Today we celebrate the birth of the church. Around 2000 years ago people from all around the known world at that time (Asia, Africa, Europe) were gathered for the Jewish festival of Pentecost. God poured out His spirit on a group of people who were followers of Jesus. They began to speak in the languages of the people gathered there. The apostle Peter spoke to the confused crowd of onlookers, explaining that what was happening was foretold by the prophet Joel hundreds of years before. Three thousand people decided to become disciples of Jesus that day. And they stayed in the city and spent time together every day, in worship, praying and eating meals. What they had as a church at the beginning makes me envious. But I would also be a bit apprehensive of being in a similar situation. They shared everything they had, they gave a lot (sometimes all) of their money and possessions away to help the poor, and they knew each other intimately. I'm not sure I could do that, honestly.
So with that the church began and continued, spreading and growing through history. It's not an illustrious history, of course. There are plenty of shameful moments. They still happen, unfortunately. We in the church can be our biggest hindrance.
It's to be expected, I suppose. Though we follow God, we're still sinners who make stupid, selfish choices sometimes. I've made stupid, selfish choices in my life as a follower of Jesus...as a minister and leader in the church. I'm not proud of them. But God still loves me and offers forgiveness.
I think that first church on Pentecost holds some good pointers for us today, that if we try a little harder to follow, maybe you'll see us as a positive source for change and for good in the world.
1. More Diversity. It has been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the week. This saddens me. I understand it--we're most comfortable with people like us. But the early church was comprised of people from every known continent. Africa. Asia. Europe. All together.
2. Gender Equality. When Peter explained what was happening by quoting from the prophet Joel, he mentioned that God's Spirit was to be poured out on all people--men and women alike. I don't see that God pours out His Spirit more on one gender than the other. His Spirit is His Spirit. With it men and women (all people) are equipped to do God's work. Just as the American workplace still has a way to go to overcome issues with gender equality, so does the church.
3. Intentional Community. People were in Jerusalem from all over the world. Those that witnessed the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost stayed. They spent time together every day. Meals were central to their fellowship. Too often today we go home after church on Sunday and have little contact with our faith community during the week. We need each other.
4. The Holy Spirit. Pentecost changed from a Jewish festival to a Christian holy day. It emphasizes that God has now chosen to dwell within us through His Holy Spirit. I don't fully get the Holy Spirit. It's a bit of a mystery at times. But I know that God is with us and in us and empowers us to do His will. Not our wills, but His.
Forgive us, world, for not always doing well at these things. We'll still have our failures, but we'll have some great successes, too. Give us some grace. Listen to our stories. God can do some amazing things. And He utilizes failures like us to do so. Is it His best move? Maybe not, but if He can utilize failures, then we've all got a chance and being part of something big.