At the recent inaugural meeting of the Pacific Mountain Region, I asked someone part-way through the meeting, “Are you having fun, yet?” We were mired in some decisions that needed to take place and we seemed to be going around in circles as often happens. There were moments like that, and I’m sure Linda Mae and Robin would agree! But, we got through it and the new structure is up and running. With all the changes, though, many of us are wondering what we are becoming as a church.
I must be showing my age for I went back to a book I read 30 years ago. Interestingly, it was about the Church becoming. This book was written by Bruce Larson who was a minister at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle in the 1980s and before that worked in church renewal affiliated with Princeton University. We think we’re talking about church renewal for the first time today; we’re not.
The book was called Wind & Fire: Living out the book of Acts. It was published in 1984! It’s really a book about Pentecost, about the Holy Spirit calling the Church into being. It’s also a book about the fact that Christianity is a living faith, not a dead religion in which we follow someone who lived and died and maybe rose and maybe went away never to be seen again. Larson maintains that WE are the Church and the risen Christ lives in us called out by the Holy Spirit!
Larson quips that the book of Acts, more properly known as The Acts of the Apostles, could have been called The Mistakes of the Apostles, More Particularly Peter and Paul; they made a few! Or it could have been named How the Good News Traveled from Jerusalem to Rome. An apostle, by the way, is one who is sent and it was traditionally thought the 12 disciples became apostles—well, 11 disciples—one bailed—and then another was added to make 12 again. That doesn’t include the Marys, or Martha, or the many women who participated as disciples! The ancient Greek name for the book of Acts was Acts of Apostolic People. We are those apostolic people as well those people who were thosepeople, the long-ago apostles who went in different directions, some of whom traveled into obscurity. Larson’s point in the book is that WE are those apostolic people. We are sent. We are sent to tell the Good News wherever we are. And more than that, we are called to celebrate that we bear the image of God; a Jewish tradition says that there is a band of angels that travels with every human being saying, “Behold the Image of God.” So, look over your shoulder. There! Did you see them! You bear the image of God.
Larson also says that there are 3 other things involved in being an apostolic person. The second is that we are all involved in ministry. It isn’t just up to those of us who wear fancy dress. Partly that ministry is to point to the image of God in each person or in creation, really. Thirdly, we are together in a mission of sharing love and compassion, grace and reconciliation, peace and hope with each other, but more poignantly in the world. We are about God’s mission of love and hope. And lastly, we are about prophecy. We speak truth to power and we invite new ways to look at who we are and how we are with one another; the critical prophetic issues of our day are the climate and reconciliation with 1stNations.
The way Acts unfolds in the first 2 chapters is that the disciples have experienced something of the risen Christ. They need a new disciple to replace Judas—Matthias is the one chosen and we promptly never hear from him again. Jesus spends time with them teaching and then leaves. And then, wondering what to do next, they gather again in the upper room and Pentecost happens. All in 50 days! It sounds a bit like a movie script.
What really happened, we don’t know. What we can guess is that the followers gathered together, some essence of Christ was among them—a sense of the real presence of Christ—and they thought maybe the end was near. Remember, they thought that when the Messiah came, the end of history occurred. But then, Jesus left them. They had to figure it out. It’s kind of like when you’re first an adult and you have to figure out some major life event on your own. You could call your parents or some older adult in your life, but you think, “I’ve got this. I can do this.” And you do. That’s what happened to those early followers, I think: a mighty wind blew on them and tongues of fire rested on them and they got it.
Wind and fire are extremely important metaphors in the early Church and in Judaism. Wind really means Spirit. Ruach is Hebrew for breath as is pneuma in Greek—both mean breeze, wind, breath. The Spirit of God—Ruach—vibrated over the abyss at Creation’s birth. That’s an interesting interpretation of these opening verses of Genesis—Ruach vibratedover creation not-yet-formed. And Ruach features prominently thereafter, vibrating over creation again and again.
And fire—that primeval element? It’s basic to many creation stories and story of the formation of a people; Moses was called to the burning bush. Fire guided the Israelite people as they sought the Promised Land with Moses. Fire was used in the Temple. Fire rested on the 1stapostles and the Church was born!
Fire and Wind. Wind and Fire. Spirit.
And at Pentecost, the Wind—Ruach and Pneuma—vibrated and brought about a new creation. The fire burned but did not consume. The holy happened then as it does now in a very real way. Do you see the wind, or feel it? Do you see the fire? Do you know the Spirit that is here now, today?!
Because the beauty of our Christian story is that we are living that Spirit. Or rather, that Spirit is living through us, calling us to ministry, reminding us of the angels on our shoulders and the image of God, telling us that the book of The Acts of Apostolic People is still open. We are writing new chapters. The Church is still alive… for the wind and the fire—the Spirit of God—is vibrating anew here in our midst.
Don’t let the naysayers tell you that the Church is dead. Love is not dead. Compassion lives on. The Spirit breathes through us. The fire is with us to share the Good News of life and the hope to make a difference in the world so that all life will thrive—just like the first creation when Ruach first vibrated with life!