Birth of the Church
March 1st, 2008, Rothschild, Wisconsin. Police converge on the house of what looks like another underage drinking party. Cars are parked all along the roadside. Teenagers are carrying around red disposable cups as they goof off inside and outside the house. When the police entered the house, in the kitchen they found a student in the midst of a keg stand while his other friends cheered him on. The police rounded up all the teenagers into living room and started to perform breathalyzers on them. One by one the teenagers came forward all blowing 0. It seems none of them had been drinking alcohol because the substance in the keg was actually root beer. Neighbors and the police all thought they were breaking up an underage drinking party. It was a party but the drink of choice was merely root beer. The teenagers weren’t drunk, they were being teenagers and the all laughed at the police who left feeling like the wool was pulled over their eyes.
In the scripture today, the crowd heard the ruckus and they wondered what was gong on. They gathered around where the disciples were and they watched with curious eyes. What they saw were people speaking different languages and proclaiming the works of God. They saw these people, these crazy followers of Christ and they said, “They are filled with new wine.” They’re drunk. But they would have all blown 0 on a breathalyzer. The only thing they were filled with was the Holy Spirit.
This is the birth of the Church. Acts says they gathered “in one place.” Those disciples were gathered to have church that day. They needed to be around one another and so they came and gathered together. There is a growing theme in the talks about why people call Trinity their home church or why they love Trinity UMC. It is because of the people that people come here and the same was true for that first meeting. On that first Pentecost they came together because they shared a similar story and experience. Maybe they wanted to talk about when Jesus fed the five thousand or walked on water. Maybe they wanted to analyze a parable he told and try to figure out when he was coming back again. Maybe it was simply to look for guidance and support from one another and try and to figure out what to do next.
Whatever their idea was, God had another thought. That is always like God. We think we know what we want and where we would like to be and then God comes and changes it all. That first day at Church, it didn’t stay the same; it changed drastically in a matter of seconds. Acts 1:15 says that the size of the group was probably 120 of them. I am sure it would have been more comfortable with them if they could stay a little group of 120 people and done God’s work, but that wasn’t God’s plan. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” God interrupted their gathering with tongues of fire and a violent wind. God knocked down the walls and kicked open the door of that first Church gathering. God made it quiet clear that Church was not going to be only these 120 people, it was meant for much more.
Last week we had 120 people come and worship here for our homecoming. It was a great time and we enjoyed the speakers and the food. It was also a time for mystery worshipers to come and visit. Two of my three sisters and their husbands have come to worship with us on two separate occasions. One came about a month ago and the other last week. Jean and Eric came about a month ago and they sat with Alycia and Dean. They told me after the service that only one person said hello to them the whole service. I was sadden by that because I had heard from everyone that this is a friendly church.
Last week I had asked my sister Jodie and her husband Dan to come and act like they didn’t know anyone. They were my mystery worshippers. They judged us on a couple of things. They judged on accessibility to the church, parking, signage, friendliness, and some other things. They said they were greeted by four or five people and invited to a Sunday School class next week. My heart filled up with pride when I heard that. Now some of it might be that the first sisters to visit sat with Alycia and the second sat all alone over here. It may be that this month we are in tune for visitors due to the Visitor Challenge, or it may have been homecoming. Whatever the reason my two sisters and their husbands had two different impressions of Trinity UMC.
I bring this up because Pentecost reminds us that Church is for those who gather regularly but also for those who don’t. Church, at its true nature is people going out and sharing the works, the stories, and the testimonies of God with people who have not heard it before. Church is a coming and being so filled with the Holy Spirit that people outside think you are drunk. Church is proclaiming the Word of God and what God has done in our lives.
Church is an open circle. When those people gathered there they could have held each others hands and closed the circle off to anyone else. But God’s Holy Spirit came in and opened that circle up. The Holy Spirit told Peter and the rest of the disciples that God’s church is not a closed off Country Club for members but a hospital, a retreat, a source of hope and love, for those who are hurting, for those who are missing something in their lives, and those who are searching for meaning and a sense of belonging. Church is an open circle willing to accept anyone who is searching for the God we worship.
Change happened on that first Pentecost. The church met and God changed what they looked like. Before that morning they were 120 people who followed Jesus while he was here on earth. They were his disciples, his close companions, people who heard his parables and sermons and fell in love with this God/Man. At Pentecost, God opened the Church up to those who didn’t know Christ, who didn’t follow him around, or even saw him while he was on earth. He opened the Church to Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, black, brown, yellow and white. On that first day of Church, God transformed the congregation from 120 people and into the world.
When I was in Seminary I took a class on what the local church should look like. During the class we were told this story, entitled “The Parable of the Lifesaving Station.”
“On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.”“Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work. The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally.”“About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, some had skin of a different color, some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.”“As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded. If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown!”
On this Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church with a capital ‘C’, we are reminded of what the Church is supposed to look like. This forces us to ask the question, is Trinity UMC a life saving station? If so, good for us let’s keep up the good work. If not, what do we need to change to make it so? How is the Holy Spirit coming into our lives like a rushing and violent wind and placing a calling on us to reach out to those who haven’t heard the Good News yet? Are we an open circle, friendly to visitors, welcoming to strangers, and willing to change for the sake of being Church? What do you think? What does God think?
And all God’s people said…Amen.