SERMON for MAY 31, 2020
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Text: Acts 2: 1-21; John 7: 37-39
Blue Zones – Blue Zones – perhaps you have heard of them. A Blue Zone is a non-scientific term given to geographic regions that are home to some of the world’s oldest people. In a Blue Zone, the majority of citizens live well into their 90s and early 100s. In comparison, the current life expectancy in the United States is just shy of 79 years, and in the world – it is around 73 years. So, how is it that people in Blue Zones live approximately 20 years longer than in other areas? What are their secrets?
First, let me encourage you to read about these communities on bluezones.com. My brief description as a sermon illustration does not do justice to the study of these communities. What people in these areas have in common are the following:
- They keep their bodies moving – naturally and regularly, not by going to the gym, but through ordinary yardwork and housekeeping.
- They have a purpose – a knowing “why I wake up in the morning.
- They have routines to wind down and relax from activities, such as taking an afternoon nap, having happy hour, and observing Sabbath rest.
- They follow the 80% rule – they stop eating when their stomachs feel 80% full instead of eating until they are stuffed, so they eat less.
- For the most part, they eat a plant-based, vegetarian diet – very little meat.
- They drink in moderation – 1-2 glasses of wine daily with their evening meal.
- They put their families first – keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or living in their homes.
- They value belonging to civic groups, social circles, or faith communities that support healthy lifestyles: physical, mental, and spiritual. They join with like-minded people who encourage, practice, and promote healthy living.
From the Day of Pentecost to the present, the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon God’s people. The one and the same Spirit of God continues to be poured out in abundance upon us and the whole world, yes – even upon our broken world and fragmented nation that is becoming more and more divided. The news in our country over the past few days is heartbreaking on so many levels. The visions and dreams of our country’s founders, such as liberty and justice for all, are threatened regularly by those entrusted with power to uphold our laws and protect our liberties. Abuses of power and privilege have deadly consequences – disproportionately impacting minority communities more than the majority population. Violence begets violence – at the national and local level – in speech and in actions - and we lament the consequences: the tragic loss of lives, social chaos, and property destruction. It is all too predictable, and it is all so unnecessary. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it: so much sin causes so much sorrow. Is it pride, prejudice, or willful ignorance that prevents us from learning from history – from the lessons of the past?
In the world there are communities, though, like those identified as Blue Zones – communities of people that reflect a different way of living and being – a quality of life that values physical and mental and spiritual health and well-being of all people – that unites people in shared, life-sustaining values. Within the core of our being, people long to belong and to feel connected: with God and with others, with people who share their values and priorities. People want to have a life with purpose, that is, with a reason for getting up in the morning - knowing that showing up for life matters, not just for their own well being but also for the sake of others. Blue Zones are places where people can experience shared visions and dreams. Churches are other places, our faith communities, Spirit Zones – places where the Spirit of God plants visions and grows dreams, communities in which young and old build upon the legacy of faith entrusted to them by God and spiritual ancestors, locations where people might see and experience values of compassion and care for all of God’s people, especially for the most vulnerable, and a commitment to work for love and justice.
Spirit Zones, our churches, like Blue Zones, are not perfect – for they are comprised of people, people like you and me who have something in common that is very important to acknowledge and confess openly, honestly, and regularly – without denial or apology - we are all sinners. Yes, we are all sinners saved by grace through faith, yet we still remain sinners, which means that we will sin and make mistakes, time and again. At times, we will make poor choices that have significant consequences, and we will speak and act in ways that hurt others. No one is without sin. For that reason, Jesus Christ lived for us, died for us, and rose from the grave for us - victorious over all sin and death itself – so that we might embrace the resurrection life that God gives us in His only begotten Son – even here and now in this life.
As forgiven and redeemed people, we are called to love and live for God. As the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us – as Christ’s love works in and with and through us, we remember that the Risen Lord commissioned the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing others in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded. Our challenge is to create Spirit Zones, places in which the Risen Lord and His amazing grace may be experienced – even through us and our ministries – a sacred space in which spiritual abundance might happen - where Good News is proclaimed and received, where life and community are celebrated, where spiritual transformation and growth happen in abundance – where people are one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.
In our Spirit Zone today, let us hear a description of the Church from the late Christian poetess and author Ann Weems, a writer and Presbyterian elder quite well known in church circles, and as an aside, a childhood friend of Granite member Carolyn Hurwitz. From Ann Weems’ collected works Reaching for Rainbows, the poem: “I Celebrate the Church of Jesus Christ.”
I celebrate the church of Jesus Christ,
where two or three or thousands can gather together
in the Lord’s name
and touch this world
with the amazing good news that somebody cares,
that God joins us in community so that someday
this world will be loved to wholeness.
I celebrate this community,
where the people say Yes in the face of No,
where they light candles in the darkest night,
where healing and compassion leave no time for self-righteousness,
and the life-sustaining love of Christ is evident in the life of the believers.
I celebrate the church, where we dare to stand up,
where risk runs rampant,
and you and I and all Christ’s disciples
are called upon to follow
even when it costs us something,
like our friends,
like our respectability,
like our future with the company.
I celebrate the church, where we are called
from half-heartedness to commitment:
commitment to a God who calls us to change,
to change our direction,
to be reborn
to a way of life where others are significant.
I celebrate the church,
where every child of God is hailed as unique and valuable,
where arms are opened to the world’s outcasts,
where the tired, beaten, disillusioned world is invited in
by the life-giving word
that Christ accepts the children,
all the children of the world.
I cannot live abundantly without this community, God’s church,
where turning to one another and working and rejoicing with one
another is a way of life –
A Way of life God chose for us,
a gift God gave us,
a mission that we share;
a mission that cuts across barriers,
racial and cultural,
national and international;
a mission that unites local and regional,
men and women,
young and old.
I celebrate this way of life
that takes me and mine from the center of things
and focuses on ours and theirs.
I celebrate the trust we hold,
the spirit we share,
the attitude of partnership.
I celebrate that love lives among us,
that God’s spirit pervades our being, our community.
I see God’s face within the lives of these celebrants.
I hear God’s voice in the vision of men and women who call us
to a better way,
a higher hope.
For God works miracles in common clay pots,
Changing caterpillars to butterflies and water to wine,
Changing seeds to oak trees and night to day,
Changing winter to springtime,
Changing lives from ordinary to abundant.
We as God’s celebrants dance through this world together
listening for God’s music,
responding to God’s word,
praising God with clapping hands and moving feet,
praising God with justice and mercy and humbleness,
praising God with changed lives.
Let’s celebrate the church of Jesus Christ
where the wonderful wildness of God
breaks through common clay pots
and fills us with a Holy Spirit that overflows --
and we see rainbows,
light in pitch darkness –
and every day is a festival of faith!
[end of poem]
On this day of Pentecost, let us pray, Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Help us to make every day a festival of faith as we create Spirit Zones in which all of God’s people are welcomed and loved and celebrated, for the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.