There is something special about being part of what happens in a large group of people from all over the place. Somehow there is a unifying factor to it – like standing with a stranger among a sea of strangers in a stadium experiencing the show or the game. You forget yourself and somehow are joined together with strangers by a common moment.
Dare I say, the same can be said for convention of our synod! We had a great weekend at convention in Victor Harbor last weekend.
In our testy and difficult times, synod gatherings have been anything but edifying or encouraging. But this SA/NT Convention was all of that.
I think it was the stories that were shared; stories of God’s people faithfully being Pentecostal people – instruments of the Spirit speaking and doing in everyday ways we can all do.
But there was a hint of new vision too.
That was shared as a description of who we as local Christian communities already are and what our future needs to be in the power of the Spirit.
Real Grace: that is how we come to live in a relationship of peace and hope for everything.
Real Life: where love is let live so life in the Spirit of Jesus flourishes.
Real Community: where we look outward and love and give and serve in his love by the Spirit’s power.
I like it.
Not out of place at the first Pentecostal Day …
The Feast of Pentecost which occurred fifty days after Passover was a festival commemorating the giving of the Law to Moses (the ten commandments) which he received fifty days after the Exodus from slavery. As we hear, ‘the whole world’ gathered for this festival, which was one of the big three you made the effort in your lifetime to get to as often as you could – Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Booths. The city is packed.
I know we often mark this day as the ‘birthday of the church’. That is not wrong. But it is likely that the people there that day would not have viewed it that way. Luke, the one telling the story, doesn’t either.
This is not so much a birthday as a renewal of relationship day. This is celebration of the long-standing covenant God made with his people by fire and smoke and darkness and words on Mt Sinai.
Just like Moses and the Lord up there on that mountain with wind and fire and words, so now God’s wind and fire and words descend again on this other mountain – Mt Zion (Jerusalem).
The prophets said this day would come. Peter knows this. Jesus said it would happen:
Peter heads to what he knows from the Scriptures and from his Lord. He tells the people what Joel said this is all about.
In these new days post-resurrection and ascension of the King of kings victorious and now coronated and present the covenant relationship is now renewed and extended.
In this last great gift, no one need miss out on grace. God is ‘going big’ this time. This day is not to start something good for the Jewish community – the inside people. This day starts something in the world and for the world – all the outside people as well. Luke gives the detail that confirms it. On this day are gathered;
And the new community is heading out, growing wide, moving deep into the far reaches … And
‘Everyone’? Luke gives the details … – the young, the old, the men, the women… ‘all people’.
You can’t miss it. This gift of the Holy Spirit is expressly for those outside the Jesus movement, those who had lived displaced in a language and a world not their own. This is a spiritual gift given not for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening.
We know this in the head, but O how we turn back inward in the heart! We seem to naturally make church about us insiders and we struggle to look, listen and welcome the new, welcome change to draw in the new, adapt to the new, give up things for the sake of what is possible with the Spirit’s wisdom and power …
Maybe we do this because it is easier, more comfortable, more predictable, more controllable, more, “safe”?
Maybe we just find ourselves taking the path of least resistance because in our secular culture, hardship and suffering are deemed to be useless; of no value and to be avoided at all costs. The goal is to be happy and that means doing everything to avoid difference and difficulty. Seeking the orphans of God, the displaces, the isolated the needy the prideful is hard.
In our absolute avoidance of discomfort or suffering it is so easy to make church about us thereby turning away from them, and therefore where God’s heart and intention is.
We make church about our views, our needs, our vision, our comfortability, our order, our control, our expectation, our understanding, our wounds, our pride, our ethnicity as we strive to always gain and never lose, never suffer discomfort, never be challenged or deal with difference, as if these things were either meaningless, useless or only ever bad.
I wonder if this is especially the case for us Lutherans in Australia, and particularly in this heartland, where it began.
Our beginnings are of an immigrant community who had to stick together to do OK here. They had to maintain their language and their custom and their stories from the old country …
But also, Lutherans endured a persecution with schools shut down, people incarcerated for no reason other than being German, people changing their names to fit in, towns with German names being renamed by government decree – not once, but twice over the first 50 years of last century.
Is it in our DNA to turn inward and look only after each other more than it is the DNA of other Christian communities?
Of course, there is great strength in this too. We do indeed look after each other and remember people, support people, care for people. We know people need that.
But what about this untidy uncontrollable business of Pentecost – the wild and free Spirit acting in his wild and free way by God’s powerful prophetic word that changes the game?
What about this God renewing his relationship of love with EVERYONE – not just us, not just Lutherans, not just family and friends, but all the strangers in the crowd, the new people in the Barossa, the newer people right here in our midst, the different and the dangerous wherever he send s us and where we find them?
I know, this gift of a new resurrected community of Jesus can sound crazy to people. People are often “sneering” (verse 13). They might think we are ‘on something’ (drunk).
but the Spirit always finds his way to speak. Peter speaks this new community of God’s life into being as he says this whole moment is the fulfillment of Joel’s inspiring vision of what is looks like for God’s Spirit to be poured out “on all flesh” (verses 17-21); young and old, women and men, slave and free.
In this new community of the Spirit, EVERYONE is called, and EVERYONE speaks. They all get to speak God’s words (prophesy).
Jesus saw this coming. He said,
Friends, this is still us.
He will teach us at the time we need to speak of grace and truth among others. Because he will do this, we have no need of being fearful of speaking of him. He will meet us in the moment.
I long to be part of a local church who have made that crucial step in belief that we are not here for only ourselves; that this ‘church’ business is not merely ‘club’ business – what we do together is not simply to be comfortable, as if we are merely a gathering of like-minded people for personal support and for doing something good for others.
Though noble, that is not New Testament Pentecost church. I long to be part of local church who believed they are Pentecostal – the means of the Spirit through which God sends us to the outside with words to say and things to do that bear witness to him.
I know we are part of a Spirited community who welcome contact and conversation with all the outsiders and is here to participate with Jesus as he raises dead people to a new life into his community of life by his powerful word, and sets them on a course of radical love for others in the world.
There is something special about being part of what happens in a large group of Christians from all over the place.