First Congregational Church (UCC) Wareham MA, June 9, 2019
Acts 2: 1-4, 12-13 — When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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.
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
It’s time to tell the truth.
It’s time to say, as clearly as possible, that Pentecost turned the world upside down.
It’s time to know that it continues to change things, even unto today.
It’s time to recognize that today is not the same as yesterday.
Back on that first Pentecost feast, everyone thought today would be exactly like yesterday. They thought their world could never change. Their lives were filled with despair as they struggled with Roman occupation, with the constant pull of Roman culture on their young people, on those who wanted to “get ahead.” They never had much, and what they had seemed to be drifting away.
Suddenly, with the power of a mighty wind, change came to them. Whenever I hear this story, I think of stories my family told of the summer of 1955, when two hurricanes within a week dropped so much rain in the town of Putnam that the Quinebaug River flooded. That flood destroyed much of the industrial base in Putnam, floated most of the low-income housing down the river, and took down every bridge across the river for more than twenty miles, isolating the town from the rest of Connecticut.
Change came to Putnam overnight.
Most change, even the most monumental change, however, comes so slowly that we don’t easily recognize what’s happening. Most of the time it’s like those stories of the frog in the pan of water – by the time we realize what’s happening, it’s happened.
And that’s where we are today.
All over the United States, people no longer attend church in the way they did even forty years ago.
Forty or fifty years ago, the single easiest way to establish yourself was to become active in a local church. It was how you showed your respectability. Church was where you met people; church was where you made business contacts, got to be known.
Back in the day, church was where our kids learned how to conduct meetings, where they learned about right and wrong, where they went to parties, met their friends.
Church was where we went for parties, or steak dinners, or plays – because there were no other options.
Today, you make those business contacts on the golf course, or at Rotary. Today our kids are too busy to go to church – ask any pastor who’s tried to schedule Confirmation! Even twenty years ago, I could schedule Confirmation classes for the same time as Roman Catholic CCD classes and get pretty good attendance, but these days, the Roman Catholic church has lost so many members that following along with them just doesn’t help.
Today, we may meet friends out at a restaurant, but hardly anyone thinks of a church supper as a great way to bring friends together. Someone else is doing that, just as if there’s still a theatre group in town, they’re using the high school facilities, not the stage in our hall.
The truth is, the world has changed, and we’ve not kept up with those changes.
Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?
But, you know, I think that behind those discouraging stories, there’s an encouraging opportunity. You see, being the place to validate your respectability never was as important to the church as we thought it was. Being the entertainment center for our youth? Nope, not that either. And being the place to meet friends – not central. And so losing most all of that, has opened a new opportunity to us, a new transformation.
When you strip all the other stuff away, what’s left is our true center. And it’s much easier to see that than it was back in the day.
We are not here to entertain; we are here to honor God with our worship, to equip ourselves to be the transforming agents of our world, to teach and practice a Gospel of love, justice and peace throughout our world.
At home with our families, at work with our colleagues, out in the community, on the local, state, national or international stage, we are working for God to make this world better.
Yes, the truth is, we’ve lost a lot that was important to us, but we still have what is at the center. We still have an important message to our world.
Just as on that first Pentecost, we still preach a gospel that says, “whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” That’s a truth that never changes.
We still spend our time, our talents, our treasures on fixing what’s broken, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sorrowing, healing the ill, making peace among the warring. That’s a truth that never changes.
We still comfort and support one another, building community step by step, proclaiming and living – to the best of our ability – what we have learned from Jesus. And that too is a truth that never changes.
Pentecost reminds us that change happens, worlds turn, and yesterday is gone. But Pentecost also tells us that our future is yet to be known, and in the words of the great Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, “the future is as bright as the new morning sun.”
Over the summer, our search committee is going to be leading us in making plans for our future, as they seek to describe just exactly what we’re seeking in a settled pastor. We don’t know, today, what that will be. But our plan is that by the end of the summer, we’ll have made some decisions, come to an understanding of just how the winds of Pentecost have begun to stir a clear vision among us all.
The Holy Spirit leads us forward, out of yesterday, and into tomorrow. And that is the truth that will never fail.
© 2019, Virginia H. Child