devotion, in discussing our "Acts 29" plan, etc.) as well as our leadership meetings (Adventure Guides Gatherings).

While it’s hard to process the entire event and share it in a few words, I want to share several things impacted me personally.

First was the atmosphere which I like to describe as a "camp meeting" environment. The music and the worship was lively and the teaching/preaching was motivational and challenging.

Helping to make the environment celebratory was the fact that this year’s conference celebrated two major milestones — both 50 year anniversaries. One anniversary celebrates 50 years of full clergy rights for women and the other marked the 50 year anniversary of the first black congregation moving from the former "central jurisdiction" to the jurisdiction in which it was located, geographically. This marked the beginning of the end of the segregated church (in terms of affiliation with the jurisdictions, anyway). Amazingly enough, both of these milestones occurred right here in our Conference!

I am also grateful for Bishop Middleton’s (who happens to be the first woman bishop in this Conference) inspirational and courageous leadership in our Conference. I also appreciate the role of her spirituality in her leadership. It’s refreshing to have a leader who models authenticity as well.

I am always challenged to be more courageous as a leader when I come away from these events. Truth is, I would rather risk and fail than to not risk and maintain the status quo!

One of the keywords I took away from Annual Conference is "urgency." Bishop Middleton talked about the need for urgency. Personally, I feel a little tension between urgency and patience. I think the key is responding to the sense of urgency by consistently working toward the goal but being patient throughout the journey, knowing that it takes time to accomplish big visions.

At recent big events (Annual Conference, Visionary Leadership class/seminar, etc.), I have sensed the need/desire to go deeper with God, to prepare myself for the next phase of the journey. This was a big impact for me again at Annual Conference.

Well, those were a few things that impacted me. Here are a few quotes from Bishop Jane Allen Middleton that I thought were helpful …

“God, what are you doing in the world, and how I can  – how can we – be part of it?”

“What is God’s yearning for us?”

“Jesus had the ability to discern what was important; he sensed the urgent.”

[Wrong Question] “How can we keep the church going?”

[Right Question] “How can we be God’s people?”

Core Values:

  • To proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
  • To raise up leaders, both clergy and lay
  • To be more than ‘Sunday/Tuesday Christians’ (i.e. Worship on Sunday, committee meeting on Tuesday)

“We are not here to serve the church but to serve Jesus Christ … we are not a club. We are servants of Jesus Christ.”

Setting a high bar for membership:

  • Weekly attendance in worship
  • Regular participation in a small group
  • Hands on mission involvement
  • Tithing

O God, thank you for what you are doing in this conference of the United Methodist Church. Thank you for our leaders. I pray that you will help us all to claim your frontiers right here in our communities! Help us to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in ways that connect with the people in this valley so that your kingdom may be built! Amen.

“Can we talk?” (Pentecost Sunday)

Acts 2.1-21

“Can we talk?”
Every now and then, Randy or I will say to the other, “Can we talk?” And we both think, “Uh-oh.” We think there must be something serious we need to discuss. It’s kind of a “what have I done (or not done)?”

Pentecost could be met with the question, “Can we talk?” When the first disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the first visible signs involved talking. First, they spoke in tongues or in different languages — languages other than their native tongue.

Then, Peter speaks to the crowds, explaining this strange phenomena. He quotes from the Old Testament prophet Joel, saying that his prophecy is being fulfilled.

You’ll recall that last week in looking at the Ascension of Christ, we spoke of how Jesus instructed the disciples would be witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world … but don’t leave Jerusalem until you receive power from on high; wait, until you receive the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus ascended, he left a great work to be done, a work that every believer today is still entrusted with: being witnesses; making sure every person, every people group represented around the world has the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ and what he did for all humanity: He is God, come in human form; though sinless, he suffered and died, taking our sins to the cross. And as he rose to life, he brings new life for you and for me.

The disciples witnessed this firsthand. I have witnessed this in my life. You have witnessed it. We see it one another’s lives. And Jesus says, share it with others.

But he also says, that even though he’s left, he sends his Spirit to be with us, to live in us and to guide us in this enormous task.

“Can we talk?”
There are some people in this world who seem to talk incessantly and then there are those who seem to hardly have a word to say and then all those who fall somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t matter where we fall, the call and commission are the same: be my witnesses. So many of us are like Moses and say, “But … I can’t. I don’t know what to say; I’m too afraid” or even that society tells us to keep our faith a private affair.

But Jesus says otherwise, “Be my witnesses.”

Most times our very problem is we get too focused on the I. I can’t. What if we focus on God? What if we focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit, who was given to empower us for this task?

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth ( John 16.12-15)
At the time these words are spoken, Jesus has not died or resurrected yet. Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for this, but they can only bear so much. They can only take in so much. The Spirit of Truth will continue to reveal Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit of Truth will help them to understand who Jesus is and the implications of his actions. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit Teaches and Reminds (John 14.26)
In John, remind means to recall and to understand. Teaching and reminding are two ways of speaking the same thing. To “teach you all things” indicates the revelation of God through Jesus. There is a progressive revelation of who God is. “All” is the comprehensiveness of the Spirit’s teaching – the Spirit understands all about Jesus and will leave out nothing. Jesus is given the full revelation of the Father. The Spirit gives the full revelation. There is no further revelation. It is the understanding of the revelation that is given and that is needed.

The Holy Spirit Gives Words (Luke 12.11-12)
This passage speaks specifically to defending the Gospel. When you are questioned about your beliefs, the Holy Spirit will lead you in what to say. The two greatest of fears of witnessing is rejection and knowing what to say. To the first, Jesus instructs it is him that is rejected. And he promises that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. The words may be different for different situations. Each person we share with is unique and the Holy Spirit understands what they need to hear and even when they need to hear it.

The Holy Spirit enables our lives to speak (Galatians 5.22-25)

And last of all, the speech of our lives …We have all heard the phrase, “practice what you preach” or “actions speak louder than words.” Not only our words, but our actions are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ. Our words are meaningless, unless we live what we speak, or “walk the talk.” We can know about God, but do we know God? Has he transformed our lives?

The fruit of the Spirit demonstrates the moral qualities to be present in the life of the believer. If we belong to Christ, we will be transformed and exhibit character that is Christlike. It is the power of the Holy Spirit who works these qualities in our lives. The Holy Spirit transforms our lives.

This is not a list of laws to be kept; this is not a list of goals to try to develop or attain in our lives, it is evidence the Holy Spirit is present in our lives. It is he who transforms us, bringing about these qualities. The Holy Spirit is Sanctifier, it is he who purifies our lives. The Holy Spirit enables our lives to speak and give witness to God’s presence.

“Can we talk?”
Yes, we can talk, with the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. Let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, to dwell within us so that we may be emboldened as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Then we can talk. He will give us the words to speak, He will give us a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ and God the Father, He will transform our lives so that they speak that we belong to Jesus Christ.

Power for Mission

Today is Pentecost Sunday.

Just before Jesus returned to heaven, he instructed his disciples, "Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you what he promised. Remember, I have told you about this before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1.4-5).

I imagine the disciples had a pretty high level of expectation as the Feast of Pentecost drew closer. Major things happened during the recent feasts, including Jesus dying on Passover, being buried on Feast of Unleavened Bread, and rising from the dead on Feast of Firstfruits. Now, as the Feast of Pentecost draws closer, they are filled with anticipation about "the promise of the Father."

Feast of Pentecost
From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the
wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then
present an offering of new grain to the LORD.
(Leviticus 23.15-16)

Read Acts 2.1-8

Power for Mission
I believe the purpose for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to empower Christ-followers for mission and ministry in the world. More of Jesus’ final words to his disciples: "But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8).

What is your mission/ministry in this world? Are you empowered by the Holy Spirit?

God’s Temple
Scripture says, "Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3.16)

Have you surrendered your life to the work of God’s Spirit? Take some time this week to create space for God to do some heart-shaping work in you. Ask God to create in you a willingness to run (wherever God sends you).

Boldness
I love the prayer that the disciples prayed after being interrogated by religious leaders: "And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus."  After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God’s message with boldness." (Acts 4.29-31)

My prayer for you, and for us, is that we will be filled with God’s Spirit, and that God will give us courage and boldness to be his people in this world!