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Sermon for Sunday 23 May 2021

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

1The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Psalm 139:1-15

1Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 2You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways. 3Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. 4You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. 5Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 6Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? 7If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. 8If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 9Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. 10If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” 11Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. 12For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 13I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. 14My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. 15Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.

Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, {the apostles} were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Gospel: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

26{Jesus said,} “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Wait is Over

          There are certain human experiences that are universally annoying, and we’ve all experienced them at some point.  For example, waiting in lines.  In our rushed and privileged society, it seems we have less and less capacity for waiting.  A woman tells of trying to get a table at a popular local restaurant.  She approached the hostess and asked quite gruffly, “Will it be long?”  The hostess kept writing in her hostess book, so the woman leaned closer and asked again, a little more firmly this time, “Will it be long?”  Without looking up, the hostess said, “About ten minutes.”  A few minutes later, the woman heard this announcement over the speaker: “Willette B. Long, your table is ready.  Willette B. Long, your table is ready.”

One has to wonder if the disciples, in that intervening time between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost were beginning to ask, will it be long?  I read an interesting study this past week, that took place in Holland, about awkward pauses in conversations.  We’ve all been part of a conversation, where a pregnant pause occurs.  A pregnant pause is when the person we’re chatting with suddenly goes silent.  Depending on the situation, it can be quite disconcerting. 

The researchers in Holland ran a study to measure how long a conversational gap has to last before it creates negative emotions in the people involved.  The results are interesting.  Did you know that all it takes is four seconds of silence in a conversation to inspire feelings of anxiety, exclusion, incompatibility, and awkwardness?  Just four seconds of silence is all it takes to make us feel insecure and uncomfortable.

A member of the research team summarized the study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology this way: “Conversational flow is associated with positive emotions, and a heightened sense of belonging, self-esteem, social validation and consensus.  Disrupting the flow, by a brief silence, produces feelings of rejection and negative emotions.”  It’s interesting to me is, that the more we progress as a society, the more efficient we become at providing, the more impatient we seem to become.  We have become products of the fast food, overnight delivery, instant communication, and the sound bite news style of reporting.  Today, we have little reason to wait for anything anymore, and when asked to be patient, we find it difficult. 

Last Sunday we read the passages from Luke and Acts of Jesus’ ascension.  In these passages we recall Jesus’ promise to return to the Father to sit at His right hand, to rule and reign until the Father gives the command for Jesus’ to return.  We also read about Jesus’ command to the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the sending of the Holy Spirit.  As promised the Holy Spirit came to guide the disciple and all the baptized of God, in all truth, God’s truth of what was and is still to come.  As baptized Christians, we too share in the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, and we received that gift in baptism.

            Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered to go as Jesus commanded into all the world to baptize, teach, and make disciples; this is the Great Commission, our call to service as present-day disciples.  The disciple then obediently waited, and the Holy Spirit came as promised.  It was such an important event that each year we recall the sound of the mighty wind, the tongues of fire and of Peter’s impassioned message, and of how 3,000 souls were saved that day.  And each year we ask, what does this event tell us today?  How does this event serve to inform us in our current context?

            It was just over 14 months ago that we were forced into our homes to help prevent the spread of the Coronus virus.  Then after 10 weeks of “self-quarantine, on Pentecost Sunday 2020, we were allowed to return to church with masks and social distancing to once again begin worship.  However, we were required to endure a great many social restrictions.  Unless you were family members living together, you were discouraged from visiting others.  Care facilities were locked down, no visitors were allowed in.  The same was true for hospitals.  Sadly, early in the pandemic, a great many people contracted the virus and became deathly ill.  And in way too many cased, upon the death of the infected person, the families were not allowed to say goodbye to their loved one.  For the last 14 plus months, we’ve lived with forced separation.  But thanks be to God, the end is in sight.

            Last week the CDC issued guidance that said for anyone fully vaccinated, there was no longer a need for masks in most settings.  For all who were 2 weeks beyond their final dose of the vaccine, social distancing is no longer needed, because for those who have been fully inoculated, there’s no longer a high risk of contracting or spreading the virus.  According to our medical professional, with normal precautions, we can begin to return to life as we knew it before the pandemic.  This is indeed good news!

            We’re “free to move about the country,” as the advertisement reminds us.  We can resume going to movies, and other establishments where people gather in numbers.  Yes, we’re still required to wear masks in places like hospitals, doctor’s offices, care facilities and airports, but we can return to socializing like we’ve done in the past.  And I for one am glad.  It’s been a long and weary road we’ve all traveled.  But the end of this time of sequester also means, we’re out of excuses.

            For the past 14 or so months, we’ve had the excuse that it’s too dangerous for us to go out into our communities and share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return to the Father.  In Christian love, we have distanced ourselves from our neighbors and remained in our small, approved groups.  But as I said, this is now no longer necessary.  Now the time of waiting is over.  For those who have been fully vaccinated, we can resume our call to reach out to our neighbors and invite them to come and worship with us.  We can reach out and share the good news of God’s amazing love, and of His forgiveness and His promise of life eternal.  And the opportunities to share this good news are many.

            Despite the pandemic, the building boom in our area has continued.  In the past 15 or so months, a good number of houses have been built right here in the immediate area.  Over here on Rudisill road for example, 3 houses were built and sold to new families.  The house where mister Butler lived has sold, and a new family has moved in.  Just up from Scott and Sherry, the people who bought Frances Singleton’s property have now moved in and they are now selling Frances’ place again.  Over on High Sholas road, there are a couple of new houses that have been completed, and there’s a sign in place announcing another small subdivision to be built.  Growth in our immediate area is happening, and families are leaving the upper northeast to take advantage of the climate, the lower cost of living and the employment opportunities available in the Charlotte metro area.

            When I was first called here to Bethel, the area surrounding our church was, for the most part, stable.  Few houses were being built, no one had ever heard of the Lithium company and most folks had been living here for many years.  Development in this area was slow and mostly attributed to growing families.  The fact is, things have and are changing dramatically. 

Within the next several months the Lithium corporation will begin mining operations within just a few miles of the church.  Businesses will continue to come to the Charlotte area and ones that are already here are planning to expand.  Who can deny the impact that Amazon has had with 4 new operations in and around the Charlotte area?  And the result of all this growth is that the towns and counties surrounding Mecklenburg county are rapidly becoming bedroom communities.  Additionally, as part of this growth, for good or bad, Kings Mountain is in the process of approving a Casino.  Folks, there is no denying what is happening around us, and that the opportunity for us to bear witness to God’s amazing grace is endless.  Fellow disciples of Jesus, the time of waiting is over, the time for harvest is upon us.

Several months ago, I talked with our Evangelism committee and proposed a plan for every member here to become involved in reaching out to our new neighbors, and we need your help.  A few moments ago, I mentioned several new homes that have been built, or existing of homes where new folks have moved in.  But I’m sure the few I named are but a sample of what’s really happening.  You folks know your surrounding neighborhoods.  You drive the roads to and from work, the store and here to church.  You see what’s going on and what’s changing; who’s moving in and who has moved out.  Here is what I’m asking you to do. 

The first thing we need from you is simple.  When you see a new family move in or a new house completed, write that address down and give that address to me, Nita or Donna.  What we plan to do is to simply send that family a card welcoming them to our area and that we would love for them to come and worship with us.  The second thing I need for you to help me with, is begin to think of ways we can return to ministering as we have in the past.  We need to think about how we can be God’s church in this community, not just dust off the old programs.  If the previous way we did things was effective, fine.  But if changes need to be made, we need to be willing and ready to make them.

With the possibility of new families joining our congregation, there will be a need for the youth group to begin meeting again.  In the hope of new faces, we need the Women of Bethel to begin gathering regularly and firm up plans for their fall retreat.  Sunday school will also need to resume as well, so Sunday School teachers please begin looking for a curriculum.  And guys, we need to establish a men’s ministry as well.  Bruce Zander, the Mission Region’s men’s group coordinator came and talked to us about establishing a group here, and Dan and I have been attending the men’s breakfast at Holy Trinity and gathering information on how we can start that ministry here.

In a couple of weeks, the council will be meeting to discuss plans for how and when we will return to normal ministry here at Bethel, and we need your ideas for when and how we resume our normal schedules.  We need to think about how and what we’ve done in the past and make plans to strengthen what needs strengthened, and change what needs to be changed.  Now is the time, but before we simply jump in, we also need to take the time to pray.  We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us as we begin our return to our new normal.

Along with our discussions is the need to examine all our worship practices.  We, quite possibly, need to ask ourselves some hard questions.  Has the past 14 plus months caused us to become lazy, apathetic in our devotional life, in our prayer life and in our gathering as the body of Christ?  What is it that need to be refreshed, what needs to be instituted and what needs to be eliminated from our worship practices?  What, in our worship observances, needs to be returned to the basics?  To do this, we need to pray, to work together, to listen to each other, and be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

At Pentecost, as promised, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples and establish the church, and in baptism, we too received the promised Holy Spirit.  And when the Holy Spirit came upon those gathered, they proclaimed the gospel in a mighty way and those who heard the truth proclaimed, were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and 3,000 that day repented, were baptized and joined the body of Christ.  The first Pentecost is an example of what can happen here in this congregation today.

As we transition into the post-pandemic period, we too need the refreshing and renewing power of the Holy Spirit to come and guide us as we answer Jesus’ call to go, make, teach, and baptize.  The time of waiting is indeed over, the time for excuses has ended; now is the time.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37b-38).


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