June 8, 2014
First Christian Church
I was always looking forward to the family summer vacation. Dad would back up the car to make it easy to put our luggage in. Mom would fill a picnic basket with items to eat or drink along the way. Dad would also get the old igloo ice chest, fill it with ice and place cans of pop and lunch meats, again for the journey ahead. I was over the moon as the car pulled out of the driveway and made its way to freeway and our chosen destination.
What was so exciting about that car trip? In most cases, we were going to places we had been to before. But that didn’t matter to me. Just being on the journey was exciting- even if I had travelled the road before.
Today is Pentecost, what is normally called the birthday of the church. It is the day that the Spirit makes itself known to the world through Jesus’ disciples. The story begins with the disciples gathered in a room in Jerusalem. Jesus told them to wait there until the Spirit comes. I’m guessing that the disciples didn’t understand what was going to happen. It was already hard enough to understand Jesus dying, rising again and the floating away. What was the Spirit? What was its importance?
The passage says that the 120 were gathered in one place. They stayed in this room waiting for…what? As usual, Jesus didn’t really explain what was going to happen.
And then something happens. A wind blows through the room. Then in what seems to be a vision of some kind, what appears like flames settled on each person’s head. Then something odd happened. Each one felt compelled to praise God. That wasn’t the strange thing. What was striking was that they were praising God in different languages- languages that very few of them had even learned.
They couldn’t just stay in that room. They had to get out, they had to get out and make their praises known to God publicly. And so they did just that, when it just so happens a religious festival is taking place with Jews from around the known world. They were amazed as they heard these uneducated country hicks from Galilee praise God in their mother tounges.
Some were amazed of what was happening. Others scoffed thinking the disciples were drunk. But people, the none too bright disciple, explains to the crowd what was going on. He finally gets what Jesus was all about and shares the story of God’s salvation. The passage ends with the writer saying that 3000 people were added to their number on that first Pentecost.
It’s tempting to look at this scripture and focus on the end: that 3000 people were added on that day. Most congregations in North America are facing decline and First-St. Paul is no different. We look at that and wonder what we could do to get 3000 people on to our membership roles.
But we should be focusing on another part of today’s text. It’s where Peter is explaining to the crowd what is happening. He refers to the prophet Joel which says that in the last days God’s spirit will be poured out among all flesh, men and women, young and old. Even slaves would receive the Spirit of God.
The Spirit’s arrival pushed the disciples out of the upper room and into the rest of the world. There was no more staying in a room, everyone was on a journey to witness the wonderous deeds of God through Jesus.
Pentecost is about the arrival of the Spirit and the beginning of the Church. The spirit is here and present with us. It doesn’t matter if we are a church of 1000 or a church of 10, the Spirit is present here now and if we pay attention to the Spirit, God just might kick us out of this building and into the world. Pentecost is about a church on the move, the car on the journey. The church isn’t a destination, but it is the means with which we travel.
As most of you know, I was the Associate Pastor at First Christian Minneapolis for nearly five years. I had known most of the folks at church, because I joined the church over a decade earlier, so this was a bit of a homecoming after being gone for several years.
First-Minneapolis was at a crossroads in their ministry. The church that was 1500 members strong, was now a church of about 150. The sanctuary that was built in the 1950s for a growing church, now seemed cavernous. A few months before I arrived, the church came to conclusion that they needed to sell the building and move into more appropriate quarters. Selling the building was hard and many wondered if this was the end of the congregation.
For about two years, I was part of a transition team made up the Interim Pastor, myself and lay members. We heard various ideas and prayed and listened. As we continued on our jounrney we didn’t realize that even though the road seemed uncertain, we were being led by the Spirit. We met two other congregations that were planning to move into one building. Salem Lutheran and Lyndale United Church of Christ had also gone through decline and was open to try something new. We cautiously entered the process, feeling that we should join this partnership. The three churches rehabbed what was the old Lutheran church into a facility that house three congregations called the Springhouse Worship Center. First-Minneapolis opened themselves to the Spirit, and while it wasn’t a mighty wind or fire or speaking fluent German even though they didn’t know the language, it was life changing.
As First-St. Paul discerns its future, we should remember that church is not a place. Our goal isn’t to get more people in the chairs, as much as we all would love to see that. What God is calling us to do is to be open to where the Spirit is active- and might be in places and people we don’t expect. We are called to be looking for the party- it’s to find where the Spirit is bringing joy and hope and then join in.
I am excited that First will join First-Minneapolis and Spirit of Joy Christian in Lakeville at the Twin Cities Pride Festival. I know this is stretching ourselves into new years. But I also think this is part of what we are called to do; to see this place as a staging ground for our ministry into the world. Sitting at a booth for a few hours on Saturday might not seem important, but it is. Many people have been hurt by other Christians because of their sexual orientation. Part of the reason of the booth is to offer healing and fellowship. The three churches will take turns offering people communion and people who can listen and pray with them. Will there be paople who might join First-St. Paul? I hope so, but that’s not the reason we are going to be there. We will be there because the Spirit is already there and we will witness to that fact. Did you think taking a shift at Hope for the Journey Shelter was just doing a good thing? No, it’s joining the Spirit in offering hospitality and hope in the name Jesus.
We are called to go into the world and preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about going out, not coming in.
As First-Minneapolis began to journey with Salem Lutheran and Lyndale UCC, we would end every joint meeting with a prayer. It’s a prayer from the Lutheran tradition, and it fit what we were all dealing with. It’s called the Holden Prayer and it goes like this:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannon see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pentecost is a journey. Let us feel today like I did all those years ago as I went on a summer vacation. Let us be excited where the Spirit is leading us and the God is with us. Don’t forget to buckle up. Thanks be to God. Amen.