This Sunday is a significant Sunday for the life of the Church…actually it is the celebration of the life of the Church, because it’s the Church’s birthday! Pentecost Sunday is the day we commemorate the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the movement that came to be known as the Church. The story goes a little something like this, “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:1-4 And from that moment on the world would never be the same. I love the description for the presence of the Holy Spirit; wind and fire. (Add earth and you’ve got a soul-filled experience, I couldn’t help myself). But these two movements in nature are both powerful and mysterious, yet how often do we think of the action of the Church in terms of wind or fire today?
Often the Church is more of a comfortable movement in the world today. We hear passages from scripture and rather than being spurred on or challenged, we simply seek to be affirmed or comforted in the station or position in life in which we currently exist. Take for instance this passage from Paul to the church in Thessalonica, “Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 That sounds good. Don’t repay wrongs, rejoice and be prayerful, give thanks and don’t suppress the Spirit…wait, what!?! The Greek word is actually sbennymi, which meant to extinguish. Don’t extinguish the Spirit? But think about it for a minute. This is the presence of God that on the day of Pentecost was described as a fierce wind and fire. What is it about the movement of the Church today that resembles a fierce wind or fire?
In his book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis is describing the four children’s preparation for their first meeting with Aslan. The children become a bit scared when they realize that Aslan is a lion. Here’s how the conversation concludes, “’Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’.” I think that’s where safety has taken over the flow of the Spirit in the Church today. We want the action of the Spirit to be safe, comfortable, fit our schedule, pat us on the back and tell us we’re doing okay. But what we don’t realize is that in doing so we are fighting the very fire of God that continually seeks to set the church ablaze. When we seek to control the Spirit or dictate how the Holy Spirit must work in our churches or in another’s life we are actually extinguishing that which is unpredictable. And yet God does not force us to remain in the flames of His love. In fact it’s quite easy to suppress the presence and power of God when our agendas of safety, comfort and control take over. So what will it be this Pentecost? Will we find ourselves consumed by the mystery of a God who is nowhere near safe, but good? Or will we continue to suppress the very Spirit that gave birth to Kingdom of God on earth?
Maybe it’s high time we put down the fire extinguishers.
Today, instead of boring you with my words, I think I will let others share their words. This video was a surprise that my wife made for me for my 40th birthday. I am both humbled and blessed by the words of my friends…who just happened to be former youth group students. I think 40 is going to be pretty great.
The month of my birth isn’t the most glamorous of months. Sure February has Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and my birthday, but I think all those things are there to distract us from February itself. And this month was always much more difficult when I lived in the great white north of Michigan. And regardless of where you live it is still a difficult month for so many. You look outside and what do you see…death. Dead grass, dead trees, dead shrubs or you can’t even see it because it is buried under snow. The one thing I did appreciate about this latter reality I experienced in Michigan was that you knew that this dying of nature and the frozen landscape that seemed to be overwhelmingly depressing was laced with promise. The promise of spring and summer was about the only thing one could hold onto in the dead of winter in Michigan (see, they even call it the dead of winter). But nature has a funny way of revealing to us truths about God and our experience. St. Francis saw everything in creation is a reflection of the Creator. Bonaventure taught that everything is a fingerprint or footprint of God (vestigia Dei). And perhaps even what we experience in Winter is cause for Divine reflection.
As Jesus was coming closer to the end in the book of John he was speaking with His disciples one day and he said, “ Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24 In fact, in many of Jesus’ and even Paul’s allusions to the Christian life, the image of death is used quite often. But we don’t like to talk about death. We don’t like to think about death or loss or anything attached to the idea of separation from what we know and experience. Yet it is in the death of a seed that a harvest comes. It is in the death of Christ that we receive our freedom. It is in death itself that we pass on from this life to the next to be with God. Jesus came into this world to redeem death and even show us how metaphorical death to self leads to life and yet we hold on so tightly to elements of life that I think we often miss what God is getting ready to do.
Since Michigan came to my thoughts earlier in regards to Winter I think it also fitting that I reflect on a story 20 years in the making. 20 years ago just before Christmas eve Flint Central Church of the Nazarene burnt to the ground. Everyone saw this as a great tragedy, as it was, but God also saw it as a new beginning. Out of the ashes and death of what the church had been God was busy giving life to something newer and greater that now impacts the city of Flint in a way the old church never could have. Flint Central is now one of the largest Nazarene churches in the US and has empowered countless people in ministry fro the Kingdom. Out of death to life. Maybe this is something you need to hear today. Maybe you are having trouble letting go of your expectations or memories or old ways of doing things and the whole time God is there waiting for you to die to the old so he can bring forth the new. Death is still scary. But God is in the business of redeeming death and bringing about new life.
In our household we have a tradition that at some point began with our firstborn. I guess you could call it the Birthday countdown. Somewhere in the calendar between birthdays it becomes necessary for my wife and I to do the math prior to the next child’s birthday and then the countdown is on. It has started with as many as 200 days, but usually doesn’t get serious until around the 30 day mark. In the meantime plans are made, presents are wished for, the day is marked out with incredible expectation and then all that there is left to do is wait somewhat patiently as the countdown marches on. Although patience is usually not the key expression of this countdown. But on the upside my wife and I have gotten really good at knowing how many days are in every month.
During this season in the church calendar I can’t help but think about the Birthday countdown. We are currently in the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost or more appropriately between Easter and Pentecost. In fact, the name Pentecost literally means fiftieth. This is the time in the church we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit and we remember the waiting of the disciples. This to me is the most incredible part. The disciples, although living in fear of what might happen to them were hanging onto Jesus’ last promise before his Ascension. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 And then when the day of Pentecost came, the world was turned upside down. This power that became present in the lives of the believers transformed everything.
Sometimes I think we as the church still find ourselves in the waiting period; the countdown. We are waiting on God to do something in our midst. We use words like revival, renewal, refreshing, etc., but the problem is, we aren’t called to wait anymore. You see, the original waiting/countdown was Jesus’ promise to those disciples who gathered in that upper room. And when the day of Pentecost came, the waiting game ended. We believe that since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is present, living and active in the lives of believers everywhere and yet sometimes we find ourselves waiting. But for what? This is the same Spirit that transformed terrified fishermen into bold and defiant preachers. This is the same Spirit that transformed a Pharisaical terrorist into the church’s first missionary. This is the same Spirit that led believers out of hiding and into a willingness to die in a Roman arena. And we think something special has to happen for The Spirit to be at work. Wake up church! The Spirit is at work and moving and bringing new life and we need to stop waiting and start moving in step with God.
This Sunday we will commemorate and celebrate Pentecost. But it’s time we live out of the power of The Spirit and stop waiting/counting days for whatever we think might ignite the Spirit’s presence within us. The Spirit is already ablaze, let’s not be the one’s to quench it with our waiting.
After thirty something changes. I am not exactly sure what it is. But every birthday since turning thirty has been a time where I inadvertently contemplate my mortality. I realize that some of you reading this will simply think I am ridiculous and have many years still ahead of me….where-areas some others of you who may read this actually think of me as older;) But contemplating your mortality always leads you to a unique place. And for me thus far in life I think it is safe to say that I have lived a life free of regret. I love my journey and where it has taken me so far. I see each day as potentially my new best day ever and I can’t imagine my life having gone any other direction.
That being said though, I want to do something. I realize that bucket lists were fashionable a few years back and so I am relatively late on the scene, but I thought it might be a good exercise for me today as I contemplate my life and where I am headed. So here is a list. A list of things I would love to do, but don’t necessarily have to do in order to be fulfilled. (And please feel free to comment on this post or on Facebook if you think there is something I need to add)
Purchase and learn to play a Banjo
Hike the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian trail…though not necessarily all at one time
Swim with sharks…I don’t even have to have a cage
Live for some amount of time in another country
Write a book…being published would be a bonus
Visit all 50 states in the US (I think I am at least half way there)
Get to see my kids grow up
Watch a game from The Green Monster
Visit and tour the United Kingdom
It’s not altogether to extensive of a list. But these are some experiences I would love for myself and for my family, although I am not sure my wife would concur on the Banjo. At the end of the day though I really just want one thing….to pass on to my kids the wonder of seeing the world for what it can be instead of what it sometimes is. I long for them to live life with the imagination of seeing God’s Kingdom come to Earth. After all…that is why we are here.
Grace and Peace