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. (Acts 2:1-4)
As we celebrated the outpouring of the Spirit on the first followers of Jesus this past Sunday, I find it an appropriate moment to think about what the birth of that community means for us – followers of Jesus, today. Although clearly much happened on that day in the upper room when the wind and flame transformed the lives of those gathered, two thoughts stand out for me.
The first is how human boundaries were broken and redefined. Where once the community of God was limited by genealogy and history, the Pentecost moment unleashes God’s word and love into the larger world. People of all different walks of life, cultures, and language were invited to be part of God’s hope for all creation. Those first followers of Jesus were able to speak in ways that those gathered in Jerusalem could understand. The barriers created at the Tower of Babel were forever torn down. I’ve come to learn however, that language is more than linguistic. It is cultural as well. Consider our teenagers. They have developed an entirely new language in text messaging. Consider young adults. They have developed professionally and culturally in a media-driven era. If we are to reach this generation; if we are to invite them into our family of faith, we must learn to speak in their language. Speaking other languages – linguistically or culturally does not need to negate the content of what we believe. It might however call us to think about how we package our messages in order to be relevant in today’s world.
The second observation is that those gathered in that upper room prayed together as they waited. We learn that the early believers broke bread together, prayed together, worshipped together. I believe this concentrated time of being focused and grounded in the essence of their faith – Jesus – allowed them to stay together in that room. It allowed them to be a community, in spite of their differences. It is not hard to imagine that those gathered were probably carrying different emotions. Some were probably angry, disappointed, fearful, hopeful, doubtful, etc. They could have easily decided to bolt and run. Instead they chose to stay together and wait.
The inward spiritual development and growth that was birthed on that day, however, was clearly not intended to stay within the walls and confines of that upper room. Those first followers were sent out into the world to be a presence of reconciliation and compassion to those outside the walls of that room. They were sent out to be ‘counter cultural’ in a world that valued status, power, money, traditions, etc. They were sent out to care for one another and those who could not care for themselves. Theirs continues to be the model for our witness in 2014. Our ‘counter cultural’ presence in the world is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. We are still called to be a people who can gather together in fellowship, prayer and worship – in our churches as well as in our homes, our work places, and our places of recreation.
It is clear that the very winds and flames that were unleashed 50 days after that first Easter morning, are still being unleashed on us today, prompting us into a new way of life. What this means for us – as a Christian people shaped by a reformed heritage – will be at the center of much of the conversations at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit. Regardless of our personal convictions, those gathered will faithfully consider the questions before them. They need our faithful encouragement and prayers. Like countless men and women before them, theirs will be the daunting task of discerning how God is speaking to the church at this time and place.
The theme of this assembly is “abounding in hope.” May we – those gathered in Detroit and those gathered in prayer throughout our nation – abound in God’s profound hope through Jesus. May we allow ourselves to be shaped, blown and warmed by that powerful Holy Spirit that birthed unimaginable possibilities for humanity centuries ago. May we carry and reflect that transforming power in the world.Please click here for a PDF of the Spirit Soundings: SantanaGraceSpiritSoundings13JUN2014