Long before any gadget, app, translator's guide, or device was available, something happened with the small gathering of believers as recorded in Acts 2:1-21. The apostles of Jesus and a gathering of believers had a most amazing experience and encounter, which came to be known as the birthday of the church. How did those gathered understand what was being said? What did they have in their ears?
It wasn’t so much what was in their ears, as it was what was in their hearts and infused throughout their souls. It was the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit who on that day launched what is now known as Pentecost. Happy birthday church!
Interesting however that the word church isn’t used in this passage that becomes the mark for the beginning of the church? The word used is ekklesia. In the Greek the word for church is ekklesia but at the time it had no religious connotation. It only meant an assembly of people. The word did not refer to an institution. It did not denote an organization. It was not descriptive of a building dedicated to religious ceremonies. An ekklesia was simply a gathering of people. The church then is simply that, people.
Our text says that they were “gathered together.” This was the first meeting of the ekklesia, the church. Notice there was no pastor, no elder board, no trustees or finance committee, no board of ordained ministry, no building, no pew, no book of discipline, no hymnals. Just 120 (if you go back and read chapter one of Acts) people filled with the Spirit.
This is where it gets good! Ordinary people gathered together. The founding members of this ekklesia - this gathering - this church - were not the best and the brightest. They were not high-powered tech wizards or tenured professors at leading universities, or big time power players at roundtable discussions in conference rooms of multinational, multi-billion dollar corporations.
It is imperative for all believers to remember the church is people. I know we know this and you may be thinking, “ok Pastor, tell me something we don’t know.” We know it, we pray it, we sing about it, and every week we gather as it, AND YET, so often when we get outside these walls we forget we are still the church! We are still a gathering of people following the teachings of Jesus. So I say again, the church is people - It is not liturgy or sacraments or great sermons. It is not doctrine of sanctification or theology of holy atonement. It is not institutions of higher education or even mainline denominations. That all has its place, and it all helps us define who we are, what we do, and what we believe. Those are all ways we practice, grow, remember, organize, keep track of and celebrate being church, but it is not church. When we forget that, we forget what Jesus was all about in the first place...people.
Today I say to you, let’s do this church. Let’s accept the mission that sometimes seems impossible in our world today with all its conflict, division, and cynicism, and watch as God makes it possible. Let’s invite the Spirit to teach us a new language like the day of Pentecost - a new way to speak (and listen) to one another AND to those that others want to silence or ignore. Let’s take prayerful risks and find new ways to grow and care together even when our fracturing culture and power hungry society tells us to take care of only ourselves. Let’s invite the Spirit to translate the needs of those inside and outside these walls, within and without our denomination and show us what our next steps to be the people God wants us to be. Let’s do this.
Let’s ask the hard questions and have the tough conversations and live into the answers with love, respect, and kindness. Let’s trust God with our money, our skills, our relationships, our future as individuals and families, let’s trust God not just with what we know, but what we don’t know. Let’s be brave AND vulnerable. Let’s be courageous AND compassionate. Let’s be convicted AND kind. Let’s be a gathering of ordinary people and see what extraordinary things God will do with what we give and when we follow.
Let’s do this Church! This is our mission, should we choose to accept it. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine