Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
The second chapter of Acts offers so many great images for us as we mark the day of Pentecost today. Tongues of fire appearing above the disciples’ heads, the sudden ability to ace an exam in a language you’ve never studied, an energy level that was mistaken for a giant party! And the Church through the centuries has found all kinds of ways to celebrate. Playing around with the color red and images of fire and wind and the dove, all symbols of the Holy Spirit, congregations I’ve been part of over the years have invited kids to make little headbands with red construction paper flames on the front. Or waved red streamers. Or decorated with red balloons. I remember one time here we had the kids crinkle up paper to mimic the sound of crackling flames, and to blow through their hands to make the sound of wind. I’ve even read that churches in the Middle Ages used to release red rose petals from the ceiling to symbolize those same tongues of fire appearing above the heads of the first disciples. (That was a little much for us to pull off within our worship budget this year, but it’s a pretty cool idea!)
Capitalizing on the idea of Pentecost as the birthdayof the Christian Church (since 3,000 were added to the disciples’ number in a single day), there are congregations that mark the occasion with a big birthday party. And many of us have enjoyed incorporating multiple languages into our Pentecost worship over the years as well. So many opportunities to lend color and drama to our celebrations.
This year it was the windof the Holy Spirit, rushing through that crowd of early believers, that inspired me most as I prepared for Pentecost Sunday. Because our Session (our church governing board) has been reading a book this year entitled Sailboat Church.
Author Joan Gray explains “many North American Christians have spent their whole lives in churches that operate mainly by rowing. Rowboat churches do what they can with the resources – money, … energy, people, facilities – they have.” It’s all about human effort and human energy and rowing our boat where wedecide to go, no matter how much sweat it requires of us to pull & pull on those heavy oars. But there’s a refreshing alternative open to us, to “run under the power of the wind,” with our “sails spread wide, allowing … the Spirit to move the church where God wants it to go. It is God-powered.” Gray invites us to watch for opportunities to step away from the rowboat model of church and try out the model of a sailboat instead.
Almost immediately, as we started reading the book together, Session members began seeing signs of the Holy Spirit’s wind in our sails. As we’ve tried new things this year like bringing in friends from other congregations to celebrate communion with us, from the Hungarian Reformed Church and from the Multicultural Worship team of University Presbyterian Church. As we’ve launched a brand-new congregation-wide mission effort with our monthly “Sandwich Sundays” for Tent City 5. We tried this for the first time two weeks ago; it was a rousing success, and we’re already generating all kinds of ideas of how that project might evolve over time. We’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work addressing really pragmatic needs behind the scenes around here too, like the provision of a fantastic new CPA & bookkeeper just a couple months before our Office Administrator had to leave us suddenly for family reasons. Being able immediately to hand over the financial pieces of that job has opened up a whole range of new possibilities for us in terms of staffing, and that her name is Grace? Amazing! Gracious God, we thank you!
Meanwhile, for a church our size to be able to pull off $300,000 worth of capital improvements – those desperately needed plumbing and bathroom upgrades and the installation of a new roof? Think about that - for a church our sizeto be able to do all of this and to be within less than $50,000 right now of getting that entire project paid off in the first year? That’s remarkable! Thank you, God! So bring on those auction bids today, folks, bring on those generous additional donations to the cause, and let’s get ‘er done! For that will in turn free us up for all kinds of new outreach opportunities as we look ahead toward our future as a church.
Speaking of outreach, at our officers’ retreat in March we talked at length about how we could take advantage of our newly renovated facility to reach out to our neighbors. Your deacons and elders floated – just as brainstorming possibilities, mind you, to be considered at some future point– ideas like maybe opening our doors to another preschool, or to programs connected with Lawton Elementary School, or perhaps to the Boys and Girls Club… A month later, who should walk up to our front door unexpectedly but two representatives from – get this! – the Boys and Girls Club…Preschool… currently residing at Lawton Elementary School, asking if we would be open to renting out space, since they would be without a classroom starting in September. I’m delighted to report that Session has approved the request, after some fantastic initial meetings with those representatives, and the preschool has informed their families that they have a new home, and we are now working with Session and Presbytery to draw up all of the lease related paperwork. Because how could we notsee the Holy Spirit at work in that wonderful connection? It ticked so many boxes, in fact, that we suspect God was showing off a little. Need a little nudge to show welcome and hospitality to families at Lawton? Think it would be cool to connect somehow with the Boys and Girls club, or to bring another preschool back to your building? Here you go: Whoosh!! And off we sail…
Pastor Justin commented to our high school last week that the whole wearing red for Pentecost thing seemed really important to me today, since I’ve mentioned it so many times over the last few weeks? Well, I think this is why. I see so many signs that God is at work around here, both in gentle breezes and in big gusts of wind, nudging us in new directions, blowing us where we need to go, that I guess Pentecost has a special significance for me this year. I want everyone to get in on the fun! And all of the red you see around you today is just one way to signal our openness to the story Pentecost teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit.
So whether you are a longtime member of this church, or just joining us today, whether you have anything red on or not, I hope you’ll be part of that group photo after worship. Because it seems to me this is an exciting time to be part of Magnolia Presbyterian Church. We’re bravely putting up our sails, not knowing where the wind of the Holy Spirit might take us, but eager to stay tuned and find out.
I heard a song on the radio this past week that seemed particularly fitting for us this year. It’s called “Steal My Show” and the chorus gets at this same idea of loosening our grip on business as usual, and opening our hearts to new possibilities, allowing God’s Spirit to take the lead. The singer says to God:
If you wanna steal my show
I’ll sit back and watch you go
If you got something to say
Go on, take it away…
Can’t wait to watch you go
So take it away.
As we put up our sails and watch and listen for the wind of God to blow among us, I can’t predict every place that will take us as a church family. But I canpromise you an exhilarating ride. If Acts 2 is any indication, it’ll involve our sons and daughters speaking God’s truth to us in new ways, and the young among us catching visions, and our elders dreaming dreams.
So happy Pentecost, fellow sailors. And Holy Spirit, if you’ve got something to say, take it away! Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
Although Krisztina and I began talking about worshipping together a number of months ago, your being here today ends up fitting beautifully with a theme that’s been guiding us as a congregation this spring. It’s the phrase you see there as today’s sermon title: “Sharing the Bread of Life.” Over the last few weeks we’ve been reading together biblical stories about bread from heaven. Like the one about God’s provision of manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness. And the one about Jesus taking five loaves of bread and two small fish, and with them feeding a great multitude of people. And we’ve been looking for ways these stories about God’s provision and God’s abundance can inform our ministry as a congregation.
It’s in that spirit that we are beginning a new mission effort here today, with these monthly “Sandwich Sundays” you heard about in our announcements, and I’m so glad each of you is here to join in the fun downstairs after service. Granted, it may be a little chaotic the first time we attempt this, but if so, it will be a happy chaos, a joyful chaos, with all kinds of good energy around wanting to share generously with our neighbors who are residents of Tent City 5. In fact, right now our children are getting us off to a great start by writing messages and drawing pictures on the bags in which we’ll be delivering the lunches, before they return to join us for communion later in the service.
Offering food in God’s name is exactly what the prophet Isaiah calls us to do in our Old Testament reading this morning. More than any ritual, Isaiah says, God wants us to focus on fighting injustice and oppression and sharing our bread with the hungry. When we do, he promises our “light shall rise in the darkness.”
Isaiah also says when we do these things we shall be called “repairers of the breach,” which reminds me of the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world.” Awhile back I came across a beautiful black and white sketch of the planet earth being held by enormous hands – God’s hands – and then all over the planet were these tiny silhouettes of human figures, carrying ladders, wielding tools, unfolding blueprints. I love that image because it carries with it an invitation to participate with God in the restoration of God’s creation. There are probably as many ways to repair the world with God’s help as there are individuals called to the task. But one of those ways – mentioned again and again in the Scriptures - is simply by sharing food with those who need it. Every time we give generously out of the abundance God has given us, we are taking an important step toward being rebuilders and repairers and restorers of God’s world. And what a beautiful reminder of our unity with brothers and sisters in Christ from other congregations across our city and around our world. For we can also picture each church family lifting up its own particular set of tools and doing its part toward that same goal.
But even before we gather around those sandwich-building tables downstairs, we will gather here around the Lord’s Table, having also been reminded in John’s gospel that Jesus called himself“the Bread of Life.” The words we’ll say as we break the bread and lift the cup this morning are words shared on every continent and in more languages than we can imagine: “Take, eat, this is my body… Drink of it, all of you, remembering me.” The details may change – details of exactly how we explain its significance and exactly how we serve communion, that is – but our gathering together to remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, to recall his tremendous love for us that led him to sacrifice himself on our behalf, this is something that unitesfollowers of Jesus of every time and place. Celebrating this meal together, remembering that Jesus is for us “the Bread of Life” – it’s hard to imagine a more significant sign of our connection with other Christians. Even those we’ve not had the privilege of meeting before. When we stand together around the table of our Lord, we’re reminded that – whether or not you know my name, or I know yours - we are part of a single family, in Christ. It’s a rehearsal dinner, you might say, for the great banquet we’ll enjoy together in heaven. All God’s children, men and women, young and old, from every tribe on earth, sitting down together to share a meal. An abundance of food. A banquet like none other we've ever seen. And everyone’sinvited to the feast.
Tom Long tells a story of a friend who frequently flew in and out of Newark Airport, in New Jersey. Newark Airport is not only a hub for a few major airlines, at least at the time he shared this story it was also home to about 400 individuals who had nowhere else to call home. You didn’t notice them when you were rushing to catch a plane, you didn’t really see them, he said, but they were there.
Because his friend was at Newark Airport to catch a flight and it was delayed, he sat down in the waiting room right across from a snack bar. He noticed that the only person in the snack bar at the time was one of these individuals, without anywhere else to go, sitting with his head down on the table. Pretty soon, another person, a man who appeared to be the manager of the snack bar, made a beeline for that table, and the guy watching the scene unfold thought to himself, “Uh, oh, he’s getting ready to bounce him.”
But instead, as he walked past the table, the manager silently set down a hot dog in front of the man, and on his way back he quietly put down a cup of hot coffee. It was just a simple act of kindness. But from the point of view of our faith, it was as if he had said, “Look, in a few minutes I’m going to have to play the role of the manager again, and you’re going to have to play the role of a homeless person, and because of that, at some point later on I may have to ask you to leave. But for a moment, let us be who we willbe, in God’s kingdom. Welcome to the feast, brother. Welcome to the feast.”
“Share your bread with the hungry,” says Isaiah, and so let your light shine in the darkness.
“I am the bread of life,” says Jesus, “the living bread,” satisfying your hunger and thirst for God.
Both upstairs and down this morning, both within these walls and in the many ways our respective churches seek faithfully and generously to follow Christ, it is a great privilege to be united in “Sharing the Bread of Life” with all of you.
May God bless our efforts to live faithfully into that calling!