St. Philip Lutheran Church
5 June 2022 + Day of Pentecost
Rev. Josh Evans
[Disclaimer: This sermon is going to be interactive, and in a few minutes, I’m going to invite you to share briefly with someone you’re sitting next to. You’ve been warned.]
They were all together in one place.
For the past 36 hours, I have been immersed in the business and busyness of the 35th Annual Assembly of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod – and not just any synod assembly, but our first in-person assembly since 2019.
Maybe I’m just a church nerd, but I love synod assembly – and how good it was to be all together in one place once again, for worship and fellowship with our siblings across the synod, to receive reports, to debate resolutions, even to pass a budget.
In the days and weeks leading up to assembly, I was also aware of how time-consuming the preparations going into this event would be – and so I got smart. Thanks to the wonder of online video sermons, I downloaded a freebie, ready to plug-and-play this morning – a welcome relief after a busy and exhausting weekend.
But: It’s also Pentecost weekend – and the Holy Spirit got the memo, and they showed up on Saturday afternoon, and here I am preaching a sermon I never planned to preach.
The Holy Spirit has a way of showing up like that – perhaps especially in moments when we most need them.
Throughout these last two years, it has been a hard time to be the church. We know that. And over these last several months, especially the last couple weeks and days, it has been particularly difficult to be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
If you read my pastoral message this past week, you know about the painful situation that has been unfolding in the Sierra Pacific Synod. Last year, at assembly, their synod elected the first transgender bishop in the ELCA – a historic moment to be celebrated, for sure. This year, their assembly began on Thursday night with an open conversation at which the majority of voting members – pastors, deacons, and lay folks – were calling for the resignation or removal of that same bishop whose actions have led to much sadness, anger, and broken trust.
The crisis as it has been unfolding in the Sierra Pacific Synod has captured the attention of the wider ELCA, and the laments have come from nearly every corner of the church. Throughout this crisis, it has been hard to feel much joy or optimism in our church body.
On Saturday afternoon of our assembly, after our business session was finished, we were invited to participate in the “Blanket Exercise.” Developed first in Canada, the Blanket Exercise has been modified for use in the United States as an interactive educational experience to teach participants about the history of native and indigenous peoples on “Turtle Island” – the traditional name often given for North America in these cultures.
That history is a poignant one – a history of violence, war, expulsion, and genocide, as whole tribal nations were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. The experience of the Blanket Exercise is powerful and emotional, and it left me asking: What now?
These past few days have been a lot – naming and confronting the reality of our history… the reality of our church body in crisis… and all this on top of the realities we’ve been living through as a world already.
I’ll be honest: In all of this, I haven’t been in a very hopeful or optimistic place lately.
As we were debriefing the experience of the Blanket Exercise, our facilitator, who serves as the ELCA Director for Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations, shared about the work they are doing and new grants that will enable them to do even more to specifically accompany folks living in one of the poorest tribal reservations in the country.
As they were sharing, that moment felt like the good news that I needed to hear. It felt like a reminder of the best of what this church can be, despite the weight of these last days and weeks.
The Holy Spirit has a way of showing up like that – especially in moments when we most need them.
It was like a Pentecost moment. There are reasons to love the church, and there are reasons the church is worth saving.
It was a good news moment in the midst of a bad news world. It is a reminder of why we are here, as our synod assembly theme so succinctly put it: to proclaim the gospel, in Jesus’s name.
To proclaim the good news of the inclusive, expansive love of God for all people, crossing every barrier of language, race, gender, sexuality, and more, just as on that first Pentecost day.
Now here’s the interactive part of the sermon (no, I didn’t forget): We all have those good news moments. We all have good news to share. Think about that. And take a minute or two to share with someone you’re sitting next to: Where have you experienced or felt good news?
Beloved in Christ: The Holy Spirit is not done with this church.
The Holy Spirit is not done with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Holy Spirit is not done with the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. The Holy Spirit is not done with St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview, Illinois.
The Holy Spirit is not done with me. The Holy Spirit is not done with you.
The Holy Spirit keeps working and keeps showing up in unexpected ways, like last-minute inspiration for a sermon I wasn’t planning on preaching.
The Holy Spirit isn’t done with us because there is still good news to share.
Thanks be to God! Amen.