People Get the Power
by Louise Westfall
It’s a new year! What are we going to do??!!!!
We’ve closed the door on 2017, a year like every year that saw joy and sorrow, bad news and good, celebration and grief in our life together as Central Presbyterian Church. We wept at the deaths of beloved ones. One member who experienced the loss of multiple family members says she hopes for a year of “additions” instead. For some, the year meant diagnosis of illness, a treatment schedule, and prayers for recovery. Young people were confirmed. High school seniors graduated and left home. People moved. We rejoiced in the birth of several babies, a number of weddings, Tim Mooney’s arrival as our new parish associate, and the ordination to ministry of our member Erica MacCreaigh. We surpassed the congregation’s capital campaign goal of 1.5 million dollars, and will now take our case to community partners. Construction will begin … sometime this year, though the precise schedule is uncertain.
2018 lies before us. What in the world are we going to do??!!!
Today’s reading from Scripture is a tiny but significant glimpse into the first-century Church. Remember the exponential growth of “the Jesus movement” everywhere in the Mediterranean world after Pentecost. In this text, the apostle Paul is visiting the church of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey, when he discovers a startling omission. Not a crisis of faith, but more like a crisis of power. I wonder if it offers insight for our plan of action in this new year. A reading from the Acts of the Apostles in the 19th chapter at the first verse. Listen for God’s Word to us. [Acts 19:1-7]
This text reveals a divide between “religion” and “faith.” The disciples in Ephesus believed some things about Jesus, but they hadn’t experienced his Spirit. They had knowledge but no power. I imagine them as good, religious people who affirmed belief that Jesus was the long-promised savior. But it hadn’t made a difference in their lives; they didn’t demonstrate the power of the living Holy Spirit of God in their relationships, decisions, and daily actions. Perhaps they didn’t know that the first disciples of Jesus were not called “people of the beliefs” but “people of the way.” People filled with power to walk in a new direction and live like Jesus.
Friends, when the church speaks of “transformation” — when we commit to worshiping and serving God alone — we are not merely accepting a particular belief system or adopting a particular religion or theological perspective. Instead, we are receiving a gift: the real presence of God … and staking our lives on its power to change us.
No less a Christian saint than Mother Teresa expressed this in the journal she kept, published after her death: I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”
I invite you to look at the star you chose as you entered the sanctuary today (please pick one up now or later), a symbol of the light of God shining in our lives. Let its word guide you in this new untried year. Maybe you know immediately how your word will shape your actions; or maybe you’ll have to ponder its meaning and figure it out gradually. Consider what God may be calling you to do or become through that word. Consider what God may be calling us to do to strengthen our life together, deepen our caring towards one another, and increase the impact of our presence and ministries in the wider community.
And before anything else, friends, know that the power to accomplish this lies not in our own skills and talents, but God within us. Hear the good news: People get the power! — the power to learn and understand; the power to serve; the power to live with hope, come what may; the power to forgive; the power to rise up from death to new life; the power to resist evil; the power to love. People get the power! — God’s power to meet darkness with light.
It’s a new year. What are we going to do?
First of all, we will immerse ourselves in Divine power, as we renew the baptism covenant and are nourished at the Lord’s table. And then?
… in the power of the Holy Spirit, together, day by day, I think we’ll know. And even more, I think we’ll be able to do it. Thanks be to God!