This is a great day. It’s 50 days since Easter and the resurrection. It’s 10 days after Jesus ascends to heaven to be with God. It is Pentecost. The day when the disciples were the first to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit aside from Jesus himself at his baptism. This is the day we celebrate as the birth of the Christian church. The day when the disciples stood up and began to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is a fabulous day in the history of the church.
We read in John this morning about the promise Jesus was making to the disciples. How he promises he is going to send an advocate, a guide, to help them. This guide is the Holy Spirit, and it will help them to speak the truth to those who listen to what they have to say. The Holy Spirit will be the intermediary between God and those who receive the Spirit.
And so it begins. In Acts, the same reading we have every year at Pentecost, we witness the reception of this amazing gift Jesus has promised. The disciples are sitting in a house, when all of a sudden a strong wind blows in around them. This word for wind also means breath. The wording here indicates the difficulty Luke has in trying to describe this incredibly holy moment. But what we can see is that this is a very significant event in the life of the disciples and the church.
God has breathed on the disciples and fill them with His Spirit. It has fanned the flames of their hearts, igniting them into people who are on fire for Jesus Christ. Excited and inspired, they leave the house and run out into the street.
Immediately there is a miracle. Jerusalem is full of people from many places, who speak many different languages. This was the time of the Jewish festival of Pentecost, a celebration of the first harvest of the season. This is not an original Christian holiday, but actually an ancient Jewish festival, and they all gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate.
And here in the middle of this diverse crowd, the disciples begin to speak. Everyone, from all different nations and languages can understand them! The disciples are being heard and understood in languages they don’t even know!
Remember the Tower of Babel from the Old Testament? The Tower of Babel was a great tower being built in Genesis 11. They had such high hopes for this tower, it was going to be the greatest tower, reaching to the heavens and they would be known for it overall all the land. God used this moment to spread the people across the land. Confusing their languages so they would not be able to work together to complete this idol they were building, which they intended to worship instead of God.
Many generations later we see the opposite happening. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to surpass language barriers, to help us share the Good News with all, and to bring unity back to God’s people. To build the church, with Jesus Christ as its head. A church which speaks the truth to the world, guided by the Holy Spirit. A church which changes they way people view and worship God. God who is no longer angry and far away, but now is loving and close.
Monday night I watched a documentary on Global called â€œRevealed: Hip 2B Holyâ€. In this documentary we follow young, Canadian evangelicals and how they are redefining the church in Canada and making it attractive to younger generations. We see a church which meets every Sunday morning in a movie theatre. We see the young youth minister who holds Saturday Christian raves in an old abandoned church they bought and turned into a dance hall.
These young people are passionate about serving Jesus Christ. They want to share the Good News with people their own age. So they re-imagine and redefine what church looks like in order to do so. While this version of â€œchurchâ€ may look very different than what we do here on a Sunday morning, the basic message is still very present. While the music and atmosphere may be very different, the message remains true, Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, and salvation comes through him. The medium may be different, but the message stays the same.
This morning, in fact right now, friends of mine have gathered in a hockey rink in Sackville, NB. They are dressed in robes and are probably just finishing up the process of laying on of hands and the placing of a stole signifying their membership into the ministry of the United Church of Canada. This service called the Celebration of Ministry will probably go on for about another hour. It’s a long service, but also a beautiful one where the whole conference gathers to celebrate these new ministers in our church.
Next weekend is my turn. Next weekend I will have hands laid on me, blessing me, Bev will place a stole around my shoulders and I will be finally accepted into the vocation I chose to pursue six years ago. I expect to be very emotional as family and close friends gather with me.
However, I will also be sticking out a bit. I’ve chosen to wear a Geneva gown. Tradition is people wear white or lighter colour robes at their ordination, I will be wearing black. But, this is appropriate in some ways.
I make it no secret that I am in agreement with the new leaders of the church. When I watched the documentary on Monday night, I am in full agreement with those who believe the church has to redefine and re-imagine itself if it is to be relevant in the 21st century. What we do here, and in almost every mainline church in Canada on Sunday morning does not speak in a meaningful way to most people in our communities. This is shown time and time again as we worry about the decline in our attendance and membership.
Yes we’ve grown up with these models of worship and church structure, but for many young adults, these models are completely foreign. Now is the time for our churches to decide its future. Will we continue to cater to the people who have been in our pews and hope we are able to survive for the next 20 years, or are we going to be bold and brave, to start new ministries, new churches which will reach whole new generations of potential Christians?
The answer, I hope, is yes on both accounts. The church has a duty to continue to care for those who are already in our pews, who helped build the church to where it is today. We must honour our roots and care for all people. There will be a need for traditional churches for many years to come.
If we want to be sure about what we are doing, we must continually go back to the Holy Spirit. Listening to the wind, the breath of God which we allow to flow through us as we seek to be faithful servants of our living God. What is God saying to us? What gifts do we have in our church today which will help form the church we will have tomorrow?
I’m not saying we have to change. There will be a need for churches like this for years to come. Will we need as many? No. I am becoming increasingly aware of what my role in the denomination will be. I feel I am here to help the church learn to speak and reach out to younger generations. Which means I’m going to have to speak the truth about what I feel is important to young adults, and how the United Church has been failing to meet our needs.
In fact, it has been my year here that has helped me define this call to ministry. Together through our actions and attempts I realized this call. Thank you for helping me see this truth which is laid out before me. We will not likely be changing church, but creating new ones.
As a denomination we are struggling to find our voice in the world. A voice which is needed to speak truthfully, honestly and respectfully about what really needs to be done in our world to make situations improve, and to say it in the name of Jesus Christ. This is what the Holy Spirit asks us to do. Speak the truth. Sure our head office puts out statements all the time, but these statements are not echoed from our churches. Jesus taught us to love all people. To stand up for the oppressed and to speak out against injustices. This needs to happen in our local communities, where people outside the church listen to and hear us.
When we receive the Holy Spirit, which comes because we have welcomed Jesus Christ into our hearts and lives in a way that is deep and personal, we can’t help but speak these truths. Our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to speak and act because of this gift of the Holy Spirit which comes upon us.
Jesus tells us in John what the Spirit does. The Spirit listens to God and tells us what God says. It gives us the truth to speak, straight from God. Just like for the disciples who quickly went out into the street to share this truth… what is the Holy Spirit saying to us?
Friends, the world needs more truth. It is the lies in our society which has made the world the way it is. The crime, the greed, the violence, adultery, all this sin in our world is because of lies. We can trace this recession back to lies, and look what it has done to our world.
Do you know Jesus? Do we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking inside of us? We need to listen… pray… ask… Ask God to come to us and speak His truth to the world. The more we listen, the more truth there will be and we can help heal this broken world.