I was the assistant at St. Thaddeus in Aiken, SC when I first was ordained as a priest. Assistants have a job description which is basically to do whatever the rector does not want to do. He asked me to attend the first meeting of a new venture in the community which was to begin a soup kitchen in Aiken. I, with several other ministers from the area, came and listened to the proposal. It was simple. The community would feed the homeless. Each church would take part. Homeless people would come and join in a service and after a sermon they would be allowed to eat a meal.
I left that meeting angry but was not sure why. We would be feeding the homeless, which must be a good thing. But after a while I realized why I was angry. For them to eat they would be required to hear a sermon and sit through a service. Hungry people, smelling food which had been prepared, would be required to sit for 30 to 45 minutes before they could eat. I think I realized at that point that the Gospel would be proclaimed when they ate. Maybe I was the only one to realize the Gospel for homeless hungry people was the food on the plate. The Good News of Jesus Christ would be lived out. The Gospel, proclaimed in the vernacular for hungry people was food.
Just a few minutes ago you heard the Gospel in a very different way. The Gospel was proclaimed in several languages. I can only imagine what it must have been like on that first Sunday as the church began. The disciples, empowered by God’s Spirit, flung open the doors. Their fear gone they stepped out and began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. And when they did everyone understood. No matter where you came from, know this, the Good news was for you. The Gospel that day was proclaimed in the vernacular.
Speaking in tongues was about telling the Good News in a way that the person who was hearing would understand.
I don’t think it should be any different today. We are to proclaim the love of God in a way that others can not only hear but understand. If a person is homeless, give them a place to stay. If a person is cold, give them a coat. If is person is hungry, give them something to eat.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is the Good News proclaimed to a hurting world; God’s love shared. It is no different for us. We have a mission. The mission is defined by where we are and who needs God’s love shared. God’s mission for us is defined by where we are and the people and needs around us.
We come this day to give thanks for the church, which God has given us to proclaim the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today is the church’s birthday and we celebrate the transforming Spirit which transforms us into His body. God’s Spirit that first Pentecost changed those whom it touched and they were empowered to proclaim the Good News. It is no different today. The Holy Spirit is what we seek to also be empowered to become His church.
We live in a world which understands self-promotion. We live in a world which is fueled by the notion that somehow if we can do enough, or learn enough, we can succeed. But Pentecost is about a very different kind of understanding. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit. It is about the truth that we can and never will be able to will ourselves to succeed, at least not in our relationship with God. We will not and cannot learn enough or do enough to complete that relationship. As a church, we cannot do as much to help the victims of a hurricane as the Red Cross, or have as good a program that touches so many lives of youth people as the YMCA. We will never be able to take care of the poor in the way that The Salvation Army does. So why are we here?
The reason that we are here is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of God that changed a group of scared followers of Jesus into the church. It is the gift of God’s Spirit that caused them to not only unlock the doors but open them. It is the gift that caused them to not only step out but to burst out proclaiming a new message of hope and relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. The Church was founded that day and the world was changed forever.
What these people experienced was the gift of the Holy Spirit and from that gift they knew their mission. The Church does not have a mission and then ask God to sustain it. No, what we do is very different. We are to know the gift of the Spirit and from that our mission will come; who we are is shaped by God. Mission is the overflow of a great gift – the gift of the anointing of God’s Spirit, not the carrying of a burden, but the sense of driven response to the all-encompassing love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the active missionary, we are called to show up and let the Spirit lead and do the work.