Sermon, Pentecost Sunday 2009, Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27,16:4b-15


The Spirit has Come

What is God Doing?Dove icon BW

One of the most important questions a person can ask is, “What in the world is God doing?” It is more than a curiosity; we need to know. What is God doing in the world out there, the world of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan? What in the world is God doing with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah? What is God doing in the world of Capitol Hill, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, the State Department and all the rest?

What is God doing in my life? – my immediate family? my extended family? my health? my future security?

It is not that we want a crystal ball to know exactly what is going to happen – in fact most of us would turn down the offer of complete future knowledge – only children think they want to know everything about what is going to happen. Adults know that we are only able to handle one day at a time. But if not detailed knowledge of the future, at least we need to know enough of it the plan so that we can understand where we fit into that plan. Last week we saw how God has a purpose for our lives – for putting us where we are so that we can be a part of his mission, his plan, his agenda for us and for the world. So how do we discern our part in that plan?

The Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost Sunday, and the answer is the ministry of the Holy Spirit – no surprise – but we need to know how it works that the Holy Spirit helps us understand what in the world God is doing.

Pentecost Sunday celebrates the day on which God poured out his spirit on those first disciples – doing something new and different – so it is right that we too will do something different today. We will learn about the ministry of the Spirit by means of looking at our Presbyterian Seal, which is on the cover of the bulletin and detailed in the book-marker you received.

(Note: though this is the seal of the Presbyterian Church USA, there is nothing particularly Presbyterian about this – no references to John Calvin or anything that would set us apart from other Christians – so if you are not a Presbyterian, this is a symbol of what all Christians believe). Note: all these symbols and explanations are at http://www.pcusa.org/oga/seal.htm. Seal PCUSA

Cross and two flames

We start with the basic general structure: the seal is essentially in the shape of a cross with two flames at the bottom. On your book-marker this is the first detail, highlighted in blue. We begin with the cross because the cross is the universal and fundamental symbol of Christianity. Jesus, God’s Son came to earth, was crucified on a cross, and rose from the dead. When se speak of the Holy Spirit, it will be the Spirit of Jesus himself – more about that later.

The Open Book

The next detail on the book-marker, in navy blue is the symbol of an open book, which forms the cross piece of the cross itself. The open book is of course, torah, or the scriptures – the Bible. Christians believe two things about the bible – first, that God’s Spirit somehow was involved in producing it; the Spirit inspired the authors. How? Who knows? But somehow God’s Spirit was behind it. And secondly, that God’s Spirit is still involved in it; that when I read scripture, some how (how? who knows!) God speaks to me – by his Spirit.

The Dove Descending

Next, in purple at the top of the cross is the image of a dove descending. This is, of course, the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism, empowering his ministry, and the spirit descending on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, empowering their witness to Jesus, risen from the dead.

The Pulpit

Next, in green, the cross minus the top gives us two images; it could be both a pulpit and a table. The pulpit represents the word of scripture being proclaimed. As we gather together, we worship God by songs and prayers, by actions that illustrate our devotion: welcoming each other, bowing our heads, closing our eyes, (raising our hands? come on, we’re Presbyterians). But we also devote a substantial part of our time together to hearing the word proclaimed. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work right now, in two places: in me and in you. Right now the Spirit is taking the words I say as I do my best to proclaim the truth of scripture, and to make it alive in your heart.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an episcopal minister and professor reported that people would sometimes come to her after a sermon and say something like “you know, I was really moved by the way you spoke directly to me…” then they would tell her what she had said that was so personal and meaningful. She said she would give thanks to God that his Spirit used her – but often, she did not recall saying it at all. This is not a mistake – this is exactly what we expect to happen as the Spirit takes the word being proclaimed and applies it to each individual – if she or he is open.

Flames of Fire

The two red fiery flames are next. God is often pictured as a flaming fire. These two specifically represent the burning bush that burned but was not consumed that Moses encountered in the wilderness. The other are the flames that appeared as tongues of fire above the heads of the disciples on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit filled them all with power. Fire is probably the closest thing we have on earth to God. Flames are powerful, but you can pass an object through them as if they were not there. The power can be incredibly destructive, but also hugely helpful. In fact nothing denotes pure power better than fire itself. The power of God to work in our world and in our lives is represented by flames of fire. On Pentecost, the first empowerment that the disciples received, when the Holy Spirit came upon them, was the power to bear witness to Jesus.

Triangle

The triangle shape is next. The sides of the flames are shaped so that they form straight lines that point right to the tip of the descending dove, thus forming an implied triangular shape. The triangle, with its symmetry and balance can represent the way God has provided the church with leadership both lay and clergy, as well as a structure for accomplishing our mission in an orderly, organized manner. The triangle is also the Christian symbol for the Trinity: God is Three in One and One in Three; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday we take special note that the Holy Spirit is fully God just as much as the Father or the Son. Where the Spirit is, God is present, fully, powerfully, completely.

Fish and Cup

The final illustration has two elements: in the center of the dove is the shape of a fish. Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen, whom Jesus taught to fish for people. They were often pictured in the gospel stories out in thier fishing boat, crossing the sea of Galilee, frightened in storms, seeing Jesus walking on water. The fish became the symbol of Christianity in the early years, in part because the word fish, in Greek, is an acrostic of the phrase, Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Savior (ichthus).

In turquoise, in the very center of the cross is the shape of a chalice. This represents the cup of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took the cup and said, this cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is really present in a powerful way, through his Holy Spirit. As we take the sacrament, our faith is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and we are empowered by the Spirit for the mission and ministry that God has prepared for us.

The Spirit at work everywhere

What have we seen as we have explored this amazing seal? That the Spirit of God is present, not just in the Pentecost flame and desceding dove, but everywhere – in the word, in the sacrament, at the cross, in the Trinity – everywhere God is present, God’s Spirit is at work.

What in the World (& in me) is God doing?

At the beginning, we asked the question, “What in the world is God doing – both globally and personally? What is our purpose, what is my purpose, how can I know it?”The answer is that we can understand as much as we need to understand about God’s purposes in the world and in the church and in our own personal lives by the work of his powerful Holy Spirit. But the question is still: How?

The answer is found in the name that Jesus gave the Spirit as he instructed his disciples, as we read from John’s gospel. Jesus called him “the Spirit of Truth”(Jn 15:26) and said he would “declare to you things to come.”(Jn 16:13)

The Holy Spirit is at work, giving us as much as we need to know; the truth about the “things to come”in a couple of un-dramatic but powerfully effective ways. The Holy Spirit is alive and active first in scripture. The Spirit who inspired the stories and poems still speaks powerfully to his listening people through those words. Do you want to know what God wants from you? your purpose in his mission? Sit with scripture. Read it thoughtfully; reflect on it imaginatively. The Spirit will guide you to the truth you need to know.

The Spirit will also be powerfully at work guiding you to understand his purpose in times like this, as the word is proclaimed. If you approach the sermon with the expectation that God has something for you, by his Spirit, he will speak – sometimes by the words I preach, sometimes in spite of them, sometimes having little to do with them – which is weird, and a bit off-putting to me, but that’s OK.

In a moment we will come to the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus will be present in a powerful way by his Holy Spirit as that bread is in your mouth, and as you drink from the cup. God’s Spirit of Truth will be there for you, personally, renewing you in ways that humans cannot describe – but sometimes you can feel, right?

God has a purpose for you: he will guide you to it by the power of his Holy Spirit! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Lectionary Sermon, 7th Easter B, John 17:6-19

Micah 4:1-4

John 17:6-19

Can I Get an “Amen?”

Budapest
Budapest

The late Rev. Richard Halverson, former chaplain to the US Senate, I am told, was asked what he thought was the lasting impact he had on that body; he reportedly said it was the effect of the charge and benediction he used, which I have been using lately here:

Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do though you, where you are.”

This concept did not come out of thin air; it is not just a happy-thought to make the day go better for Senators. This concept, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that they are being guided and protected towards a specific goal is exactly what Jesus taught us. The text we read is from the prayer Jesus prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion. It was as if he were saying, in prayer to his heavenly Father, “O God, please help these guys to get it! Help them to figure out what this is all about. Make them realize that what is going on here with you Father, and me, your Son, and them, my disciples, has the power to transform each of them and even to change the world – if they get it!”

This is the message to us today: if we get it; if we, realize what is going on with Jesus and us, and what it means that Jesus, God’s Son, has called us to be his disciples today, it will not only transform our lives, but the world as well.

How will we know whether or not we “get it”? How can we tell if we are on the right track in understanding what Jesus was all about?

We are not fear-based

The first sign that we are getting it is that we are not living our lives in fear. We are not immobilized by anxiety about the future. We do not obsess about how bad things are now and how much worse they will probably get. Fear does not define us. Why not? Because we boldly assert that God is at work in this world, in our lives purposefully, and this means that we are under his protection.

Listen again to what Jesus said:

11Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them….

We reject as theologically unacceptable and incorrect a version of life that is motivated first by fear, as if God had abandoned us or was too weak to vouchsafe our lives or accomplish his plan. If that were the case, what would be the point of faith?

God is God; God is protecting and guarding us every day of our lives. Get that, and it is impossible to be fear-based.

God redeems evil

This is deeply profound, not simple. Asserting God’s protection is not pretending that we will only know good days, never be ill or harmed. This is Memorial Day weekend; the whole reason for this holiday is to take time to remember and give thanks to God for the people who actually died in their service to our country. We do not deny that violence happens, wars, crime, accidents. No; we are not Polly-Anna about faith. What we are asserting is that even in apparently bad circumstances, hard times, and tragedies, that God is constantly at work to redeem evil and bring good from it. This is a profound mystery on one level, and on the other hand, it is the experience of countless people through out history.

This truth, that God redeems evil situations and brings good from them is the essence of the book The Shack which many of you have read. It is also the testimony of the Hungarian Theologian Bela Vassady whose auto-biography I am reading.

Vassady

It is gripping to read how, during the Second World War he had to move his family around, first trying to escape the Nazi invasion of Hungary, then the shelling by the Allies, and finally the Russian onslaught. They moved from frozen cellar to box car, to abandoned places without heat or running water, narrowly escaped bombs and literally ran to escape being deported to Siberia. Through all of these horrific events, professor Vassady reports the strong sense that he was being guided and protected by God’s strong arm for his purposes – which, as it turned out, included rescuing hundreds of children from peril in Budapest and getting them to a place of safety, against overwhelming odds.

Many of you can attest to the experience of being protected and guided by God during your most difficult times of crisis. You have experienced the loss of loved ones, trauma within your families, health issues, financial issues, all kinds of personal problems, and yet you can bear witness today to the fact that you have known God’s presence and protection in those times.

For a Purpose

We must not and we do not stop here at the moment of reflecting on God’s protection. This is so much bigger than that; this is not merely about us, for our comfort and consolation. Listen as Jesus again speaks of protecting us, and then reveals his purpose, his objective:

11 Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Purpose number one is that we will be unified; one – not just in name, but in fact; unified to the unimaginable degree of unity that exists between God the Father and Jesus himself. All of this protecting is not so that we can get through our own storms or avoid being swamped by the everything the world throws at us. We are unified now, members of Christ’s body, his hands and his feet in this world, working as one person to continue the ministry that Jesus began.

Professor Vassady describes how he worked to organize child welfare teams to provide food and find shelters for the children of Budapest as they fled the fighting there. He worked with the Red Cross volunteers – even though none of them knew where their next meal was going to come from – because God was protecting him and them for a purpose: to accomplish as a group of people who were unified, working together, what none of them could have done alone.

Unity is a fact, not a goal

Most of us here are or have been married. When we said our vows and were pronounced husband and wife, our marriage became a fact, both legal and spiritual. We became one. This is what happens at our baptisms: we become members of the one body of Christ. This is not a goal to be achieved; it is a fact. It is not that we should be one with one another or with Baptists or Methodists: we are one. We are all baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit – and there is only One body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. None of us were baptized “Presbyterian” – we were baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; we are, in fact, One. Now the only remaining question is how to best accomplish the purpose for which God protects us and makes us one.

Sent into the world

This brings us to purpose number two for being protected by God: we, just like Jesus himself, have been sent with a mission. Listen again to Jesus:

18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Just as we are One to the degree that Jesus is one with the Father, so we are sent to the same degree that Jesus himself was sent. We pay so much attention to the fact that Jesus was sent by God that we often overlook the fact that we too have been sent in exactly the same way. We all know John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” Jesus was sent by God, out of God’s love for this broken world.

Well, in the very same way, we have been sent into this world by our Lord himself. “I have sent them into the world.” People who are sent have a mission. We are not here only to find ways to make our own lives more comfortable and secure; we have a purpose in being protected and being one: we have been sent; we are all missionaries.

Our mission is just like Jesus’ mission. We are here because God loves this broken world, and here to extend his love and his care to this world. We are placed here on earth in families: these are the first people we are sent to. We are sent to be agents of healing, reconciliation, care and protection of our own families. But every primate on the planet knows this: we do this by instinct. Jesus sends us out to the next circle; we are sent to our community to be Jesus’ representatives. Right here in Gulf Shores, God has a reason for brining us together as a church: we have been sent here as part of God’s purpose – to poor people, to homeless people, to addicted people, to sick people: God has a reason we are here.

This is one of the reasons we are in the process of taking a survey of our congregation. We want to know how you perceive we are doing at accomplishing the purpose for which God sent us here. We are constantly in need of growing, changing, listening to the Spirit through the voice of God’s people so that we can be the best missionaries we are able to be. The world is constantly changing whether for the better or worse, and we too are constantly changing; so our goal is to be constantly re-adjusting so that we can be effective in the mission we were sent here to do.

These are dangerous and scary times. The world is in a huge economic crisis – it has affected all of us here. There is so much violence and terror in the world – and who knows what will happen next? Men and women are still dying and being injured in the process of trying to bring peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing is certain, by Memorial Day next year, there will be more people to remember. There is much evil in the world.

But, we are not orphans in a dark world, alone, without hope. We are not people whose lives are defined by fear. We are people who know that our lives are in God’s hands. He is protecting us for a purpose. He has made us one so that we can be sent out on a mission – the very same mission of Jesus himself: to bring God’s love to this world in practical, meaningful ways.

Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do though you, where you are. Believe that…”

Amen?

Sermon for May 17, 2009, Exodus 18:13-26 & Acts 15:1-2, 6-12

Ex. 18:13-25

Acts 15:1-2, 6-12vote

Listening to the Spirit

What we have just read are some of the most important texts in the Bible! We all individually need to understand what they teach us to get through every day of our lives; and we as a church need to understand what they teach us to know how to be the church that God calls us to be. We all have many needs – for hope, for encouragement, for strengthening, and for guidance. These texts are about guidance; about discerning the will of God – and it is my experience that when we feel that we have discerned the will of God, we are encouraged and strengthened as well. We will look at both texts, then see how they apply to us today.

Jethro’s Advice to Moses

First the story of Moses and the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro. First Jethro asked him what was happening, and the way Moses described it, the people came to him “to inquire of God” (v. 15). God’s guidance is what they were seeking, and Moses was the man whom God had called to lead them and teach them God’s will.

The situation, you will recall, is that Moses has just led the people out of slavery in Egypt to liberation – but they were in the wilderness still. It was clear to everyone that Moses was a powerful leader, that God spoke to him and that he spoke for God, and so it was healthy and good for the people to want to hear God’s word to them, individually through Moses.

From beginning to end, Moses’ role is that he is a mouthpiece for God. This is chapter 18 of Exodus; the very next next thing that happens as chapter 19 opens is that Moses goes up to Mount Sinai and receives from God the Torah, the 10 Commandments and the other statutes and ordinances that will form and guide the community from that moment on – even to today. So Moses’ role as a leader who heard the voice of God and who communicated God’s will to the people was of utmost significance.

But Moses’ father-in-law Jethro said (v. 17) “What you are doing is not good.” Why? Because Moses had taken upon himself the task of interpreting God’s will to each individual person – and it was simply too much; there were too many. Jethro did not use the modern way of saying it, but in effect, his advice was, “you need to set appropriate boundaries; you will suffer burn-out; you need to learn to delegate.”

Jethro’s advice was very sophisticated in an important way because it framed Moses’ continued ministry of communicating God’s will, as in fact it came to be, and has been for thousands of years: Moses had the role of teaching Torah; the specific implications of torah then could be taught by people who were able interpreters. Listen again:

(Jethro said) 20 teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves.

Moses had the role of teaching the “statutes and instructions” that is, Torah, and the able men were able to interpret torah for the people.

There are several important truths at work here: one is that God’s voice is mediated through Torah, through the scriptures; God continues to guide his people by means of his Word. We believe that and rely on that fact today.

But God does not only speak through Moses, he speaks through other members of the community as well who can apply the teaching of Torah to specific individual cases. These people who interpret Torah for the community are not chosen at random, or on a round-robin rotating basis; nor are they selected because of their wealth or positions of power like tribal chiefs. Rather they are qualified by spiritual character qualities. They are people who first and foremost “fear God” in other words, their piety, their spirituality is evident.

Anybody could claim to fear God or pretend to, but their fear of God, is proven by their visible lifestyles – and it is interesting that money comes into the picture here. How do you prove your spirituality? By your bank statements. These men demonstrate that they meet the criteria by being people who are “trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain.”

God will give his people the guidance they need for their daily lives by first giving his words of instruction, his Torah, to Moses, who will teach it to the people. And then God will speak through members of the community – not just priests and prophets – but able people who are sensitive to the voice of God, spiritually alive and alert people, all the way down to the level of one in ten. Sounds like a small group system.

What have we learned from this text? We understand that God speaks to us and guides us first and foremost through Torah, through scripture. And we believe that God continues to speak to us through spiritually sensitive people within our community.

The Jerusalem Debate

Now we are ready to engage the New Testament story in the book of Acts. Let me set the stage. Jesus has been crucified and has risen from the dead, and has told his disciples “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.(Acts 1:8)

Events have proceeded for the early church exactly as Jesus predicted. They did receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. It was the day of Pentecost and suddenly the Holy Spirit of God came upon them, enabling them to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in languages spoken by many different people – and 3,000 Jewish people who had grown up outside of Israel and were native speakers of other languages all heard the gospel in their own tongues.

Then, the gospel spread out from Jerusalem just as Jesus had predicted. The Holy Spirit kept empowering witness in all of Judea, and then further into Samaria, and eventually into the non-Jewish cities of the Roman Empire like Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth, and Philippi. New churches were springing up as the apostle Paul and his coworker Barnabas made their missionary journeys.

But even though Jesus had predicted it, this whole business of gentiles being converted was starting to raise eyebrows back at headquarters in Jerusalem. Jesus was Jewish, the apostles were all Jewish, they worshipped and prayed and lived according to the law of Moses, the Torah – they were circumcised, they kept the Sabbath, ate only Kosher food – which is what they understood God required of them – none of which was true for the gentiles.

The question that had to be settled was, could a gentile be a Christian without first converting to Judaism, being circumcised, keeping Sabbath and obeying Kosher laws? this is what v. 1 says:

1 Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

This was not a small problem; it was huge. Luke politely describes it as no small dissension and debate” (v. 2) “No small dissension” means a Big dissension; and debate means that people were passionately committed to arguments and made them with all the force they could muster. It was a conflict. Acts 15 is about the first church fight. There were two sides, and they did not agree.

How to receive Guidance

Step back from the scene just for a moment and notice this: they needed God’s guidance. This is the whole point: how in the world is God going to guide them in this discussion? How does God guide us, today? Watch what happens.

First, some people appeal to scripture. They bring up “the custom of Moses” – which simply means the life style required clearly in the words of Torah, that is, scripture – which leaves no doubt: required is circumcision all the rest of it.

No one would challenge the role of Torah; there would be no Jewish faith without it. And yet, though Torah is the first word, it is not the last word. The words of Jesus must be taken into account as well; he predicted the spread of the gospel beyond Jewish borders. But he left open the question of what the conversion of gentiles would entail. He never commented on whether gentiles should be circumcised when they accepted the good news of the gospel.

So how should the matter be decided? What happens next is powerful and amazing. It is that the community gathered for that intense debate listened first to Peter’s testimony, and then to Paul and Barnabas.

v. 12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.

We did not read the whole chapter, so I will summarize the story: Peter, Paul and Barnabas, reported the experiences of new Christians around the entire Mediterranean. These uncircumcised gentile people responded to the message about Jesus, believed, and the Holy Spirit of God came upon them just as it had done on the apostles on the day of Pentecost, thus confirming that this was the work of God; and circumcision was not a barrier at all.

James stood up and summarized the conclusion that the Jewish Christians should “not trouble” the gentiles who were turning to God – code for not requiring circumcision – trouble indeed.

Experience sharing

Again, step back and see what has just happened. People of faith bear witness to the work of God in their own lives, their experience of God, and that testimony is taken seriously in the process of discerning God’s will.

This is exactly what we believe today: that God still speaks, leads and guides us most powerfully as we gather as a community of faith to debate and discuss and share our stories of God’s work in our lives. We believe we discern the voice of God through our community. It is not cut-and-dried. It is not black-and-white. We do not all agree. Sometimes there is “no small debate.” But we believe that God guides us, by his Spirit, through this messy, inefficient community process.

What are we here at the First Presbyterian Church in Gulf Shores, Alabama to do? How are we supposed to do it? Should we repeat exactly what we have done before? Should we change? What is our mission and what actions help us to accomplish that mission most effectively?

Scripture sets our agenda for us: we listen to scripture first. But that only goes part way towards practical guidance. We know we must worship God, according to scripture, but nothing is said about organs or guitars. We know we should minister to the poor and oppressed, but which mission should we give more support to? We know we need to communicate our faith to the next generation: how?

Survey: listening to you

We believe that this is an important moment in the life of this congregation, in which we who are leaders in this church must hear from you. We need to hear you report your experiences, your perspectives, your individual opinions about this congregation. In order to facilitate our listening, and to give it some order and structure, we have worked hard to produce a survey.

As you leave today you will see envelopes organized alphabetically. If you are a member, your name is on an envelope, and inside is the survey; each member gets one, not just each family – but each individual. Members who are not here will receive their surveys by mail after a second opportunity for picking them up here next Sunday. Inside the envelope is also a stamped return envelope. We hope that you will complete the survey this afternoon and return them by mail to the church on Monday. Some of you may wish to save the church the postage expense by filling out the survey here before you leave today. In any case we will wait a bit for surveys to be returned before tabulating the results.

What we expect

We expect that there will be differing opinions. We do not all look a the world the same, we have different tastes, different backgrounds, different ways of thinking – just as the apostles did in Jerusalem. But we believe that by listening to your experiences, we will be able to hear the voice of the Spirit.

Personal Application

This is Graduation Sunday in which we ask God’s blessing on our graduates as they leave behind one newly completed part of their lives and move to the next. Graduates are always future-focused. The immediate next step has already been worked out – for our graduates, it is more school. But the future after school is less certain. There will be decisions to make about jobs, marriage, locations, a host of decisions. How will you graduates know what God wants? You will listen first to Torah, to scripture. Let your agenda be God’s agenda: Jesus’ agenda. And then you will listen to the wise counsel from your community – family, school staff, colleagues – and you will look at your own experience of God’s past work in your life – and then you will make decisions, trusting that God is guiding you; and he is.

This is how all of us live, making decisions about everything from our purchases to how we will manage our later years. We will listen to scripture, and to the interpretation of scripture by godly people, and then hear the witness of those who have walked the path ahead of us. And God will be at work in the process, guiding us by his Holy Spirit.