After 10:00 worship today, we’ll gather for a Town Hall Meeting to hear from the Growth Planning Team. They’ve been hard at work researching options for what we might do when the lease is up on the modular unit that now houses the Next Generation House. This rental unit has served us well for several years, but it always was meant to be temporary. As the end of its life approaches, the question arises: What next?
I do hope you’ll stay for the conversation. As a congregation, we make decisions together, as a community. The way we come to those decisions is by talking with each other, listening to each other, and discerning together in what direction God’s Spirit might be leading us. So, if you’re able to stay, please do. We want—and need—your input!
So…How do we “discern together in what direction God’s Spirit might be leading us?” We could, of course, sign up for VBS. This year’s theme? “God’s Spirit Leads Us.” Or we could wait until all the children go through VBS then interview them afterward. We could even do both those things—sign up for VBS and interview the children afterward.
Or we could look more closely at today’s Scripture text. The story thus far… Jesus is born, he grows up, he becomes a great teacher. His teaching is so good that it threatens the religious authorities, who plot to get rid of him. The plot succeeds. Jesus is crucified.
Three days later, Jesus begins appearing to the disciples. For 40 days, the risen Jesus hangs out with his disciples, breaks bread with them, reminds them of everything he’s taught them. On the 40th day, Jesus commissions his followers to witness to all he’s done “in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” then leaves the scene for good.
Today’s events take place ten days after Jesus’ ascension. After electing someone to replace Judas, the 12 are gathered together in a house. Suddenly, the house fills with the sound of a violent wind. What looks like tongues of fire appears and rests on their heads. All of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages as the Spirit leads them.
The energy of what’s happening in the house is so intense, it spills out into the area surrounding the house until hundreds of people are involved. All are amazed to be able to understand what the Galileans are saying, because they speak different languages.
Well, not everyone is amazed. Some stand around, mocking the proceedings, accusing those caught up in the Spirit of being drunk. I wonder why they did that. Why mock those who were having this amazing, positive experience of God’s Spirit?
I wonder if the naysayers mocked the others because, even though they were there like everyone else, they were not having an amazing, positive experience of God’s Spirit. To them, the Galileans spoke Galilean, the Parthians Parthian, the Egyptians Egyptian… Maybe they mocked the others because they were jealous of the experience they were having.
Now we’re to the deeper question–Why didn’t the naysayers experience the Spirit like everyone else? They were there witnessing the same events. Hundreds of people were having a profoundly spiritual experience. Why didn’t the mockers also receive the gift of the Spirit?
What does it take for any of us to receive the gift of the Spirit? I discovered a video this week that, I think, offers answers to that question. (Show video of Greek Grandmother welcoming refugees. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb_Hdjy4CVw)
“I talk, we laugh. Even though we can’t understand each other,” Panagiota says. They don’t understand each other’s languages, but there is deep communication taking place. What do you think contributes to that deep communication? What helps Panagiota and Baraa and his children connect? (Responses)
The first thing that strikes me is that they’re open to each other. Panagiota is open to the refugees; they are open to her. I can imagine someone else in Panagiota’s position saying, “Ach. More refugees. Will they never stop coming?” And I can imagine refugees fleeing civil war and traumatizing experiences back home being leery of citizens of the country they’re passing through. But all involved choose to be open to each other.
And not just open, but open at a deep level. That’s another thing that helps Panagiota and the refugees connect—they meet each other at a place of deep personal need…the refugees need shelter, food, showers, a friendly face. Panagiota needs companionship. She says, “My life changed because I have company in the house. There is nothing else. I have company in the house.”
The past couple of months, we’ve been looking at spiritual longing, those places of deep need in our own souls. We’ve looked at longings for safety, God, reconciliation, resurrection, certainty, forgiveness, comfort, inclusion, and peace. The list isn’t exhaustive, but it has given us a good taste of how places of incompleteness within us, places of yearning, can help us connect with God.
Our summer theme of “acting the world into wellbeing” is the natural next step after this long consideration of our own spiritual longings. It’s kind of like in the Scripture story when the intensity of the people’s experience of the Spirit spills over into the area surrounding the house. We’ve been focusing the past few months on our own spiritual longings. We’ve found solace for some of those longings—mostly in community with our friends here at Pilgrimage. I’m thinking, in particular, of the visit from our friends in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the experience during Lent with the mosaic cross, and the service on the Sunday after Joshua Derby died, when we offered our support to Josh’s mom, Janet Derby. We hear every week just how much this community means to us, just how real God’s Spirit becomes for us in this place.
I saw a church sign recently that said: “Our Mission: Caring for Each Other.” It’s good for church communities to care for each other—I think we do that well here at Pilgrimage. But if that’s all a church community does, the community won’t last long. The point of our caring for each other is to become stronger so that we can go out from this place to care for the world. If we neglect taking our intensely positive experiences of God’s Spirit in this place outside this place, we are missing the point.
Again, I think here at Pilgrimage we do have a strong sense of calling not only to minister to each other, but to minister to others outside this place. I’m not trying to convince you of something we already believe and do. I am excited about some of the opportunities this summer for reflecting more deeply on how we might act the world into wellbeing, but I know I don’t need to convince you of the need to do it.
What I am inviting us to think about is our dual mission of caring for each other and caring for the world in the context of figuring out the next step for the Next Generation House. How might we use our space to help us care for each other and for the world? I think it’s significant that God’s Spirit came to the disciples when they had gathered in a place, a structure, a house. Perhaps they were even worshiping. It was through their togetherness in that space that the Spirit chose to make its entrance… and once the Spirit’s presence and energy and joy and vigor took hold, the experience was so intense, it couldn’t do anything else except spill over into the community beyond the house.
Can you see that happening here? Can you see the love we experience in this place, the intense, energizing experiences of God’s Spirit moving among us spilling over into the larger community around us? What might that spilling over look like? What might it accomplish? How much more of the world might we act into wellbeing if we follow Panagiota’s example of staying open, even in the deep places, tapping into our own spiritual longings, and finding there a source for helping to meet the longings of others?
Last week, I asked how we as individuals might act the world into wellbeing. The Pentecost story invites us to consider how we as a community will act the world into wellbeing. How will we tune into God’s Spirit and allow it to lead us? How will we create spaces outside this space for people to meet God? And—perhaps the most important question—When do we begin?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016