June 8, 2014
Church of Peace, United Church of Christ
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
Vision Dedication: Introduction and Charge to the Church
This is the day of Pentecost when all the people were together in one place. We know what happens. The Holy Spirit pours in with the sound of a violent wind; tongues that look like fire rest upon each person. All heaven breaks loose. The people, all the people, begin speaking in different languages. Now there is no gavel, no Parliamentarian, not even a skilled fourth grade teacher who could bring order to this assembly. It is raw chaos —loud and messy!
And that’s not even the strangest part, because honestly, we can imagine such a ruckus. But then the strange thing happens. In the loud din of many languages, the people understand one another. It is the familiarity that catches them off guard. Amazed and astonished, they ask, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language?”
It would be like this. Imagine if we were having a regular Sunday morning service, when suddenly the sanctuary gets stormed by a punk band. You see them come down the aisle with their skinny jeans, and leather and piercings, like they own the place. Everybody feels that awkward tension because we don’t know what they’re going to do, and they’re going to do something. Maybe they should leave, or maybe they should sit down and be quiet, and let us get back to it. But like it or not, they plug in and begin their set.
At first, we’re taken by the shock of their appearance and the intensity of their music. Then it hits you. Um, I know this song. They’re playing Jesus Loves Me. A punk version of Jesus Loves Me! You feel the drumming on the back of your teeth. What do we do about this? Because the next thing they begin playing is the lullaby your grandpa sang to you when you were five. How do they even know that song? How is it that everybody knows this? Here this band comes and crashes our service all rude and disruptive. They get everybody singing the songs we have somehow always known. What does this mean?
The Holy Spirit bursts into this meeting of the faithful. And it would be something if the Spirit came to one person —like Peter, and that person stood up and began to speak. See it is everybody. And they’re not even drunk, like you’d think. Even the teenagers shall prophesy, and the women, and the very old, and those who are enslaved. What a world there would be if we learned to listen to those who are enslaved. The people see visions and dream dreams, then they come to voice. They never quit testifying to God’s deeds of power! They never quit asking, “What does this mean?”
Today we are gathered all together in one place. We have come to bless and dedicate the vision called to life by many voices in our congregation. The visioning leadership team began meeting last fall. We held small group conversations here at the church, at Friendship Manor, at Hauberg Center, at Theo’s downtown; the deacons carried these questions to members who are homebound. In the spring, sixty of us gathered downstairs to plant our seeds for a garden of goals. Out of fourteen proposals, we voted on our top seven priorities. Then just a few weeks ago, eighteen people took these ideas and crafted our statement of identity and purpose. A whole church full of people see visions and dream dreams, and here in this promise, we come to voice.
Here this vision crashes into our worship service. There might be chaos loud and messy! But if you take a close look, you’ll see there is something in this vision you already know. It is the familiarity that catches us off guard. Already this work is in progress. The seeds are planted. There is something in this vision that sings the lullaby we learned when we were five. And that’s not all. There is something in this vision we don’t fully understand. If your question is, “What does this mean?” Thank you. May we never quit the prayers that ask the LORD, What does this mean?
This is the day we remember what happens when the Holy Spirit charges into the assembly with wind and fire, chaos and power, and breath. Believe it or not, the people understand the languages being spoken. The people ask, “What does this mean?” And Peter begins to preach of the last days when the Spirit pours out. The people announce the promise they just begin to see.
In this, we hear an exquisite and precarious holding together. On the one hand, there is that which we have always known, the language our mama spoke to her belly when we were still in her womb. On the other hand, there is possibility we have not yet begun to imagine. We simply don’t know all the places this will lead.
Writer Anne Lamott is famous for saying this: “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.” If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. Now if you ask me, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to make God laugh from time to time.
But of course, making plans is a dangerous thing to do in front of the LORD. I didn’t end up going to the college I planned on in high school. I didn’t marry the man I loved in college. I didn’t follow the career path I dreamed of as twenty-year old. Our best plans fall apart. Our circumstances change, and our dreams do too. This is one of the reasons why I’m not an actress on Broadway who gives horseback riding lessons and lives on Prince Edward Island. Our dreams change, and our vision for Church of Peace will too.
Today we do not have to worry that this plan will fall apart, because this is not a strategic plan for a non-profit organization.
This is not a series of measurable objectives we need to achieve with benchmarks and metrics.
This is not the same old stuff we always do. So maybe we can finally get it done this time.
This is not a to do list. Not a test. Not a pretty decoration to hang in the narthex.
Sisters and brothers, please don’t settle for this.
The danger this morning is not that we won’t get this done. The risk is that we are partnering with the Holy Spirit. And let me tell you, she can be crazy.
Remember, this is the same Holy Spirit who interrupts the gathered assembly to make everyone start talking in languages they understand; the same Spirit who recruits a fourteen year old girl to be the mother of our Savior (Luke 1:35), which is quite an approach to take when it comes to attracting and sustaining young people. This is the same Holy Spirt who comes upon us, who anoints us to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4:18); the same Spirit who comes into the rattling dry bones and makes the people come to life (Ezekiel 37:10). Friends, we just co-signed with the Spirit of reckless compassion.
Now the truth is, we don’t know the whole story of the promise stated and signed. What we have is our point of departure. Where this will lead, God knows. No wonder God looks at our plans with love and then laughs. His vision is greater than ours. And this is the day, this is the place where we begin.
Alongside this risk of unimagined possibility, there’s another risk we take in partnering with the Holy Spirit. But it’s not this. It is not the case that if we fail at realizing this, we will die. That is not our threat. But if we bless and claim this vision, the risk we’re taking is that we might live. As a church, we might feel the breath move through our body, and we might come to life. You’ll say, I didn’t know this is what it is to be so alive. New life pours in, and we don’t have time for dying right now. We have so much to live for and so much to do.
This is what gives me hope. You give me hope. Here we gather on the first day of a new chapter for Church of Peace. Here at 12th and 12th, the winds of change, the Spirit so crazy and reckless finds us, breathes new life into our church. And all the people come to voice with our “What does this mean?” and our brave Hallelujahs!
Now let us hear these words of hope from our Visioning Leaders…