Since the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church decision in late April, this is my third reflection on for the Love of Jesus. The first one was on my determination not to leave the United Methodist Church that has nurtured me, affirmed my call to ministry, sent me to serve various church and that I love deeply. The second one reference Pentecost and the church, like jazz, learning, in conflict and compromise, to play and make beautiful music and community.
This third one, is written as I reflect upon a clergy colleague and friend’s blog about Pentecost and the United Methodist Church. The Reverend David Livingston posted these words yesterday. I read them from his facebook post on the United Methodist Clergy page. I had permission to link to David’s blog, even though I disagreed with what he said.
You can read it for yourself, and while I do not disagree that Pentecost ties to the Tower of Babel in the church’s understanding, I am not about to give up Pentecost because there are people in the church not willing to speak to one another. I would say we are following the United States culture right now. Many of the social posts are from one very slanted view or another and then the people who agree “like” the post and the ones that disagree make snarky comments. It is true that people are not listening to one another, but I don’t think that is God’s fault or the Spirit’s fault.
What I said on Facebook in response to David’s post was this,
“My friend, I respectfully disagree. I believe we need Pentecost more than ever. The disciples and early believers didn’t have all the answers. They made mistakes, fought, called names and everything else. If we read the New Testament we know that not everything was good. It was messy and ugly and nasty and graceful and everything in between. The world is messy, God is messy, the church is messy, Lord knows I am messy. I intend to stick with Pentecost, I don’t think God has given up on the church or on us or on the world. Blessings.”
Pentecost in so many ways is the birthday of the church. After Easter, the disciples and other believers were a collection of individuals trying to figure out what it now meant to follow Jesus. They didn’t have plans, they had a promise that God would come and make the Divine Presence real in a new way. The Biblical story speaks of wind and fire and “tongues” languages that were spoken so all could understand.
Whatever happened it practically defied description, yet changed lives and transformed those early believers. They didn’t have written doctrine or polity, that had a faith and a hope that God was doing something new and they lived it out. The sense of community that was given in the early church has not been replicated:
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 43-37)
That basic verse is repeated again in Acts 4, but the point is that the early church was seeking and struggling and searching for what it meant to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Without going into a deep biblical treatise, the early church did not have it all together. They excluded people, they argued, they fought and they believed that their “preacher” was better than the other preachers. The conflict between Peter and Paul is well documented. Paul was far too inclusive, and the author of Acts tries to make Peter have the same inclusive understanding. According to Paul’s letters, Peter sometimes fails.
Over the hundreds of years of church history, often, the church ends up on the wrong side of that history. One the one hand, it is the church that began the early hospitals and care centers and the early colleges and universities and public education. On the other hand it is the same church, that when confronted with integration created private schools so that white children would not have to be educated alongside African American children. The church has set up hospitals that ended up hurting instead of healing. And the church has encouraged hatefulness, prejudice and inequality.
So obviously the history of the church is a mixed bag of good and bad, inclusivity and exclusivity, love and hate, sin and grace. Sometimes, it would be easy for me to just give up and give in. It would be easy to say “the church will never change. ” “The church is dying and not worth the effort.”
That is why I need Pentecost. As I said before for the love of Jesus I am not going away or giving up on the church, not on my watch. I do long for a new movement of the Holy Spirit to rush upon me and upon the Church. Jesus offered Peace, and then promised the Presence and Power of God. I am not happy at how the United Methodist Church is handling the differing understandings of sexuality and of biblical interpretation. Every person I know has their own private “canon” of scripture that they use again and again to make her or his points. No person is a true literalist.
All of us need Pentecost. We need God’s Spirit to blow a fresh wind into our hearts, our spirits, our minds and our community. I need, I believe we all need God’s love and grace challenging us to pay attention to how we act and to what say in the name of Jesus. For me, Pentecost is the time to cry out, “Come Holy Spirit! Come and refresh your people once more! Strengthen us, challenge us, comfort us and remind us that Christ is leading us into a new age of grace, of love, of hope and of faith for all people. ” I need Pentecost because sometimes I grow tired and cynical. I need Pentecost to remind me that I am not alone in working toward God’s reign of justice, of equality, of peace and of righteousness.
For the love of Jesus, who promised to be with us always in the power of the Holy Spirit, I am praying for a fresh wind of that Spirit. I am trusting that God is at work, even when I can’t see any change. I believe that God will strengthen and guide and help the church to live into that community where all people are loved, welcomed and know God’s grace.