Here are my thoughts for this Pentecost, 31 May 2009. The Scriptures are Acts 2: 1 – 21, Romans 8: 22 – 27, and John 15: 26 – 27; 16: 4 – 15.
Pentecost is supposed to be the beginning of the church but what church began some two thousand years ago? It is certainly not the church that we have today, even though there are most certainly movements in the church that emulate that first church. (See “America’s ‘Emerging Church:’ Will a New Post-Evangelical Christianity Reflect More Tolerant Views?”)
But the difficulty in all of this is that most people are not aware of what transpired in those early days of the church and see the history of the church only in the eyes of their own experience. The liturgical color for today is red but most people would not understand why we use red (if, in fact, they even notice such things). There is very little understanding of what the colors means or why we do things other than to say it is tradition. But tradition by itself is meaningless unless it is understood.
What the emerging church does is put meaning back into the traditions of the church and make what is done more spiritual and sacred based than tradition based. And that is what this day should be about. Being a Christian today should be more than a few hours on Sunday. It should be about being a part of the community.
But you cannot be a part of the community outside the walls of the church if there is no community inside those same walls. And there cannot be a community inside the church if the Spirit is not there.
The reading from Acts points out that there were many different people present on that first Pentecost. As many Biblical commentators have pointed out, what transpired that day was a reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel.
God gave us the people different languages and made it difficult for them to communicate with each other because the people wanted to be like God. If nothing else, the problems of the world today can be seen in terms of this inability to communicate. And many of the problems with the church and within the church are a result of that communication issue.
Too often, those in the church today insist that the only way to understand what the church is about is to accept their reason and logic about it as the only way. And it doesn’t matter which side of the issue you are standing on; I have seen and experienced churches that have been divided on the issue of music and worship style.
I will freely admit that I don’t see how much of the music that is called modern worship music qualifies as such. I am not moved by it in any shape or form; but there is also some more traditional music that doesn’t do anything for me as well. I also have my own preference for the order of worship and it differs from the order of worship that many of the churches in my area follow. But I will follow the worship service of the church where I, as a lay speaker, am called because I don’t want the message to be overshadowed by arguments or discussions about the change in the worship service.
What I think is missing in too many churches today is the Spirit. It is almost as if once a person becomes a member of the church, they stopped learning about the church. And when you stop learning about something, it becomes very easy to forget what you learned in the first place. Then what you learned has no meaning and simply becomes tradition and “the way things are done around here”. And when that happens, there is no sense of spirituality and no sense of meaning in what is done on Sunday morning.
The church, both generically and individually, is at a moment of crisis and choice today. What the church does tomorrow will depend a great deal on what happens today. If the members of the church, no matter whether we are talking mainline or modern, do nothing, then obviously nothing will happen. But today represents the greatest opportunity to experience not the birthday of the church but rather the rebirth of the people of the church, a people committed to fulfillment of the Gospel message, a fulfillment of the message first brought forth by Christ to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed.
It can be done if we accept the presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives this day. It is not a matter of saying that I am a Christian and I need not do anything; it is a matter of saying that I need the Holy Spirit in my life in order to make my life fuller. It means letting the Holy Spirit work through me.
There is much going on in this world today and most of it is not good. What happens tomorrow, what happens next depends on what you do today.
You can walk away from church on Pentecost Sunday without doing anything but the people within the church and outside the church will still be talking in many different languages and many different dialects and no one will understand anyone.
Or you can accept the Holy Spirit and the barriers that separate us will come down. People will still be talking in different languages and different dialects but the opportunity for understanding will also be there. And that is an opportunity that must be taken.