Forgetting Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost and I forgot. This troubles me in a big way. I realize for many the word has little if any meaning. But for me as a believer and as a pastor in a Christian church this is a big deal.

Pentecost is that wild, bizarre day when everything and everyone became un-hinged. A day we are told in Acts 2 when that mystery we call the Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus and they were transformed. It was as if everything became clear, all confusion fell away and each person knew that they were loved and known by God and each person knew they loved everyone and everything. Scripture says it was as if they were ‘on fire’ with this new awareness. It was a time of profound enlightenment. Everything was new. Everything was different.

And I forgot Pentecost.

pentecost-edfriedlander

It was only when Julie, my pastoral colleague leaving for vacation wished me a ‘good Pentecost’, that I realized I’d forgotten. My sermon, the music chosen, the prayers offered would have had no reference to this extraordinary day when the fledgling, fragile church of Jesus Christ was born.

My excuse for forgetting are many: I’d been away on vacation and attending meetings as a college trustee; my Mom’s health needed attending; the car needed to be repaired; families at church were in need; church meetings needed to be planned for etc.

But what troubles me is that Pentecost, when we remember that the Spirit moves in wondrous ways, had (at least for the moment) become secondary both for me and I suspect for some in the church I serve and the church universal.

What troubles me is that I know that the only path to renewal and spiritual transformation for me, the church I serve and the church universal is through openness to that great mystery we call Spirit.

What gives me hope however, is knowing that the Spirit has a habit of breaking into our carefully constructed lives and making all things new. We can’t constrain or contain the life-giving force we call the Holy Spirit.

The Good News is that Spirit comes even when we forget.

Moving Out

Elizabeth O’Connor was a co-founder of Church of the Savior, a radical church formed in the 1950’s in Washington D.C. She along with Gordon Cosby put into practice the core words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 40 “Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me.”

Never focused on brick and mortar this church opened free medical clinics, summer camps for inner city kids, workshops on leadership development, a hospice for street people, micro loans, and the list goes on and on. Always their work was rooted in the radical teachings of Jesus to love and include those of us on the margins. For this church, works of compassion and advocacy became a mystical place for meeting the risen Christ.

Evelyn O’Connor wrote: “When the church starts to be the church, it will constantly be adventuring out into places where there are no tried and tested ways. If the church in our day has few prophetic voices to sound above the noises of the street, perhaps in large part it is because the pioneering spirit has become foreign to it. It shows little willingness to explore new ways. Where it does it has often been called an experiment. We would say that the church of Christ is never an experiment, but wherever that church is true to its mission it will be experimenting, pioneering, blazing new paths, seeking how to speak the reconciling Word of God to its own age.”

It’s been said that we live in a post-Christian era. In part this refers to our increasingly diverse culture that finds meaning in many places both religious and secular. The church is just one of many voices competing to be heard. In many ways this is good. It is easy to become complacent even arrogant when you are in the majority.

In many ways for the Christian movement the twenty-first century is similar to that of the first century. First century Christ followers like Paul, Peter, Lydia and Silas realized that they were but a minority voice and fueled by their passion went out into the public realm to share their story.

Two thousand years later we are once again a minority voice. The question is will we stay hidden away in isolated enclaves? Or will we like the early church, (and like Church of the Savior) be willing to let go of what is comfortable and familiar and become a part of the wider community where we can serve, learn from and share with a wonderful mix of perspectives and traditions.

photo of church aisle with open doors

It takes courage to leave the familiarity of what is. It means having clarity that you have something of importance to share. But it also requires a spirit of humility, that those with a different belief have something of value to offer as well.

In the fourth century, a bishop in the fledgling way of Jesus, Augustine of Hippo in North Africa said this:

“Do not think you must speak the truth to a Christian but can lie to a ‘pagan’. You are speaking to your brother or sister, born like you from Adam and Eve: realize all the people you meet are your neighbors even before they are Christians; you have no idea how God sees them. The ones you mock for worshiping stones … may worship God more fervently than you who laughed at them…. You cannot see into the future, so let every one be your neighbor.”

For those of us who love what the church can be and love the way of Jesus, this is a challenging and exciting time. The days of waiting for people to come to us are over. Are we ready to leave the safety of our buildings? Are we clear on what we have to offer? And, are we open to the blessings, the wisdom that other traditions and voices have to offer to us?

To say ‘yes’ is to be open to being changed. To say ‘yes’, is to know that we don’t journey alone. It was true in the first century and it is true today.