Sermon from June 9, 2019

I Am About To Do a New Thing
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 9, 2019    Pentecost
Psalm 104; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 18-21; Acts 2:1-17

We recognize prophecies as gifts of the Holy Spirit most clearly when they speak truths about the nature of reality that apply to all times and places.

Listen to the comforting hope of Isaiah as if you were in the Midwest or South right now: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”  Imagine being in California last year: “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  Listen to what Isaiah says to our troubled society: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

We can feel hope today because we know that the force of love and life and light that we name God has proven true to those words since the dawn of time.

The Bible says that in the beginning everything was without form and void and dark.  We can imagine God saying, “I am about to do a new thing,” and then the Spirit gave birth to the universe with a Big Bang, and there was light.

For almost a billion years the earth was nothing but water, rock and dust.  Then God said, “I am about to do a new thing.”  The Holy Spirit touched lifeless elements together and a single cell began pulsing.  A few billion years later the Spirit breathed human consciousness into being.

“I am about to do a new thing,” God says through Isaiah, and the children of Israel are freed from their Babylonian captivity and return to rebuild their homeland.

“I am about to do a new thing,” God says two hundred years after Isaiah and a new consciousness is born, a Golden Age.  Democracy, philosophy and all the arts make a major leap forward in Greece while in India the founders of Buddhism and Jainism awake.

God says, “I am about to do a new thing” and Enlightenments rise out of Dark Ages.  God does a new thing and women, oppressed races and people of all sexual orientations are liberated.  God does a new thing and human consciousness evolves and society is transformed.

Isaiah’s prophecy rings true in our bones because God has done new things in every one of us.  Martha Manheim said in our second Golden Civilization conversation, “I am a different person now than I was at age 17.”  We are different at age four than at birth, different at age fourteen than at four, different at age twenty-four than at fourteen, and if we are blessed enough to continue to evolve through our adulthood God will do a new thing in our lives a few more times by age 94.

God does a new thing particularly when an old thing has fallen apart.  In the film Out of Africa Karen Blixen has been struggling to make a coffee plantation succeed and has just turned the corner when she is wakened in the night by one of her African workers.  He says, “I think you had better get up!  I think that God is coming.”  She looks out the window to see her entire processing plant and harvest in flames—total devastation and defeat.

Richard Rohr wrote a book entitled, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.  In it he writes about how God can do a new thing through experiences like Blixen’s.  He says, “You will remain largely unconscious as a human being until issues come into your life that you cannot fix or control and something challenges you at your present level of development, forcing you to expand and deepen. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding, that we break into higher levels of consciousness.”

That was certainly true for Isaiah in exile or in the 19th Century when the horrors of slavery led to a consciousness that demanded its abolition.  It is equally true for the wisdom born of suffering you can find in 12 Step groups, or cancer survivor or bereavement support groups.

So if you personally are struggling right now, Isaiah’s prophecy is for you.  And if you are tempted to despair over our world, the prophecy is for you.  God is about to do a new thing.  It is springing forth.  Do you not perceive it?

Today on this Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is rushing into our lives.  Listen to what is blowing in the wind, listen to how the fire is speaking.  Who would have thought that a sixteen-year-old Swedish girl with autism would be leading the world?  But listen to Greta Thunberg crying out at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, “Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. […] I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

God has a dream for life, a dream that the earth has been moving toward for billions of years, and God is not done yet.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “It is possible to have a new kind of world, a world where there will be more compassion, more gentleness, more caring, more laughter, more joy for all of God’s creation, because that is God’s dream.  And God says, ‘Help me, help me, help me realize my dream.’” (Preface to The Green Bible.)

Gus Speth has done extraordinary work with colleagues thinking practically about how we can help realize God’s dream, particularly the new social and economic systems that can replace the ones that are destroying our ability to survive on earth, but we will not be able to make the changes necessary in time unless humanity has a rapid shift of consciousness.

Gus lists six factors that can speed that change of consciousness: 1. calamity or the threat of one; 2. wise leaders; 3. a new narrative and positive vision being articulated; 4. a united mass movement; 5. effective social marketing; and 6. a proliferation of models of a new way of living.  (From The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities, p. 11 ff)

The Holy Spirit launched the first church in a way that fulfilled all six of those.  The society of the Roman Empire was a calamity from the Christian’s perspective.  The Holy Spirit gave extraordinary wisdom to the ordinary working people who led the early church.  They articulated a new narrative of the human story and a positive vision for the realm of God on earth.  They were blessed with apostles like Paul, community organizers who built a mass movement and whose letters were extremely effective social marketing.  The early churches were each different and together represented a proliferation of models of a new way of living.

The result of this combination of factors was a shift in consciousness throughout the Western world.

So how can we in this church help God do a new thing—how can we help change the consciousness of our society?  I see it already happening.  I believe this congregation is living in the midst of a new Day of Pentecost, and that the Future Directions Vision that we read is part of it.  We listened for a year as the Holy Spirit spoke through our hearts to craft that Vision.  We don’t read the longer version of that Vision very often, but listen to these words and think of them as being part of something new God is about to do, that is already springing forth.  Imagine what these words could mean in response to Greta Thunberg.

We say,

“We want to be a congregation that has vital involvement in everyday life in the community and that reaches out to help those in need.  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 this congregation to be…a place of inspiration and wisdom….

“We want to offer training in contemplative practice and cultivate a way of seeing the world and our lives as sacred….  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.”

Think of that Future Directions Vision in relation to Gus Speth’s six elements to help change the consciousness of society.  As in the early church, you can see them all here:

We are opening our eyes to seemingly insurmountable world calamities to find a way to act, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We are looking to this church as a source of inspiration and wisdom, we are training ourselves in contemplative practice which is designed to open us to the Spirit’s word and wisdom.  We are striving to see ever more clearly that this world is sacred and we want to articulate that new narrative and positive vision.  We are making one of our first priorities a sign out front that can help us communicate that narrative in tweet-size sign-bites.

Our other top priority is to read Jim Antal’s Climate Church, Climate World.  I wish this church were a school and I were a teacher who could say that this book is required reading if you want to graduate.  It is a blueprint for building the kind of church described in our Vision that is involved in the community serving needs and nurturing local resilience while being part of the global movement to create a Golden Civilization.  The book shows how we can be a model and we can help our towns be models.

I know we are small in number, and many of us are over-busy or tired or discouraged, but look around.  God is about to do a new thing, the Holy Spirit is coming with its wind and fire.  As Jim Antal says in the book, “God’s helping presence is everywhere, and at every turning point.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit empower us to accomplish more than we could ask or imagine.  As urgent as our crisis is, God offers us the courage we need to address the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced.  With God’s help, we can do this, together.”

Let us pray in silence and listen to hear the Spirit’s word speaking like wind or fire in our soul…

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