Inspiration Made Visible
Genesis 11: 1-9; Acts 2: 1-21
It seems these days that I’m the last person in on any pop culture craze. It didn’t use to be that way. I always thought that I was on the pulse. But take Tom’s Shoes and Eyewear. What a story! Of course, I only learned about them last week. In case your closet isn’t stacked with Argentinian alpargata, either, maybe this will clue you in.
Tom’s is a shoe manufacturer, primarily, that launched 7 years ago this month. On the company’s home page? “We are in business to help change lives.” And they don’t mean in a “Jimmy Choo creates a Fashionista” kind of way.
As the story goes, Blake Mycoskie, of Amazing Race fame, was doing some volunteer work in Buenos Aires when he noticed that many of the children running around barefoot. After a bit of research revealed that many children in developing countries don’t have shoes (I wonder how much research that really took) he determined to develop a market in North America for a popular Argentinian shoe with the caveat that for every pair of shoes sold, one pair would be given away to the children without shoes living in Argentina and other developing countries. He shopped the idea around and found a manufacturer and the business was launched with 250 pairs of shoes. A little press coverage and the next thing you know, he had orders for 10,000 pairs of shoes. Now, over 2,000,000 pairs of shoes have been sold, and true to Tom’s word, 2,000,000 pairs have been given away.
Tom’s uses word of mouth marketing, primarily, and high profile celebrity endorsements to seal the deal. Tom’s shoes are even featured at college campus events. Integral to its business model is the idea that at our core, people want to help others. Purchasing a pair of Argentinian alpargata instantly transforms an ordinary buyer into a benefactor. Plus, since Tom’s are distinctive looking and eye catching, people ask a lot of questions if they don’t know the brand or get that “insider feeling” if they do notice that someone is wearing a pair. This warm hearted buzz encourages the cycle of wearing and selling and giving and the number of shoes sold grows.
Now, Tom also sells eyewear with the intent of giving away eyeglasses, yes, but also to fund eye surgeries and medical treatment in countries like Nepal and Cambodia and Tibet.
Tom’s business is extraordinary. Of course, it’s extraordinary because Tom’s has given away millions of pairs of shoes and eyeglasses since 2007. But what makes Tom’s business truly extraordinary is that it embodies the vision of hundreds of people who are inspired to change lives. They do this every single day through their combined efforts to elevate the conversation of a crisis in our world, their collective hope for disease and discomfort to end, and their shared dream for every child to run and play and read and thrive.
As a collection of individuals who want to help change lives, they brainstorm ways to make this inspiration visible. One guy might come up with a great public relations campaign, while another figures out what the next hot color will be. Someone forms relationships with universities so that the shoes can carry mascots’ images and school colors. (Some really nerdy type decided that it would be cool to create a pair of shoes with the periodic chart…) Medical doctors and scientists identify diseases of third world countries that Tom’s can help. A computer genius keeps track of the inventory, some sprout sources vegan materials and someone who’s especially in touch with all of the 501c3s of the world champions partnerships with philanthropies.
I’m pretty sure that this is what it means to be a church in the many different ways that the Holy Spirit breathes life into bodies of imaginative, compassionate people today. Because I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is necessarily looking for a building full of people with extra bandwidth. And I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is necessarily looking for a tall, gothic steeple, or a particular denomination, or a particular faith tradition – necessarily. The Holy Spirit is persistently searching for compassionate bodies to make Christ’s vision possible.
And just as the Holy Spirit found Tom’s to launch an extraordinary ministry for the desperately poor children in third world countries, the wind of the Spirit made its entrance into the hearts of a handful of men and women in Foggy Bottom in 1855 to form Western Presbyterian Church. And the Holy Spirit has never held its breath.For 158 years the collective visioning and initiative of all of our members helped to transform a church basement into a dining room for thousands of homeless men, women, and children, provide arts education less advantaged children around Washington, DC, and advocate for legislation to end gun violence everywhere. For 158 years the Spirit has been inspiring the initiative of all of our members who, individually and together come to the aid of prostitutes, and immigrants, and homeless women and their children, the illiterate and the wrongfully jailed.
As we continue to live and move and have our being together as a visionary, progressive church of Jesus Christ, we can reflect on all of these ministries that make Western strong, learn from them all and determine what to do next. I think you’ll agree, as you reflect on this Spirited body that we are that our ministries are not simply the result of like-minded people coming together to launch an easily embraced social cause. You’ll probably agree that amidst all of the inspiration and planning there’s been discovery and revelation, and that, at times, has been really challenging. If we were to reflect on the history of all of our ministries, it’s likely that we will find a thread running through each process that is as unavoidable as it is unmistakable. We will find that camaraderie does not lack conflict, just like difference does not mean discord and deference does not disempower. These are each essential characteristics of vision and learning and growth. How can we see open conflict signs of strength? How can we use our differences – ideological, sociological, philosophical, racial, relational, dispositional – to identify signs of potential? In the midst of measured conflict and difference, how can we learn that deference can be a sign of hope?
Because the revelation of Pentecost does not simply celebrate the spontaneous ability of men and women to speak different native languages out from the hollow tower in Babel into that one cacophonous room, the most informed voice being heard most firmly. The revelation of Pentecost was not that different voices began to sing in individual parts, the loudest one carrying the tune. The revelation of Pentecost was the ability for each one of those voices in their various intensities to be heard and understood and reflected upon and known. In this way, it becomes clear that the church is not simply a list of progressive projects that we do. The church becomes the inspiration of who we are. What we do becomes our compassionate response to God for what God has created within and among us as a compassionate congregation that cares for one another in all of the ways of caring of a diverse, inspired congregation.
This is what our work is about: a manifestation of character, each one of us living into the inspiration that the Holy Spirit has in mind for us to make God’s mission visible.
In our world of disparate truths, who will find a way to make unity visible?
In our world full of conflict, who will seek a way to make peace visible?
Or in a world of self-indulgence, who will pour herself out to make generosity visible?
And in a world of despair, who will strive to make hope visible?
Or in a world of anger, will surely one or a few of us find a way to make love visible?
Or in a world of disrespect, who will make honor visible?
And in a world of hubris, who will make humility visible?
In a world of disapproval, who will find her way to make grace visible?
In a world of sadness, who can we count on to make joy visible?
Within a hardened world, how we will all make compassion visible?
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you and I have the collective power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary as a church sent out to be the mission of God. In addition to the tangible manifestations of justice and righteousness we fight hard to achieve, God’s inspiration will be made visible through our articulation of timeless Christian principles that exemplify God’s mission in the world. In a world of outrageous want, how will Western Presbyterian Church come together as a holy embodiment of God’s will, intent upon expanding the visibility of goodness for all eternity?
As we move into our next phase of ministry as a church, may we come to feel the Holy Spirit inspiring each of us to make God’s mission visible. May we continue to discover how the essential characteristics of Western Presbyterian Church that have brought our church to this place can continue to bring about a new heaven and a new earth in Foggy Bottom. As we move through our life together as a church, may we be collectively inspired to live into a fullness that only a persistent spirit among us today and within us always can envision. And may we pray for God to show us how our church home might fit within the beloved kingdom as a perfected embodiment of the holy spirit’s inspiration made visible with each one of us having an essential role in this great unfolding for all time to come.
Thanks be to God! Amen.