It is a tough time to be the church. The future is unknown, the next steps are unclear. The activities that have always worked are no longer getting the same results as they once did. New people need to emerge to help grow the church, but how? It is time to trust in God’s power in new ways—things are changing and not always in ways that are welcomed and comfortable. Plus, the needs are tremendous—in order to fulfill its mission, the church needs more resources, more people, and more funding. Is it time to wait and pray? Is it time to step out and try something new?
Wait a second...did you think I was talking about us? Did you think I was talking about THIS church—St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Richardson? O, heavens no! I am describing the early disciples—as the church begins, on that first Pentecost morning! I was talking about the challenge that those first Christians had to face.
Just imagine it, their resurrected Lord has ascended into heaven. An unknown future weighs heavily upon them as memories of the past, and unanswered questions about the present rattle their minds. Decisions about where to go and how to minister that Jesus made every day, would now have to be made by someone else — but by whom? Who would lead this new generation? The church was also small in number — if they were going to fulfill Jesus’ command to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, they were going to need more people, and more capital as well. The future was unknown, the next steps were unclear.
Not surprisingly, the mission of the early Christians does sound a lot like us.
THIS is a tough time to be the church — it is a tough time to be THIS church, and for many of the same reasons that it was challenging 2000 years ago. Our old patterns of being the church, while precious and effective in the past, no longer work the way they once did, and we are they will not get us to God’s new future.
We need to listen to which future God wants us to move into—and we are not yet sure what it will look like and which steps to take to get us there. This was all true before the offer came to purchase the building, but now we have an opportunity to look at the future with deep consideration and prayer. Yet, this in-between space can be disconcerting. No one likes an unknown future when the next steps are not clear.
Regardless of which direction we feel led in the future, the church today, THIS CHURCH, is also challenged by a need for new resources—it is part of the conversation at our meeting today. Whether it is more finances to repair the building, keep our mission going, or more people to share their faith, teach our children, or expand our outreach, we feel our limitations. God has promised that the church of Jesus Christ will grow, but the way the church grew in the past 100 years is very different from the ways it will grow today and in the future. Again, we are confronted with the unknown.
But the Pentecost story does not end with the disciples praying together with questions and no answers, with a church to build and no resources to do it, with a future mission and no way to fulfill it.
God sends the power of the Holy Spirit with the rush of a mighty wind and the fiery breath of power from on high. The church is transformed on that first Pentecost, not because they came up with the right answer, but because God gave the church everything it needed to be the church!
• God gave the church the powerful message of love in Jesus!
• God gave the church courage!
• God gave the church the words to speak with the world that had gathered at its door!
Ultimately, God gave the church more people who, in turn, were given that message, that courage, and those ways to communicate about Jesus’ love.
Notice God gives the power of the Holy Spirit in two important ways: first, God gives the power of the Holy Spirit to the church as a whole. We are bound together. We are given collective courage. We are empowered as a unit. There is a “We” that is baked into the Pentecost story: when the day of Pentecost came they were all gathered one place. The church is more than the sum of its parts — together we are the body of Christ to share the love and justice of Jesus Christ in the world.
And so, on Pentecost, there is an emphasis on the “We” of the church. Today WE meet as a congregation, as whole, and the Spirit works through us collectively together when we gather, discuss, listen, and share in ways that the Spirit does not do when we are alone.
It is no accident that the Pentecost happens when the believers are together in one place! Repeat after me: “Pentecost has a radical WE!”
AND Pentecost is not only about the church as a whole, but also each believer individually. When the tongues of fire appeared, they rested on each one of the disciples. Yes, the church was given power and ability, as a whole, and also, so was each person. And so today, as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, we declare that spiritual gifts are given to each and every single one of us. While Pentecost has a radical “WE,” it also has a radical “ME!” “Pentecost has a radical ME” Repeat after me:
• I am given the message of Jesus’ love!
• I am given courage!
• I am given ways to share God’s love with others!
• I have gifts to serve in the church!
• I have gifts to share in the world!
Pentecost implicates us collectively and individually. No one can say that their gifts, that their witness is not needed. Look at some of our chronologically gifted members—Betty Kennedy and Shirley Shanahan ---Can you do everything now that you could 40, 30 or 20 years ago? Of course not. But they keep showing up and sharing their spiritual gifts. Betty Kennedy still chairs the Prayer Chain; Shirley Shanahan comes in on Saturday for Altar Guild and sets up Communion! And they keep sharing their faith! And we are a stronger church because of it.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something, and we cannot move into the next phase of our mission without you contributing your gift. If you cannot get out of your chair, or your home, you can pray, you can call and encourage members, you can send cards to the sick and homebound.
The church needs your ME in our WE—the Holy Spirit and the Church are a WEME organization—we cannot have one without the other. When we all bring our gifts, our voice, our insight, what the Spirit is giving and guiding us to contribute, then together WE will hear and follow the Spirit move us into a new future, just like it did that on that first Pentecost morning when the church had a fiery, multicultural start that has not stopped since.
These may look like tough times, but the Holy Spirit has been doing this for nearly 2,000 years—and I think God’s got our back. The Holy Spirit is upon us together and upon each of us individually, and we will be led into a new future of God’s design—with a message, with courage, with ways to communicate as a WEME community ready to move forward.
Image: Gerd Altmann, pixabay.com