Transforming Spirit

Message for World Fellowship Sunday, January 28, 2018
Glennon Heights Mennonite Church
Betsy Headrick McCrae
Scripture passages: Joel 2:28-29, Acts 1:8 and 1 Corinthians 12:13
Transforming Spirit
Today we celebrate World Fellowship Sunday along with our Anabaptist and
Mennonite brothers and sisters in faith around the world. World Fellowship Sunday is
always celebrated on a Sunday close to January 21. On that date in 1525, the first
Anabaptist baptism took place in Zurich, Switzerland. Cesar Garcia, General Secretary
of Mennonite World Conference, offers us an invitation. He writes: “World Fellowship
Sunday is an opportunity to remind our communities of faith that we are all part of one
body made up of many tribes, languages and nations. It is an invitation to visibly
proclaim that now there is no discrimination among us on the basis of race, social status
or gender. It is a special day on which to show that we are living a new life in a new
society where we mutually support one another, carry those who suffer, serve the world
and interdependently learn from one another what it means to follow Jesus. On this day,
we celebrate that, in Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the cultural and national
boundaries that separate us have been overcome by the cross.”
Our sisters and brothers in Kenya were the ones who selected the theme –
“Transforming Spirit” – and the three short scripture passages that John read for us from
Joel, Acts and 1 Corinthians. Throughout the history of the Christian church, followers
of Jesus have been transformed and renewed by the living presence of the Holy Spirit,
they say. The Anabaptist renewal movement of the 1500s was deeply shaped by the
Spirit. Today, the churches in the Global South are especially attentive to the presence
and power of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit that we as
Christians – in Africa and all over the world – persevere with hope in the face of
overwhelming challenges.
What do we learn about the Holy Spirit in the scripture passages which were
selected? We see that everyone – young and old, men and women, even those who are
oppressed and enslaved – is included. I will pour out my spirit on everyone, God says
through the prophet Joel. Everyone will see visions and dream dreams. Everyone
receives and is transformed by God’s Spirit.
In the verse from Acts, we see that those Spirit-inspired visions and dreams
compel us outward to the ends of the earth. There is nowhere that is beyond reach. This
of course includes our own communities and neighborhoods. The Spirit sends us to those
far away and those who are across the street. Through the Spirit God gives us the power
to reach out on God’s behalf to those who are lonely, hurting and in need of hope.
The verse from 1 Corinthians reminds us that the Spirit claims all of us and
transforms us into something new. In the Spirit we who are so very different from each
other are made into one. One body. With one source of sustenance and inspiration. We
are in this together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That is our hope and our strength.
This is the message of Ndbele and Zulu proverbs shared by our sisters and
brothers in Southern Africa. Some of us are familiar the UBUNTU paradigm that says,
‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’. In essence, “A person is a person because of other
people.” Ubuntu makes us love, respect, honor, recognize and acknowledge the dignity of
other people. This then makes us a unified whole. We should not discriminate. We are
Here’s another one: “Ikhotha eyikhothayo.” The cow licks the one that licks it. A
cow cannot lick its own back to shoo off troublesome insects or to remove dirt. It needs
another cow. And along the same line: “Izandla ziyagezana.” Hands wash each other.
One hand cannot wash itself adequately. It needs another to help it become clean. You
get the drift. We need each other. We’re in this together. And, thank God, through the
Holy Spirit we are made one.
Today we remember our living connection to brothers and sisters in Christ around
the world as we go about our life as a worshiping community here at Glennon Heights.
As we accept Holly and Tyler into membership this morning, we are aware that though
they join this particular congregation, they and we are also part of something much
bigger. As we receive Communion, sharing the bread and the juice together, we will
remember that we do this along with our sister congregations around the world,
proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection and celebrating our new shared covenant with
God. As we bless Joel on his birthday we will think of all the little children in every
country and place who are also being held and blessed by their congregations. And as we
eat our lunch before the business meeting, we will share our resources – the cost of one
lunch each – with our global community. Through the Holy Spirit, we have been
transformed, we have been made one.
We will not allow our sisters and brothers in Christ to be disrespected and
dismissed. We will not be held hostage by fear of the other. We will not live lives
focused on self-protection. For we know that we need each other. There are many gifts
to be shared. We are all stronger – our world is stronger and safer – when we work
together. We become who we are meant to be when we are in relationship to God and
each other. By the power of the Holy Spirit this is made possible. If you believe and I
believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.
On this World Fellowship Sunday listen to the wisdom of our African brothers
and sisters. Let it sink in. They know of what they speak. Amen.

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