Sunday, January 24, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Acts 10:4b-8, 44-48 (We will be exploring the story of Cornelius and Peter for 4 Sundays. Feel free to read Acts 10:1-11:18 for the whole story)
Let us pray: Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness of our lives, calling and free. Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir us from placidness; Wind, Flame, Breath…Love. Amen.
“Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” This is perhaps the most famous line by the most famous character of the quirky television show from my childhood, “Lost in Space,” which was actually adapted from the novel, “The Swiss Family Robinson.” The big screen tried a movie adaptation in 1998, and now Netflix has created a really wonderful series, with two seasons under its belt. This new adaptation of the Robinson family adventures turns that quirky, bulky robot from the past into a touching and dynamic character, who yet still speaks that famous line over and over again, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” The overall premise of the show remains the same, regardless of the adaptation. The Robinson family, as they travel through space to a new frontier for human survival, become lost in space. They find themselves swept away by adventure, going wherever the circumstances take them. They become ‘untethered’ from the status quo. Along the way, the robot, who seeks to protect the youngest Robinson, frequently warns of impending danger and then walks boldly with the family into whatever life throws at them. Though the family longs to get ‘back on course,’ life has other plans, and their days are one adventure after another after another. “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!”
Believe it or not, “Lost in Space” is a great metaphor for what life entails for the community called Church when it truly commits to being ‘led by the Spirit.’ St. Paul’s UMC adopted many years ago a powerful vision statement, which you hear me quote at the beginning of every worship service. “St. Paul’s is a compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit.” From this statement, leadership of St. Paul’s composed the four values we are exploring in our worship series. Last week we explored our call to be a compassionate community—indeed to be God’s dream, God’s Beloved Community. Today, we come face to face with the second portion of that vision of church—to be ‘led and transformed by the Spirit.’ Wonderful! Awesome! But also, “Danger, St. Paulians, Danger!” We have envisioned a life ‘Lost in the Spirit!”
Our reading from the Book of Acts gives us a glimpse of exactly who it is that we have committed to be led and transformed by, a glimpse of the wild and wondrous Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and life that is so many times depicted as a Great Wind (Ruah—wind, breath, Spirit in Hebrew; Pneuma—breath, wind, Spirit in Greek) always blowing wherever and whenever and to whomever she will. The brief reading today that Dick just shared with us declares some very important aspects of the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit doesn’t wait for us. She is constantly at work whether we are ready or not. She falls upon those listening to Peter even as he is still preaching—how rude.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t follow our expectations or our rules. She not only has led Peter and his companions into a Gentile household, to gather with non-Jews at a non-kosher table, she now pours out all of her gifts upon this member of the Roman occupation and his family, including these whom Peter and his friends would rather not.
The Holy Spirit opens us, often despite ourselves, to fully welcome the ‘other.’ In Acts, chapter 2, Peter and all those gathered for prayer suddenly find themselves swept away, lost in the Spirit, and begin to speak in other languages, the languages of the foreigners visiting Jerusalem. Whether they wanted to or not, all the followers of Jesus that Pentecost day welcome 3000 people from across the known world, who were gathered in the city to celebrate holy festivals. And THIS begins to create a Beloved Community which will continue to expand outward including more and more and more people. Here in Acts 10, the Spirit opens Peter once again, and also opens Cornelius, to a whole new world of people. She is not done expanding the true meaning of welcome, and here moves decisively to define Church as including all the world.
The Holy Spirit interrupts. She insists on going before us. She disrupts the status quo, the normal, the settled. The Holy Spirit loves the wildly diverse and the widely inclusive. She is behind everything, always moving, universal, limitless. She is the journey for those who commit to be Followers of the Way. She is the Breath that fills us, the Flame that motivates us, the Wind that takes us wherever she wills if we are truly committed to being led and transformed, if we are willing to risk the dangers and be lost in the Spirit.
“St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is a compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit.” In order to lose ourselves in this transforming Spirit, we dedicate ourselves in what our founder, John Wesley, called the ‘means of grace.’ Wesley believed that the rules of following Jesus’ ways came down to three simple things: do no harm, do good, and attend to the means of grace—or as we say in more contemporary language, stay in love with God. These means of grace, these ways of staying in love with God, are the activities we do together and as individuals that help us have a deep rich relationship with God, with one another, and with all the world. We are engaging in one such activity right now—worship. These means of grace are such things as bible and book study, prayer, communion, meditation, small group gatherings, fellowship, caring for others, standing up for justice, and, yes, worship—to name a few. Through these avenues of grace, we connect with God and with one another for mutual support, for nurture, guidance and transformation. In these ways of staying in love, we evaluate who and whose we are, we dream of our future in God’s Beloved Community, and we actively create opportunities and spaces for more and more of God’s beloved children to find a place in the journey and in the fellowship of believers.
In these days of Covid-19, of the pandemic of racism, of political turmoil and upheaval even after the inauguration, the blessed, comforting, disrupting Spirit has been our tether to one another, even as we are untethered from the normal, the settled, the status quo. The Spirit has reached among us across the digital lines to connect us across the distance. Many of us have expressed our yearning to ‘get back to normal,’ to return to ‘the way things were.’ O, danger, St. Paulians, danger! That is not how the Spirit works. She doesn’t go back, only forward—from one adventure to another to another. As we move deeper into 2021, as more and more people are vaccinated and we begin to look toward a less isolated way of living, the question before us is not how soon we can ‘get back to normal.’ The question is; “What is God, through the Spirit, doing now? Where is God, in the Spirit, going now?”
We witnessed new beginnings on Wednesday as a new administration, and our first woman vice president, and woman of color, was inaugurated. We are witnessing the confirmation of a wildly diverse cabinet. It is a sign. It is time for us to truly engage with the means of grace and embrace life untethered yet united in the Spirit, and evaluate…dream…and create new opportunities and spaces for divine revelation and relationship. Many of these new ways will be deeply grounded in the old, the ancient. But we do not go backward. We are a compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit. We are Lost in the Spirit, surrendered to her leading, grounded and yet swept away. We are connected as one great family of faith, and led into one adventure after another after another.
Let us open our bulletins to the second of our core values as Followers of the Way. Let us read it aloud together and hold it before us all week. Let us unite our voices:
Connecting With and Through the Spirit: Though we are all in unique places on our lifelong spiritual journey, St. Paul’s seeks to connect us for mutual support, fellowship, guidance and transformation. St. Paul’s offers connection with the sacred through authentic worship, study, practice, nurture, and prayerful engagement with one another and the wider world. With the Spirit’s direction, we continually evaluate, dream, and create opportunities and spaces for divine revelation and relationship.