(Today is also my mom’s birthday so Happy Birthday, Mom!)
Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the Church’s birthday. On Pentecost, a chaotic wind blew through the lives of the disciples hidden in a room in Jerusalem and changed their lives forever. That wind filled the disciples with the flame of the Holy Spirit and they began preaching the good news of Jesus Christ in languages they’d rarely heard much less spoken. “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…”
And suddenly everything is changed. There is a new normal, a new way of relating to God, a new way of being God’s community. Even though some people dismiss the birth of this new way of experiencing God as the slurred speech of men drunk on new wine at nine o’clock in the morning, the Spirit doesn’t care! The Church, Christ’s Church, the body of Christ in the world is born through the power of the Holy Spirit! And throughout the book of Acts we watch the Church grow from 11 men plus some women hiding in a room (Lk 24:33) to 120 people (Acts 1:15) to 3120 people (Acts 2:41) to 8120 (Acts 4:4) and beyond. All by the work of the Spirit!
Today, over 2000 years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation that those disciples were in -- in a world of change and chaos, of new normal and transformation, of unpredictability and the uncontrollable work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
No, the Church is not dead as some might suggest. Nor has the Church been closed during Covid as others might suggest. The Church is alive – for the Body of Christ is risen and will live eternally! But the Church is changing. Whether we want it to or not, whether we dismiss it as the work of drunkenness or see it as God’s possibilities being made real, the Church is becoming new. This was already happening pre-Covid; it’s just that the virus and its consequences have moved up the timetable a lot.
During the past 2000 years, Christ’s Church has looked and functioned in many and various ways in different times and different places. We as the body of Christ, gathered and empowered by the Spirit, have explored, experimented with, even rejected different ways of being Church. Some of those ways needed to be rejected and buried for they were (and are) not images of Christ in the world. Other ways simply morphed into a new way of being Christ’s Church that was more able to fulfill its mission in the world.
The question before us today yet again is: What does it mean to be Church, the body of Christ? For the past weeks, we have been discussing this question publicly and privately (whether we knew it or not) as we struggled to determine how we were/are going to open the doors to our worship spaces. Even the president weighed into this conversation.
But as many Christians across the denominations have pointed out, Christ’s Church never closed. Church has been open and fulfilling its mission the whole time. Church has been worshiping and hearing the Word differently and serving others differently and helping the Spirit form faith differently and supporting and loving one another differently, but the Church never closed! Because Christ’s Church never closes! The Church lives as Christ lives!
What does it mean to be the Church, Christ’s body in the world, during and post-Covid? I think it is time we revisit this question as congregations as well as synods, as laity as well as clergy. We need to ask hard questions about things like: Where is the Spirit moving in the Church? How do we follow Christ as the Church? What is the role of our buildings and property as we live as Church? Is the church a place/space or is the Church a community empowered by a Spirit that blows us out of our doors like a chaotic wind so that we can proclaim Christ in word and deed?
One thing for sure is that the Church isn’t going to be God’s community in the same way as we were pre-Covid. The Spirit is working among us and yes, its frightening, uncertain, and uncontrollable, the same way it was for those disciples in that room 2000 years ago. But we do have choice in the transformation that the Spirit is bringing among us. We can choose to resist the Spirit’s work, putting up road blocks at every turn to hang onto what has always been done before. We can choose to leave or hide, pretending this isn’t happening. Or we can take faithful risks, stepping out little by little (or sometimes a lot) to explore and experiment with what God might be doing with Christ’s Church in 2020 and beyond.
Over the next week as you celebrate Pentecost (and search through your drawers for something red to wear that day), I’d like you to ponder and pray about what it means to be Christ’s Church in the world? And try to remove the building from the center of your definition. For the Church is not a place or a space. The Church is a community, the community of Christ through which we hear and (hopefully) experience how much God loves us and then in turn, loves God’s love into the world around us.
Happy Birthday Church! Come, Holy Spirit, Come! Bishop Laurie
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod