"When the Day of Pentecost had come, the disciples 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
This past Sunday Christians celebrated the birthday of the Church. Tradition holds on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the eleven apostles, driving them out into the streets of Jerusalem, where they met pilgrims gathered from all over the region for the Jewish high holiday. (Pentecost is known in Hebrew as Shavout and is a commemoration of God giving the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai; it is still observed today.) When the pilgrims heard the apostles proclaiming God's deeds of power in their own language, it is said that a large number of folks became believers in Jesus. And thus, the Church was born.
An icon of the Day of Pentecost by Phiddipus showing the descent of the Holy Spirit. The figure on the bottom is Kosmos, an allegorical figure representing the world.
When I think of the Day of Pentecost I think of those 11 apostles huddled in that upper room, where they had a meal with Jesus just a few weeks before. How frightened they must have been? How uncertain the future must have seemed now that Jesus was gone AGAIN? And yet, when the Spirit descended upon them they did not just sit there. They got up and went out into the streets and set the world on fire with God's love. Still, the pilgrims gathered there must have been ridiculously confused. Imagine hearing all of these different languages in the air--Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic--and yet, somehow, in the middle of this cacophony of tongues they hear their own, as though God were personally speaking to each of them. I suspect it must have been not only a cacophony of tongues but also emotion: confusion, fear, excitement, wonder, even anger (some of those gathered accused the apostles of being drunk). Simply put: this day was not one to be easily understood, and that's because on this day God was giving birth to something new, and whenever God gives birth to something new it is seldom easily understood.
The Day of Pentecost is also a traditional starting day for new ministers in congregations. It is a day of newness, of celebration, and hope for the future. And so this past Sunday I marked the beginning of a new journey with the faithful folks of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Asheboro, NC as their new rector. This congregation has been standing in God's cacophony of emotion for over a year and a half, feeling all the feels. As is the case with every church in transition there has been sadness, anger, excitement, and fear. But I have been there too, as I have felt sadness over closing a chapter in my life, anger toward those who I perceived to have wronged me in the past, excitement over dreaming dreams with this new congregation, and even fear over what may happen if those dreams don't come true. Still, that is what this day is about. Pentecost encourages us to stand in the midst of newness, of tremendous change, because the act of living is an embracement of change. God knows this. And as God's Spirit drove the apostles into an uncertain future, that same Spirit drives us--not just the folks at Good Shepherd, but all of us who may be experiencing transitions in our own lives.
Before this day the last great transition in my life was my ordination to the priesthood almost two years ago. It was a day that I was building toward for seven years, and when it finally came I could only think, "Now what?" Now what? That's not an uncommon thing for us to think when a long-desired day for which we have been preparing finally arrives. I am sure plenty of folks in the congregation this past Sunday where thinking something like that: "We've done the work and have our new rector, now what?" Perhaps those of you going through great transitions right now are asking the same thing. Well, now we do what those apostles and pilgrims did. We listen. We listen for the Spirit to move us, to empower us, and to put us to work, not simply sitting here and wallowing in our fears of the unknown, but getting up and going out into the streets and setting the world on fire with God's love.
You may have seen a Facebook post I made this past week, which I think is appropriate for this holy day. I was walking down one of the main streets of Asheboro in my collar, going into shops and meeting new folks. Just before I went into the comic book shop to buy a new copy of Watchmen, I was approached by two ladies, one of whom asked if I were a preacher. When I said yes she asked if I prayed for people. And when I said yes again she motioned to her friend who was in great pain in her mouth because she had had several teeth pulled. I asked her name, laid hands on her, and we had prayer right there in the middle of the sidewalk on a Tuesday afternoon in Asheboro. You don't have to be a priest to do that! You simply need to let the Spirit's power move you to go out in to the world and do something new. Don't be afraid of it.
May this Pentecost Week be a celebration for the whole Church, a time of rejoicing for all that God has done, is doing, and will do in the future. And may it be a time for you to reflect back on all of your transitions and be empowered by the Spirit to do something new with your life. Wherever you are and whatever uncertain future you may be facing, know that you do not do it alone, for we are all One Body in Christ Jesus, and just as those apostles and pilgrims did not face their uncertain future alone, neither do we. We have each other, and we have the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and guide. And in the middle of it all is the One who has been, who is, and who will always be. And to Him be the glory. Happy Birthday, Church!
The folks of Good Shepherd, Asheboro as we celebrated the Day of Pentecost and the start of our new journey together.