“When the day of Pentecost had come the disciples were all together in one place, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting”. The disciples were together in one place, and they were waiting. They were waiting together. They were not waiting by themselves. Of course a disciple is a disciple among disciples and a believer is a believer among believers. So there is individuality, but there is also a focus on community. God chooses to pour out his Spirit, not just on a single individual, but on the church, the community of believers. Now that’s the principle in the book of Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost.
The principle of community is something that is throughout the NT, the letters, the book of Acts, and the Gospels. However, each one of us has an individual journey, and that is evident in the way that Jesus called each one of his disciples, by name, one at a time. Pentecost does not diminish the message that each person is unique and special in the eyes of God, but magnifies the unity of one church, many members, and one body.
Pentecost is about the birth of the church. It’s the birthday of the church. The church becomes the vehicle by which God chooses to continue the work of Christ in our world. Through the Holy Spirit, we now share in the personification of Jesus Christ. We are now the Body of Christ and Christ is our head. Saint Teresa of Avila penned in the year 1555:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
yours are the hands, with which he blesses the entire world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
This concept of many members yet one body; the parts make up the whole is prevalent at Pentecost. The body though many members are one body. The Holy Spirit relates to us individually, in distinctive ways. I don’t want to downplay that because it’s so special. Your life has meaning. You have meaning. There is nothing more complex than a single person. The Spirit comes to us individually, but also collectively. However, there is but one Holy Spirit.
It’s not like 60 to 80 spirits ministering to us on this Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God, a unifying presence just as Jesus is one with God, and there is unity in the Godhead, so the Holy Spirit unifies us into one flock under one shepherd; one body under one head. We who are many are one.
There is a diversity of individuals, personalities and talents among us, even in this small church. In fact sometimes it’s easier to recognize and appreciate that more in a small church than in a larger church. What truly amazes me is the power of the Spirit that pulls all different and unique personalities and people together here in this place to form one church.
It reminds me of walking in the water on the ocean shore on a hot summer day. You notice some people out in the deeper water swimming, some wading waste high in water while some of us are walking barefoot in ankle deep water. The waves that splash on the swimmers and the waders are personal and distinctive. The wave that splashes around the feet of those of us that are wading is also personal and exclusive, but the water is the same water wherever you are. That’s the way it is in the church. You may be on the outer edges of the church in your mind, while someone else may be right in the center of church activities, but you’re still a significant part of the community, wherever you are, because the Spirit, like the ocean, touches all of us at the same time.
Here’s another way to look at the diversity right here at St. Alban’s. Picture if you will a stone that’s thrown into a pool of water. From the point where the stone hits the water, there will be rings that form one big circle that circle out from the center, the rings getting wider and wider the farther out from the center.
So, like if this circle is the church, picture a target with rings that go out from the middle. You may be on one of the outer rings but you are still part of the circle. The Holy Spirit is touching you at the same time as all the other people on all the rings of the circle, just as much as those that appear to be in the in the center of the circle. Sometimes people that we may think like to be in the center of the circle, picture themselves on the outer part of the circle. Just because socially we look like we are in the center, does not mean that we actually feel like we are in the center. Explore that thought. It should give us pause.
Perhaps that part of the circle you find yourself on has a lot to do with your personality and your rareness. Don’t kid yourself. You are an important part. Without you the church is going to look different. The church will go on without you but it is going to look different, because the members of the church make up the persona of the church, and without you that unique part of the church will be missing. You’re accepted and you are loved in the church. We want you and we need your specialness. You are not required to act or be like someone else, and neither are they required to be like you. Wouldn’t it be boring if everybody in the church was just like you or me?
My prayer and my desire is that people will be drawn to this church, not because of what our needs are, but because they recognize the Spirit of Pentecost in our midst, and our response to the Holy Spirit, accepting, welcoming, forgiving and encouraging, both those we know and those we do not know.
Question: What Does Pentecost Mean For the Church?
Answer: Christ Has No Body but Yours
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B Pentecost Sunday May 24, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church