The Sunday Sermon: May 31, 2021 – 1st Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Luke 17:20-21
For the six weeks before Pentecost Sunday, last Sunday, we traveled throughout the ancient Roman Empire, following in Paul’s footsteps to Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi, Rome, Colossae, and Corinth. Why did we do that? Because we believe that through the life of Jesus the Christ the process of making the world a just place began. In his life, through his love, Jesus disclosed the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He announced that the ending of the old had already begun and the Kingdom of Heaven was already among us.
We were traveling to those ancient destinations through the letters of Paul to learn what we could about how the first communities gathered in Jesus name were responding to his call and “getting with” the divine program that he inaugurated. We were doing so because we knew that soon it would be our turn … again … and we wanted to be ready. Well guess what? The time has come. Pentecost has come and gone. It’s our turn … again.
Last week we announced it: Ours is an Easter Life, full of the Spirit. And when our own resurrection is empowered by that Holy Spirit, everything changes. And it’s changing again. We’re changing … back to what we were pre-pandemic, but into something brand new. Our traveling has ended but our journey has just begun. As we head into the summer of 2021, we will no longer be discovering how other communities are “getting with the program” of the Kingdom of God on earth. We will now be discovering how we are doing it – or how we should be doing it.
Pray with me … And listen for the Word of God: Read Luke 17:20-21
“The Kingdom of God is among you …”
This phrase can be translated “within you.” In fact, that intrigues me deeply, to consider the implication of such a thing. I’ve taught some classes on that translation and preached a sermon on two on the implications of “The Kingdom of God within us.” But a couple of things make that more personal translation difficult here in this verse of Luke’s Gospel. First of all, the “you” is plural in the phrase, Jesus is talking to a group, not an individual. And, secondly, in Luke’s verses Jesus is talking to a group who have been opposing his message, not embracing it. He’s addressing the Pharisees. Jesus would no more say “the kingdom of Heaven is within you” to the Pharisees who oppose him in Luke’s gospel than he would tell the poor that they were on their own.
So … as appealing as a more personal and individual interpretation is to us (or to me, at least!), Jesus is here establishing the Kingdom of God “among us,” or “in the midst of us.” This Kingdom is a communal thing. We are going to have to figure out how we are “getting with the program,” how we are living into our call to further God’s heaven on earth, together. So as we begin, we may ask … How are we living into our call together?
Curiously, just as we turn the corner from Pentecost and begin again to live into the Spirit that filled us last week and leads us this week and in the months ahead, we are preparing for the final leg of another journey that began almost fifteen months ago. Little did we know when we left our sanctuary next door that we would not be back in it for a service of the Lord’s Day for sixty-four Sundays. Next week, we will begin again to engage the “ancient newness” that is our worship life in that sanctuary.
Next week is, as it happens, the first Sunday of the month so our table will be set and we will celebrate Communion together. We’ll “remember”, again, as we’re asked to do every time we share that meal. This morning, in partial preparation for that day, next Sunday, I want us to “re-member” ourselves even more, by considering who we have become since we were last together in our sanctuary sixty-four Sundays ago.
We are a different community than we were when our separation began. We’re over a year older, each one of us. We’ve grown used to worship, fellowship, Christian education, and even mission in our own living rooms or kitchens and on our own time. The stewardship of our time as a way of giving back to the church hasn’t been the sacrifice it once was. We have some work to do.
We haven’t truly sung together, not fully, since we left each other last year. That’s something we take so much for granted, but it’s a huge part of who we are when we can gather together – three hymns, two sung responses, an anthem, and humming along to preludes, postludes, and an offertory. These last few weeks, it’s been fantastic to hear the voices around us in this space, but we’re still not really supposed to sing out with full voice. And we’ve been using hymns we recorded during worship services from years ago – mostly 2018, but our sermon hymn this morning, Seek Ye First, is from 2016. We have been accompanied by ourselves from years past. We have some work to do.
We haven’t had in-person conversations about our Christian faith and how it should affect the way we live each day. We’ve done some good and wonderful things, had and continue to have classes using the Zoom video-conferencing, but it’s not the same. We have some work to do.
We haven’t had any Fellowship events as a community in all this time – no morning coffee together since March 8, 2022; no summer patio fellowship last year; no ice cream social or church picnic, and we didn’t gather for our annual “Holy Ghost Weiner Roast” at the McCarsons. No Advent hymn sing inside or fellowship in the cold darkness of early Christmas morning after the 11:00 candlelight service; no fish frys. None of those. Our social gatherings are not the first things we may think of when we think of “church,” but they are absolutely essential to creating the community we hope to be, giving us all shared memories that as much as anything keep the church living and hoping, and looking toward the future. We have work to do.
And I want to lift up one more way that we’re a different community than we were when last we were gathering together in our sanctuary. Some of our number, our fellow church members, have died.
I know that this weekend is “Memorial Weekend” so that we may remember and pay tribute to those men and women who gave their lives, who died, in service to this country. But I’m struck that it’s also the weekend when we are “re-membering” this community to help prepare us for what lies ahead. And that gives us an opportunity to remember eight of our brothers and sisters who have died, left the “church militant”, the body of living church members, to join the communion of saints in the “church triumphant” since we last worshipped on Sunday morning in our sanctuary.
We celebrated the life and witnessed to the new life of Elizabeth Ann Ellis Stoess on March 3 of 2020 in that space, and one week later we had to close up. Since that time – and allow and enjoy any memories that these names conjure for you – (since we last gathered) Sarah Copley, Beverly Pierce, Sis Marker, Clayton Stoess, Sr., Bob Pace, Bob Hicks, Rick Warren, and Paul Culbertson have died to this life. We found ways to celebrate and witness all but one of them (we’re still waiting for the celebration of the one hundred years that were Sis Marker’s life), but we didn’t do that celebrating and witnessing “all together.” We couldn’t. We came pretty close a few weeks ago, gathering with the families of Paul and Rick for their services. Everyone who attended felt the power in that communal witness – the power of shared memories and deep faith – and to one degree or another, we experienced what’s been missing for so long. But we have work to do.
We will come back together next week in ways, and in a place, we have always taken for granted. But we won’t be the same. We couldn’t be, even if we wanted to. And we shouldn’t be. Because, in part …
Pentecost changes everything. We follow the Spirit of God as it moves through our church and our lives and seek to engage both – the church and all its members, our lives and all our hopes and dreams – with the radical newness that is offered every moment of every day through that Spirit . We must follow the Spirit of God as it moves through the world and seek to engage our world with the radical love and justice of God. On the first Sunday after Pentecost we find ourselves getting back to work “re-membering” who we are.
I know that this unsettles some of us. I acknowledged my anxiety two weeks ago when we moved back inside, gathering in this space. Will this work again? How much do we have to change? How much dare we try to re-create? But these questions mean we’re doing the right thing: embracing the Spirit of God that always challenges and unsettles us, even as it calms and comforts us. It’s time to “get with” the divine program among us in old ways and new. We will stumble and step back, we will argue about timing and safety, and we’ll disagree. But however imperfect and haltingly we will re-member ourselves so that we may once again fully engage ourselves in the conversation that is ours with the world.
Once Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God was coming and he answered: “The Kingdom of God is not coming … the Kingdom of God is among you.”
So it is. As we continue to discover this reality, may we continue to work to make it more so – every day of our lives as children of God and followers of Christ, and as members of a community called the church.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / May 31, 2021