I chose the Book of Acts for our Tuesday Zoom Bible Study quickly, with kind of a passing idea of matching where we’re at right now at Northminster. As I cycled through possibilities in my mind, I stopped at Acts because I thought something like: “Strange new things at the start of the church for strange new things in 2020”. It was a logical match in a lot of ways, not to mention that I saw Pentecost on the horizon. As with so many decisions I end up making in life, the Holy Spirit took that ball and ran with it…and in the weeks since, I’ve been thankful for our weekly check-ins with a church that reflects our own right now: learning, hesitant, perseverant, uncertain, generous, and (at times) isolated.
The day of Pentecost begins with the disciples in hesitant isolation. Jesus told them to wait, and so they are doing that and not much else. They’ve addressed the most immediate wound of their recent past and brought their number back up to twelve, but the feeling of Acts 1 is decidedly uncertain. Jesus is ascended…so now what? Who is in charge? What does ministry look like? What is the next step?
The beauty is that God takes the next step, with boldness and drama, leaving no doubt that God has a plan and purpose for this group of disciples. In the seeming chaos of Pentecost, God brings call, gifts, and purpose back to these disciples. God brings a reimagination of resurrection and calls them to new life.
But what has struck me these past weeks is that Pentecost doesn’t represent the end of uncertainty and chaos. Quite the opposite. This new church makes mistakes. They have debates. There were no doubt sleepless nights, struggles, and considerations if it was all worth it. Life was never the same after that day of Pentecost. In many ways, it was much more complicated. Early in Acts, we see the struggles of the group called “The Way” as they work to proclaim the message of Christ. They struggle to interpret and interact with the religious and governmental authorities, struggle to find respect, and struggle with economics. But in spite of the challenges, they keep reaching out with this life, light, and hope they have been given. The struggle and chaos of a new thing never really goes away, even as they grow into their purpose and a call. Maybe above all else, though, it was also a remarkable refiner of great love, power, and potential. Acts speaks of the great fellowship and shared purpose of that early church. Even with all they went through, I doubt that there were too many of them who wished that things could go back to the way things were before Christ. They became something new through the trials and lessons of life after Pentecost…graced by the gifts and assurance of that day of fiery tongues in Jerusalem.
This, I think, is the powerful message of Acts for this season at Northminster. The church is hesitant because life is different…but through the Holy Spirit, they have been filled with great love, power, and potential for the journey ahead. The question that remains for all of us if we will be willing to risk, to change, in order to live out that calling of new life in Christ.
I don’t know what coming back to the physical worship will look like…dates, procedures, protocols…and I’m not sure of the specifics of what will remain from where we are now. What I do know is that we will be exactly what we should be: A group of disciples, gifted by the Holy Spirit, trying to proclaim love, grace, hope, life, in Christ. I know we’ll still be working, preparing, praying, and doing everything we can to make adjustments no matter where we’ll be, because that’s what the Church does. I know that whatever spaces, places, and other offerings are used…the powerful message of Pentecost will continue to ring clear. Changes and sacrifices aren’t always bad things…many times, they’re God’s way of bringing us into the best things.