Past Sunday Sermons
May 24, 2015
Today is Pentecost Sunday. You may notice a bit more red in the sanctuary as we mark the transition from the Season of Easter. Pentecost is a Jewish festival so Jews from across the world were gathered in Jerusalem. Fifty days have now passed since Jesus was publically executed. The resurrected Jesus has shown up a handful of times to disciples over that period. During this time, the disciples are a rather motely crew. They have spent most of their time hiding out – behind locked doors seems to be their favorite option. Now on Pentecost, Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. The Holy Spirit sends them out from this room where they are all gathered and into the streets. This is the birth story of the church.
Birth stories are important. Parents know this well. The birth of a child causes things to change. Your relationships are different. Your sleep pattern is different. You talk about things you never thought you would talk about. Things changed for the disciples who were gathered at the birth of the church.
I grew up in Tampa, Florida at church called Hyde Park and our pastor often told the story of the birth of our congregation. The story he told went something like this: Hyde Park was a newly developing neighborhood across the river from downtown Tampa. The bridge across the river frequently washed out when the waters rose too high. This left many families, who lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood frequently unable to get to the downtown Tampa First Methodist Church. So in March of 1899, 12 children and adults gathered for Sunday School on the corner of Magnolia and Platt where the church now sits. It was recorded that the Sunday School group sang “I Love to Tell the Story of Jesus and His Love.” At this first meeting of what would eventually be Hyde Park Methodist, there was no ordained clergy. There were only lay people. You can say Hyde Park was born because of lay people, lay people who were committed to sharing the love of Jesus with those families in their neighborhood. Hyde Park was born out of a deep commitment to teach children about Jesus. Hyde Park was born because people committed to do whatever necessary in order to accomplish that Spirit-filled mission.
I probably heard this story of our church’s birth about once a year. For some reason this story never seemed to get old. The story of their birth was that important because it was the story of who God called us to be then and it was a story of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our church now. The story of the church’s birth permeated down into the life of the congregation. I can give a witness that my family ended up at Hyde Park because coworkers of my parents and parents of boys on my soccer team invited us to be a part of the church. The seed of reaching out was planted in 1899. It was at Hyde Park that my faith was nurtured in vacation bible school and the youth group on the corner of Magnolia and Platt where that first School Class was held. Hyde Park tells the story of their birth because they still are congregation committed to teaching young people about Jesus and making God’s love real in their neighborhood – even if it looks different than it did in 1899. Their birth story matters.
As Pentecost is often called the birthday day of the church and I am well versed in the birth of my home church. I spent some time digging into Belmont’s story. How did the Holy Spirit move in this place? The church history says that our church, Belmont was born because Nashville was growing. The population was growing. The local economy was growing. New buildings were expanding the city skyline and new neighborhoods like Belmont-Hillsboro were blossoming on the outskirts of downtown. Construction was happening all around as roads improved, streetcars lines were laid, and residences formed around the college community.
As the population shifted, the Spirit nudged many to birth a new Methodist church in this area. The first church meeting took place in a home and those in attendance agreed to purchase land at the corner of 21st and Acklen. They agreed to purchase the land where we are right now. The group believed this would be an important center of the future neighborhood. They heard the Holy Spirit move in this place and the story of Belmont was beginning to permeate into their lives.
Like Hyde Park, Belmont had a humble start. At the beginning, there was no beautiful sanctuary or magnificent choir, just a vision for sharing the love of Jesus with a neighborhood undergoing transition. In those early days, Belmont was dependent on the financial support of other congregations and the annual conference. Those early Belmonters were right and knew that the corner of 21st and Acklen would be central spot in the community – a spot where we still are in ministry with this neighborhood and the college community. I believe the Holy Spirit was guiding and directing and working through them as they planned to gather on this corner. It is from this corner that Belmont has continued to be a missional church.
I’ve relied heavy on Helen Couch’s account on Belmont’s history and she says came into being as a mission church. We were an outpost of faith dependent on funding from other people. Many believe it is from this beginning that shaped Belmont to continue to live as a missional in support of God's mission. Through the years, we sent missionaries all across the world. We supported the birth of the United Methodist Church in Malawi. In Nashville, our missional heritage was at the start of Belle Meade United Methodist Church, Nashville Korean United Methodist Church, and the Golden Triangle Fellowship.
With Nashville's current status as an "it" city, we are undergoing many transitions. Like what those early Belmonters saw in 1909, Nashville's population and economy are growing. Neighborhoods are once again shifting. When Belmont first started, missionaries came from beloved congregations like Tulip Street in East Nashville to be a part of what God was doing on the corner of 21st and Acklen.
In June, I will be heading across the Cumberland River to pastor Tulip Street and Aldersgate along with participating in a new church start led by my wife Erica. I will be heading across the Cumberland with a new Spirit-filled birth story because Belmont’s missional commitment has permeated deep within me. I’ve been surrounded by missionaries at Belmont like Dot Anderson, Jeff and Kara Oliver, Bill and Beverly Lovell, John and Lori Pearce, Christy Perkey, Sally and Hugh Wright and John Kennady. This is just a handful. Yes, some fit the typical idea of a missionary that packs up and moves to foreign country. But Belmonters also live their birth stories as a mission church in the homes of Appalachia and state prisons and through gifts of farm animals.
For two years, Erica and I have prayed that God would send us as missionaries to East Nashville. The story of Belmont’s birth as a missional outpost will be woven into the birth of the new church. The new church start will be called East Bank Church. Right now, the birth story of East Bank is a lot like those early Belmonters meeting in a home with just a vision – a vision to see God transform lives and the community of East Nashville. We sort of get to be the research and development department of the United Methodist Church. There is no doubt that Nashville is growing so the Spirit must be our guide as we ask how does the church help Nashville grow in grace as well? We’re going to make some mistakes along the way but we’re listening and watching the Spirit move and do something new in East Nashville. If doing something new excites I would love to talk with you.
Even after the Holy Spirit descend on the disciples here in Acts chapter two, it isn’t until chapter 8 the scripture tells us the “the church was scattered” into those other places that Jesus said to go to. It took some for the new birth story of the Holy Spirit to permeate deep into lives of the disciples so they could go and tell the story.
The Holy Spirit nudges us to take risks, to engage the new frontier of what you know. In the Pentecost scene from Acts, everyone was bewildered and confused because the world they knew was forever changed by the birth of the church. It was not just about Israel but now it was all the nations. The disciples were nudged into something new. The disciples were called to something different. And so are we!