This is the message I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for Pentecost, 11 June 2000. The Scriptures are Acts 2: 1 – 21, Romans 8: 22 – 27, and John 15: 26 – 27; 16: 4 – 15.
I don’t know if your family is like mine; but when it comes to birthdays, in my family they tend to come in bunches. Three of my grandparents all have their birthday in September. My father, uncle, youngest brother, and one of my nephews all celebrate birthdays in July, with my brother and father sharing the same date. And from June 7th to July 7th, I celebrate the births of my two daughters and mother. This year, Meara will be 24, Melanie will be 27, and my mother, well — let’s just say that she is celebrating another birthday.
Pentecost essentially means fifty days and this Sunday is the closest Sunday to fifty days after Easter. It was on this day that the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus in the Gospel reading, came to the gathered disciples. And by doing so, as we read in the Gospel, the disciples gained the ability to speak on behalf of Christ. As such it could be considered the birthday of the church.
But this day is more than just a celebration of what happened in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago. C. S. Lewis pointed out the Church would outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. (From The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis) So this is a day when we should look as much to the future and to the promises the future brings as we do to our past.
Because of what happened in Jerusalem that day today is as much about bringing hope to others as it is for our celebrating the birth of the church. Paul was speaking of the future when he wrote in the portion of the letter to the Romans that we read today.
For in hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8: 24 – 25)
The hope that Paul spoke about was the salvation offered by Christ and because of our faith, we are able to wait and endure the present. But because of our faith, because we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can do much more that endure.
Jesus told the disciples that “when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement.” (John 16: 8) With the presence of the Holy Spirit, their ability to understand the Gospel message would be enhanced. In other words, the manner in which things are done will change. What the Holy Spirit does is provide the believers with the emphasis needed to convince others. In accepting the Holy Spirit, the disciples back then and we today obtain the ability to show others what Christ is about.
In the secular world, much is made about the power or authority that one has over others. Yet, as much of Jesus’ time on earth was given to preparing the community as it was to proclaiming the Gospel. This was so that the work could continue after He left. But the empowering of the disciples could not take place outside the community of believers. While each of us comes to Christ individually, the work of the church cannot be done individually.
Too often the church is seen as a collection of saved souls when it is really a community of interacting personalities. As a community, we are able to come together and celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives; with Christ in our lives we able to show others what Christ means. Because we are a community of believers, we are able to share in the celebration of Christ’s victory over death. Those who saw the disciples and others gathered together in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost truly wondered about what they were seeing. As Peter pointed out, those gathered there were not drunk but rather infused with the Holy Spirit.
Too often in this world, the church is seen to be a means to the end for transforming society. In doing so, we trample of the uniqueness and infinite worth to God of the Christian community. The most amazing and profound fact about the church is that it does its work transforming society when it itself is growing and being perfected in the love of Christ. When the church is taken as a means for transforming society, very little is accomplished. The uniqueness of the church is denied and the church operates on the same level and in the same manner as other secular institutions.
If the church is seen in the same terms as other institutions, it makes it difficult for us to work as Christians. . Viewing the church as a secular institution means that we see the battle for right and justice as one that can be won by force, by technique, by doing. The transformation of culture and society does not come through force, technique, or doing. Rather, it is accomplished through a Christ-like love, community, and being.
This does not cancel out the responsibility for doing, for acting, and walking in the words of the lord. Being a Christian and doing Christ’s work go together. Being a Christian is a fundamental; doing Christ’s work is a natural result of being a Christian.