United Church of Cloverdale
Sermon: Acts 2:1-21
It was nightfall in the village but the temperature was still very hot. My hosts asked me if I wanted hot water for my shower, but I declined.
Agua fria, por favor. Hay mucho calor.
I explained in my very rudimentary Spanish. The village of Tres Reyes (Three Kings) is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, deep in the heart of Mayan Country. I had travelled into this region on many occasions to scuba dive and to explore Mayan ruins. But to sample village life was a rare treat. I was there with a group of college students and their leaders who were spending their Spring Break building an addition to a church in nearby Cozumel. We arrived in the village on Saturday night after a day of hard labor building the church. It was nice to take a break from our labors and to spend some time absorbing the culture.
There was a hymn sing at the church that night. While the songs were unfamiliar, the spirit was easy to recognize. The little church rocked with music and joyous laughter.
It is easy to feel God’s grace in the Yucatan. The land is hot and dry with scrub brush and bramble bushes that are almost impossible to conquer. There is no surface water anywhere to drink. Every village and town in the Yucatan is centered on a CEYNOTE, what we would generally call a sink hole. At the bottom of the ceynotes are deep pools filled with water, drawn from the underground rivers of the Yucatan. To find a ceynote in the dessert is to find a habitat where life is possible. It is a gift from a gracious God than allows life and community.
We slept in simple hammocks tied from string. The houses were simple stick structures built on concrete slabs. The hammocks could be retied for day-time use as various forms of easy chairs. The only alternative was hard, straight back chairs cut from logs.
On Sunday morning we joined together for the formal worship service. We prayed and sang and broke bread together.
There was one young woman who insisted on conversing with me in Spanish. It was a real struggle, but somehow I was able to put words together that she could understand. We talked about a lot of things. For example, in Tres Reyes she told me that girls often marry at age twelve or thirteen. Then she asked me at what age girls marry in my country.
At the end of the weekend in Tres Reyes, I knew that something remarkable had happened. Somehow we knew that this village with its faithful saints of the church was now a part of us.
In College I spent a year in England, and worshipped at an Anglican Church. On weekends I would tour the country. Some of my favorite sites were the beautiful gothic cathedrals that fill the land. I came to love the richness of Anglican worship, with its glorious liturgies, colorful vestments. But the part I liked best was the wonderful pipe organs capable of shaking both the flesh and the spirit of all the worshipers within those stone cathedrals! One did not so much HEAR the music, but rather FELT it, shaking the whole building and causing every living cell to vibrate.
But the most remarkable cathedral in England is not gothic at all. Coventry Cathedral was gutted by German bombs in World War II. All that remains is the exterior walls and the steeple.
But attached to the old ruin is a beautiful, modern, Anglican cathedral that was constructed after the war with massive help from Germany as a monument to world peace.
One of the interesting stories about Coventry is that Winston Churchill had intelligence to show that Coventry was about to be bombed. Coventry was, and is, an important industrial city in the Midlands. The problem for Churchill was that he knew of the German attack because of the ENIGMA machine. This was a captured German cipher machine used by the Germans to transmit battlefield commands. Capturing the Enigma machine was a development of monumental proportions for the Brits. With the Enigma machine, English commanders sometimes even knew the German battle plans before they had even been sent to the German commanders.
The Brits could not let on that they had the Enigma machine. It was just too valuable of a secret. So, Churchill’s choice was to allow Coventry to be bombed, rather than to reveal the Enigma secret.
Such is the insanity of war.
In this violent and conflicted world, Coventry Cathedral is a holy shrine of world peace.
Seminario Evangelico in San Juan, Puerto Rico was created by a broadly ecumenical group of churches in Puerto Rico so as to have a place to educate their own women and men for ministry. There I was once able to study side by side with the local pastors. Apart from our coursework we would discuss all sorts of issues, including Puerto Rico’s future.
The status of the future of Puerto Rico is a hot-button issue to be sure. There are three basic choices:
- Puerto Rico could continue in its present configuration as a commonwealth of the US. But somehow this status will always feel like “unfinished business.”
- Puerto Rico could become an independent nation.
- Or, Puerto Rico could become the fifty-first state of the US.
In discussing these issues with the Puerto Rican pastors, I was amazed to find that they would all campaign for INDEPENDENCE.
I was truly shocked and stunned by this attitude. I told them that I could not understand. I asked them why they would not want to become an American state. And what they told me were words that were hard to hear.
I was told that the US espouses wonderful values. It promotes peace, freedom, human rights, economic development, and all of those wonderful values. The problem, these pastors told me, is that the US refuses to actually LIVE by those values that it espouses. They told me how they perceived the US as a world class tyrant who overthrows even duly elected governments. They told me how the US will always act in its own political and economic interests regardless of the tyranny being imposed upon the hemisphere.
They spoke of the time when President Eisenhower invaded Nicaragua in an effort to keep the workers of the United Fruit Company from striking. The US supports organized labor at home, but will deny it when it foreign workers seek better wages and work conditions when working for US companies abroad. After all, a strike in Nicaragua against the United Fruit Company might raise the price of bananas stateside, a situation that Eisenhower simply could not tolerate. And that American intervention into Nicaragua destabilized that country for the next fifty years.
They told me that they would be ashamed to call themselves Americans until such time as the US decides to live up to it’s most noble values.
One of the pastors then invited me to worship at his church on the north coast of the Island, a short distance west of San Juan. When I got there I found the liveliest music imaginable. And the surprise was that there was a group of four or five women who were dancing themselves into a total frenzy during the music. They were all dressed in vivid flowered dresses and made for an amazing worship experience.
The METROPOLITAN of Kiev was visiting Washington DC as a part of a Soviet entourage. The Metropolitan was what we would call an ARCHBISHOP in the Russian Orthodox Church. The Metropolitan had asked to meet with religious leaders. And so, his Soviet handlers tried to set up a meeting between him and various astrologers, spiritualists, tarot card readers and psychics. But the Metropolitan rebelled. He said that he was interested not in spiritualism, but in the HOLY SPIRIT.
He finally got his way and was able to hold a meeting of church leaders. I received an invitation from my role as a Conference staff member in Baltimore.
The Metropolitan told us of the urgent need to rebuild the church in the Soviet Union. This was a time when the restrictions on religious life in the USSR was beginning to ease. He told us of how the Christian message had nearly been extinguished by decades of Communist rule. Most of the church buildings had been either taken over or destroyed. A great many Orthodox priest had been put to death. The only remaining Russian Orthodox priests were a few very old men, who had been ordained before the Bolshevik revolution.
The Metropolitan told us about how the new birth of faith had become a challenge to the state. And indeed, the Soviet empire fell a few years later, due largely to a resurgence of both the Christian and Islamic religions. Women and men at prayer can bring the most powerful empires to their knees.
The Metropolitan then passed out his bag of gifts to all of the participants. He gave us a picture book of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, this was written in Russian. He also gave our commemorative plaques, that were again, written in Russian. And so I am not sure what the plaques commemorated.
But the best gift of all was cans of CAVIAR. The aides to the Metropolitan told us that this was the GOOD STUFF, genuine sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea. Now I love fish roe, but have never experienced the “GOOD STUFF.” Never having experienced a life of opulence, I was at a loss at how to make use of this precious gift. I let the caviar sit around for several years, waiting for the “RIGHT MOMENT” to indulge in this opulent treat, but somehow, the RIGHT MOMENT never came along. But one ordinary day, several years later, I decided that it was time to try the exquisite caviar. When I opened the can it was rotten, and the opportunity was wasted. This is what happens when we fail to use our gifts.
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the birthday of the church. At that time the Church was endowed with every good and perfect gift. It was a time when all divisions were overcome, and the church emerged as a global fellowship without barriers or boarders.
My Friends, the Church is much bigger than all of us. It is much bigger than we can possibly understand. We are two billion people around the globe, speaking every language and tongue, living on every continent, with diverse nationalities, theologies and styles of worshiping God. And yet we are of one Spirit, one Lord and Savior of us all. We share one bread and drink one cup.
In earlier weeks we studied the end of the division between Jews and Greeks. Today we celebrate the end to the divisions between all peoples and nations. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made into one holy and global fellowship. There are no differences that divide us, or ever COULD divide us, so long as we faithfully worship and serve our God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
WE ARE THE CHURCH, and that is a very big roll to fill. There is no room for petty jealousies to keep us from fulfilling our mission as SAINTS OF THE CHURCH.
Our congregation has been taking a TIME OUT, to sort out our differences, and to find a way to go forward. Now, with the DISCERNMENT process nearly completed, we have elected a new slate of officers and are now ready to move forward in our mission.
Let us not waste the precious gifts that we have been given. Let us join with women and men throughout the whole EUCUMENE, in serving Christ and worshiping him.