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Power to Transform
October 7, 1990

PHILIPPIANS 3:12-21

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, you have the power to change the world. We have the power to change this world. That power is the Holy Spirit, the power which eventually, according to Philippians 3:21, enables Christ to bring everything under Godís control. Sometimes we feel powerless when confronted by drugs, homelessness, violence, daily stress, and now the frightening scenario unfolding in the Middle East. But, today as we join with Christians all over the world around the Lordís Table, I proclaim to you: we have the power to transform this world.

Approximately ten years ago a group of people in East Berlin organized a peace march calling attention to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From that event, Monday evening Prayer Groups began meeting in churches. Soon, these Monday evening Prayer Groups expanded to include forums for discussion and training in democratic processes. In fact, as the old regime crumbled, the church was enlisted to train communists and the new leaders in parliamentary procedure! We interviewed five clergy and one lay person who all with awe and wonder credited the collapse of the Berlin wall to prayer, a miracle wrought by prayer.

We have the power to change this world. The power is not in what you can do, or in what we can do. The power is in what God can do through you, what God can do through us.

Our Scripture lesson today is from Paulís letter to the church in Philippi. He wrote it from prison, knowing it would probably be his last letter, knowing he would soon be executed. He wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, "Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." "I press on," he proclaimed. Paul refused to give up and say, "Thereís nothing I can do. Whatís the use?" Paul refused to give up because he believed in the power of God to transform even the ugliest of situations.

Yes, God can transform your life. Yes, God can change things. Yes, God can right wrongs. Yes, God can transform this world. Just a year ago, who would have dared to believe that the Berlin wall would collapse, the borders thrown open, and the two Germanies united into one in the space of 11 months? Who would have believed how quickly Communism collapsed, Soviet influence and power diminished, and nations like Czechoslovakia revolutionized? Do not negate the power of God to enable his people to press on and achieve the goals of freedom and justice. Do not negate the power people have when they are united in pursuing a common goal. Stanford can even beat Notre Dame!

There was a revolution in Czechoslovakia last November, called the Velvet Revolution because it was peaceful. No one died. There were skirmishes with the police, and the police were too violent on occasions, but no one died. The leaders of the Communist Party resigned, elections held, and noncommunists elected to leadership positions.

Of course, there were many forces at work, but do you know what finally, publicly brought down the Communist government in Czechoslovakia? What weapons were used? Candles! Primarily young people, although there were people of all ages participating, filled Wenceslas Square in Prague, singing, chanting, lighting candles, asking for dialog with the government leaders. The demonstration was spontaneous, lasting for days. There were no announcements in the media. There was no word on television, radio or in the newspapers because they were all controlled by the government.

It started back in January, 1989, when the young people tried to observe the 20th anniversary of the death of Jan Palack, who burned himself publicly as a protest to the Soviet invasion in 1968. The police prevented the youths from visiting his grave. Today, in the same Wenceslas Square where the Soviets sent in tanks and troops to put down similar aspirations for freedom, candles are still being lit. There is a mound of candle wax, resembling an altar, with photos of heroes placed around the photo of Jan Palack who burned himself and became a martyr, a folk hero. He was only 21 years old.

By November, the momentum was building. Day after day people gathered in Wenceslas Square, 24 hours a day. At times, there were over 100,000 people jammed in, lighting candles on the improvised altar, holding candles at night. We saw a documentary film of the revolution. There were the police, armed to the teeth, lined up like Napoleonís army, wearing crash helmets, holding plastic shields to protect themselves. To protect themselves from what? From young people holding candles! What a contrast! Armed police who, by the way, were also mostly young people, confronting other young people who were only burning candles and singing. Isnít it sad how we old folks send our young people to the front lines of all wars. Kids against kids.

Young people, people in a common pursuit, forced the Communist government to resign, without bloodshed. Never doubt the possibility of transformation. Never doubt the power of what is right and good. Never doubt the power of God who could even raise Jesus from the dead. Never doubt the power of prayer. Ellie and I testify to the power of prayer. We literally, vividly felt your prayers as we traveled. We know many of you were praying for us. We felt as if we were floating, buoyed by your support. We felt led, guided, protected.

Sisters and brothers, transformation is what we as a church are about. We are called to be Godís people, faithful to our calling, pursuing steadfastly the goal of salvation, transforming lives, transforming this world into the likeness of God.

Sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, I call us to the task of transformation. With the Committee on Spiritual Nurture, I call us as a church to prayer, and to focus our prayers on the Middle East. These are frightening times. The wrong word, the wrong act can easily plunge us into a war which, because of nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, and now fuel-air explosives which Iraq has obtained, could become a holocaust. Weíre not talking about an isolated skirmish over there somehwere. It is frightening, but we can help transform the situation. Donít believe we canít do anything about it. If 100,000 young people can bring down the oppressive communist government and bring about a velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia, not with bombs or guns, but with a candle vigil, then Christians across this world, gathered in Communion today, have the power to transform any situation.

I call you to Communion today in fellowship with Christians all across this world. I remember and pray especially for the congregations with whom we worshiped: the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church in Rostrevor, North Ireland; the American Church in West Berlin, an English speaking Lutheran congregation of people from all over the world; the Lutheran Church in Noebelle, Sweden; the English Speaking United Methodist Church in Vienna where Glenn and Kay Fuller serve a congregation of people from across the globe; a United Methodist Church in Prague, Czechoslovakia; and a merged Methodist and Reformed Church in Dartmouth, England. I call you to Communion with Christians across the world.

And I call you to a service of Prayers for Peace on behalf of the Middle East crisis this Friday evening. Friday evening at 8:00 p.m., letís gather on the patio to pray for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis. Bring your own candle. There is powerful imagery in a candle. The church has used candles for centuries as symbols of the light of Christ, shining the light of truth in a dark world. Invite others to come Friday evening. Spread the word. Tell those who arenít here this morning. Tell your neighbors as this will not be a Methodist gathering. Praying for peace is hardly a parochial endeavor.

We are given the power to change this world. That power is the Holy Spirit. Never feel hopeless, helpless, or powerless. Even walls fall, and governments resign when people are united in the pursuit of a goal. Never give up. Join the apostle Paul and declare, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris