Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Day of Pentecost

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

“Why can’t we all just get along?”  Those of you who have lived in the Los Angeles area for a number of years certainly know that quote.  It is a paraphrase of Rodney King’s words from May of 1992, 25 years ago this past month, words he shared hoping to appeal for calm following the widespread media distribution of a videotape graphically showing his beating by the Los Angeles Police.
 
 
The actual quote is a bit different and a lot longer and includes these words - “Can we all get along?  Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? Please, we all can get along.  Let’s try to work it out.  Let’s try to beat it.  After all, we are all stuck here for a while!”
 
 
As those of you who lived through the Los Angeles riots know, Rodney King’s words fell on deaf ears, as they say, and the riots came anyway.  The community boiled over with hurt and anger and violence.
 
 
Why can’t we just get along? 
 
 
Today is the Day of Pentecost in the church year.  In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people celebrated a holiday known as the “Festival of Weeks,” a harvest festival, a time to celebrate God’s generosity.  Farmers would bring their bounty to Jerusalem and make it an offering at the Temple.  Jerusalem would be packed with tourists, many bringing along produce and animals, all sorts of grown and raised plants and animals, to share at the Temple.  This holiday continues to be celebrated by modern-day Jews and is called Shavuot, which is the Hebrew word meaning “weeks.”
 
 
This holiday happens fifty days after the Passover and was also known in Jesus’ time as “Pentecost,” from the Greek word for fifty. 
 
 
quote helpOthersLikeGodHelpedUsThe disciples had gathered previously with Jesus for the Passover and that particular Passover gathering has now become what we Christians call Maundy Thursday.  Now, the disciples are gathered again, just days after Jesus has ascended into heaven, to celebrate Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks,” to celebrate what we now call Pentecost.
 
 
And on this first Pentecost, our texts tell us today, Jesus’ Holy Spirit comes to his disciples and they begin to speak in many different languages, languages of the many visiting Jerusalem for the festival holiday.  And these visitors were amazed, today’s texts tell us, that they could all understand what the disciples were saying, each in their own language, without a translator.
 
 
That first post-Jesus Pentecost was a day the disciples’ lives were transformed.  Filled with God’s spirit, they could preach and teach about Jesus and everyone who came into contact with them could understand.
 
 
We Christians celebrate Pentecost today not just as a historical event but also a day when we consider how God might transform our lives, how God’s Holy Spirit might live anew in and through each of us.
 
 
But, why can’t we just get along?
 
 
It is only logical to hope that God’s Holy Spirit might change the circumstances of our lives, release us from the challenges and hardships of our lives.  Maybe even help us get along better with others! 
 
 
However, that is not how the Spirit worked for Jesus’ disciples, nor is it how the Holy Spirit works for and with us today. 
 
 
God’s Holy Spirit does not take away challenges and hardships.  And those listening to this sermon today or reading it online later, you all know this. 
Rather, the Holy Spirit equips us to persevere even flourish, amid the challenges and hardships of our lives.
 
 
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus’ disciples are hiding in the upper room on that first Easter Sunday evening, afraid that those who crucified Jesus might now come after them.  And what does Jesus do as he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them? Jesus doesn’t take them away from Jerusalem or fortify the room in which they’re hiding, but instead he sends them out into that dangerous world: “As the Father sent me, so I now send you” (20:21), and then Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to create in them the courage they will need to follow Jesus’ command.
 

Similarly, in the Acts text today, the disciples are waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit and, once it comes, they go out to proclaim the good news to people they had good reason to believe would be at least skeptical if not outright hostile to their message.
 

Again, in today’s Second Reading from Corinthians, Paul writes that the Spirit is given to enable individual believers to look beyond their individual needs, hopes, or fears and equip them with distinct gifts, all in order to work together for the “common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
 

Throughout these passages, we get the sense that the Spirit is not some kind of super hero sent to rescue us, but rather the one who equips, encourages, and stays with us, helping us perceive the needs of our neighbors and community and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with equal measures of tenacity, competence, and courage.
 

In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is described using the Greek word parakletos, a word that means the one who “comes along side” of us, the one who advocates for us, remains with us, strengthens and helps us.
 

That is all very nice.  But, if you are like me, you really would like the Spirit to come and to help us get along!  It is only human to hope that the Spirit will just plain save us, or at least to take us away from whatever challenges seems to threaten to overwhelm us in the moment.
 

But the operative preposition with the Spirit seems to be with rather than from – as in being with us during challenges rather than taking those challenges away from us.
 

Thus, while we may often hope that God will remove us from challenging or difficult situations, God often instead comes along side of us in the presence of the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen and equip us to endure, and even to flourish, amid these challenges and difficulties.
 

And why does God do this? We know that God works through us for the common good, calling us to care for the needs of our neighbors, community, and world. We have a purpose: to care for those around us as God cares for us, to make wherever we may find ourselves a better place, to share God’s love in word and deed that others may know they are not alone and, indeed, are loved. We are here, that is, not simply for ourselves but for those around us.
 

And, oh, how we need that in our public discourse today!  We need the call of God’s Spirit to move beyond individual concerns to be able to see ourselves as part of larger community. It is not about protecting what I or you have, nor simply actualizing my or your identity, but rather that you and I and so many others are called together to be a community.
 

And, here in the church is a place we can begin.  Here in the church we can model lives of commitment to others, of commitment to the good of the entire community, something that seems so lacking in our nation and this world today.  For we are, after all, the Body of Christ, those authorized and equipped to care for this world God loves so much. And it is the Spirit who reminds us of this role and enables us to fulfill it.
 

This may not always be all that we want, but perhaps it is just what those around us need.
 

The Promise of Pentecost is not that we will suffer no more difficulties or hardships, nor that God will remove us from challenges, but rather than in the Holy Spirit God comes to be with us and for us and that God comes to us to help us use all that we have and are for the sake of those around us.
 
 
For your sake and my sake and for the sake of everyone around us.  Not to just get along, but to make our world a better place, to share God’s love in word and deed so that others may know that they are not alone, so that others may know that they are loved by God, so that others may know, as today’s text tells us, that everyone who calls on the name of Lord shall be saved.
 
 
What Good News that is:  Love, community, salvation.  For you and me and everyone.
 
 
Amen.
 
 
(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for his Bible work used extensively in this sermon).
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
June 3 & 4, 2017


*Donate here to support Mt. Olive's many ministries.

Past Sermons

2017 (44)

October (3)

September (3)

August (4)

July (4)

June (4)

May (4)

April (8)

March (5)

February (4)

January (5)

2016 (53)

December (4)

November (4)

October (5)

September (4)

August (4)

July (5)

June (4)

May (4)

April (4)

March (6)

February (4)

January (5)

2015 (56)

December (7)

November (5)

October (4)

September (4)

August (5)

July (4)

June (5)

May (4)

April (4)

March (5)

February (5)

January (4)

2014 (44)

December (5)

November (6)

October (5)

September (4)

August (4)

July (3)

June (5)

May (4)

April (8)

Contact Information

    • Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
    • 1343 Ocean Park Blvd.
      Santa Monica, CA 90405
    • Office 310-452-1116
    • Preschool (310) 452-2342
    • Office Hours:
    • Tues. - Fri. 9-4pm / Sat. 9-1pm
    • Closed Sunday & Monday

Worship Services

  • Worship Services:
    Saturdays - 5:00pm
    Sundays - 9:00am AND 11:00am
    Join us for fellowship following worship!

  • Sunday School:
    9:00 am for preschoolers.
    10:10 am Confirmation Class.
  • reconcilingworks logo
  • elca logo logo

Contact Us