Thursday, July 19, 2007

“(Not) Waiting on the World to Change”

Psalm 104:24-30; Acts 2:1-21[1]

One of my favorite contemporary musicians is a young man—a very young man—named John Mayer. He released his first album in 1999 at the ripe old age of 22. Not only is he one of the most accomplished guitarists of his generation, but he also has a talent for songwriting. One of his current hits is a song called “Waiting on the World to Change.” In fact, with it he won a Grammy Award this year for the “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance” (his second, by the way). In it, he makes the claim that the younger generation is not disinterested or uncommitted, they’re just waiting on the world to change. He says they see those who hold the power not playing by the rules, so they figure they can’t really make a difference until something changes.[2]

I can certainly understand the sentiment. It seems the more you learn about Washington and Wall Street these days, the easier it is to get cynical about our world. It seems that politicians these days couldn’t tell the truth to save their lives. And corporate CEO’s like Ken Lay have given a whole host of new meanings to the phrase “robber baron.” When you take it all in, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that it’s better not to get involved at all.

But as much as I’d prefer to choose that option myself, it’s definitely not a Christian perspective on things! For the last several weeks we’ve been talking about the lessons of Easter—that God is in the process of transforming everything and everyone.[3] That the new life that came to light in the resurrection will renew all creation. That the life and love and joy and hope we have through Christ are a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.[4]

All these lessons also apply to Pentecost, because it is through the Spirit of God that we experience these wonders. Everything that God offers us with the gift of salvation—new life, love, hope, joy, freedom from everything that binds us, the restoration of all things—is the work of the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:11, CEV: “God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit”).[5]

In our Psalm text for today, the Spirit is the one who brings life, the one who renews creation, the one who promotes the glory of God. This text reminds us that in Scripture there is nothing that falls outside the reach of the Spirit. The Psalmist says that the Spirit sustains the whole of creation (Ps. 104:29-30)![6] And the story of Pentecost in the Book of Acts affirms that the Spirit is constantly present in everyone and everything that lives. Pentecost constitutes the fulfillment of God’s promise that “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28).

I wonder if we’re prepared to accept the implications of that amazing statement. What happens when God pours out his life-giving Spirit on “all flesh”? It seems to me that what happens is that all creation participates in “the unbounded fullness of the divine life.”[7] When God pours out the Spirit on “all flesh,” the Spirit fills everything with new life![8]

Like the resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost points us to the time when God will be “all in all”: “when … the God who has created everything and redeemed everything will so indwell his creation” that God fills everything and everyone with his life and his beauty and his love.[9] And what Pentecost means to us is that we already experience that life-giving presence now!

Like the resurrection, Pentecost is an anticipation of God’s promise to make all things new. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead means that “in the midst of the history of death, the future of the new creation and the glory of God has already dawned in this one person.”[10] And the outpouring of the Spirit of life on Pentecost means that God’s new creation has not only dawned in this one person—also in all of us who follow him![11]

When you look at the world we live in and its overwhelming problems from that perspective, it’s not so easy after all to take the path of cynicism and to stay safely uninvolved. The fact of the matter is that the extent to which we embrace this hope affects way we put our “hope in action.”[12] If we see ourselves as a community of people who are a people defined by the resurrection of Jesus the Christ and by the outpouring of God’s Spirit of life, then we will orient our lives to the hope of redemption that goes with them[13]—which means we will “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice.” It means we will seek to be instruments of the life and peace and joy and freedom and love that we have been given through God’s Spirit.

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/27/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] John Mayer himself says it this way, “I tried to express the feelings of helplessness that come with knowing what needs to change in the world but also knowing the futility of trying.” John Mayer, “(Not) Waiting On The World To Change - Entry No. 1,” posted at on April 26, 2007. In this entry, he advocates working for change in the area of global warming.

[3] J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. J. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256.

[4] Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 220, 254; J. Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope, 87.

[5] J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 204-5; Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 296; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:15; J. L. Mays, Psalms, 336-37.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 9-10, 96, 98-103.

[7] Moltmann, God in Creation, 9, 14, 67-69, 91, 96, 212-13, 258, 270.

[8] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 191.

[9] Moltmann, In the End, 155, 158.

[10] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 98-99.

[11] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 294-95.

[12] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 222, 225, 275

[13] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 293.

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