Early Reflections on Pentecost–The wind blows where it will

Will Willimon former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, now United Methodist Bishop of Northern Alabama, reflecting on congregations, communities and change. While driving to services at a rural parish, he reflects that “the community that gave birth to this congregation has moved away.”

That’s one of the things people love about a church – it doesn’t move. It blooms where planted and, long after it has ceased to be fruitful, stays planted. We build our churches to look at least two hundred years older than they actually are. Inside, we bolt down the pews and make the furniture heavy and substantial. That the world around the church is chaotic and instable is a further justification for the church to be fixed and final.

And, he adds:

What is incomprehensible is that we call this stability-protecting, past-perpetuating institution “the Body of Christ.” All the gospels present Jesus as a ceaseless peripatetic. Never once did he say, “Settle down with me.” No, with vagabond Jesus it was always, “Follow me!”

Willimon concludes by saying that “one way to tell if a congregation is healthy is that it is on the move, trying to keep up with the machinations of the risen Christ.”

The full post is here.

This afternoon, while I was talking about communications with Jody, our Sexton Russ ran into the office holding two pieces of rotted wood that had fallen from the soffit on the corner of the nave’s roof. Looking up, we could see what looks like an opening into the building and evidence of bird habitation. With a building that is more than 150 years old, such things are to be expected. We have an obligation, indeed, part of our mission is to preserve our building for future generations, to pass on the legacy that we’ve received and to ensure that it will continue to be a presence on Capitol Square.

But our mission needs to encompass much more than that. After coming back into the office and digging back into my sermon in search of material, I encountered this video:

Here is some of the script:

“We don’t know the people next door anymore. Why would they want to come to church?”

“We are inside; they are outside. People pass by. No one comes in.”

“We are inside waiting, watching, and we don’t know what to do.”

“ And then it happens: wind… fire… noise.. and, [Silence]. What just happened?”

“The bad news is there is no one coming to fix your problems.”

“The good news is the solutions you seek are all around you.”

Walking around the building daily, I see both its beauty as well as those things that need ongoing maintenance and attention. And I think about those disciples, in the Gospel of John, huddled together behind locked doors and in Acts, huddled together, waiting for what would come next. Pentecost is all about power and chaos and the sheer unexpected direction of God’s call. The image of tongues of fire, dancing on the heads of the disciples, and the power of being sent. In John, the disciples were commissioned to do Jesus Christ’s work–to forgive sins, restoring the penitent. But even more powerfully, Jesus Christ commissioned them to do his work in the world: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Perhaps it’s because of the storms that went through last night with their high winds and chaotic effects. I am thinking about the power of the Spirit, the power of wind to create chaos and opportunity, to shake us up, toss us around, and land us in unexpected places. Where is God sending us, and who will we encounter?