I’m not going to tell you my age but not because I’m embarrassed by the number. I’m not that old yet. I’m only partly kidding.
No matter what I have collected — a couple of degrees, student loans, a marriage certificate, a couple of jobs and even a child — for some, I am still a child myself. How I wish that someone would tell my gray hairs this. When I do share my age, some say, “I have shoes older than you.” I feel sorry for their feet.
I don’t want to talk about my age anyway. Instead, I want to talk about the age or rather, the birthday of the Church. Churches around the world will celebrate Pentecost on Sunday and despite all the press that our presidential candidates are getting, this is not just another political season.
The Church has a calendar, too, and not one only filled with dates for business and committee meetings. The birth of the Church also is an important date. And despite our schedules that runneth over with sports activities and special events on Sundays, the invitation to honor our beginning still stands. While we do not leave flowers on the pews or ask the choir to sing “Happy birthday” to the pulpit, it is necessary that we recognize the birth of the Church, less we be convinced by books, media reports and the latest statistical data of the Church’s death. The answer to why we think that we have the power to sign this death certificate is beyond me.
No matter what we write and how many copies are sold, regardless of how we feel and how many persons agree with us, it does not change what was written long before us. Not to be confused with a building or a campus, for that matter, the Church is alive even when the doors close and the land goes up for sale. No matter its symptoms, the diagnosis is not terminal.
The Church is alive because the Scriptures are alive. We dare not count raised hands, look at a flipchart, a graph or the table of contents of this year’s bestseller as proof of its demise. So long as there is God’s breath in the Scriptures, the Church is here to stay. Save your eulogies and sad faces. There will be no funeral today.
Instead, put on a party hat and bring your best gift. Help me blow up these balloons and try not to bump the disc jockey’s table. Pick up a chair and move the table over there. We will need room to move around because the Church is alive and kicking!
How can I say this? Because the pulse of the Church has never been the people and if we are checking there, we will never find one. We do not keep it alive and we are not proof of its life. Our membership is no indication of its vitality. Our tithes do not keep it running. Our participation does not ensure that it is a “well- oiled machine.” In fact, no human being, no church or denominational body can claim to be the birthplace. No, that position is reserved for the Spirit of God.
The familiar passage in the Acts of the Apostles records the gathering of an unlikely group which witnessed the birth (2.1-13). They are from different neighborhoods, different cultures and different sides of the track. Their differences are not the focus or even what brings them together. Without Facebook posts, Twitter handles and hash tags, Youtube videos, newspaper articles or paid advertisements, they are together. Without denominations and annual meetings, a board of directors or a constitution, they have gathered. They share a relationship with the Celebrant and at least while at the party, they are willing to sit together. Out of their love for God, they will play nicely. Besides, they are not listed on a program and they did not send out the invitations.
More than 2,000 years old, the Church is well beyond the years that we celebrate with colors and special gifts. We celebrate silver and gold anniversaries. But, marriages of more than 50 years are hard-pressed for gifts ideas and themes. For persons celebrating 100 years after their birth, caring for them well past the compensation of retirement plans isn’t the only problem.
Finding money is replaced with finding words. What do we say now? What can we say that hasn’t been said already and does it really matter? It might be easier to diminish the importance because we have celebrated so many birthdays before it. The Church won’t mind, right?
And we know the story of the Church, but our familiarity can actually lead to unfaithfulness. We can begin to forget why it matters at all and think that we should move on to something new. God forbid.
Happy birthday, Church! No confetti but still the power of the Holy Spirit falls upon us. No balloons but still this air, the Spirit-Breath, cannot be let out of us. In the early church, the Spirit touches all flesh and we are reminded of the boundary-less, borderless God. No cake — we are God’s candles, commissioned to shine and share light throughout the world.
The power of Pentecost is upon us and its possibilities are everywhere. We have the ability to touch all people. The witness of the Spirit people can remind them of the reconciling of different cultures and languages as we gather together for one purpose and with one accord. Pentecost is not just another birthday.