The Church’s First Cry

pentecost drawing

The children at church did this graphic picture of the Pentecost story as a way of remembering it

Pentecost is regarded as the church’s birthday. Stephen Gauthier, a canon theologian in the Anglican Church of North America, beautifully tweaks this idea. He says the church was birthed in water and blood from the side of Christ on the cross; the church took its first inhale of Spirit-wind as Christ breathed on it Easter night; and then its first cry was at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit exhaled that initial breath in a declaration of God’s mighty deeds to the nations.

As I’ve read and re-read the story of Pentecost this past week so I could share it as a Bible Telling with our congregation, I’ve been awed by God’s heart for all peoples expressed in this first cry of the Church. The main characters of the story are the God-fearing Jews who come from “every nation under heaven” but who are gathered to seek God in the nexus of Jerusalem. The long list of their native homes encompasses different cultures as well as languages, but the two—language and culture—are closely connected, so that the Church’s first cry reached not only the minds but the hearts of these representatives of the nations. “I am coming to you,” God was saying, “in your cultures, in your home countries. I will do all it takes, beginning with using the language of your culture, letting you know I am the God of all peoples.” In the very first cry of his Church, God was reaching out to the nations. “For the promise is for you,” Peter told them, “for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

And their hearts responded, so that the Good News of Jesus, who himself translated God into humanity for us, underwent secondary translation, into multiple languages, with every cry of the diversifying, world-spanning Church.

The Bible Gateway verse of the day for today, Pentecost Sunday, is this: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

I am struck with this call to harmony, this call for the church universal—and local—to join together to glorify God with ONE voice. This emphasis on harmony also seemed to impact Eugene Peterson, for it figures large in his interpretation: “May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along well with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!”

We’re clearly not there yet! Harmony is not often a word used to describe the Church. Too often our loudest cries are ones of dissent and accusation, complaint and superiority. Our praise in comparison often sounds like mumbling, a mere whisper.

But this will change, for one day, from every tribe and people and language, a great multitude will cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This Pentecost, draw the Spirit deep into your lungs, devote yourself to Jesus as Lord, declare God’s mighty deeds through word and action and love, and seek to sing in harmony with his Choir.

Lots of “Q”s and one “A”

James 1-5

I wrote this in my journal in late January. We’d been quietly praying about direction for months, and this verse came up as the verse of the day on Bible Gateway. I wrote it in my journal and then took a pic of it so I would have it on my phone as well.

With our upcoming move into the city of Chicago, we’re facing lots of questions.

Where will the kids go to school? Don’t know.

Where will we go to church? Ditto.

What ministries will we be able to plug into as a family? Another unknown.

Where will we live? Still in process on that one, too!

But the biggest one of all for me is not one of the “W” questions, but the “H” one. How? How, in all these different, new places and contexts, do we learn how to live out our faith? How do we approach others with sensitivity and get to know them well? How do we make authentic friendships in which Jesus is evident? How do we become good neighbors and trusted members of a neighborhood?

Each time I’ve opened my daily prayer app this spring, I get the answer.

flashback of venture corps

The picture above was taken in spring 2008 in Uganda. See the little guy on the right side? That’s our Patrick. He was being cared for by all the other people in this picture while we, in the States, were in the process of adopting him. That was also a time filled with questions! In the picture below, taken just outside our house in West Chicago, Patrick is front and center, and his brother Jake is kneeling on his right. Four of the other people in the picture above are also in this pic–joined by two of Jody and Aaron’s children.

It is the season of Pentecost in the church calendar, and the opening sentence for this time is Acts 1:8. “You shall receive power when the Holy Ghost has come upon you; and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I am reminded: the disciples in “real” Pentecost time experienced some of the same feelings we are experiencing. After three years of following Jesus around, of always knowing who their leader was, of seeing his example of love and faith and care, they lost him to the skies.

They returned to their upper room and huddled together, unsure of where to go, what to do, and how to do any of it.

Yep, same questions.

But the beginning of Acts, written later in retrospect, begins with some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. “You’ll get the Holy Spirit,” he told them, “And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses…”

Matovus, Hoekstras, and PJ and JakeAnd where will they be able—enabled—to be his witnesses?

Answer: Everywhere.

Downtown Chicago, therefore, is covered by this promise. It may be new to us, but it’s not new to him.

The “when,” the “what,” the exact “where”–he’ll answer all of these.

And he’s got the “how” covered, too.