This Sunday is both Pentecost Sunday, and also a day that many United Methodists will celebrate Heritage Sunday. It was fifty years ago that the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church to form The United Methodist Church. (Note: a timeline of The United Methodist Church since 1968 may be found here.)
It is a wonderful coincidence that a celebration of Pentecost – the arrival of the Holy Spirit, taking place after 50 days of Easter – and a celebration of 50 years of United Methodism coincide in this Heritage Sunday. We will hear from Pastor Christopher as he helps us understand our sacred text and our shared history so we might move boldly forward into the future.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CEB)
1The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. 2He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.
3He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”
I said, “Lord God, only you know.”
4He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! 5The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. 6I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”
7I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. 8When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them.
9He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.”
10I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.
11He said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ 12So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. 13You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. 14I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”
Acts 2:1-12 (CEB)
1When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”
Consider these questions:
- This celebration is of the merger between the MEC and the EUB. If measuring by the oldest denominational relationship, The United Methodist Church is in its 234th year. Considering our lengthy history, where do you think the Holy Spirit been most visibly at work in the UMC (and its predecessors)?
- The merger that formed the UMC took place in April of 1968, a year of turmoil as: the Vietnam War produced the Tet Offensive; racial tensions in the U.S. continued to rise; student-led protests took place in the U.S., Poland, and France; Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. How do you perceive this denominational merger against this backdrop?
Post-Sermon Update on 5/22
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
Pastor Christopher’s sermon boldly addressed ongoing issues within The United Methodist Church, within the global catholic (universal) Church, and within our culture. We are reminded that the events of Pentecost are communal – they are about bringing people together; and we are reminded that the Holy Spirit who inspired Pentecost continues to inspire us today!
If your Christian practice dehumanizes someone; if your Christian practice places a racial hierarchy upon someone; if your Christian practice places a gender hierarchy upon someone; then your Christian practice is inconsistent with the Gospel of love and justice, the Gospel we see in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Christopher reminds us that all is not lost. In our regional structures, in our denomination, in our world, there is room for God to breathe into the dry bones of our fears and our brokenness. God is still at work! God’s Spirit still moves and inspires! Jesus still commands us to love!
Let us see hope through the eyes of God.
Consider these questions:
- Where do you see hierarchy and marginalization and dehumanization taking place in our world today?
- Where do you see the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit in these circumstances?
- How is God breathing into your own dry bones of fear or brokenness and inspiring you to take part in God’s continuing work?