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Sermon: Feel The Burn


“Feel The Burn,” Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for the Day of Pentecost, Sunday May 15, 2016. The scripture: Acts 2:1-13 and John 14:8-17, 25-27. Read the sermon (below) or listen to the audio by clicking on this link: https://soundcloud.com/cedar-cross-umc/and-you-do-not-know-me


Well… I went to observe the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, and I was relieved that I did not see any glossolalia, that is, “speaking in tongues”. It was unlikely, but you never know. Perhaps it would do us some good, as far as the numbers go. The fastest growing churches in the world are Pentecostal, particularly in Latin America and Africa. But alas, I guess United Methodists don’t get that “burn”.

Today is the Day of Pentecost. The day we are supposed to celebrate getting some “burn”. The day the Church received the Holy Spirit, according to Luke in Acts chapter 2. And in that story the disciples did “speaking in tongues”. But there are more than one interpretations of this.

The more studious interpretation is that the tongues were languages which represented the spread of the gospel to other cultures; a reverse of the Tower of Babel. And in this respect, we United Methodists as we attempt to become a global church speak many languages. In the short time I was at General Conference, I heard Russian, Tagolag, French and Swahili. I loved hearing the different languages, but something was missing…. Something about the Holy Spirit. I didn’t feel a “burn”.

The first address came from Bishop Warner Brown of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. And he did a good job trying to ignite in us… the spirit. Particularly a spirit of unity. I appreciated what he said and felt hopeful. But then came the report of the Rules Committee.

The first flyer I received walking up to the Convention Center was about Rule 44. Rule 44 was added at the suggestion of the last General Conference (2012) to create small groups to talk about divisive issues outside the context of parliamentary procedure so that people could share their stories and feelings and that information could be somehow included in our Christian Conferencing. It sounded great to me! Isn’t that who we are, instead of just speeches and talking at each other?

So they set out to talk about it in the traditional way…. following the Rules – reminiscent of Robert’s Rules – trying at the same time to get used to a new technological way to allow people to speak using iPads. There were more “points of order” to deal with how they weren’t working than there were on the matter that was before them. Then the nitpicking began….

On one question as to whether the Rule would be automatically referred to the Rules Committee, a man from Mississippi stood up to challenge the ruling of the Chair, citing a precedence from the 2008 General Conference and Robert’s Rules. This all took at least 20 minutes to resolve. It took them three days to decide on Rule 44, which they turned down. What an irony!!

It took two days of parliamentary procedure to decide that they would not talk to each other in any other way than through the rules of parliamentary procedure! I was sitting next to a clergy spouse from the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and he said to me, “Every clergyperson needs to observe this at least once in life.” And so I have…. and I am not eager to again.

The subtext of the vote on Rule 44 is that the delegates who do not want to change the language in the Discipline about homosexuality don’t even want to talk about it. Can’t we even talk?

I felt two spiritual movements at General Conference. One is toward definition toward defining who we are and what we believe. Specifically, looking at proposed legislation there are petitions to:

1. Return to the Bible to make it the center of our life and faith. Which means not anything else.

2. A petition to change our Methodist Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience) so that we would use tradition, reason and experience only to interpret scripture. Say good-bye to experiences of the Holy Spirit!

3. A petition to water down our Call to Inclusiveness.

4. A petition to require all United Methodist Churches to use the Nicene Creed in worship and make it the standard of our faith. Having studied the history of the creation of the Creeds, this motion feels like the resurrection of the bullies who fought and killed minority voices to get their way in the creation of the Creeds.

I thought of this when I read the gospel text of this Day of Pentecost. In John 14, Philip asks Jesus to “see the Father” and Jesus rebukes him: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip and you do not know me?” He tells them that as he is in the Father, and they know him, they know the Father, and then he says they will receive the Holy Spirit.

And there is another part where he addresses how we will see the work of the Holy Spirit …the One who believes in me will also do the works I do… Presenting Jesus in this way, John is saying that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is in what we DO, not in what we believe. Do we follow his commandments?

Do we think God cares how many times we recite The Nicene Creed if we don’t love our neighbor?! The Holy Spirit doesn’t move us to define things; define our belief; define who is in and who is out. The power of the Holy Spirit wants to generate faith, and to feel the “burn”. Do I hear an Amen?

Fortunately there are other petitions at General Conference representing another movement which I feel focuses on compassion rather than doctrine.

There are petitions for the environment. On Friday evening, I think, there was a rally for the Church to respond to climate change.

There is the petition from our own Jenny Philips to divest from fossil fuel companies.

There is a petition to state that War is incompatible with Christian teaching. (A subtle challenge to those who believe homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching).

There are petitions about bullying, homelessness, immigration, healthcare and pornography, and quite a number about wealth disparity. A petition to end the celebration of Columbus Day

Last week in our Adult Sunday School book, the topic was Compassion. Robin Meyers says that the Church has failed by focusing on belief, doctrine and personal salvation rather than on action, practice and following Jesus.

In his own words: …we have lost the essential quality of Christianity as a way of life. The healer is now the dealer, and the assignment of faith has been replaced by a certificate of salvation.

Meyers says that Jesus is not about the “Answer” but the “Assignment”. And at the core of our actions following Jesus is compassion, “Pure, unbridled, reckless compassion”.

The Holy Spirit we celebrate on this special day is not the power to define our beliefs and circle the wagons around the Bible or the Nicene Creed. It is the Power of God as compassion in the world. It is not the power to build walls, but to break them down across the barriers of language and culture. Isn’t that what the Day of Pentecost was all about?

On this day through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, God wants us to feel the burn …. Of compassion for all God’s children and creatures. The healer is not a dealer. It is not about getting a “certificate of salvation” and a Christian life is not the “Art of the Deal”.

It is a Way…. Empowered by the ever presence Holy Spirit to walk our talk; to love our neighbor as ourselves; to welcome, include all, have compassion for all; to care for all God’s children.

This division that I felt at General Conference – these two movements – is not just about homosexuality. That’s where the fecal matter hits the high energy rotary powered air dispersion unit. But it is a deeper spiritual divide that I felt.

At the first communion service, the Reconciling Ministries offered another communion so that LBGT people could receive communion and feel safe. How symbolic is that?     Two communions.

One communion wants to look back, pull in, and set the bar; build walls. Another communion wants to be open and filled with compassion; to generate love and justice in the world. And I am committed to this second communion. To this Way of following Jesus Christ.

What good does it do to have all these languages – to translate them – if we turn around and decide we don’t want to talk with each other?! What spirit is that?! It is not a Pentecostal spirit.

I want to be a Pentecostal! A Pentecostal of compassion and justice. A Pentecostal of love and grace. A Pentecostal that would pass Rule 44 and willingly talk with all.

I want us all to feel the “burn” of openness and acceptance; of loving the least of these; and for justice.

And let all the people say, Amen.



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