SERMON OF WEEK: God breaks down barriers and regroups us
Because opportunities to attend services may be limited for several weeks, the newspaper has invited local clergy to submit sermons for publication here.
This is part two of a two-part sermon begun last week.
Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church
Church isn’t a building. It’s an assembly of people.
Who are we as a church? Who are we in this strange time, and who do we want to be when we come back together more substantially?
We often say Pentecost was the birth of the church. At the end of the account, 3,000 pilgrims were added to the small number of disciples.
What if this Pentecost was a time for the Spirit to regroup us, as we expect new birth in whatever lies on the other side of a pandemic.
I don’t want to forget the most memorable part of Pentecost — how semi-literate Galilean fisherman suddenly are able to eloquently speak all the languages spoken by the out-of-towners on that day.
This original “speaking in tongues” was about each person present being able to hear God glorified in their native language.
It was not only God speaking their language, but the Spirit breaking down linguistic barriers. Acts 2 specifically names the presence of people from “every nation under heaven.” They were all Jews or Gentile converts to Judaism. But we are seeing a trajectory in which the Gospel of Jesus will cross all borders. As Paul says in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Language is enough of a barrier. You know this if you’ve ever been at a worship service or event in another language.
The Gospel does more than just cross language or national boundaries. It also crosses class, cultural, and racial boundaries.
Many of these boundaries are looming larger in the middle of a pandemic exposing our national inequalities and institutionalized racism.
Some of these boundaries are harder than just language. I came across a speech of a pastor named Duke Kwon. He was discussing the cross-cultural Great Commission of Jesus and named the redlining boundaries of American cities. Redlining is a practice where communities of color are denied financial services or given higher prices — something that translated over decades into lower home ownership and far lower household wealth than for whites.
We are seeing how we are divided between people who have the luxury of staying home without losing income versus those whose work requires exposing themselves to the virus, while not working thrusts them into poverty.
We are seeing racial divides and tensions become alarming — though there’s really a 400-year history — because statistically people of color are much more likely to get the virus and die from it since they are more often part of the “exposed” group.
We’ve been hearing in the news the outrage at the disproportionate police killings of black and brown people, most recently with the George Floyd case. There are mass peaceful demonstrations as well as violence from various actors that the media emphasizes. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, it feels like our country is falling apart.
What does this have to do with the church, especially when we feel so removed?
We are part of a larger body of Christ that is both bleeding and a source of seeds of healing.
We might think we are all the same here. We speak one language. Yet our cultural and political polarization is putting us in different camps even within families, tight-knit communities, and congregations.
We might all speak English, but when we speak past each other, we may as well be speaking different languages. It is easier to preach to the choir in your own “tribe” than have hard conversation with someone who might otherwise be close to you, but views the world, faith, or the Bible differently than you do.
There are boundary lines far away and boundary lines that close to home.
The crossing of boundaries made possible by the life of Christ leads to righting of wrongs and healing. Furthermore, it leads to discovering a common language in Christ.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to fully grasp the truth that the Spirit leads us into, unless the different “tribes” come together.
We need the voices of different nationalities, different cultures, different racial/ethnic groups, and different walks of life to come together to the one place.
It doesn’t mean everyone is right, and it is unlikely any one person has a corner on truth. It’s also unlikely we easily change each other’s minds or habits. That only comes through the influence of longer-term relationships of trust.
How do we come together to hear the Spirit speak a language each of us can understand? How do we discover a common language in Christ?
Church needs to be more than a business catering to each one’s private spirituality. It needs to be a home connecting us to each other, connecting to all aspects of life, as the Spirit continually converts us into a new people.
Back before the coronavirus hit, at a leadership retreat, I heard some people talk about how important it is to build relationships around shared commonalities in order to build the necessary level of trust to invite accountability from each other and talk about our differences.
Those will be some of our goals going forward — creating more trust with one another and speaking both courageously and humbly. We need the courage to challenge those who are “like us,” and the humility to be challenged by those who are “not like me.”
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled the message of the love of God in Christ to go out into each of the languages that people present there spoke. The promise of Pentecost is that the Spirit will enable the message to go out in each language we speak to call us to new life.
The Spirit will keep speaking until we come to learn a new language. We are first fruits of this harvest.
Last modified July 8, 2020