SERMON on ACTS 2 Sunday after Pentecost
I grow things.
I love growing things.
I collected some seeds from a beautiful flowering tree, a yellow tabebuia, over a decade ago while walking around the lake across the street from our church property and planted them in pots filled with a few spade-fulls of soil. I watered them until the rainy season did its thing. And those seeds sprouted within a week. The next year I planted the tree seedlings along the Trinity property in the parking lot swale next to the sidewalk along Pines Blvd and on the west side by 72nd ave. Today those trees are three times my height – and they are thriving. Sometimes when they are in full bloom and covered in cascading yellow blossoms I think to myself: I grew those and look at them now!
I imagine that the trees themselves might take issue with that claim. “You grew the trees,” the trees looking at me rather indignantly: “You? All you did was bring everything together. You took the seeds and found the soil and occasionally directed a hose in our general direction.”
And those indignant trees would be correct. All I did was bring the right things together at the right place and time. I didn’t grow the trees – growth was built into their DNA: Their very purpose in this life.
When I was training to be a pastor I attended a congregational meeting of a congregation where I had been assigned to assist the pastor for the year; to observe, learn and reflect with him on what it means to a pastor.
Once the budget had been presented, a gentlemen raised his hand to be recognized. “Pastor,” he said, “The only way we are going to balance this budget is by putting more butts in the pews – and that’s your job. What are you going to do to grow this church?” He was anxious, this man, having grown up in the church and noting the diminishing attendance at worship and the yearly budget stresses.
What are you going to do, pastor, to grow this church?
Now that is an interesting question – perhaps it has even crossed your minds from time to time.
What are you going to do, pastor, to grow this church?
At its most simple my response is this: absolutely nothing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.
Did I grow those trees out front?
No. I merely helped to bring together the right things at the right time - what they needed. The seeds and then the seedlings and now the trees themselves were created to grow – it is part of their nature, their way of being in the world, how God designed them.
In our reading from Acts today the disciples aren’t running around asking themselves: “How do we grow this church?” They aren’t in a panic wondering what their purpose was with Jesus gone. They aren’t worrying about their future. Would the faithful widows continue to be generous? What about tomorrow? What would they do tomorrow? Rather, empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit they do what Jesus commanded them to do – the very purpose that the Holy Spirit filled them to do: Make disciples.
And us? For what purpose does the Holy Spirit fill us at our baptism? What does Jesus command us to do?
Those first followers of Jesus do this by bringing together the building blocks of community and letting the Holy Spirit do what it does best: create a new community centered on Jesus.
What are the building blocks of that community? Growing disciples who disciple others through story-telling, teaching and learning, fellowship and bread breaking, prayer and praise, generosity and joy and welcome.
And with the faith community off the ground, they don’t declare their work over – hardly! They go about faithfully attending to what the Holy Spirit is about in the midst of the community that the Spirit is building, to lead, encourage, and participate in that holy work as the Spirit calls them, equips them, and guides them as it calls, equips and guides each of us in our work.
Christ-centered faith communities are not a bunch of good people doing good things so that they can feel good about themselves and their place in world. They are centered in Christ and rooted in the gospel and what they are about is glorifying God. Notice in the reading from Acts that people who weren’t even believers took note of what the Holy Spirit was doing in and through that faith community. These disciples of Jesus formed a community unlike anything else these people had ever seen. It made them curious. And the Lord blesses this Christ-centered community and added to their number. People there encountered the gospel and were open to leading of the Holy Spirit.
Peter didn’t grow the church. And later on, Paul didn’t either. The church is God’s church and God designed it to grow, to grow more deeply in love with Jesus, more faithful in its attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more welcoming, more generous, more just, more humble in their serving, and more faithful in all things. We either participate in that work or get in the way of it. Sometimes we do both.
At its heart, that work involves building relationships.
Listen: We are not interested people in order to make them members of this church. We form relationships with people because they matter to God and their lives then matter to us. In these relationships we have the privilege and calling from God to embody Christ in all we say and do. If the fruit of our relationship leads them here, then the Lord has added to our number and we rejoice and give thanks. And if the fruit of our labor does not, then we still rejoice for the blessing of that relationship.
The flip side of trusting in the Spirit is that we, both pastor and congregation, are granted more responsibility, not less. Freed from the responsibility to add more butts in the pews we are called as disciples of Jesus to invest honestly, sincerely, and deeply in the lives of people so that God will be glorified. There is no responsibility that we have that is more important.