Monday, April 29, 2013

The Spirit's Leading

One of the reasons why I was excited to preach about Acts is because the issues raised in Acts are so relevant for our time.
The Church in the time of Acts was in a constant state of change, and the church in our time is in a state of change.
The church in our time is in a state of crisis that is forcing us to question everything.
I noticed this even more this last week while I was on vacation in Sweden.
I attended two church services last week.
The church buildings where beautiful ornate buildings, lovely stain glass, huge organs.
One of the services was at the Church of Mary Magdalene a Lutheran Church in the old town part of Stockholm.
It was a beautiful service filled with some of the most wonderful singing I have ever heard.
Even though the entire worship service was in Swedish I still felt the spirit move me through those angelic voices.
The choir had paid singers in it.
The second was an English speaking worship service that was serviceable, but nothing spectacular.
What was obvious at both worship service was the lack of people.
I was told by a couple of different people that no one in Sweden goes to church.
The pastor at St. Jacob’s where I went to the English speaking service told me he came to Sweden because he wanted to be a missionary.
This is where the mission field is.

The book of Acts is about this mission field.
It is about spreading the good news, and following the Spirit down unknown paths.
Today’s Acts reading is no exception.
It is about the mission field of opening the Church to people previously not thought to be invited to the party.
It is also about the Church being open to the calling of the Holy Spirit.
It is about the church accepting people who had different cultural norms than they did.
Our Church today is faced with this same conundrum.
And the question that we are left with is are we open to the Spirits calling?

Now our task is not about race, ethnicity, or who eats what food.
I think that we have come along way in these matters.
But what we are faced with is a generation of people that sees the world different than we do.
It is a cultural thing.
Are we open to what the Spirit is saying to us about the next generation?
Millennials are people generally born between 1982 through 2004.
They are the people who are now ages 18-31.
They are also the people who are rejecting the institutionalized church that we all grew up in.
They are rejecting stained glass windows and pipe organs.
This generation is more technologically driven, has grown up in the era of the internet.
They tend to be more diverse, and have grown up in a more diverse America.
They tend to have more liberal views about social issues.
They tend to distrust all institutions from government to the church.
They grew up in a time of scandals and falling economic prosperity.

Now, we all could spend days and hours thinking about what is wrong with this generation.
We could wish that they were better, or they were more like us.
But the truth is that is not helping us or them.
It is not helping them to have a relationship with Jesus.
In fact, the more we fight them the more they reject us.
The more we insist on sticking to outdated doctrines and procedures the more we lose.
I am sure all of you know some of the people in this category.
They are your kids, your grand kids.
They are your neighbors, or your friends.
And there might even be a few of you in this congregation this morning.
But I bet if they are here they would tell you that the majority of their friends don’t go to Church that they are outside of norm.
What are we going to do?

One of the things I think we can all do is to do what the people in the early church did.
They followed the Spirit’s leading.
They were not afraid to change.
They were not afraid to be adaptable to new understandings of the way that God was working.
Some people have called this time in the history of the Church the time of the Holy Spirit.
This is the time to try new things, follow new paths, and be lead by the Holy Spirit.

Here is why I think this is so important.
Because how are the next generation going to navigate this world without some relationship with God?
We live in a complex and scary world.
And it isn’t getting any easier.
After what happened at the Boston Marathon we all were thrown off by those events.
We all tried to make sense out of it.
And here is the thing is that it doesn’t make any sense.
In some ways it doesn’t matter why those two young men tried to kill innocent people.
Their rational doesn’t matter, because there is no rational for that kind of senseless violence.
But all of us here have a deeper well to go to.
We can access our faith to help us get through terrible events.
We can access our faith to help us overcome fear and hatred.
We trust that God is the one saving the world.
We trust that it is through God that we have a repentance that leads to life.
And in that trust we can overcome even the most heinous acts of violence.
I don’t know what you did, but after I heard about the bombing I did the only thing I could think of.
I prayed.
I prayed for all the people who were killed, all those who were injured, all those who ran to help, all those who were traumatized by what they saw.
I even prayed for those who committed this horrible act and their families, because my faith is about following Jesus who taught us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.
After the bombing I had a deep well of resources to help me deal with all my feelings of anger and sadness.
This is what is at stake for us.
This is why our mission is so important because we desire others to have that same well of resources.
We want people to know that in the midst of the hurt there is a God who cares.

That is why Peter ultimately has to share this message with Cornelius’ house of Gentiles.
And it is what brings us out into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Because we might be from different generations that make us hear the Gospel message in different ways, but the same God is served.

What struck me most from our reading this morning was Peter’s question to the believers in Jerusalem.
“Who was I that I could hinder God?”
It is a question I ask myself a lot.
I am running into people all the time who have different ideas about what it means to believe in God.
And some of those ideas are not what I was taught in seminary.
 I have had to give up some of those ideas because the Holy Spirit has given me visions of something else.
God has whispered in my ear on more than one occasion that serving people is more important than following the rules.
It is not good enough to know the doctrines we must also be willing to follow, and to be taught.
That is tough sometimes, but it is the story of Acts.
It is the story of the early church, and the church in our world today.
Are we ready to follow the Spirit’s leading?

Today I pray for all of us that we may be ready to see visions of the ways that God is leading us to follow the Holy Spirit into unknown places that open up new avenues for sharing the good news.  Amen

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