To the First Presbyterian Church family,
This Sunday will conclude the long journey that we started back in November. Please see past correspondences, including just 3 weeks ago, which had links to more information on the idea of the Liturgical Year. Suffice it to say here, this our end to following the life and ministry of Jesus and beginning the ministry of Jesus' Church.
So Pentecost Sunday is an important date as we read of how Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit in the meantime. This can be tricky to wrap our own heads around. For example, the "meantime" has lasted 2000 years at this point since the first Pentecost. And wasn't there an entire Old Testament and people of God before that? To answer the second question first, there has always been a Holy Spirit and He did minister to the Old Testament saints. Yet on Pentecost there was a fresh working of the Holy Spirit, the same as before but newly revealed and emphasized. And this, among MANY other things, gave birth to the Church, a new people of God, including of course Israel but a renewed emphasis on others as well. The people of God were always called out to go and preach the "mighty deeds of God" (Acts 2:11) and win converts of any ethnicity, but now the emphasis was renewed, reemphasized, and marked by rushing wind and tongues of fire. This is the Church's task now and is the answer to what God is doing "in the meantime."
This renewal, I would strongly suggest, is ongoing just as the Spirit's work with us is ongoing. It does not cancel out the past or seek to just be new for the sake of new. That didn't happen with the Israelite disciples on the first day of the Church, and it doesn't happen now. Rather, we recognize that the Holy Spirit has been with this congregation for over 200 years, but we still seek to experience fresh workings of the same Spirit. The presence of Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem from other lands is also important. They were to the disciples, at least in a sense, "new." Yet if the disciples were the first to experience the fresh coming of the Spirit, so these "new visitors" were a close second, and many were added to this New Church that very day (Acts 2:41).
This brings us to our present situation as a church. There are many tasks ahead of us, including engagement with our neighborhood and need for programming for our families. But before any of that we should ask ourselves "are we a welcoming church?" Do we have the same courage that the disciples had in bringing the good news of God and a welcoming spirit to their fellow Israelite visitors to Jerusalem? That was how the Church was born - strangers coming together to become a new Church (and doubly new because it hadn't previously existed!) Even during coffee hour (a ministry that itself has been wonderfully reborn, see my Annual Report on that) the simple act of introducing oneself and shaking a hand is a huge moment. There have been a number of folks who have been with us visiting and have you gotten to know them? It can be easy to stay in our family and friends groups that we are most comfortable with but that is not how the church grew in the first place. The disciples had, in a sense, a tight-knit group of 12, but in the space of a single day that group suddenly grew to thousands.
Please do not read any of this as "finger wagging." It would be if there were no such person as the Spirit but fortunately, we have Pentecost. The disciples, a group of mostly unsophisticated fishermen, were enabled by the Spirit to do a lot of bold things on the first Pentecost. While what most jumps out is the fearless preaching and speaking foreign languages, let's start by just simply asking the Spirit to give us the courage to go out of our comfort zones and greet folks we haven't talked to before. This might be a modest start, but one I think could be part of the rebirth of our church . . . and what we are called to do "in the meantime."
Pastor Peter Martin