May 25 2017

The Common Life of a Spirited People


Acts 2:1-21

Of the three major Christian festivals, I might look forward to Pentecost the most. We celebrate God’s Spirit upon us, the breath of Christ in us. And it marks the birthday of the Christian Church.

That first Pentecost was fulfillment. Fifty days after Easter, when the apostles are all together in one place, God’s Spirit “fills the house”, its fire rests on each person, and “the Spirit gives them ability”. The words of Jesus from the Last Supper come into a startling new focus:

  • They will make his love real in the world and keep his commandments;
  • They would receive an Advocate, the Spirit of truth, that would be with them forever;
  • When they believe in him, they will do the works that he has done, and even greater works!

The Apostles are no longer afraid to live out their faith publicly, to proclaim the good news of God’s love for everyone without reservation, to confront inhumanity while engaging the power to heal, and to learn about other people’s lives and the languages they speak. And it is in this that the Church is born!

The Holy Spirit doesn’t birth church as a place to go. Rather, the church lives to be a community of God’s people embodying the life of Christ together in the world, while manifesting the truth of God’s love in tangible ways.

My UCC colleague Jennifer Mills-Knutsen has highlighted what she calls “The Six Marks of a Pentecost Church”. They are worthy of some good reflection.

  1. A Pentecost Church is touched by the Holy Spirit.

    “The congregation anticipates that God will to show up and do something to them and through them that will amaze and inspire.”

  2. A Pentecost Church speaks multiple languages.

    We must learn the receptive languages of many people, including multiple generations. This includes fluency in social media and popular culture, in books and movies and television characters. It involves developing the capacity to translate the liberating message of the gospel to multiple generations in ways they can receive it!

  3. A Pentecost Church dreams, and visions, and prophesies.

    Such a church “is not preoccupied with the past — it is captivated by the future. In a (Spirited) church, everybody has dreams and visions for what the church can be and how God will be claiming them to bold possibilities”.

  4. A Pentecost Church is visible in the community.

    Such communities of faith “do not hide from the public eye, but strive to be a force for good in their local community”.

  5. A Pentecost Church changes lives.

    Lives change when we encounter the Spirit of God — the lives of longtime members, newcomers, guests, and people in the wider community. The grace of God transforms us, inspiring us “to greater love, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness”, while giving us the courage to “abandon our fears, let go of old wounds, practice forgiveness, overcome addiction, and turn our lives around”.

  6. A Pentecost Church seems a little bit crazy.

    This one is a favorite of mine! Mill-Knutsen says: “Changing your life in response to the Holy Spirit, or getting ridiculously happy over seeing someone else’s life changing, or telling people that you have decided to spend your cash and your weekends serving the poor, or spontaneously clapping and rejoicing in worship can seem like strange behavior.” That first Pentecost, the crowd watching the apostles thought they were drunk at first!

Each of her “marks” flows right from the original scriptural story. As Pentecost approaches this year, we might consider how these marks describe St. Andrew’s Church, or how they might in the future.

When we have Confirmation Classes, we practice the Rite of Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday. Last year, in preparation for “Spirit Day” I wrote a message to each of the 117 Confirmands I have tended in my pastorate at St. Andrew’s. It was a joy to recall the gift each one of them is, to re-member not only their learning but the unique things that each brought, and to encourage them to participate in or even build faith community where they are living life now.

In the next few days one of our 2010 Confirmands will be embarking on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, stepping out of life as she regularly knows it. I am delighted by her decision. She knows that God is working powerfully in her life; that the Spirit of God has rested upon her. She will participate in bringing vital lessons of faith to children there, and she will be evangelized by them at the very same time! Together, the development of common language — the language of God’s unbounded love — will enable everyone to transcend spoken language barriers, and to learn new fluency.

Which reminds me of a seventh Mark of the Spirit that I would like to add:

The Pentecost Church does the things that Jesus did,
and even greater things than these they do.

There was only one of him. How many of us are there? Could we begin to count the amazing things that could happen in the common life of a Spirited People who believe? Let God’s Spirit fill the house!


See Jennifer Mills-Knutsen’s article, “Six Marks of a Pentecost Church”

Pastor Scott’s Archived E-pistles