When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The past month we have been on an exploration of our history as a denomination. As a formerly United Brethren Congregation, this building has seen two mergers over its history. Now as we sit in a United Methodist Church, we see a fractured space outside of our walls. This country is split across all kinds of parameters. Our Church is fractured across ideologies and theological stances. The world is split in availability of life saving medicine, as we experience a relative drop in the danger surrounding this pandemic and many others face the dangers of a virus that still runs rampant among those with no defenses. We all tremble in the face of the wars and rumors of wars that grip our hearts.
Yet, as we saw in this past month, none of this is too terribly new. The Church across all space and time has known fractures and conflicts. People called by Christ have landed on both sides of battlefields and borders. There have seldom been moments where the world has known peace or a great abundance of resources. The legacy of the Church is of conflict and of in-fighting. The legacy of the Church is war and oppression and chaos. Yet, this is the image of the Church, not as it was called to be, not as an ideal that we all need to emulate, it is simply the Church as it has often given itself over to be.
The image of the Church that we all chase after is seen in two places – the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the surge of enthusiasm and love that came with the Pentecost. Today our scripture describes the latter, the moment that the Church received the Holy Spirit, and we all knew, once and for all, that something new had broken out into the world. The Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh, and we all were given the chance to respond to it. The Gospel was sitting in the hearts of all the apostles, and now with the fire of the Spirit boiling that story within them, the chance was there for it to break out.
For us today, we stand in a conference that is richly blessed with an understanding of how the people of God are meant to come together. In just a week, we will gather together and celebrate our annual conference. This is a time when the worshipping body gathers to celebrate God’s goodness together. We tell stories, we send in reports (that part is less interesting,) and we pass legislation so that we can be better as the Church together. When we talk about this gathering, we sometimes do so with a level of trepidation, like we are being asked to do something tedious and unnecessary. The vision of these conferences is that we come together for a family reunion whenever we hold conference, not a business meeting. All the representatives from all our different churches come together to share what God has done that year.
To make this even clearer, this year we have will be having a Day of Service across the conference. Churches and ministries are going to hold events to reach out to the people around them. In honor of the many years we have served our communities, we are taking definite steps to show those around us that we are here for them. The Church is gathering, not just for paperwork and singing, but for showing all the world the glory of God and the love of this divine community we call the Church. We are not doing this to look good, not doing it to make some grand statement, except that we truly care for those around us and we will do all we can to help them.
If I were to summarize what the four weeks of history we embarked upon last month teaches us. It would be this, the Church does best when the Church is concerned with the good of all people. More than that, a Church that does not ask people to be part of the community, not by asking them to change overnight, but by being safe for people in all seasons and places of life will not grow, flourish, or even survive. Wesley was a great innovator because he stood up for the downtrodden, the Methodist movement floundered when it chose power over goodness, and the EUB stood strong because it was willing to go to bat for those that others had cast aside.
Again, even in these broad generalizations there is nuance. Wesley was far from perfect, he favored narratives not unlike the idea of “noble savages,” when he talked about foreigners. The Methodist Church did a lot of good work, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked across the world. Even our beloved EUB ancestors have sins to answer for, if in nothing else than they created notoriously hard necked congregations (I say as a child of an old EUB Church myself.)
The reality of the Church is that it has never just been one thing. It has been, “all things for all people, that by all means some may be saved.” It has been a prop for horrific abuses of power and the means by which dictators have fallen. The Methodist Church has fought long and hard against racism and discrimination and turned a blind eye to the same issues time and time again. Dig deep enough and you will find the treasures the Spirit has brought to pass and the evils that we humans have covered them up with. There is no perfect Church, just as there is no perfect person, but we have a vision for what a perfect Church might look like, and again I say – it is in Jesus Christ and in Acts 2.
If we can believe it, Christ asked us to be like him. To love all people, to resist temptation, to chase off the forces of hell and death through the power of God. This manifested in the Acts community through their love of one another, selling their property to feed the hungry around them. They went out and proclaimed the salvation which Jesus had brought into the world proudly, with the full power of the Spirit behind them. There were wonders in Jerusalem in those days, and no greater wonder was present than the unity of a Church that was working to serve and include its neighbors.
The future of the United Methodist Church is uncertain, but I’m confident that here in West Virginia we will stick together to love those around us. Here in our parish, we will continue to minister to those in need, especially the unhoused people who need resources to be safely housed and to grow. The Churches here in North View will gather whenever we can to serve the immediate neighborhood we have here across the bridge. Finally, for North View itself, well I would say the sky is the limit. We have so many people around us, people hungry for the Gospel and hungry for a community that loves them. We can be that community.
This means we have to be a place of welcome, a place full of love and warmth, a place where we go beyond being casual to being aggressively hospitable. If someone came in here next to naked, I hope that they would feel comfortable to take a seat in a pew, sitting in the warmth of our company while someone runs to get them something from our clothing closet. I would love to see people who come in for our food pantry feel like they can come around anytime we are open and find people willing to talk to them and be a part of their life. I hope that kids in the neighborhood see our open lots between here and the parsonage and find a place they can play and enjoy the good days God sends us.
That begins in this room, right now. When we accept the Spirit is truly moving, that it is here in our hearts now, that the Pentecost is really alive when we gather and celebrate God’s power. When we travel beyond these doors, the Spirit is still there. God is on the move, life is on the move, and with every step we take in the life that God has made for us, we will see fruit springing up around us. The continuing legacy of our Church is not in recapturing the magic of the past, nor in abandoning it for a completely unrelated future. We hold the same Spirit in us that inspired our ancestors, let us go forward and release the Gospel for yet another generation to take part in. – Amen.