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A look back at Pentecost and ahead to Africa Day

The Rev. Paula Cooper preaches to both a congregation in Zambia and to the PC(USA)’s national staff

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Paula Cooper

LOUISVILLE — Members of the PC(USA) national staff were transported in both space and time Wednesday when they watched a recording of the Rev. Paula Cooper, World Mission’s regional liaison for East Central Africa, preach a Pentecost sermon to the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia’s Kabwata congregation in Lusaka South, Zambia. Cooper chose Acts 2:1-4 and some of the verses that follow as her preaching text.

Cooper was ably assisted by the Rev. Naomi Daka, who translated into Nyanja and Chewa, and the Rev. Sevatt Kabaghe, CCAP general secretary and associate pastor, who assisted with the translation.

Jesus offered believers power unlike that of superheroes including Superman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman, Cooper told the congregation gathered on Pentecost in Zambia last Sunday, nearly a week ahead of Africa Day. “It wasn’t that kind of power,” Cooper explained. “On this particular day they were able to witness the wonders that God had done, in different languages.”

But there was doubt among those listening to Peter’s first recorded sermon. Some thought those who were celebrating the birth of the church were drunk. “Have you ever ran into someone who, when you were telling them about the work of God, looked at you like you were crazy?” Cooper said. “Who dies on the cross, is in a grave for three days, and is resurrected on the third day? People were thinking, that doesn’t happen.”

We may find when we try to tell someone what Jesus has done in our life, “They may say, ‘Get out of here. I don’t want to hear that,’” Cooper said. “But the power of the Holy Spirit gives you the confidence to talk about the work God has done, in spite of them not believing that you’re sober. They may not want to hear this particular message, but you have been endowed by the power of the Holy Spirit and the words to witness about all that Jesus has done.”

Peter knew the Torah, Cooper told the congregation, and he knew what the prophet Joel had said: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

“This is flesh,” Cooper said, pointing to her arm. “Do you have flesh? Do you? God’s Spirit has been poured out on all flesh. That includes us and our sons and our daughters, says Joel. Our young men will have visions, and our elders shall dream dreams. The Spirit has been poured out on all of us, that we can go and prophesy.”

“You should be prophesying,” Cooper told the crowd. “On the job, in school, at the market and at home, you should be talking about the wonders of God.”

“This [account] is the start of the church. You are the church, not just this building,” Cooper said. “You are the church. Say it: I am the church. I am the church,” and worshipers responded by saying those words along with her. “What we learn in the Bible, what we learn in Bible study, what we learn in our worship service, is not for us to teach ourselves. We’re not secret agents or detectives, where we keep everything quiet.”

“Have you ever received a gift?” Cooper asked the crowd. “Did the person say, ‘Pay me?’” No, because, “It was free. You have been given the power of the Holy Spirit freely, and you cannot keep it away from other people. … You have been blessed to be a blessing, but there will be people who don’t want to hear that. People will say you are drunk or out of your mind, but you know who you believe in.”

People want to know “how you can stand up straight in the midst of your troubles,” Cooper said, first bending over and then demonstrating perpendicular posture. “When someone [in the faith] dies, you say, ‘I will see you when I get home. Weeping may endure for a night, but because you know the Lord, joy cometh in the morning.’”

“That’s why we come together. We come together to encourage one another and to hug one another, because we love one another because of Jesus the Christ. We also have to love the people that Jesus loved,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to love everybody, but it’s probably hard for Jesus to love us, because we’re not the best people. Yet he loves us in spite of ourselves.”

“We are the church, and there’s a certain way we need to behave. We are set apart from the world,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t have to say anything. People are watching our actions. That’s what they talk about, and that’s what discourages them from coming to church. [They say], ‘Why should I go to that church when everything that comes out of her mouth is nasty? The church and Jesus are not helping her to change.’”

On Pentecost, the birthday of the church, “You have been called through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the power of your baptism, to witness at your job, at school, at home, when you go to the market, when you go to get your haircut — wherever you are, you are on holy ground. It’s the way we need to carry ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“May the Lord be with you,” Cooper said. “Thank you.”

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