This Sunday the church will be decorated with red paraments on the table and lectern to remind us that it is Pentecost. Pentecost is that Sunday when we celebrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church empowering us to be people engaged in the mission and purpose of God.
In recent years however, there has been a growing emphasis on Pentecost as the ‘birthday’ of the church, and people have organised birthday parties with cake and candles to mark the celebration. While I understand the desire to celebrate Pentecost in this way, and naturally enjoy a slice of cake, it can feel a bit like dumbing down rather than highlighting such a significant event.
For one thing there is a lot of debate about whether Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. Scholars argue that the church actually began when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing nets, and then Matthew the Tax Collector and all the others, and formed a community around him. Pentecost of course is a very significant event in the life of the early Church. Luke’s very dramatic account
emphasises the transformation Pentecost makes in the lives of the disciples as the Spirit leads them out from behind their closed doors, away from the fearfulness, out into the public arena to speak with boldness about the resurrection.
One of my concerns about only thinking of Pentecost in terms of a birthing event, is that it encourages us to focus on ourselves, to mark something that has happened to us. Whereas the accounts given to us by John and Luke both speak about Pentecost as leading us out of ourselves toward others. Pentecost is an awe-inspiring event, a godly moment of transformation, a powerful anointing, whose purpose is to equip and
sustain the church as a community of reconciliation engaged in God’s mission to the world.
Over the last few months a small task group has been working on behalf of the Church Council to help frame a basis on which we might think more missionally as a congregation, and consider how our property, our buildings may be used to express that mission. We have prepared an interim report for the Church Council and will in the near future present this fully to the whole congregation.
However some ideas this task group has come up with include developing our property as a HUB for the wider community, offering a range of counselling services, building a community facility linked to the church that deliberately changes our focus onto Mt Alexander Road – or as you might say onto the “high street”. I use that word advisedly as it reminds me of a story told by Rt Rev George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community in Scotland.
He tells of the time when he was minister of a church in Glasgow and one day walks into the church to find that vandals had thrown stones through the stained glass window. It was a window that told the Christmas story and declared ‘Glory to God in the highest!’ However the stone had knocked out the E in Highest so the phrase now read, ‘Glory to God in the High st’. When he saw that George Macleod laughed and said, ‘That’s what I call good Theology’! Its about God entering our world in order to redeem and restore.
And Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit empowering us to engage with those beyond the church in a way that is transformative.