She held a little brown paper sack in her clutches as she sat on the front steps of a big porch. She sat there waiting. This was the day her new parents would come and pick her up. There, this little malnourished four-year-old waited for the ones who would come to her, name her as their own, and make her an official member of the family.
My mom told me this story of her “pick up” and adoption day quite a bit when I was a little girl. I’d ask her to tell it to me over and over. Even as a youngster, there was something about that story that captivated my attention. Even as a little one, I somehow grasped the significance of being named, chosen, and made a part of something larger than oneself. On the day of her adoption, my mom officially became a Reynolds, Debbie A. Reynolds. It was a momentous day, a day for celebrating, a day for remembering. This was a story to be told over and over again.
We have a story like that too. We have a story we ought to tell over and over again. It is the story of our birthday, the story of our naming. Church, let’s hear afresh this year the story of Pentecost, the day of our birth. First, there’s that famous Pentecost story, the one we read in Acts chapter 2. This is the story of the birthday of the church, when the Spirit breathes life into us and names us as the witnesses to His work in the world, as the ones who declare to the world who its true Lord and King is.
This year, in the Revised Common Lectionary there’s another text that is just as important to understanding our birthday. In John 20:19-23, Jesus miraculously appears in the room where his frightened disciples have gathered. The resurrected Jesus comes into the room where the disciples are fearfully huddling together behind locked doors and he brings them a greeting of peace. Jesus enters the room and says to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes on them and calls them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In that moment, Jesus gives the Church her name. We are “sent ones” the “gathered-scattered ones”.
Oh Church, when Jesus enters that room it is not just as a surprising present to the disciples. When the Holy Spirit falls on the day of Pentecost, it is not just a nice gift to the faithful gathered ‘round.
Jesus enters the room to name a group of people as His own. The Holy Spirit falls on those gathered as an empowering gift and through the Holy Spirit, the newly named church is sent into the world to witness to the world that God is now King. The Spirit comes in order that those fearful huddlers might become the Church and it is on this day that Jesus gives the church her name. It’s there in John 19 and we see its impact in Acts 2. Jesus breathes on them and says to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” Ah, our name. Our name is forever: “sent ones”. This is who we are as the church and this is precisely who the church becomes when the Spirit falls on the disciples in Acts chapter 2. From Acts 2 through the end of the book, those filled with the Spirit are those sent on mission into the world.
So as we come up on another birthday, let us be reminded who we are and what we are all about. Let us be reminded of our name, of whose family we’ve been adopted into and to whom we belong. We are the sent ones. We are those who have been adopted into the family of the Sending God, have been incorporated right into His very life and are therefore sent out into the world to be his witnesses. But what does this mean for us practically? If we are the sent ones, we must first be gathered up together into the life of the sending God. This means that our gathering in worship matters. It means that when youth come together with those older and younger and worship God, what we do in those moments runs over into our lives “out there” in the world.
The Pentecost texts remind us that our “gatherings” are crucial to who we are, for we are the gathered-scattered ones. This is what “sent” means. To be “sent” requires a “sender” and a gathering place from which to be sent.
“Sent” means someone has chosen us, called us, selected us, gathered us and then commissioned us. Practically, this has to mean more than just gathering together one day a week on Sunday mornings and it means that the practices (liturgies) that we engage in when we gather together matter. If we are the ones sent to witness to the world that Christ is now King, then our practices together must be forming and shaping us into a different kind of people than the world. Our gatherings ought to remind us we are worshippers, not consumers. Our gatherings ought to direct us toward selflessness over self-centeredness.
The story of our naming as “gathered-scattered” or “sent ones” is a reminder that we are a communal people, created and designed to do life with one another.
This means that forgiveness, love, grace and hospitality will be “fruits” we will be continually asking the Spirit to birth in us. The depth of our commitment and the real time that we spend with one another will enable our differences and conflicts to be resolved and forgiven. Students, who long for connection, ought to find in the Church a multi-generational community of vulnerable, open people sharing life together. Clearly, this will mean more than simply gathering one day a week. It will surely mean a good amount of quality time spent with one another in a wide array of contexts. It will go deeper than any connection that Snapchat or Facebook Messenger might offer. It will mean spending real time with one another in order that we can learn from, observe and imitate one another as we are gathered together into the life of God. It will mean that young and old must be willing to take risks to move into richer forms of community life.
Put simply, our gathered, formal “liturgy” matters for it has the high calling of shaping us into “sent ones” and our fellowship meals, youth nights, service days, and conversations around the coffee table matter for they have the high calling of shaping us into the “gathered-scattered ones”. This Pentecost, let’s tell our story again and as we do, may we press into deep reflection about ways that we can truly “share life together” as the gathered and scattered Church.
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- The Importance of Gathering: Remembering Pentecost - June 1, 2017