“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…”
(Acts 2:1-2, NRSV)
Gathered together in one place. What does “all together in one place” mean today? In this global community, packed with online neighborhoods, as we “gather together” with 7+ billion other people, what languages do we need to be listening for? How is the Spirit falling anew in ways that will open us to the possibility of understanding one another?
Take a look at your bulletin cover. I do not think we could have wished for a better image for this Pentecost morning, for this describes US at Memorial UCC. We are both gathered… and scattered.
For we ARE gathered in one place. Sort of. Over the winter, encouraged by the Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ, we and many other congregations across the state participated in a study around the Doctrine of Discovery. This papal decree from the 15th century has impacted, “decisions and laws continuing right up to our own time… laws that invalidate or ignore the rights, sovereignty, and humanity of indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world.” Following these discussions, back in April at the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Conference, the delegates that were gathered “voted in favor of (a) resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.”
As part of Memorial’s study on the Doctrine, our Director of Faith Development, Rebecca Malke, attempted to coordinate an opportunity to worship with the HoCak UCC in Black River Falls. Unfortunately, the first trip was cancelled due to a snow storm. But yet… how perfect is THIS? The trip was rescheduled for today, Pentecost!
So we as a faith community are gathered… and scattered. Around 20 people from Memorial are making the road trip to the HoCak UCC to worship with, listen to, and enjoy a meal and conversation with our sibling congregation. What “tongues,” what “languages” is the Spirit calling on us to listen to today from the people native to these lands?
For we are on the road with this God who does not sit still.
These is a Spirit that dances like a flame in our midst.
A Living Presence that roars with the sound of a violent wind.
This is a Holy that speaks in other tongues – so that we can understand.
That is, we can understand the Spirit when we aren’t distracted by what we expect Her to be. As Peter said, She is not drunk. But this is also a holiness that can be all too boisterous. A movement that disturbs the peace.
Wow. That paints quite a picture of what “church” can be, doesn’t it?
Just what happened on that first Pentecost? “Pentecost literally means ‘fiftieth day.’ As a Jewish religious celebration, it first marked the fifty days after Passover with a harvest festival. Pentecost also commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. This moment still celebrated in the Jewish tradition as Shavuot.
In the Christian tradition, Pentecost marks the end of the 50 Days of Easter. Acts 2 describes how the apostles and friends were gathered together in Jerusalem. Suddenly there is a great rushing of wind… They begin to speak in different languages, and the crowds around them – Jews from across the diaspora having come to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks – understand them…”
These were people gathered together inside a home making such a ruckus inside that strangers out on the street rolled their eyes. They stopped to question what was going on. If you have ever been to Jerusalem, or seen pictures of the streets of the old city, it is easy to imagine that in the closeness of the buildings and the narrowness of the streets that this was a strikingly chaotic Spirit-filled moment.
So… this is it—Welcome to the birth of the Church! Birthing anything new is messy. For the creative writer of Luke late in the first century, this is what “church” (or what would become “church”) looked like. There was not a well-organized, printed order of worship to follow in the bulletin. There were not familiar patterns of standing, sitting, praying, listening, singing, responding. No, this was a “whoosh!” A random movement of the Holy, followed by Peter’s spontaneous sermon.
This was a space, a gathering, in which God did not sit still.
The people described their experience as a Spirit that danced like a flame in their midst.
This was a transformation that roared into the room with the sound of a violent wind.
And captivated every person there.
This was a Holy that spoke in other tongues – and the people understood.
I am intrigued by the idea that the Spirit might be speaking in new tongues, new languages, today—and I am wondering whether She is asking us to expand our understanding of what “language” it might be that our God is Still Speaking.
For example, I believe we are living in the midst of the Second Reformation. We know that there is a change in the way we “be Church” in 2019. We who are gathered here come from a variety of faith backgrounds: Some of us are “cradle” UCCers (those that were born into and have always been in the United Church of Christ, or our predecessor denominations such as the Evangelical and Reformed, or Congregational churches). Others come from other Protestant traditions, the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical traditions. Some are newly returning to church, some are skeptics, and yet others were raised in households that did not participate in any faith tradition—the never churched.
How do we hear each other’s “languages,” the varying beliefs that we carry into this space? How is the energy of the Spirit falling anew, stirring opportunities for us to understand each other in new ways?
This is a time, a space, a gathering, in which God is not sitting still.
We hear a lot about the rapid pace in which everything is changing around us.
Transformation is roaring into our lives with the sound of a violent wind.
It can be confusing, discombobulating.
It is also a moment in which time and space are very, very different than generations have experienced before. Thus, I would like to suggest one additional “language.” It is the language of understanding that in our multiple modes of communicating, letters, telephone calls, texts, emails, Messenger, are also other ways to “be church.” A way of being both “gathered” and “scattered.”
You may have heard me use the phrase “digital ministry.” This is an aspect of my ministry that I love. Throughout the week, the Spirit can burst forth through prayers shared not only in person, but via text, emails, private FaceBook posts, letters, and telephone calls. Terry Hoffman has started a ministry of taking pictures and short videos during worship, which she then posts on the church’s closed FaceBook page (and if you are interested, and you are on FaceBook, do a search for Memorial Ever-Widening Circles and ask to “join” the group). I have heard a lot of feedback from people who have not able to be in church on a particular Sunday say that they greatly appreciate seeing Terry’s posts and getting a snippet of what it is like to “be here,” even when they weren’t.
Rebecca and I have also collaborated to share special worship services online, such as our Longest Night service and Ash Wednesday. Again, people that wish they could be at church, but cannot make it, express gratefulness for the opportunity to “worship with us” digitally. There are ongoing conversations about the steps we may need to take as a congregation to livestream the worship, and expand onto Instagram, to respond to the movement of the Spirit.
We know that this is a time, a space, a gathering,
In which God is not sitting still.
Look around. This is a time filled with new languages, ways of speaking in emojis (those images people include in texts, emails, and on social media), hashtags, and acronyms such as LOL (which means “laugh out loud”), BFF (“best friends forever”), DIY (“do it yourself”), and ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing).
The Spirit is HERE.
Transformation is roaring into our lives.
And with the awe of the Holy Flame that dances in our midst,
In our gathering and our scattering,
What “languages” do we need to hear?
For, God is Still Speaking…
Reflection on Acts 2:1-13 offered on June 16, 2019
 “Doctrine of Discovery Study Resources.” Wisconsin Conference UCC. Accessed June 07, 2019. http://www.wcucc.org/resource-center/justice-ministries/doctrine-of-discovery-study-resources/.
 “Three Teaching Points for Pentecost.” Marketing Platform for Small Businesses. Accessed June 07, 2019. https://mailchi.mp/vts/vbs-summer-of-service-2612629?e=df3c0447ae.