"The Power of Presence"
The Power of Presence Acts 2 May 24, 2015 Epworth United Methodist Church Linda Loessberg-Zahl The humor columnist Dave Barry wrote about the power of electricity and the genius of Thomas Edison in inventing the electric company: "...the electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then immediately gets the electricity back through another wire, then (this is the brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again. [So] an electric company can sell a customer the same batch of electricity thousands of times a day and never get caught, since very few customers take the time to examine their electricity closely…” Have you checked your power recently? Not the power in your lines, the power in your life. How's your power level today? How powerful do you feel today? Power comes in many different forms. There’s the power to make a name for ourselves, the power to make a fortune, or the power to make an empire. Then, there’s the power to make a difference, the power to make a person and a community come alive! That’s the kind of power we hear about in the account from Acts this morning. The people in the The Acts of the Apostles reading are experiencing a power surge. In the first chapter Jesus tells the disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." It says a group about our size came together in one place in Jerusalem, for the Feast of Pentecost, an early harvest festival of thanksgiving to God. Eugene Peterson translates: “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. [The Hebrew word ruach can be translated as wind or spirit, so wind evoked an image of the Spirit of God.] The wind filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit [moved] them.” The power was flowing that day! The power of the presence of the Spirit was moving in and through everyone. Peter does his best to explain what was happening by quoting the book of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people!” (Joel 2:28-32) The crowd is powered up by the Spirit, and so are we! That’s the powerful Spirit Paul describes when he says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; also 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21-22) New Testament scholar N.T. Wright (as highlighted by Richard Rohr) says Paul’s supreme idea is that God’s temple is the human person. Wright recalls the dedication of the first Jewish stone temple around 950 BCE (1 Kings 8:10-13), how the glory of God, described as fire and cloud from heaven, descends and fills the temple, signifying that God is in the house! (From Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, Paul’s Life-Changing Teachings) 2 Now, Paul says that the Spirit of God dwells in human beings! Rohr says, “We sing ‘Come Holy Spirit.’ [But,] The Holy Spirit has already come. You all are Temples of the Holy Spirit – equally, objectively and forever.” The power of God’s Holy Spirit lives and moves in every person, including Jed, Ellie Porter’s son who died of AIDS. This eternal flame on the wall of the sanctuary (representing God’s eternal presence) was given in memory of Jed. The eternal flame of God’s powerful presence is given to every person, including people who are forgotten, maligned, or ostracized. That includes you and me! The presence of power is within you! Nothing, no one can take that Power-filled Presence from you! Nothing anyone can say, nothing anyone can do can destroy God’s Spirit in you! Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “Each one of us is a God-carrier, since we are each a temple of the Holy Spirit. Each one — everyone, whether we are rich or poor, beautiful or not so beautiful, red, white, yellow, black, young, or old, clever, or not so clever, our worth is intrinsic, our worth is infinite. And to treat one… as if they were less than human is not only evil…is not only painful ….it is blasphemous, for it is really spitting in the face of God and we who are believers have no option - in the face of this evil and blasphemy, we cannot be even neutral.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks in Vermont, University of Vermont and St. Michael's College) Bishop Tutu was present to the powerful Presence within him. Jim Wallis witnessed that power when Bishop Tutu stared down the South African security Police when they broke into the Cathedral of St George while Tutu was preaching: “Desmond Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral…They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before… After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power (“you are powerful, very powerful”[he said]) but reminded them that he served a higher power, greater than their political authority (“But I serve a God who cannot be mocked!”). Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African apartheid, ‘Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!’ He said it with a smile on his face and enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power.” The crowd, which was vastly outnumbered by the soldiers surrounding the church, leapt up, started praising God, dancing and spilling out of the church. The stunned soldiers just moved back to make room “for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa.” (Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2005). You know that power and Presence isn’t confined to South Africa, but do you remember that it resides in you? That movement toward freedom and life is in you! We often spend our 3 lives searching for God. The presence of God is already present – in you – in me – in each person, “equally, objectively and forever.” Are you present to the presence? Sometimes like a great gale, sometimes like a powerful flame, God’s Spirit lives in us, moves in us to bring hope and healing, liberation and joy to us and to the world. This power doesn’t make a name, this power doesn’t make a fortune, this power makes a person, a community, a world come alive! How can you be more present to the Presence within you? How can you let that power move more fully in you? Our connection, our attention and our intention allow that Spirit to move and lift us and others. How can you unleash that power? The followers of Jesus are all together. We cannot be people of power and the Spirit alone! When we feel powerless – we need to connect ourselves to community. Power circuits have to be connected. Let the stories of struggle and hope of others connect you to others and the Presence of Power within you. The power of the Presence flows more fully through connection and attention. The people in the story from Acts were paying attention through prayer. When do you take time to be present to that Presence in yourself? When do you attend to God’s intention in you? The Spirit fills us with power for a purpose. You were created to be powered up! Your connections, your attention, and your intention unleashes that power! How do you intend to use the power of the Spirit in you? A young couple from the hills of Arkansas got involved in a church where there was a lot of shouting and clapping and jumping for Jesus. They were trying to convince Grandma that she should go with them. He said, "You should see it, Grandma. The Holy Spirit is really there!" Grandma kept rocking, didn't say a word. She said, "And, Grandma, you should see the preacher, screaming, full of the Spirit and the people pop up like popcorn to praise the Lord. It's unbelievable!" Again, Grandma kept right on rocking. The granddaughter stopped and asked, "Grandma, what do you think? You never really say." Finally, Grandma looked at her and said, “Honey, let me just put it this way. I don't care how loud they shout or how high they jump. It's what they do when they come back down that counts." (Adapted from Hal Brady, Dallas, Texas, via Rodney Wilmoth). What we do when we come back down really counts! When I was a teenager I heard a sermon with this punch line: "You have important work to do with your life and if you don't do it, it won't get done." I’ve remembered that all these years. You have something important and powerful to do with your life, honoring and standing up for the divine presence in every person. God has already given you the Power to do it. God is ready. Let the Spirit release whatever is holding you back and turn the power on inside you! It’s electric! Amen.