Sermon from May 26, 2019

Considering Seemingly Insurmountable World Problems
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 26, 2019    Sixth Sunday of Easter
Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21;
John 7:37-39a; 14:12-20, 25-27; 16:13

We will hear the story of Pentecost in two weeks about the Holy Spirit erupting in the first church.  The disciple Peter explained it by quoting the prophet Joel, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Joel believed that the pouring forth of prophetic vision would signal a revolution about to take place in human civilization, that the realm of God’s mercy and justice was about to overturn the old, corrupt order.  Peter believed that Jesus was the beginning of that revolution, and that the Spirit of prophecy and power working through Christ’s followers would bring the long awaited age of humanity living by the laws of love.

Jesus promises that his followers will do even greater works than he did because of the Holy Spirit flowing through us like living water.  It will give us a vision of what good could come and guide and empower us to bring it to pass.

This is hard to believe when we are facing seemingly insurmountable problems in the world or in our personal lives.  It is hard to have faith when the church has been reduced to a tiny remnant, when the movement of Christ-like compassion and love seems impossibly weak next to the monolithic powers of greed and hate.  It is hard to have hope when we or those we love are suffering or in despair and see no way out.

Yet what hope was there in that tiny first church whose leader had just been arrested, tortured and crucified by the Roman Empire and Jewish establishment, and they all knew the same could happen to them, when suddenly the Spirit filled them with vision and power and they began to grow exponentially until they became the official religion of Rome and dominated the world for two thousand years?

And what hope was there on this lifeless planet for almost a billion years when suddenly, miraculously, the Spirit of the universe brought forth life through the reactions of separate, lifeless chemicals.  The Spirit gave those first living cells the vision to become more complex and guided and empowered them to grow until billions of years later the first conscious primates evolved.  And through the last 100,000 years human consciousness has continued to evolve with major developmental leaps at key moments.

Each of these moments could be considered last days by Joel—the last days of a lifeless earth before that first single cell, the last days of an unconscious earth before the human brain awoke, the last days before the 5th Century BCE burgeoning of philosophy in the east and west, the last days before the Enlightenment and Age of Reason—in each of these moments the Spirit of the universe erupted to guide and empower life to new forms.

The Spirit within us is still doing the same thing, giving us a vision of what more we could be and guiding us along that sacred way.  Obstacles always arise, we suffer and struggle, but the Spirit will guide us to the best outcome that the Spirit of God or spirit of the universe can envision and engineer.

This is the secret to overcoming whatever challenge we are facing as individuals—it is at the core of every 12 Step Group that looks to a higher power for personal transformation—and it is the secret to overcoming the challenge we as a whole planet of living creatures are facing now—one that qualifies as “the last days” more than any other moment in human history.

The good news is that we are seeing before our eyes the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.  We can hear children around the world prophesying, most famously Greta Thunberg.  Following her lead, almost two million children and youth went out on strike in over two thousand cities and towns this Friday alone.  Can you feel the Spirit’s power in this?

We can see visions and dreams of a new world like the realm of God on earth that Jesus envisioned now coming to light from many diverse sources.  This is an extremely exciting time to be alive, despite the danger and despite the vested interests and fearful, closed hearted, autocratic leaders who are fighting the sacred way today as fiercely as when they crucified Christ.

It has been exciting to witness the spirit of prophecy here in this church.  I believe it was the Holy Spirit that gave us the dreams for our congregation that we expressed in conversations together in the fall of 2017.  It was the Holy Spirit’s voice speaking through us that created the Future Directions Vision statement we read earlier in the service.

It was the Spirit that led us to say this from the longer vision statement inside the pew card:

“We intend to be a force, not just a presence, responding to wrongs, threats and destructive forces in the world and effecting positive social change, connecting religion to issues of peace, justice and the care of God’s creation…. We want to be a center for questioning and discussing, learning and growing.  We hope to consider seemingly insurmountable world problems and find a ladder of faith, hope and love to climb out into thought and action, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We want to create a safe forum where we can consider big questions and controversial issues, sharing with healthy communication, where we can disagree and still get along, listening humbly, openly and with fairness and compassion to others with differing views.”

The Spirit has guided us through every step to dream these dreams and to begin Fulfilling Our Vision.  Today you have two opportunities to “consider seemingly insurmountable world problems and find a ladder of faith, hope and love to climb out into thought and action, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.”  You have the opportunity to sign up for the Climate book study which will be a series of six conversations starting June 16th, and you have the opportunity to stay after worship today to have a conversation about the vision of a Golden Civilization, what we could call the realm of God on earth, and explore how we can work together now to create it.

Similar conversations are happening all over the world in response to a challenge by my brother George.  He says,

“A Golden Civilization requires a great vision that stimulates the passion and the vigor of a people as it calls forth their authenticity and their compassion. It is time to create that vision and to hold to it. It is not a time for compromise. It is time to build the movement that will ensure a Golden Civilization for a thousand generations…. If we are to create a Golden Civilization, we must envision it clearly and then we must choose to enact it. If we wish to send a satellite to Saturn’s rings, our aim must be impeccable. If we miss by even a few inches for every mile we travel, we will never arrive. How much clearer we must be in our vision of that foundation on which a Golden Civilization will be built, the root structures from which it will grow.”

Twenty of us met with George for an extraordinary conversation at the end of April.  We brainstormed together what we envisioned to be the qualities of a Golden Civilization.  George repeated it back to us asking us how it would be if we created it.  In preparation for continuing the conversation after refreshments I would like to share this beautiful vision with you and ask as George did:

If, as a consequence of our work together here and with groups like ours around the world, we were to deliver

a global civilization where all lives were treated with respect and seen as being one, where people were valued for their gifts, where there was an absence of fear and judgment and stereotypes, a society characterized by humility, kindness, compassion, caring, happiness, integrity and love, where there was tolerance for people being different and progressing through developmental growth, where our leaders were enlightened and independent and where a globally shared wisdom and vision kept humanity on track;

a civilization that was founded on a radically localized and simplified way of life in balance and harmony with animals and nature, respecting our interdependence, a green society of sustainable energy systems, where we no longer polluted our air, water and soil, where we put carbon back in the ground and reduced plastic and saved species rather than caused their extinction;

a civilization guaranteeing freedom for all, where all belong and are included, where diversity is celebrated, where there is an absence of racial, gender and all other discrimination, where all voices have the same weight and we listen to one another, and we guide our society by listening, where citizens are trained in healthy, non-violent communication, rejecting all forms of violence, with no need for war or weapons or the NRA in a world working constantly to live at peace;

a civilization where everyone has equal opportunity and enough of life’s necessities, where work is vital and the economy is based on gross national happiness, where health care is driven by health for all and there is no need for insurance, a society of honest money where corruption is no longer part of politics or business, where we have a separation of corporation and state and an end of unrestrained corporate power, where cooperative banks and businesses are the norm;

a civilization where everyone has an opportunity for education, where there is respect for both science and poetry, where there is a flourishing of the arts, where there is a modest approach to athletics and no misuse of drugs;

a civilization where citizens are trained to be stewards of the Golden Civilization and where universal education passes on all these values including the golden rule and love of neighbor and care for the vulnerable;

if working together with the Holy Spirit and people around the world we could deliver such a transformation in our time, how would that be?

Let us pray in silence in faith and hope …

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