On Pentecost Sunday, the sanctuary was decked out in Holy Spirit Flame Colors. The service was entirely Spirit-led, with our young people choosing numbered balloons that determined what came next, so nothing was in its usual order--we began with the prayer of dedication and ended with the Lord's Prayer, and everything in between was all mixed up, highlighting how important the flow of well-planned worship can be.
When it came to number 11, the bulletin said "Reflection, by the Whole People of God." That's the spot where the sermon normally would be, but instead I talked for only a moment about what happened on that first Pentecost: the wind blew and the flames danced and the words tumbled over themselves in many languages, and Peter looked around and said "hey, this reminds me of something else in God's story. The prophets said that old and young, men and women, slaves and free would speak and dream...it's happening!"
Then I asked us to look around at PCOP and think back on what we know of God's story, and see if there's anything that comes to mind as a connection. Where do we see something else in scripture playing out in our community? Is there a story or teaching or song that seems to speak to our church today? Is there anything about PCOP that reminds us of something else that has happened among God's people in days past?
We got into groups and searched our memories, Bibles, and hymnals, and came up with a few things. Two groups mentioned the story of 5 loaves and 2 fish being used to feed 5000 men (plus women and children), with 12 baskets of leftovers. One group mentioned the song "Let It Go" (from the movie Frozen). Another group talked about how they are a living embodiment of the Pentecost story, with multiple languages spoken around their circle. Yet another was looking for a story of people building something together--they started with the Ark, but later it was suggested that we think of it as building the Temple instead. One group thought the hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together" seemed fitting.
So why did we do this instead of me just talking for 10 minutes about Pentecost?
In part because it's good to live the story rather than just hear about it sometimes. In part because we are in the midst of a visioning process--where we try to discern together who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do--and a part of that is the community working together to find our place in God's story. In part because it's common to assume that a sermon should help individuals apply God's teaching to their lives, but we rarely think about how scripture speaks to the community as a whole.
And in part because this is an important part of Christian life: not just listening to the professional tell us how scripture applies to our lives, but actually learning to apply it ourselves.
It has long been a key part of the Reformed theological tradition for regular people to read God's word in their own language. But that same Reformed tradition teaches that to simply read without discussing in community is never enough. We must allow the Holy Spirit to work among us, to speak through many voices. And we must practice--not just look at the words on the page and wait for someone to tell us what they mean, but to seek God's guidance in community together. When we all together search the scriptures for a word for our church, we are much more engaged than when one person does it for us. It is never only the preacher's job to proclaim the good news--that is the first job of The Church: all of us, together.
And if we never practice relating our lives and the life of our community to God's story, how can we play our part in God's great plan for transforming the world into the Kingdom?