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.