Our Pentecost Practice Run
Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Church, because it is when the church first formed, but first and foremost, this is the Holy Spirit’s day.
The Holy Spirit is ruah in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek: breath, wind, life force. The Spirit is the outflowing of the dynamic connection between Father and Son - the verb of the Trinity’s relationship, love in action, the energy of life that binds us to God and each other. The Spirit comforts, leads, inspires, and animates.
The Spirit of God is has always been here, behind the scenes, under the surface – hovering over the waters at creation, filling the lungs of the Adam, the first earth creature, inspiring of the Psalms of David, quickening the womb of Mary, descending like a dove to claim Jesus as Beloved in the river of John’s baptism.
But on Pentecost the Spirit comes out from behind the scenes; the stage manager takes center stage.
Jesus told the disciples to wait, that the Spirit was coming – and they waited, unsure what was coming, wondering how they would become the so-called Witnesses Jesus had told them they were.
They waited in that liminal space between the end of their following and the beginning of their sent-ness, in the place where their witness-hood began to take shape.
Jesus had embodied in himself complete unity with God and humanity, he was the person in whom divine and human came together and spilled out as love verbed in the world, and they had followed in his shadow and soaked in its rays. Then he died, and rose, breaking the barrier between heaven and earth, life and death. And when the Spirit came at Pentecost, the power of that verbed love was released onto the disciples, and they were suddenly drawn into the dynamic relationship Jesus had with the Father, and into the life and mission of God. The energy of the Trinity now draws us into God, and fuels us out with the breath, life force, creativity and activity of God.
These disciples now become the very Body of Christ in the world. They are no longer followers of Jesus on earth, as students to a teacher. Now they embody the relationship and mission of God in their own bodies: Their words, their own quirks and accents, their struggles and delights, their very hands and feet and voice!
And God’s Spirit that moves through them is also in that space between them – that is, this body they become when they come together with all their different needs and gifts and fears and hopes, and they trust together that God is God and the world is claimed in God’s love. They’ve become Church.
But they don’t know yet what they are.
They’re just experiencing things and sharing about them. They are witnessing.
And notice that when the crowd gathers as they speak, all who listen hear in their own language – no matter how distant their homeland is from that place or how few of them are in that crowd – each one hears exactly what they need to hear from God, through the words and actions of these surprised disciples, caught up in God’s love. The Spirit reaches out and draws each of these listeners into the inner dynamic of God’s love, where life originates and abounds forever, where Jesus brought death to die.
Today is the Holy Spirit’s day.
Today is the day the Church was born.
Remember, last time I said the disciples and the early church throughout the book of Acts were bouncing back and forth between beautiful encounters of supernatural healing and transcendent hope, and the ordinary struggles about housekeeping and money, how to share, and how to listen to each other without fighting? And they sought to do all of it as Christ’s Body – the place on earth where divine and human come together and spill out as love verbed in the world.
That meant not separating out the holy from the mundane, but recognizing all of it as God’s ministry, and learning to see themselves as stewards of the mysteries of God, as sharers in the life of God for the world.
They were figuring it out as they went along – listening to the Spirit, seeking direction, using their intellect and their cooperation, and watching God work through all of it. They were figuring out how to be the people who are with and for each other just as Christ is with and for us, because that is where the Spirit of God is found. This is what Church means.
This little congregation gathered here today all these centuries later is part of that, a legacy of that group, an embodiment of that same continuing mission.
And I love this community for the fervent and truthful way we try to be with and for each other and the world. For the way we try to recognize God’s presence in both the obviously holy and the so-called mundane.
I love how we believe we meet Jesus when we share each other’s suffering and bear each other’s joy. And how we seek to honor each person as a minister, tiny or full-grown, with their needs, gifts, fears and hopes, and how our ministry changes with each new person who comes to share in this life together with all their quirks and accents, struggles and delights.
And I love we learn from our mistakes, and we take risks, and we seek the Spirit’s guidance in the midst of each new hurdle and opportunity that comes our way. And through it all, we try to trust together that God is God and the world is claimed in God’s love.
One of the ways we live out this trust every month is that we give 10% of our income to other expressions of God’s love in the world - other organizations or congregations or ministries where we see people sharing life together, breaking down walls between people, reaching out in hope. The list of those we’ve given to in the last two years is inspiring:
This congregation has shared with folks who offer people Sabbath rest and retreat, those who resettle refugees, and those who empower conversations and build community across barriers. We’ve shared with people who help communities heal after violence, those who help neighborhoods rebuild after tragedy, those who provide support and care for people who can no longer care for themselves as they used to, and those who provide housing and food for people without. I’ve hung a complete list on the back wall, and put a few copies in the Gathering Room, so that you can see the amazing things we’ve been part of these past two years. The ministry God does in us spreads far beyond us; we are connected to God’s work in the world in lots of ways.
But as session reflected on Pentecost, and this moment when the mission went from centralized in the person of Jesus, to embodied by all these people who make up the Body of Christ, we decided to do something different with the tithe money for a month.
What must it have been like to suddenly have the mission in your hands?
To pray to the Spirit for guidance and trust the Spirit to use you to bless someone else?
To learn to let God work through you?
We talk all the time here about noticing God, seeking to join in what God is doing, and coming alongside others in suffering and joy, and that is what we are called to do. To give and receive the ministry of God. But that can feel abstract. We wanted to make it concrete.
So May’s tithe is right here – 17 envelopes with $100 each inside them.
This month the tithe is not to be given to an organization, but is meant for personal connections with people.
We trust that in Jesus Christ, we all belong to God and we all belong to each other. This is a chance to live that out in a creative way. Seventeen of us today will leave here with an envelope in our pocket and the job of praying and asking the Holy Spirit to show us who it might be meant for.
Here is how this will work: First, we will pray over this money – setting it aside, like we do the bread and the cup at communion, asking God to make it something holy, something that God will use to bless people, a tool of the Holy Spirit in the hands of witnesses and ministers, (that’s you).
And then, we will draw names. Adults and kids, members and visitors, 17 of you will be representing this whole community, the gifts we’ve all contributed, and blessed, and sent out, will be in your hands in the world.
If your name is drawn, your assignment is: Watch for God. See what God is doing. Join in. Ministry is sharing each other’s suffering, and holding each other’s joy. How might God be calling you to use this money to do that with someone? This might mean finding someone to whom you’d like to give an unexpected blessing, or someone you’d like to say, “I see you. I am here,” or someone you want to express gratitude to for the blessing they are to you or others. It could be someone you know well, or someone you’ve never met.
Step 1: Pray about it. Ask God who to give it to, and how.
Maybe you have someone in mind right away. Maybe you need to sit on it for a while and ask God for direction. Trust God to show you. (This is God's money. You are God's too. So is whoever will receive it).
Step 2: Give it to that person.
It might be uncomfortable. That’s ok. Notice the discomfort; God is in that too.
Are there words you’d like to say? Gratitude, Empathy, Love you’d like to express? Pray about that too. Maybe there is something God would like to tell that person through you. Maybe no words are needed. Listen with your heart; speak from your heart.
Step 3: Share about it
Remember, we are witnesses: We encounter Christ and we share about it. Come back and tell us what it was like. Was it awkward? Uncomfortable? Thrilling? Joyful? How did you choose who to give it to? What happened afterwards? How did you encounter Christ through this experience?
We will share about this in worship on Sunday, June 18.
Those who are comfortable sharing aloud can do so, and those who would rather write a note and have Lisa or me read it, can share that way. Between now and then, the rest of us will be holding you in prayer, that God will arrange the circumstances and the Spirit will guide you.
Kids- your grown up will help you however you need as you pray about it and ask God who to give this money to. Babies, your parents will decide for you and tell you all about it when you’re older. (And Pastor Lisa wanted me to remind you not to eat it).
A word to anyone who feels absolutely paralyzed with terror, or even just extremely uncomfortable about this. If your name gets drawn, and you feel you cannot do this alone- bring in another person. Ask someone else here (or even at home or work) to do it with you, to think, and pray, and reach out to give it away, along with you. You are not in this alone. This whole practice is meant to remind us that we all belong to God and we all belong to each other.
Finally, this is the practice run, you guys.
With that money in your pocket you have a specific assignment, something concrete to do. It’s the training wheels. The harder thing is to watch and respond in the world with the gifts God has already entrusted to us that we can’t see or don’t recognize as gifts. Our hands and voice, our words and touch. Our presence, our own needs, hopes, fears, doubts, weaknesses, and joys. God wants to use it all to draw us and others into God’s love. And through us, the Holy Spirit can speak to each person just what they need to hear, meet them just how they need to be met.
This is our Pentecost jump-start, a reminder that we are Church –the people who watch for Jesus and join him where he is – in the midst of it all, sharing joy and suffering alongside others. Learning to watch for God’s ministry and join in is a lifelong endeavor that we do together.
So we witness to how hard it is and we celebrate how life-giving it is. We encourage each other to seek God’s presence and share God’s ministry every day in ordinary and extraordinary ways. And today, specifically, we welcome and celebrate the life-force of God that binds us to Christ’s love and sends us out in that love.
Today is the Holy Spirit’s Day!
What marvelous things will the Spirit do with us, I wonder?
Happy Pentecost, Church!