Sermon by Pastor Christopher Nelson

I know a young pastor who served a congregation out east. The church began growing rapidly; the Holy Spirit was moving in new ways. The people were excited by the preaching of the Gospel; they were excited by the emerging opportunities to serve others. They were bringing their friends; they were welcoming strangers.

And in the midst of all this excitement, a delegation of a few longer-term members- former leaders came to this young pastor… “We are very concerned,” one of them said, “with all this emphasis on growth. It’s hard to find our seats on Sunday; it’s hard to find parking… We think you should spend more time visiting members and less time with visitors. We’re full now; we should encourage these visitors to find other churches. After all, they need members, too…”

Pastor Mike responded with the Great Commission- go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That was Jesus’ Call to the Church, he said… And he reminded them of the story of Pentecost- of how the Holy Spirit moved on that day- this day- and how the Spirit was clearly moving in their congregation, bringing new people in the fellowship of the Body of Christ.

Well, they weren’t so sure about all that- certainly not how it was being played out in “their” congregation…

Now this may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not wholly unsympathetic to their point of view. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t agree with it, not for a second; clearly, they were wrong: the church’s job IS to make disciples; it is to grow numerically and spiritually (they go hand in hand…)

But it’s hard- get a group of people together with shared experiences- in some cases, years of experiences, and it is difficult for them to see beyond the group- the changes that happen when new people, new ideas, new dynamics they bring are stirred into the mix…

It means things don’t remain the same! It’s not nearly as comfortable- and in an era of constant change and turmoil in jobs, family and culture; can’t just one thing stay the same???

The earliest followers of Jesus faced the exact same temptation:

Here was a small group of folks who had walked side by side with Jesus of Nazareth. They had heard his teaching; they had witnessed his miracles…

From the beginning, the temptation was to have a closed group. Remember the story of the Transfiguration- Jesus changed- shown in all his glory to Peter, James and John, and Peter wanted to stay on the mountain- in the presence of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He wanted to build a sanctuary from the world…

And Jesus said, “No way; we have work to do!”

This small group went through the Last Supper- through the terror of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution… They ran away- found each other…

And then on Easter, to sit with their friends in the presence of the Risen Christ- to know him to be the very Son of God! How could anyone not there relate to their incredible experience?

But Jesus is perfectly clear: He hadn’t come only for them; Jesus had come for the whole world. The group is not to stay together; they have a job to do: they are to share Jesus with the entire world. They are to go to all nations, and share the wonderful, life changing news of God’s Love in Christ!

The Good News that God’s love is for every person; that God’s love is eternal- that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, you are loved forever- through life, death and beyond!

What’s more, in that love, you and I are made the Body of Christ- to serve and love others- those in need, those who are sick, those who are hungry, just as Jesus did himself!

Your past is forgiven; you have the promise of the presence of God every day of your life, and you have the assurance that your future is secure in the nail pierced hands of Jesus, the Christ, God become human. How can you keep that news to yourself?

Well, the disciples surely tried…

In John’s Gospel, after they receive the Holy Spirit, after they are sent out, what happens: they go fishing… keep the group together. Jesus appears to them again, and after a miraculous catch of fish and some breakfast, Jesus forgives them, and sends them out again!

(Isn’t it good to know that we serve a God who doesn’t abandon us- who doesn’t remove us when we forget our mission? No, we’re forgiven and strengthened to try once again!

The day of Pentecost comes, the Day we celebrate today, the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they are compelled to share the Good News- to share Jesus. And by the end of the day, the infant church had grown to more than 3000- who didn’t all speak the same language!

Imagine the change THAT meant for them!

But it was OK, because Jesus was there for them, as he had promised: His Spirit- the very Spirit of God filled them. They finally understood that it was not their Gospel; that it was not their Church, but Christ’s.

They adapted to the changes- people continued to connect, to know Jesus, to share his love in word and deed, and then more people came to faith, and the church grew and grew!

And not long after, the disciples leave the Church in Jerusalem to others; they separate permanently, each off to share the Good News of Jesus- a process that has continued around the world, and through the ages; a process that has resulted in you and me hearing the Good News, responding to the transforming, eternal love of Jesus Christ…

We- each of us, as individuals and as a congregation are not that different from that first generation of Christ followers: we share Jesus’ Call to “make disciples,” and it is happening here; it is an exciting time!

The Holy Spirit- the same Spirit that came with fire and wind on that first Day of Pentecost is clearly moving here; working in our lives, our worship, our learning and our service.

There is no other way to describe what has been happening here; what is happening now. There is no way we could have pulled off the consolidation with Minnetonka Lutheran by ourselves, to become Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Twin Cities…

There is no other way two congregations with different pasts, locations, traditions could have come together to be “One Church with Two Campuses” without the power and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrate today!

And let’s be perfectly honest with each other: it wouldn’t be that difficult to succumb to the same temptation faced by the church out east I began with today- the same temptation that faced the early church, too: to forget that Bethlehem Twin Cities, is Jesus’ church, not ours, and become a closed community…

To say, “We’re tired of the congestion, the parking hassles, the new faces and the ideas they bring, of our pastors dashing back and forth each week…We’re tired of all the change we’ve been seeing… We’ve done enough; let others pick up the slack…”

Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine a Bethlehem that would do that- a church with a long history of reaching out with the Good News, a church which sees itself “connecting people with God, each other, and their mission in the world…”

Last week, at our Synod Assembly, this new congregation God has called together was honored and recognized. And it was brought home to me just how the rest of our church is watching what we’re doing; hoping that we might become a new model of how to do church in the 21st century- because the old ways just aren’t working anymore. Churches across the country are struggling…

It was a Pentecost moment: seeing how the Holy Spirit has come into our midst to do a new thing; how both campuses in Minneapolis and Minnetonka are being compelled by the Spirit to work together to share Jesus in communities where there are thousands upon thousands who don’t know Jesus and his wonderful love!

We are developing a new model- ah, that’s so dry and academic: the Holy Spirit is calling us loudly to be church in a new way- a way foreign to us all- certainly to me, and in which we are counting on the Spirit’s leadership as we learn!

And there is a part for each of you to play in this wonderful experiment. Some of you have asked me how you can help. First, we all can pray; we need to pray- for each other, and for the people who will come to know Jesus’ love. Some of you have been worshipping at the Minnetonka Campus from time to time. Some of our choir has been singing with the Minnetonka Campus Senior Choir. Those are wonderful gifts you have been giving, but there is more we can do…

We are going to be asking young families to commit to the Minnetonka campus for 9 months or more- to provide critical mass in worship and in Children, Youth and Family, in order to provide “scaffolding,” if you will for that campus. When people from the community visit, they will see a vibrant gathering of people of all ages- much like you have found here…

This is not dissimilar to what we did when Jacob’s Well was launched some ten years ago: some 80- 100 of our members went with Greg Meyer and the team which founded Jacob’s Well, and they provided the critical mass necessary for new people to come in, be welcomed, and begin the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want you to all start praying now about whether you can be open to that kind of invitation…

And two things happened here when Jacob’s Well was launched: new people came into this community- within a year, the number of people who were serving at Jacob’s Well were equaled by new Christ followers here. And within several years, many of the people who had served at Jacob’s Well had returned to this campus- the scaffolding at Jacob’s Well came down; it was no longer necessary…

Now as frightened as I might be about all this- what if it doesn’t work??? (I have a little sign that I keep in my desk drawer: Leadership is the ability to hide your panic…) I also have the confidence from knowing that just like the first generation of Christians- those present on the Day of Pentecost and after- you and I have the same Holy Spirit- the same promise of Jesus’ presence in our lives.

It is Jesus’ work, and not ours, and that His spirit will be with us always, to the end of the age…

We’re about to meet Jesus, once again, at his table, in his body and blood.

We know that he will strengthen us; we know that he will come with us as we leave this place to share him with our lives, our love and our service to others in his name, as we go out to see the Spirit use us in making new disciples- new brothers and sisters.

Will you pray with me: “Send down the fire of your justice, send down the rains of your love; Come send down the Spirit, breathe life in your people, and we shall be people of God.” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.