Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Moved by the Spirit
I am about four weeks into a continuing education course called the Convergence Leadership Project. It's for pastors and church members who are interested in cultivating a joyful and generous Christianity that is a force for good in the world. Right now we are in a session that is talking about how we can rouse up the passion and perseverance of Christ's Church to tackle the most pressing needs of our day. It is in the midst of these conversations that I encountered the work of Jessica Jackley.
Ms. Jackley grew up as a middle-class, white, American kid who went to church. She did what we hope all kids do at church, listened to and tried to follow the guidance of Jesus. It was at church that she said she started hearing stories about "the poor." She said she never really heard anyone call themselves poor and never really heard poor people talk about their own lives. She just learned that to be poor was to not have something you needed... like clothes or food or shelter. And, she learned that people who followed Jesus were supposed to help people who were poor. "What you do for the least of these, you do for me." She said, "I was very eager to be useful in the world -- I think we all have that feeling. And also, it was kind of interesting that God needed help. That was news to me, and it felt like it was a very important thing to get to participate in." So, she started trying to help poor people in order to follow Jesus.
Around this time, though, she heard another part of the Bible that talked about poor people. She heard that Jesus once said, "The poor will always be with us." She must have been a very good student, because this second story confused her. She said, "I felt like I had been just given a homework assignment that I had to do, and I was excited to do, but no matter what I would do, I would fail." As she got older, it got harder to remain excited about this work God had called her to help in. She never experienced poverty herself. She only heard about it from other people and from books and the news. Poverty seemed unrelenting, all wrapped up in disease, war, and devastation.
In the face of poverty that seemed insurmountable, she began to feel bad when she heard about the lives of poor people. She said she felt guilty, too, because she lived a life of relative privilege. She said that she even began to feel shame. She couldn't help everyone enough. She had such a good life, but she didn't have the skills she needed to disentangle her shame from her sense of calling. So, she said she started to distance herself from the stories that overwhelmed her. She still gave money to charities and to individuals who were going good work. But, what had once felt like a mission from God had become a transaction to relieve guilt. She had enough money to insulate herself from the pain around her, relieving her guilt in the process, but never really being the force for good that she had once wanted to be.
In today's Pentecost story from Acts, we are told that the people knew a miracle was happening because they heard people speaking their own language, telling them something new about God. Ms. Jackley had a Pentecost moment, too, but it wasn't a room full of people all speaking different languages. No, it was one man, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, speaking and telling her something new about humanity that would help her fulfill that old calling from God. He spoke a language she needed to hear and she was moved by it. He talked about a financial lending process called microfinance and about all the amazing, poor entrepreneurs he had met in his work. Attending this talk changed Ms. Jackley's life.
When she learned about the power of small loans to change people's lives and learned the real stories of creating a life in poverty from the poor people themselves, she finally saw a way to serve her neighbors that moved beyond the transactional into the relational. And, she began to really understand people who were poor as whole people who could tell her something about the kind of help they needed. She was so moved by hearing Dr. Yunus speak that, just a few weeks later, she quit her job. She then spent three months in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania interviewing people who had received loans of $100 to start or grow a business. In that time, "the poor" stopped being strangers with terrible lives, and they started being humans with joys, ambitions, and intelligence. And, she stopped using emotional distance to protect herself from their stories.
The more conversations she had, the more she learned. She said one of the most important things she learned was about her own limits for fixing other people's problems. She said, "It was really humbling to see for the first time, to really understand, that even if I could have taken a magic wand and fixed everything, I probably would have gotten a lot wrong. Because the best way for people to change their lives is for them to have control and to do that in a way that they believe is best for them." She also noticed that in three months, she was never asked for donation. But, a couple times, people did ask for loans. She had seen enough that she knew $100 could do a lot of good. So, she tried to figure out how to get some small loans into people's hands where it would do the most good.
Working with old friends and family back in the States and new friends in Uganda, she helped found the program Kiva. Kiva connects lenders to people who need money but don't have access to major lines of credit. You can start with a loan of $25, a manageable sum for many people, and know it will be put to good use. Since they began building relationships between lenders and borrowers in 2005, the program has loaned $1.15 Billion dollars (mostly in small amounts). They have a 97% repayment rate. And, when you loan through Kiva, you get to hear the story of the people in whom you've invested. And, the people who are helped are empowered to make decisions based not on what a wealthier person believes, but what they know will help them build a thriving life. Now, programs like Kiva don't do some things. It doesn't replace the food pantries or free clinics of the world. But, they do shift financial systems so that poor people have access to life-changing money. And, it is helping people with money to share stop using money to isolate themselves from the world. Instead, their money becomes a tool for connection.
Jessica Jackley has gone on to work with a other projects and no longer works with Kiva. But, she carries the lessons she learned with her. One of the most important was this: she said,
"When you lend [people] money, and they slowly pay you back over time, you have this excuse to have an ongoing dialogue. This continued attention -- this ongoing attention -- is a really big deal to build different kinds of relationships among us… from what I've heard from the entrepreneurs I've gotten to know, when all else is equal, given the option to have just money to do what you need to do, or money plus the support and encouragement of a global community, people choose the community plus the money."
There are so many ways to understand the miracle of Pentecost... the miracle that we say birthed the church after the Resurrection. Perhaps our lesson for today is to be pay attention to the ones who are speaking a language that is, all the sudden, telling you something that changes how you understand the world. That new word you're hearing is the Holy Spirit. That new word is helping you to understand humanity better. That new word can help you work with other people to make a difference in the world. What is the church if not a group of people, hearing one another stories, and investing in one another's lives for the better.
We can hear the stories and see the images of devastation, and we can hide away for our own self-protection. But, Jesus never asked his followers to hideaway in dark closets and behind locked doors. He calls us out, to connect, to learn, and to build. The Spirit will give us the ability. We just need to use it. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." May we all dream and may we all prophesy.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following resources while writing this sermon:
Kathryn Matthews: http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_may_20_2018
Caroline Lewis: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4641
Greg Carey: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3665
Caroline Lewis: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5154
To hear and read Jessica Jackley's talk about Kiva, please go to https://www.ted.com/talks/jessica_jackley_poverty_money_and_love/transcript
To learn more about Kiva, go to https://www.kiva.org/about/impact/success-stories
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire." Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/pierre_teilhard_de_chardi_114239
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.