Friday, March 04, 2011

A Church Moved by the Spirit

The keystone story of the Christian pathway to spiritual transformation is found in the Pentecost story. Having been told by Jesus to wait upon the Spirit before taking up their calling to carry his good news to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), a small band of Jesus’ followers wait patiently until the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit falls upon them like “a mighty wind.” At that moment, as the Spirit of God falls upon this gathering of God’s people, it is quickly apparent that this room cannot contain the presence of the Spirit. Soon, the whole city --a city that’s full of pilgrims -- begins to hear the message that the Spirit has come to give witness to the risen Lord, Jesus the Christ (Acts 2). In the moment that the Spirit blows through this community of disheartened and fearful disciples, they find new resolve and purpose, giving birth to a new movement of God in the world. It is through them, and all who follow in their footsteps that Jesus Christ is present to the world.

If one takes a journey through the Book of Acts, one will watch as the Spirit empowers and guides this new movement of ordinary people who took up extraordinary callings. The result of this movement of the Spirit is that the people who would come to be called Christians would leave an indelible mark on the world. The Spirit drew these first disciples together, empowering and gifting them, so that they could go to their community with a word of healing. As Peter said to the man sitting in the city gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3:6). This has been the message of the church, when the church has truly understood its calling: God will not leave your life unchanged.

When that earliest community of faith gathered for worship and prayer, they comforted each other and gave generously to those in need. At our best, we continue this tradition. We serve meals to the hungry and provide homes for the homeless. We lift up the downcast and bring healing to the hurting. Such a church, to quote Fred Craddock, is “going out and serving other people who are not even grateful, hurting when anybody else hurts, emptying their pockets for other people’s children, building a Habitat house when their own house is in bad need of repair and the paint is peeling, going to the woman’s house and mowing her lawn when their own grass is twelve inches high.”  [Fred B. Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001), 69.]

The message of Pentecost is simple: when the Spirit begins to move in our midst, expect things to change. When the Spirit is moving our hearts begin to focus on the needs and concerns of our neighbor. We begin to practice the ancient art of hospitality. We advocate for justice and for peace. With the coming of the Spirit, the call to change the world begins to resound. It’s important that we understand that the point of Pentecost is not the spectacle of tongues of fire, but is instead the transformation that occurs when the Spirit moves in the midst of the church. As the church opens its doors to this refreshing wind of the Spirit one should expect to find a community that is learning to live out the two great commandments: love God and love neighbor.

An excerpt from Gifts of Love (unpublished manuscript)

No comments: