A number of years ago I took part in a course entitled the Shaw Transformational Leadership Program at Queen’s Theological School. The goal of the program was: To develop leadership for the 21st century church that works with and through the Spirit of the Risen Christ to bring about transformation in individual lives and congregations. The participants were mostly United Church clergy, from across the country, from BC to NL.
It was intense and engaging, at least for most of us. On the second day at lunch time, one of the participants said, “You know, I don’t feel transformed yet!” But it was said with a smile on his face and an openness to what the week would bring. Those of us at the table sort of laughed along with him and I said, “We have only been here for a day, I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. It’s a process, and it never ends”
And that’s what transformational change is… it’s not a quick fix to a problem that exists, but a change in culture of a faith community in which we are reoriented in order to serve God and our communities.
One of the phrases that I heard that week was that Pain and Possibility are the ‘parents of change.’ On a personal level, if you entirely satisfied with your life, why would you change it? There has to be something bothering you in order to make any changes. But, and this is important, you also have to be able to see the possibilities of the change in order to move through and beyond the pain of change. As Gil Rendle and Alice Mann state in their book Holy Conversation, “Nobody gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, “I am perfectly happy with my entire life” and then goes on to make huge changes. Why would they?
The same can be said of our churches; if we as a faith community are entirely satisfied with everything, why would we change. A church community might not feel the pain or they might not see the possibility in order to move through the pain.
Let’s get to the readings.
In following Jesus, the disciples experienced both pain and possibility. The pain of a rigid code in their religious life that blocked some from God and he also showed them the possibility of a new way of being. And then he was put to death, rose three days later and spent the next 50 days seemingly popping in and out of situations, still preaching, teaching and healing. And then he ascended into heaven. Gone away again. And the disciples were once again fearful… until the day of Pentecost… the day when the power of the Holy Spirit passed from Jesus’ presence to the disciples.
The day when the Holy Spirit came in a way that they could scarcely describe… a rushing wind… tongues of fire touching each one of them… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit… and began to speak in other languages… as the Spirit gave them ability. The crowd that was in the city to celebrate Pentecost was made up people of all nations… speaking many different languages and each of them was able to hear the words of the spirit in their own language. As you heard, some of the crowd thought the disciples were drunk. And Peter, that bumbling coward, who denied even knowing Christ, was so filled with the power of the Spirit that he stood and preached a sermon like no other.
The gathered community heard the words of the prophet Joel and the story of Christ’s life teaching, death and resurrection, and they were ‘cut to the heart’ and said, “What shall we do?”
Peter’s reply, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”
It is written that Peter’s sermon led to 3000 people being baptized that day.
Peter was a transformed leader… gone from the fearful coward who denied Christ to an inspiring preacher. And it wasn’t just Peter… All of them were transformed from fearful cowering people who hid in a locked room to bold proclaimers of the word. And the church was born… And remember, the political climate hadn’t changed at all; it was still very dangerous to be associated with Jesus.
They wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it without the pain of Jesus leaving them or without the possibility of a changed way of life. That change came through the power of the Holy Spirit. And that is important for us to remember… we are the instruments through which the Holy Spirit blows.
Jesus’ followers were no longer dependent on his physical presence… they kept him alive by gathering people together, sharing the stories and breaking bread together. And those people did the same… until more than 2000 years later we do the same… we gather the people, we share the stories and we break the bread…
But…we don’t often share our stories of faith outside these walls… many of us would find it challenging to even articulate to people outside the church why we come to church or why we contribute to the food bank or support the M&S fund or work to raise funds in order to make ministry possible here.
The prospect of telling friends about your faith sounds painful doesn’t it? Painful enough to freeze you into silence. I suggest that is because we haven’t explored the possibility of what might happen in doing so.
As most or many of you know, we are in this time of Interim Ministry and have been holding a series of Listening Circles to help us discern our way forward. The ideas and direction for our faith community will arise from those circles. There may be pain as we let go of some things… but there may be the possibility of a brighter future…
Each one of us has been touched by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us carries a spark of the divine fire within us. Let’s fan the flames! And spread the warmth around!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and opportunity, amen.
Acts 2: 1-21, Acts 2 – Selected Verses