69 minutes | May 27, 2021

Five Stories

Story One The people of God worried about the future before them. Their leader, Moses, had left on a hiking expedition some time ago, and they had caught glimpses of him as he climbed to the top of the mountain. But now the mountain was filled with smoke and fire and trembled with the power of God, and they wondered if Moses would ever return. In fact, some had given up hope. Many had begun to grumble. They melted their gold down to create a symbol of earthly virility and strength, because they thought they would all be better off if they returned to the old ways. Back to the bondage of requirements and coercion and certainty. Back to the security of slavery to the ways of the world. Little did the people of God know what awaited them! For before long, Moses would descend the mountain, holding the Torah. The law. The sign of the covenant of God with God’s people. Torah would not be simply a how-to guide, a to-do list, a prescription of “supposed to’s.” But it would be a description of a life that God wanted for them, a celebration of community and relationship and calling and covenant and justice and purpose, a gift of the knowledge of what life would look like when God’s people lived in right relationship: about how they would treat each other, about how they would honor God holy and above all, about how their bodies mattered to God, about the things that flow out of a Spirit-led life. As the mountain rumbled and God spoke, little did God’s people know what was in store from the Spirit of God! Story Two The people of God worried about the future before them. Their leader, the Risen Jesus, had left to return to God’s glory some time ago, and they had caught glimpses of him as he ascended into the heavens. But now they were unsure what to do next, how to behave, how to live the life that he had shown them. They hid together in an upper room, peeking outside to see the throngs gathered for the Pentecost festival. From all corners of the globe, pilgrims gathered, while the followers of Jesus huddled together. In fact, some had given up hope. They were most worried about the structure of the institution…Jesus had chosen 12, so they needed a 12th apostle to replace Judas. They chose Matthias by lot, in an attempt to return to the old ways. 12 Tribes. 12 Apostles. Structure complete. They thought they would all be better off if they simply returned to the old ways. Back to the bondage of requirements and coercion and certainty. Back to the security of slavery to the ways of the world. Little did the people of God know what awaited them! For before long, The Spirit of God would descend on each of them, empowering them to Gospel ministry. Women and men. Powerful and powerless. Outgoing and reserved. It didn’t matter. At once, they were ALL empowered to tell of the Good News of Jesus to all who gathered for the festival. It was the sign of the covenant of God with God’s people. The covenant that the throngs in the streets had come to witness to. The sign that they yearned to experience. Every one of them in the streets would hear that good news, in their own language. In their own tongue. Not a how-to guide, a to-do list, a prescription of “supposed to’s.” But it would be a description of a life that God wanted for them, a celebration of community and relationship and calling and covenant and justice and purpose, a gift of the knowledge of what life would look like when God’s people lived in right relationship: about how they would treat each other, about how they would honor God holy and above all, about how they mattered to God, about the things that flow out of a Spirit-led life. As the room rumbled and God spoke, little did God’s people know what was in store from the Spirit of God! Story Three The people of God worried about the future before them. Their leader, Paul, had moved on, left the congregations in the Roman providence of Galatia, in order to begin more churches, support other congregations elsewhere. Here in the highlands of Galatia, these Gentiles had heard the words of Paul and responded. They fell in love with the stories of Jesus that he shared. They entered into community of service and care and worship. But now, Paul had been gone for some time, and they wondered if he would ever return. In fact, some had given up hope. Many had begun to grumble. There were “certain individuals” who had come from the home office in Jerusalem and they warned these Galatian Gentiles that there was more to the community of God than they had been led to believe. Some in the congregations had become enamored with the requirements that these certain individuals spoke of. They thought they would all be better off if they returned to their old ways. Back to the bondage of requirements and coercion and certainty. Back to the security of slavery to the ways of the world. Little did the people of God know what awaited them! For before long, a courier would arrive, breathless, with a letter from Paul. Congregations would be gathered. The letter would be read. Faces would turn red as they heard the anger of Paul’s words. But tears of gratitude would also be shed, as they heard Paul’s description of the power of the Spirit. Of the fruit that comes when the community sets their eyes on this holy and Spirit-filled life. Not “fruits” with an “s.” Not a plural list of to-do’s, a how-to-guide, a prescription of “supposed to’s.” But “fruit of the spirit.” In the collective. A cornucopia. A bountiful banquet that is the sign of the covenant of God with God’s people. A description of a life that God wanted for them, a celebration of community and relationship and calling and covenant and justice and purpose, a gift of the knowledge of what life would look like when God’s people lived in right relationship: about how they would treat each other, about how they would honor God holy and above all, about how their bodies mattered to God, about the things that flow out of a Spirit-led life. As the letter rumbled and God spoke through the words of Paul, little did God’s people know what was in store from the Spirit of God! Story Four The people of God worried about the future before them. Their congregation had been through so many leadership changes in the last few years, and so much had changed in their church and their little university community in the hills of northeast Kansas. The world was changing around them, and they wondered what these changes would mean for their church and their faith. In fact, some had given up hope. Many had begun to grumble. They remembered the church of years before, decades earlier. If it had worked then, why wouldn’t it work again? They thought they would all be better off if they returned to the old ways. Back to the bondage of requirements and coercion and certainty. Back to the security of slavery to the ways of the world. Little did the people of God know what awaited them! For before long, a small band of leaders would climb aboard a plane and fly to the tiny island nation of Haiti. There, they would find themselves, and eventually their church, changed by the very power of the Spirit of God. In Haiti, they would meet missionaries of incredible faith and trust in God’s power. They would see Kingdom work as they dug holes for the foundation of a school, and fell in love with a people and a purpose. And on Pentecost Sunday, sweating in the open-air sanctuary at the end of a dusty Haitian road, they would see the power of God. As a clueless and ineffectual preacher stood in front of that Haitian congregation, they watched his translator, a young woman mentored and chosen for her gifts, turn his words into Gospel power. As the Church celebrated its birth at Pentecost, this team of Kansans watched the birth of a preacher, a pastor with a vision and a dream to change the world for God. And through the next decade, the partnership with these missionaries, with this country, with this preacher, has changed this congregation forever. Not with a tired how-to guide, a to-do list, a prescription of “supposed to’s.” But instead, their partnership with these Haitian missionaries, the school they built together, and new understandings of what it means to join God at work in the world would be a catalyst. It would be a description of a life that God wanted for them, a celebration of community and relationship and calling and covenant and justice and purpose, a gift of the knowledge of what life would look like when God’s people lived in right relationship: about how they would treat each other, about how they would honor God holy and above all, about how all bodies—including black and brown bodies—matter to God, about the things that flow out of a Spirit-led life. As the Haitian preacher rumbled with power, and God spoke through her, little did God’s people know what was in store from the Spirit of God! Story Five The people of God worry about the future before them. Their way of being church, of practicing their faith, has been disrupted and forever altered by a global pandemic and desperate attempts to keep people healthy in its wake. Now, with some predicting that one in every three churches in the United States will close, and the other two in three churches visibly shaken, some wonder if “normal” will ever return. In fact, some have given up hope. Many have begun to grumble. They think they would all be better off if they return to the old ways. Back to the bondage of requirements and coercion and certainty. Back to the security of slavery to the ways of the world. But in the midst of the fear, there are those who are excited about the future church that awaits them! They gather together on Zoom meetings, in Sunday school classes, at youth group, and on Sunday evenings. They sit together for hours as a leadership team…praying, dreaming, listening to comments and questions and hopes and dreams of a congregation, asking what it means to be reshaped. Their work is not simply to create another how-to guide, a to-do list, a prescription of “supposed to’s.” But they are busy seeking God’s call on the “future church,” asking what kind of life God wants for them, celebrating community and relationship and calling and covenant and justice and purpose, eyes open to the a gift of the knowledge of what life looks like when God’s people live in right relationship: about how they will treat each other, about how they will honor God holy and above all, about how their bodies—and the bodies of all of God’s children—matter to God, about the things that flow out of a Spirit-led life. They are busy “ReShaping Church,”…or really paying attention to the ways that God is ReShaping it! As the world around them changes and rumbles and God speaks through it all, may we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday that we cannot even imagine a fraction of the power that is in store from the Spirit of God! May it be so! And may we have eyes to see!
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