given on Sunday, May 31, 2009
This week the phrase “I believe…” just kept surfacing in my mind over and over. I thought and thought; just what did I believe. I tried to think of a song that said “I believe…” but nothing connected. I read the lectionary and I was reminded that this is Pentecost Sunday—where is the red — but everything in those recommended scriptures did not have a phrase “I believe” in them.
I decided the phrase had to be in a song, so I googled the words, “I believe.” What did I find? First, I found a rap song and the chorus was not too bad, but the verses were not what I needed at all. So I tried again. This time I found an old gospel hymn, but when I listened to the song, it was not familiar and it did not seem to come together with my thoughts. My third attempt to find the lyrics with “I believe” in them revealed the hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.” And you are right, there is no “I believe” anywhere in the lyrics, but the music was what I kept trying to sing, with “I believe.”
As you can guess, I became frustrated. Surely the phrase had to be something I was to use this week, but how. Over the past year I have shared much about what I believe, and we have sung many hymns that share my beliefs with you. Being a part of a Christian family, we often presume that we do not have to say what we believe. We live what we believe. Finally, I was reminded how we grew up reciting the Apostle’s Creed (please join me):
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
from thence he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
There is the phrase: I believe…
1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…
3. I believe in the Holy Spirit…
Three very distinct statements which we have repeated over and over in so many different services, in so many different settings, in so many different languages.
Today, Pentecost Sunday, I think the focus on the Holy Spirit brings everything together. Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel and is written by Luke. In the study notes from the Life Application Bible, the book is a historically accurate record as well as a theological book. “…with lessons and living examples of the work of the Holy Spirit, church relationships and organization, the implications of grace, and the law of love.” (p. 1940) In fact, the study notes are filled with statements about the Holy Spirit:
• “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, this courageous band (of disciples) preached, taught, healed, and demonstrated love in synagogues, schools, homes, marketplaces, and courtrooms, and on streets, hills, ships, and desert roads—wherever God sent them…(p.1940)
• “This Spirit-inspired evangelism began in Jerusalem and eventually spread to Rome…(p. 1940)
• “As you read Acts, put yourself in the place of the disciples—feel with them as they are filled with the Holy Spirit…watch the Spirit-led boldness of these first-century believers…(p. 1940)
• “The disciples were empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. He was the promised Counselor and Guide sent when Jesus went to heaven. (p.1941)
• “The Holy Spirit’s work demonstrated that Christianity was supernatural. Thus the church became more Holy Spirit-conscious than problem-conscious. By faith, any believer can claim the Holy Spirit’s power to do Christ’s work…(p. 1941)”
The notes simply begin with these statements, but they continue with the analysis of each and every verse. The notes from Acts 2 go on to explain how the Holy Spirit came 50 days after the resurrection, just 10 days after the ascension, during one of the Jewish festivals, Pentecost known as the Feast of Weeks, which was to give thanksgiving for the harvested crops.
We have heard the story of how the disciples were gathered for the feast when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they found themselves speaking in tongues, each understanding on another in languages they previously did not know. The story is one that often leaves us confused, or should I say confounded, because most of us have never experienced speaking in tongues. Some of us may be skeptical of those who announce that they do speak in tongues. Many of us have never been in any setting in which we witnessed someone speaking in tongue, so that also does not help our understanding.
I believe that we must look at the story understanding that the Holy Spirit is an entity that gives us the gifts to serve others in the name of God. The disciples had Jesus to teach them evangelism (yes, I used the word), and we do not have that opportunity. Instead, we have to step out on our own. How in the world do we do it? We do it by first knowing what we believe. We do believe in God, the Father Almighty. We do believe in Jesus Christ, his one and only son. And, we believe in the Holy Spirit.
The next step comes from the quote in the study notes: “preached, taught, healed, and demonstrated love…” I believe that with our faith in God, our acceptance of Jesus dying for us, and with the empowerment, again borrowed from the study notes, of the Holy Spirit, we can preach, teach, heal and demonstrate love at any time, in any place, for any one. We do not have to be specifically trained by Jesus or one of his disciples, we simply must believe. Once we believe, we accept the Holy Spirit into our lives. We then live out our faith following the Golden Rule, loving one another.
The word that strikes fear into all church members should not cause one to tremble, to cringe, or to panic. Evangelism is living out one’s faith by loving one another. Share the love, as we have heard in the movies. Share the love so that others may find God in their lives. Each time we act out our faith on the job, we are models for others. Evangelism may be a scary word, but it is something we do as Christians as naturally as we do breathing, eating and sleeping. We believe and we want to witness that to others. We want others to share this wonderful gift God has given us.
As we begin our second year together, the goal is to find ways to share our faith with others. We have a clear understanding of our beliefs, we have a clear picture of how church is each Sunday, but we need to look beyond the church’s walls. What do we need to do to demonstrate love to others?
Here at Norris, we reach out in prayer. The prayers are active as needs arrive, and we keep prayers alive until they are answered. We listen for needs and then we find ways to provide for the needs. We make decisions that are based in compassion, in empathy, in love, and end in action.
Here at Chilhowee the emphasis continues to be serving the community. Two events are well established which the community counts on—the fair and the turkey dinner. These two events bring neighbors, families, and even former neighbors back to sit in the church and renew their connections. The church hosts the Senior Thursdays. Members are active in the community serving on the cemetery board, helping with various fair events, and the list continues.
Why is it necessary to look for new ways to serve? The needs are still there. Right now, with the economy causing strains on everybody’s budget, we think of how to provide for those with less than we have. The effort to fill the food pantry shelves is one example. Recycling is another effort to serve.
The idea to offer our space and to organize a community trunk sale is a new effort. Many are trying to manage their finances by going to garage sales to locate clothes, dishware, toys, and so much more. Others are trying to find ways to supplement their incomes by holding yard sales. The trunk sale may provide one more way to make these needs work.
On June 28, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, the church parking lot in Chilhowee will turn into a trunk sale. The idea is to fill up the trunks of your cars with items you need to sell, pull into a parking space, open up the trunks and display the items. We can offer the use of tables for a small fee or a donation for the food pantry. At high noon, the trunks are closed and the parking lot returns to quiet. If anyone wants to donate the remaining items, they can be redirected to the Salvation Army, the Samaritan House, or whatever agency is appropriate.
This may not seem like the typical evangelism effort, but meeting the needs of our community is one way to demonstrate God’s love. The trunk sale can meet the needs in two ways, but the third way can add to the outreach. This is faith in action and I believe it is just as important as trying to get people to attend church on a Sunday morning.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, I believe in Jesus Christ his one and only son, and I believe in the Holy Spirit who moves our faith into action. I believe that each one of us does know how to evangelize. I believe that each one of us have unique ways of loving others. I believe the church grows through service.
I challenge you to identify what you believe and see how it makes a difference in your life. I challenge each one of you to find new ways to serve. I challenge each one of you to preach, to teach, to heal, or to demonstrate God’s love each day.
As I pack up and head to Springfield this week, I will be listening to what the Missouri conference is doing in service to others. I am sure there will be many things that seem rather trivial in comparison to demonstrating our beliefs, but the church is a huge unit and it takes a structure to keep it working. I wonder if John Wesley would believe that his methods of serving have grown to this extent. I believe that the church still has God at the center and that Wesley’s focus on service is the Holy Spirit in action.
I believe, we here in our small rural communities, are capable of being just as focused on service as the entire United Methodist organization. We can share our faith in ways that others see God and know his love. This, I believe, is evangelism.
Dear Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
We depend on you to guide us, to protect us, and to grant us eternal life; but today we celebrate the fact that the Holy Spirit is our means of taking our faith into action. Thank you for equipping us to preach, to teach, to heal, and to demonstrate God’s love in so many different ways. Help us to identify the needs of our community and to find ways to serve. Let us serve to show how we believe and how we can share our faith with others.