Scripture Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
Sermon: Have You Heard the Good News?
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells and congregation
Maybe you were among the hoards that thronged MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for the airshow recently. The newspaper says upwards of 150,000 people attended, or tried to attend, the air show. That’s the equivalent of over half the population of St. Petersburg. Can you imagine that many people all together in one place for one event? Pretty crazy! Yes, there were traffic issues, but otherwise, things seemed to go pretty smoothly.
And why did people go to the airshow? Probably many reasons. I did not personally attend so here I am definitely speculating. I imagine there are folks that celebrate the technology and speed. And folks that glorify the military. And folks that like to see what their tax dollar, actually tax dollars, many, many of them, are doing. There may be people who went to be with their friends that wanted to go. And people who had nothing else to do so went to avoid boredom. Some people just like a parade, so to speak. Along with many reasons for showing up in the MacDill vicinity last weekend, I am sure there were many kinds of people who attended the event. A wide range of people. A diverse population.
In the story of Pentecost, we are told of a festival, a large public event, a harvest festival. And people have come from many places and backgrounds and circumstances to give thanks for the harvest. Well, everyone needs food. . . Among those at this festival are friends and followers of Jesus. They are still confused and scared after the crucifixion. They don’t have a sense of cohesion, direction, or purpose. But they go along with the crowd and participate in the festival. In the course of things, they find themselves filled with boldness and courage, and speaking about Jesus. And we are given this story of the followers of Jesus, mostly Galileans, speaking to the eclectic, multicultural crowd, in various languages so that all could hear and understand the good news of the teachings of Jesus. Everyone heard a message of Divine hopes and dreams for humanity. It was uplifting, transforming, exciting, surprising, inexplicable. But there was good news for all who had ears to hear.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is intended to be good news for all people. Even people of other religions. The values and affirmation and respect and hope of the Jesus way are meant to be good news even to people on other spiritual paths. People who are living the Jesus way are intended to be a force for good in the world for all people whatever their background or religious sensibilities or lack there of.
The church, the on going community of Jesus, the body of Christ, is charged with continuing, in every age, in every circumstance, in every setting and situation, to share that good news, that word of hope and life and meaning and joy. This good news is not just something for people in the church. This is something the church has to give to the world; to feed and nourish the life of Creation. So the Jesus people were given words of hope and love to speak to that wildly diverse crowd gathered at the Pentecost harvest festival. Each hearing in a way they could understand.
I am thinking about that crowd at MacDill, or at the Fourth of July fireworks, or at the Pride Festival, or the Santa Parade, or Gasparilla, a setting where there is a multitude of diverse peoples. Many languages spoken. Different kinds of food being eaten. This is a land that has historically welcomed people from every background and circumstance. This was a land of second chances. So here there are many occasions for the gathering of diverse peoples. What kinds of people are there? What are their needs and concerns? As we think about this, we must ask, what good news does the church have for all of these people? What words of joy and hope and goodness does the church have to offer? What message of comfort and encouragement are we being given to share with others? The church teaches that baptism is recognition of the presence of the Divine spirit of God in the life of the one baptized. So everyone who has been baptized is being given good news to share with the world.
So what good news do we have for the diverse crowd around us – either literally, at
a festival, or around us in our daily lives, on social media, in our communities and
the wider world? What good news do we have to share?
We can imagine people in a crowd, like the Pentecost crowd or MacDill, who are lost and afraid. We can imagine people in the crowd around us who are made poor, facing job insecurity and economic fear. Surely there are people with physical infirmities which diminish their abilities and the stress and grief that come with that. People facing a cancer diagnosis. We can imagine people who because of how they were born face discrimination and disrespect each and every day and the anger and defeat that comes with such treatment. People who have little hope for future prospects because of how they were born. We can think about people who ache inside over what humans are doing to the planet.
What good news to we have for immigrants – legal, illegal, dreamers. refugees, for surely there are immigrants in a crowd. Surely there are people in the crowd from problem schools, teacher and students, who are struggling with a broken education system. What’s the good news for students who are forced to learn in a way that can be reflected on a test but are not encouraged to think or take delight in knowledge? Or celebrate curiosity? And there are young people worrying about succeeding in school, getting into college, and paying for college. In a crowd, surely there are homeless people, people who can’t find a way to live in a safe and secure manner. What good news do we have for rich people who have all this money but still feel hollow inside and are drifting and not satisfied – lost?
Sadly, in a crowd there are people who have had loved ones killed, murdered, shot. People who are grieving the natural loss of a loved one. People who feel alienated from society, from the world around them. People who can’t read and write. People disgusted by the dysfunction in the government, all three branches on the federal level, as well as problems at the state and local levels. Kids worrying about their family, safety, the future. Teens worried about the pressures of sex and drugs and lack of meaning in life. People trying to afford healthcare and worrying about paying for needed medications.
In a crowd, there may be people who are worried about going back – to somewhere that is not safe and where there is no way to make a living. People whose lives have been taken over, wracked by addiction and its ravages. People facing an unplanned, perhaps unwanted, pregnancy. People coming to terms with their sexual identity in an environment that can be hostile to difference. People who have lost a sense of meaning, purpose, or wonder.
If we think about the crowd at MacDill, we can imagine people worried about loved ones serving in endless wars; life at risk on a daily basis, and for what? Yes, Jesus taught about laying down your life for others but many people in the military today have a hard time seeing how their sacrifice is helping anyone. Hence the high suicide rate among veterans.
What good news do we have for this crowd? For society? For our friends and family? What good news are we being given to share?
Here the congregation was invited to share the good news that they have to share with the world. There were several written suggestions submitted by the children of the Church School:
The church helps people who need it.
The church teaches peace.
The church teaches us not to litter and to keep the world clean.
The church is a community where we care about our moms and ourselves and everybody.
Some years ago, Vita Uth, a charter member of the congregation called me and requested that people in the church bring dinner for her and her husband each night for two weeks. This request stemmed from the stresses of health issues and care giving. People from the church all signed up on a schedule that was passed around on a clipboard on a Sunday morning. One evening our family brought food and had dinner with Vita and Knud. Recently, we were talking about that dinner many years ago. Our son, Malcolm, 22 years old, reflected that it was great that Vita knew what she needed and the church stepped up. He said, People my age don’t understand that that is what church is about. It is about the community. They just don’t understand it. And he thinks they are missing out.
Thinking about our situation today, it is not enough for just the pastor to talk to the congregation. We have to be taking the good news we have out into the world and sharing it with people. And in today’s world, we not only have many languages and Google translate, we have social media to help share that good news. What an amazing tool! And if people want more they can come to church. But if not, we are still giving them good news whoever they are, wherever they are, in their context. Because there is always good news in the reality of God and the Jesus way of life. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.