Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
This past week I had an amazing honor. I serve as the chair of the Alumni Board for my school at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. This means that I travel to Atlanta four times a year or so to meet with the dean, other alumni, and other interested parties. Because of my role, I was asked to participate in graduation this year. My role was to welcome the graduates into the alumni community.
I usually think graduations are quite boring and sterile, but to me there is something different about graduation at Emory University. The whole campus participates. A flood of people pile into the historic quadrangle for the university wide program where the president of the university confers the degrees. Following this everyone is dismissed to the diploma ceremony at their respective schools. And it is at the diploma ceremony for the school of theology that I was speaking.
For this, I donned academic regalia and was ushered into the line up for us all to process in. I was in the platform party sitting next to our dean. As we walked, we were the last ones to enter the church in which the ceremony was happening, and I have to say that this was a very moving event. It was humbling to be a part of such an amazing event.
While this event was a highlight for me, I know that for each of the graduates it marked something more. Each of them had devoted themselves to the work at hand and were receiving degrees to show this. Beyond a piece of paper, they were also receiving a charge to go into the world and make a difference. Our dean encouraged the graduates to go out and turn the world upside down in the name of Jesus Christ. They were commissioned for their work ahead.
God always calls people and commissions people to go into the world and turn the world upside down. One of the most powerful stories of this is the story of how God called a young woman, named Mary, to give birth to hope and new life in the world. Here’s what happened as Luke tells us Luke 1:26-38 (the VOICE)
26 Six months later in Nazareth, a city in the rural province of Galilee, the heavenly messenger Gabriel made another appearance. This time the messenger was sent by God 27 to meet with a virgin named Mary, who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David himself. 28 The messenger entered her home.
Messenger: Greetings! You are favored, and the Lord is with you! [Among all women on the earth, you have been blessed.]
29 The heavenly messenger’s words baffled Mary, and she wondered what type of greeting this was.
Messenger: 30 Mary, don’t be afraid. You have found favor with God. 31 Listen, you are going to become pregnant. You will have a son, and you must name Him “Savior,” or Jesus.[d] 32 Jesus will become the greatest among men. He will be known as the Son of the Highest God. God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David, 33 and He will reign over the covenant family of Jacob forever.
This Messenger tells Mary that she is going to turn the world upside down. She is going to be one who completely changes things. She is going to give birth to the savior of the world; the one who will change things and make things right. And in this, Mary has an ever important role to play. She will be the one who bears this new life into a hurting world.
But Mary begins to question. When God calls us to do something, we tend question God. Mary doesn’t think she is up to the task. And often we question God and think there is something in us that will keep us from bearing Jesus into the world and turning the world upside down. You know, How can I be of any use to God? Do you really want to use me? We are just a small church, we can’t do that. I’m just a kid, I can’t do that. I’m too old, I’ve already done my share.
Mary: 34 But I have never been with a man. How can this be possible?
Messenger: 35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also as the Son of God. 36 It sounds impossible, but listen—you know your relative Elizabeth has been unable to bear children and is now far too old to be a mother. Yet she has become pregnant, as God willed it. Yes, in three months, she will have a son. 37 So the impossible is possible with God.
Mary (deciding in her heart): 38 Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me.
God calls Mary to fulfill the role of being the one who will bear new hope and new life into the world. It is through Mary that God will set things right in the world and that God will change things. It is through Mary that the world will be turned upside down.
This is the same type of thing that God wants from us. To each of us, God speaks words that God wants us to bear goodness and life and light into the world. God wants us all to follow after Mary and to bring Jesus into the world. To bring Jesus to people who need hope and need life.
Today is a very special day to mark this. Today is Pentecost and Confirmation Sunday. Both Pentecost and Confirmation mirror this call that God gives to Mary to bear Jesus in to the world; to show the world the goodness of the savior, Jesus Christ.
At Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were sitting in Jerusalem waiting on the spirit of God. They didn’t yet know what they were waiting on just as Mary didn’t know fully what I would mean to bear Jesus into the world. But Luke tells us in Acts 2:
2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
In this moment, the movement of Jesus followers were filled with a power, as Mary was filled with a power. They were filled with a power that enabled them to go into the world turn it upside down in the name of Jesus Christ. This power same power is with us today. Confirmation Sunday is the time where we recognize that that same Holy Spirit is alive and well today. That this same Holy Spirit is continuing to touch and to call followers to bring Jesus into the world.
Yesterday, I was so moved about how the Spirit is continuing to bring power Christ followers through a statement made on international news. I didn’t watch the royal wedding, but yesterday, after the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry were talking with a reporter. The reporter asked Archbishop Welby what he thoguht about an unconventional royal wedding. And the Archbishop changed the question and focused on this truth of Pentecost and of Mary:
He threw up his hands and smiles, “There’s nothing conventional about Christianity. Christianity is about taking sin and me out of the center world and putting God through Jesus Christ and the love of God into the center of the world and blowing open a revolution that gives an energy and life to the world that nobody has ever replicated or seen. There is nothing conventional about Christianity.”
On Pentecost and on Confirmation Sunday, there nothing conventional about the calling that God give us. There is nothing conventional about what God asks of Mary. There is nothing conventional about how God pours the Holy Spirit on the early Christians. There nothing conventional about how God pours out the same Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Baptism and the rite of Confirmation. God is calling us to do the same thing that every generation of believers have done: to bring Jesus into the world and turn the world upside down. Indeed, there is nothing conventional about this.
For the past several months, our confirmation students have been journeying in faith and exploring more of what it means to be a Christ follower and a United Methodist. They have been exploring more about this unconventional calling and this unconventional God. I am thankful for this time we have spent together and I am blessed and encouraged by their faith. And now they are being called like Mary to bear Jesus into the world and to turn the world upside down in the name of Jesus. And it is not just our confirmands; it is all of us. As the Archbishop said yesterday, “Christianity is about taking sin and me out of the center world and putting God through Jesus Christ and the love of God into the center of the world and blowing open a revolution that gives an energy and life to the world.”
And, in a matter of moments I will ask you all to renew your baptismal vows and to recommit yourself to the path of Christ. Following worship, we are going to have some baptisms. Where people who never entered the waters of baptism, will receive the gift of water and spirit through this very special moment. After these are baptized, I will invite anyone and all to come forward to renew your baptism and to recommit to this unconventional calling of God. And if you have not been baptized and feel God calling you to these same waters, I invite you to request to be baptized.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.