Acts 2 tells the story of a business meeting I imagine being similar to many we have in church. The disciples are gathered to discuss the business at hand and then, without warning, the Holy Spirit descended on them like fire. They began to speak in tongues and the meeting is adjourned because, frankly, whatever business they were discussing beforehand didn’t seem that important anymore.
In telling this story to the crowd who witnessed the spectacle, Peter reminds them of what the prophet Joel said:
16″No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
In my first few weeks of ministry I’ve noticed that days can quickly become filled with meetings where we discuss the “nuts and bolts” of how we do church and exist as a community of faith. These meetings are, more often than not, guided by personal taste and tradition as the measuring sticks of what’s acceptable and what’s not. We hash out plans and offer opportunity for support and descent. Sometimes we pass measures and sometimes we table them for future meetings. We ask how and even bemoan the fact that much of what we decide to do will never see the light of day because no one will step up to carry out the work that’s required. And such can become the endless cycle of meetings in the life of a minister.
Last week I had a day where my meeting schedule was interrupted. I was a couple of minutes late to a staff meeting because when I went to my car to get something out of it I ran into a man who with his wife had been visiting our church for some time. I asked him in conversation if they’d ever considered joining and he informed they actually had. And then he began to tell me how they had not really been a part of a church for 30 years. They found this church about a year ago and loved it. They were so glad to be involved. The hesitation in their joining is that his wife wanted to be baptized but since she’d never seen an adult baptism as the service they attend she wanted to wait for a chance to ask the pastors questions. Well I quickly responded that if she feels led to be baptized we would be more than happy to help guide her in this decision and process. He was very excited and promised to put his wife in contact with us as soon as he got home.
As I went into that staff meeting I have to admit there was a spring in my step. I realized that sometimes, when we’re least expecting it, God can interrupt our day and break the monotony of our schedule and remind us why we’re in this game in the first place. On this particular day I went in to that meeting a different person. I don’t remember what we discussed in there. I do remember feeling hot. If I’m not mistaken, I might go so far as to say I was on fire…
This past Sunday I attented a community event in Macon, GA called Second Sunday. Basically it’s an event geared toward building community through entertaining. It was my first Second Sunday and I must say it was a great time. We sat in lawn chairs and on blankets and ate picnics and enjoyed music.
Somewhere around the cover band’s rendition of Sittin on the Bay I happened to look around and scan the crowd. To my amazement I noticed something very unique. In this crowd of folks who were busy talking and singing and dancing I noticed something else present. Thhis crowd was made up of young people, old people, middle-age people, black people, white people, rich, poor, in-between, gay, and straight. Looking around we looked like the most hodge-podge group ever assembled. And yet, there were no evident signs of ill will, malice, or even hatred. It was just a group of people enjoying a 90 degree evening filled with music, food, and community.
It made me wonder: why doesn’t the church look more like this sometimes? Why do we seem so homogenous when we worship and yet when it comes to living life in the greater community many of us are able to exist and even thrive in situations where the diversity is as normal as 90 degree heat at 7pm? If God is truly God and Christ died for any and all then why is it we seem to only align ourselves as communities of faith along seemingly homogenous lines? If we look close enough I think we might actually find we share more in common than we think. We all experience pain and heartache. We all need to be loved. We all do better when a part of a community than if we were left to our own solitary devices. And, if we believe in the Gospel we say we do, we all need the life-giving and life-transforming love of a God who knows exactly how we feel. So why not the church be the place where all can find this abundant life?
I’m not really sure where to go or what to do about this. I wish we could work to create churches where all people find a place and a home no matter what superficial characteristics might seem to make them different. But I just don’t know how to help make this happen. What I do know is, somewhere along the final chorus of a familiar Otis Redding hit I looked around and I think I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
I was posed with an interesting quandry this past Sunday. As many of you know this past Sunday was July 4. This is a day normally filled with celebration and patriotism for the independence we enjoy as American citizens. As luck would have it, July 4 fell on Sunday this year-the first year of my first appointment in ministry.
I will go ahead and make it clear that I have deep convictions about the separation of church and state. I also believe there is no place in God’s house of worship for patriotism or any notion of national loyalties taking priority over God being the God of all people equally and everywhere. On the other hand I was a political science major in undergrad and am a student of American history. I have a great appreciation for the founding of our country and the ideals we at least try to uphold as Americans. I’m also critical of our American society at times but that criticism comes from a place of love and hope that we can and should be better. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that my context seems to leave me in the minority when it comes to observing Memorial Day or July 4 in local churches.
All of that said I found myself in an interesting place this past Sunday as we sang “America the Beautiful” in worship. During our worship planning we expressed the difficulty in balancing the influence of a holiday and the theological fact that God comes before even national loyalties. And so I asked myself the question: Should I sing a song I disagree with singing in worship (although I really enjoy it outside of worship) or should I be silent as a statement of where my personal theological committments lead me?
In the end I sang the song. I did so simply because I realized, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit no less, that sometimes my personal convictions can’t trump the needs of the community. Sometimes I have to meet a community where they are. And if this song is important on that day for these people then so be it. Who am I to waltz in and cause a fuss? As a church leader there are many things that will come up worth debating over. But fighting over singing a patriotic song on my 3rd Sunday in a new place is not one of those issues. We have work to do for the Kingdom of God. And God continues to show me this is work that takes priority over my personal hang ups.
It goes to show me again, God can show up at the oddest times and challenge me when I’m least expecting it. What an intriguing and exciting God this is indeed!