In my office over at the Retreat House, I keep a copy of this old church bulletin. I’ve been the pastor here for 7 years now, but this bulletin is from 10 years ago, from all the way back in 2011. It was from the very first Sunday I ever stepped foot inside this church, and I’ve kept this bulletin all of these years now as a reminder of the day something extraordinary happened to me.
You see, back then, I wasn’t a pastor. I was just a local guy who wrote a book and had a monthly column in the local newspaper. And, so, I was invited to come speak here that Sunday in 2011, because the pastor at the time was on sabbatical.
That Sunday - when I stepped foot inside of Douglas UCC for the very first time - I had absolutely no thought of ever becoming a church pastor.
But something happened to me that Sunday in 2011 when I got up to the podium to speak. Something came over me. Another voice came out of me. A spark was ignited within me that day.
And, fittingly enough, that Sunday 10 years ago was Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit igniting a fire in the minds and hearts of the first apostles.
As I said at the top service today, that’s why I’m wearing RED, to symbolize the fire of Spirit. In Scripture, fire is used to indicate the presence of the Divine.
Now, when we think of fire stories in the Bible, we usually think of two stories: we think of the Pentecost story from the New Testament (which I just read for you), and we think of the Old Testament, of Moses and the burning bush. These two stories have a lot in common, which is no coincidence.
In the Burning Bush story, Moses goes up to a mountain-top, which I’ve told you before symbolizes a place of higher consciousness. And from that place of higher consciousness, Moses encounters the fire of a burning bush, which symbolizes the Light, the Presence of the Divine. And, it is from that place of higher consciousness that he hears the voice of God speaking to him. And the voice of God instructs Moses to go back down the mountain and to lead his people from exile to the Promised Land… from separation to Oneness.
The Jewish people of Jesus’s day loved that story of Moses and their ancestors so much that they commemorated the story every year. This commemoration took place 7 weeks after Passover.
Now, I’ve told you before, that “7” is a spiritual number signifying spiritual completion. So, 7 weeks after Passover – 49 days – the Jewish people celebrated Moses on the 50th day, which is what the word PENTECOST means -- 50th Day.
The Jewish Pentecost celebrating Moses was 50 days after Passover – and the Christian Pentecost which we’re celebrating today is 50 days after Easter.
Now, in our New Testament reading today for Pentecost Sunday, the apostles are gathered together for the Jewish Pentecost, celebrating Moses. They’re not up on a mountaintop like Moses was, but they are in the “upper room,” again signifying a place of higher consciousness.
And, it is there that they, too – like Moses - experience fire, the Divine Presence. It’s not a burning bush, this time, but tongues of fire above their heads, right at the crown chakra, the place of Enlightenment.
And, like Moses, they, too, hear the voice of God speaking to them in tongues and communicating to each of them in their own way. That’s why it says in the story that they appeared drunk, for they were filled with joy and bliss.
But, just as Moses couldn’t stay on the mountaintop forever, the apostles are instructed by the Spirit to leave the upper room and to go out far and wide into the world to communicate God’s message of love to others, so that they could lead the people from exile to salvation, from separation to Oneness, just as Moses did for his people.
And, that’s why Pentecost Sunday is considered the “Birthday of the Church,” but what exactly do we mean by the word “church”?
I’ve told you before, Jesus didn’t come to establish a new religion, and he never once commanded anyone to go to a building called “church” on Sunday mornings.
He did, however, instruct the disciples to go and “build the church,” but he didn’t mean to go out and build structures with steeples and crosses and pews and stained glass windows. The word “church” in the Bible was translated from the word “ekklesia,” which doesn’t mean a building or a structure. It means a “community of people.”
So, when Jesus instructs the disciples to go out and build the church, he’s instructing them to go out and build community…to call people to come together in unity.
Though our church building has been closed for services for over a year now, we’ve continued to build community, not just here in Douglas, but all over the world.
Our UCC banner calls us -- not to BUILD churches -- to “Be the Church.” For, the church isn’t a building. The church is all of us, for we are all ONE BODY. That is the message of Pentecost.
So, whether you’re eager and excited to be back here in the pews in a few weeks, or whether you’ll continue to worship with us from home, remember that we remain One Body, connected by the workings and power of the Spirit.
So, my friends, on this Pentecost Sunday, may we – like the first apostles – continue to build the church and to be the church, so that (together) we may continue the work of building the “kin-dom” of heaven right here on earth.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by Rev. Ian Lawton
In the first century, something incredible happened to a group of people at the time that is known as Pentecost. The miracle was not a miracle of speaking in tongues. The miracle was that everyone present heard in a way that made sense to them. They “got it” simultaneously. They caught the vision that earlier prophets had spoken about. It was a vision of unity. The incredible thing is that men and women of many cultures heard and understood the vision in their own way. They were all one. They were all together, by themselves. Today, we gather in spiritual communities. We are from a number of different backgrounds. We use different languages to describe the mystery that sources our joy. Some of us take more of a left brain approach- linear and logical. Some of us take a more right brain approach, creative and open ended. The miracle won’t be conformity. The miracle will be a shared vision that finds strength in diversity.
What did you think?