Proclaim Jubilee! | AND IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WORSHIP SERIES
It started with a tornado warning.
I arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the morning of January 21, 2018. I went straight to the hospital to see my mom, who had been there for a week, suffering from congestive heart failure. That afternoon the sky started to turn dark. When I went out in the early evening to take my suitcase to the house and pick up some dinner for my father and me to eat in the hospital room it was pouring down rain. I mean buckets. I could barely see to drive.
I made my way slowly back to the hospital. I’d been back for about thirty minutes when a nurse came into our room and told us we all needed to move into the hallway because a tornado warning had been issued. So we helped my mother into a wheelchair and rolled her into the hall. The hospital staff brought chairs for everyone to sit in and all of us, patients, staff and visitors, tried to make light of the situation. I kept an eye on the radar on my phone, reporting the latest developments to the people around us. We talked about how strange it was to have a tornado warning in January. After about forty-five minutes the warning expired and we heard the all-clear to return to our rooms. Fortunately, no tornadoes touched down in the area.
I start these notes with this story because in the season of Easter, it is from the beginning of our journey that our ending comes. On the first Sunday in this season, a week after Easter, we heard about the first gathered community of the church. The first congregation was a small group of men and women who had committed to a shared life and purpose:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32-35 NRSV).
My colleague Taylor Burton-Edwards calls this vision of the early faith community “the church in the flow state.” It is an idealized picture of what life in the body of Christ can look like, at its very best. It is a vision of discipleship that is characterized by selflessness, grace, power, boldness, devotion, compassion, and an unyielding commitment to justice.
We began the season with the church in a “flow state” and here we close the season by celebrating Pentecost with a church in flow state. Here the flow state is not calm, selfless, and quiet. But it is like the other description because we are back to seeing unmistakable signs of the Holy Spirit. The gathering is filled with power: fire, water, chaos, darkness, blood and smoky mist. And we witness a gathering of people hearing the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaimed in ways everyone can understand—each in his or her own language.
How do we get our church today in flow state? How do we claim the power of the Holy Spirit anew? How do we capture the sense of selflessness, grace, devotion, compassion and commitment to justice, and also fuel ourselves with the amazing power experienced by the people who had come from all the ends of the earth to gather in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost, and upon whom the Holy Spirit was poured out so that everyone was transformed?
Today, in addition to Pentecost, we United Methodists are marking the fiftieth anniversary of the United Methodist Church as we celebrate Heritage Sunday. It was on April 23,1968, that the Methodist Church and the Evangelical Brethren Church officially joined together to become the United Methodist Church. As United Methodists we have traditionally celebrated this day each year on the third Sunday in May, to correspond with Aldersgate Day.
Aldersgate Day is celebrated on May 24 (or the Sunday closest) to commemorate the day in 1738 when John Wesley experienced assurance of his salvation. Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting that evening on Aldersgate Street in London. As he heard a reading from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his "heart strangely warmed." Wesley wrote in his journal that at about 8:45 p.m. "while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
Charles Wesley only a few days before had also had a conversion experience in the same place. The building where the meetings took place no longer exists. Aldersgate Street has been shortened by common Methodist usage to simply Aldersgate. The word has come to represent both the place and the experience. (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-aldersgate-day)
The theme for the 2018 celebration of Heritage Sunday is “Proclaim Jubilee!” Jubilee is about reconciliation, forgiving of debts, release from slavery, and restoration of lands to their rightful owners so that all can move forward together in a spirit of peace.
It seems ironic, then, that as we celebrate fifty years as a denomination that we are awaiting a special called general conference this coming February to determine the fate of our union. Will there be a celebration of 51 years next May, or will we be unable as a body to find a way to reconcile, forgive the debts of those with whom we disagree, restore our lands to their rightful owners, and find a way forward together?
Pentecost is about the moment the church was born. It is about what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be. It is about the church in flow state. It is about the Holy Spirit bringing people together as one in spite of their differences: different cultures, different languages, different traditions, different beliefs, different interpretations, different theologies. Pentecost is about being unified in words, and in a salvation that is for all people.
And so we come to the end of the series, and the end of the season of Easter with the celebration of the church’s beginning, we go forth rejoicing with great hope, proclaiming salvation for all people! Praise be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!