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May 30, 2004 (Pentecost)—“A Unity that Scatters Us—for the sake of the world”
Pastor David Barber
Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator, from Jesus our Savior, and from the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, and scatters us for the sake of the world. Amen.
In one of his writings, a seminary professor tells the story of a boyhood experience he had while he and his family were visiting with neighbors over coffee one afternoon.
As they were greeted at the door, the host met him and told him that before coffee, he wanted to show him the newest addition to the family.
As they went down the basement stairs, the professor mentioned that he suspected that there might be a litter of puppies, and he was right. Their dog Dutchess was protecting some puppies over in one of the dark corners of the basement.
As the master approached, Dutchess waged her stub tail in happiness, but as the little boy came closer, the dog gave a low rumbling growl, as if to say, "You may be alright, but you don't look that good to me. Keep your distance please. The best I have is right here, and I'll guard it with my life."
In reflecting about this experience, the professor said, "The growl was beautiful because it spoke of love and the readiness to fight for what was held dear. It said 'no' to anyone or anything, which might be a danger to the young. At this time in the puppies' life, the growl and the protection it offered definitely had its place.
But, of course, the day had to come when Dutchess had to lead her young out of the apparent safety of that dark corner, up the basement stairs into the dangerous world outside, for puppies can't fulfill themselves in a basement corner.
That day and the days ahead would be dangerous and filled with many risks. One puppy maybe run over by a truck...another might be mauled by a large dog...But if puppies were to become dogs, that's the risk that Dutchess had to take."
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and this morning I want to talk about the scattering process that needs to happen among us as God's people. I want to talk about getting out of the security of the dark basement corner, up the stairs, and out into the dangerous and risky world around us.
The appointed Gospel for the Sunday before Pentecost, which is the 7th Sunday of Easter, is always taken from the 17th chapter of St. John. In this chapter we see Jesus in fervent prayer for his disciples, for the church at large, and for you and for me. He prays for our unity in the midst of great diversity.
Well then we might ask, "What's God's problem with the folks at Babel?" All they wanted as well was oneness and unity. They didn't want to be scattered upon the face of the whole earth.
Who can blame them? Isn't there something good about a common language and a people working together to achieve unity? With all that's happening in our world, wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a common language between men and women, Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim and Christian, and the multitude of other groups that often find themselves engaged in misunderstanding and conflict?
The problem that we encounter at Babel, however, is that this is a false unity organized against the purposes and the will of God. This is a self-made unity that seeks to survive by its own resources apart from God.
"Come, let us build ourselves a city," said the urban planners and developers at Babel, "and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
What we have here, says Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, is a "fortress mentality." It's a "stay in the basement" type of mentality if you will. It's a unity grounded in fear and characterized by coercion.
Unfortunately, our nation has tried to engage in such a unity. "United We Stand" says the bumper sticker, and off to Iraq we went with very serious consequences for us as a nation. Just like Babel we, too, are experiencing a judgment of scattering because we've acted out of our own will... apart from the will and the purposes of God.
In God there is a unity and a scattering that is both faithful and good, but apart from God, unity, and the scattering that results is both destructive and unfaithful.
God wants for us and for our world a unity that permits and encourages scattering. The unity that God desires is that all of us will be in covenant relationship with God...and with our neighbor...responding to God's purposes, and relying on God's life giving power.
Held securely in this unity of God, we then scatter into the world... attentive to all that God has made...and working in God's image to enhance the whole creation. We're a scattered people inviting and persuading all nations and people into the grace and mercy of God, and to the healing and wholeness God desires.
In contrast to the folks at Babel, we have the devout Jews in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. They were overtaken and assaulted by the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in languages that everyone heard as their own.
The transforming presence of the Holy Spirit bound these folks together in a language of the heart. This enabled them not only to hear and understand one another, but also to experience and proclaim in their own language God's amazing acts of power.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells us: "As different as they were, they were all devout Jews, which means that they all believed in one God. Their unity didn't depend on their agreement with one another but on their covenant with the same God...who spoke to them all in different ways.
With all this power and electricity generated by the Holy Spirit, it sure would be nice to stay here in this fortress, enjoying our unity and being safe and secure from the world.
But what happened? There's a scattering. There's a fulfillment of that promise spoken by Jesus on his day of ascension.
"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. You shall proclaim and live God's reign of love, compassion, and forgiveness. You shall practice understanding and reconciliation wherever you have this opportunity. This is the unity and the scattering that God wishes for us on this Day of Pentecost.
Earlier this month Barbara Dickinson, Bryan Weis, and I attended the Synod Assembly in Riverside, CA. The theme was Marked with the cross of Christ forever, We are Claimed, Gathered, and Sent For the Sake of the World.
Now that's an inspiring theme with great words, isn't it? It brings me great comfort and security to know that I'm marked by the cross of Christ forever and that I'm claimed and gathered in a love that will never let me go.
When all else fails me or disappoints me, the loving and merciful arms of God will hold on to me forever. That's a claim and a belonging that no one will ever take away from me or from you.
The last few words, however, become troubling--Sent for the Sake of the World or scattered for the sake of the world. These are easy words to say but not easy words to live and to fulfill.
For instance, most of you are aware that this congregation submitted a resolution asking the assembly "to consider, study, and discuss adopting the principle of status confessionis as a tactic in bringing an end to hunger in the world."
I was disheartened and discouraged by some of the discussion. Given the theme of our assembly I begin to wonder if I was at the same assembly as some of these folks.
After hearing Bible studies on being sent to proclaim the Good News... after listening to stirring keynote addresses from Bishop Mark Hanson and other speakers encouraging and exhorting us to scatter for the sake of the world, it seemed like this resolution should be a "no-brainer" especially for the people of God.
After all, up to this point, the resolutions that we discussed were of little consequence. We passed a resolution encouraging congregations to join the Association of Lutheran Schools of Southern California and Hawaii. We made modifications to our constitution and by-laws, and of course, most important of all, we passed a resolution concerning salary guidelines for pastors and other church professionals.
Fortunately, the discussion that took place was not an indication of how the majority felt about our resolution because it easily passed with just a few modifications. Some voting members also thanked us for bringing this resolution to the assembly.
Now we have the hard work of implementing this resolution in this congregation for the sake of the hungry in Honolulu and throughout the world.
This is an enormous task but we can do it, and we can make a difference. For instance, when Mother Teresa told her superiors about a dream she had to minister to the sick and dying, they asked her, "How much money do you have?" She responded, "Two pennies."
"With two pennies you can't do anything," they told her. But she responded, "With two pennies, I can't do anything, but with God and two pennies, I can do anything."
Did you hear the tremendous promise in our Gospel when Jesus said, "The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these."
Wow! Greater works than Jesus? That's what Jesus says. But do you believe this promise and trust this promise as you scatter this morning for the sake of the world?
This Day of Pentecost affirms that God's purpose for our lives is greater than we can imagine.
We are partners with the Holy Spirit and we can do great things when we open ourselves to the creativity and imagination of God and move from the security of our dark basement corner, up the stairs, and out into the world around us.
Copyright © 2004 David Barber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org