Happy birthday! Was I the only person to bring a birthday hat today? Well, today is Pentecost, the church’s birthday! So happy birthday to us!
A few weeks ago, our Middle School Sunday School class had an amazing conversation about the Pentecost story. One of our students has always been troubled by this story. She said, roughly, that the disciples had been incredibly close for three years, and then suddenly they all started speaking different languages. She was afraid they could not longer speak to each other. I reassured her that the disciples retained their ability to speak their common language, but I can’t stop thinking about her concern for their disciples. She wasn’t entirely wrong.
The disciples are about to be sent out.
For three years they have followed Jesus around, enjoying an incredibly close community together. They have been through the trauma of Jesus’ death and the unsettling joy of his resurrection. Before Jesus ascends, he tells the disciples to hang tight in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.
They may not realize it, but those days in the Upper Room are a kind of final goodbye. They have been incubating, marinating in Jesus’ presence and teachings, but God has big plans for them.
The first gift the Holy Spirit gives the disciples is the gift of languages. God wants every person and every nation to know about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. When the disciples all start speaking in different languages, the diverse people of Jerusalem perk up! Suddenly they are hearing God’s good news in a way that feels personal. God is for them, specifically!
This multilingual encounter is just the beginning. While at first the disciples may think they will spend the rest of their lives in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit has other plans. Before too long, authorities will be coming after the disciples, and the Holy Spirit will push them out of Jerusalem, to the very corners of the world as they knew it.
According to history and legend disciples ended up in Syria, Rome, Persia, Ethiopia and India. The disciples went further than they could have imagined through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We may celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church, but God has always gathered and God has always sent out. God gathered Abraham and his family, and them sent them to Egypt. God gathered Moses and the Israelites, and then sent them to the Promised Land. Through David, God gathered his people in Jerusalem, but then sent them out in the Diaspora. The rhythm of life with God is this gathering and then sending out.
This is the rhythm of our life of our faith, too.
We gather here every Sunday to hear God’s story, to break bread together, to be strengthened. In this space we are reminded that whatever is happening in our lives, that we are loved and we are part of a larger story. We get a chance to apologize for the ways we have fallen short, and get re-oriented to who God is and who we are. We are beloved children of God. We are the bearer’s of Christ’s light. We are the reconcilers and healers.
We can’t stay here. About noon, we start shutting the lights off. God doesn’t call us to stay in this space. We have amazing, incredible news to share with our community. We get to go back to school, to work, to our friends and live our faith. We get to tell people that they are not their worst day, that God has a new story for them, a story of grace and forgiveness and new life. We get to practice what we preach by offering forgiveness to others and to ourselves.
We also get to listen. Stephanie Spellers, canon for evangelism and reconciliation to our national church, believes that a lot of our work as Christians is to listen. When asked how to reach out to millennials, which is a question the church wrings its hands about quite a bit, she says,
Here’s the secret: talk to them! Let them tell you what they long for in a community. Let them tell you what authentic prayer sounds like. Let them tell you what they wish church were up to. And then ask if there’s anything you could do together for God. Start a partnership. Offer your wisdom and honor theirs. Be genuinely curious about what God is up to in their world and in their lives, and share what God is up to in your life.
Sharing our faith can seem really intimidating, but it’s really just about listening to someone’s story and then sharing our own story.
I confess that I am the type of person on an airplane who puts my earphones in immediately. I love being a pastor but I am uninterested in being a pastor to random people on United Airlines. Frankly, I find talking with strangers a little scary! However, a few weeks ago Elizabeth Butler, Audi Barlow and I went to a conference in Texas about welcoming people to church. During the conference many pastors talked a bout their experiences talking to strangers in their communities. I immediately felt insecure, because that is just not my gift. I am good with people I know but super shy with strangers.
On the flight back my seat mate and I were trying to figure out how to use the new United App that allows you to watch in flight movies on your phone. That led to a conversation about Beyonce’s Lemonade, which led to a three hour conversation that was just incredible. He was a DC patent lawyer born and raised in Detroit. We talked about race relations and raising small children. We talked about marriage and work place culture. And eventually, about two hours in, we talked about God. Nothing was forced, and even though we were from two totally different backgrounds in two totally different professions, we found that we had much more in common than we had differences. As we left the plane, he said, “Be sure to preach about this conversation!” And so, I am.
God sent me out, and it wasn’t terrible! It wasn’t even scary. In fact, it was one of the most rewarding conversations of my life. If this chicken can do it, so you can you!
Being sent out by God is a little scary, but guess what. Once a week, he gathers us back in. We go out, we do the hard work of living our faith in the world, and then we scurry back here to the community that loves us, to hear the Word and receive the sacrament.
At the end of the service we always send you out into the world. Often we say, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” You can go in peace, because God has given what you need through the Sunday service to do the work he is calling you to do this week. God sends you, but when you come to church, he sends you prepared.
If life ever gets so hard that you just can’t wait until next Sunday, call Eric or me any time. Think of us as your cheerleaders. I’ll even let you wear the birthday hat. We are so impressed by all the good work you do out there! All the loving, and healing, and care taking. All the teaching and writing and leading. All the beautiful art and music you put into the world. God’s blessing on you as God sends you out this week. And we’ll see you soon.