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2020 Pentecost echoes first century church gathering

Even while isolated, we can still celebrate the Spirit’s movement

by the Rev. Joseph Moore, Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — “What a strange Pentecost this will be.”

That’s a consistent refrain I’m hearing from my colleagues in churches across the country. We wonder what it will look like to celebrate the movement of the Spirit in and through the early church, even as many of us won’t be able to gather as a church in the same ways we have for thousands of years. If Pentecost is a celebration of the movement of God among a gathered people, how do we celebrate it absent a gathering?

As I’ve reflected on what this next season of church life might have in store for us, I’ve been struck with three Pentecost related thoughts.

First, the church has always been dispersed. When you read Luke and Acts together, the reality is that those first followers of Jesus spent far more time apart than they did together. At the end of Luke, the disciples are fearfully huddled together in Jerusalem, and Jesus appears and leads them to Bethany where he was carried up to heaven. We’re told they return to the temple in Jerusalem where they were continually in the temple blessing God. On Pentecost we celebrate the miraculous movement of the Spirit in Acts 2, but by the 8th chapter of Acts these new disciples are scattered across the world. There is a constant movement from gathering to dispersion. And the Spirit is a part of it all. This is our story.

Second, the church has always been disordered. This a tough one for Presbyterians who like things decent and in order. But there was nothing orderly about the early church. On that first Pentecost they were even accused of being drunk. They tried things and failed and tried again. It’s not unlike a dispersed church trying to livestream a service on Facebook Live only to be kicked off because the algorithm didn’t like the music you played. We try and we fail and we try again. This too is part of our story.

Finally, the church has always been the sum of its disciples. Whether they were fearfully huddled behind locked doors, or joyfully celebrating in the temple, the church was never a building. The church was, is, and always will be a people breathed on by the Spirit of God working to change the world. That was true on Pentecost then and it is true on Pentecost in 2020.

I’m been reminded of Walter Brueggemann, who once described Pentecost as “God’s response to the power failure of the world.” We certainly find ourselves in the midst of things failing all around us. As we make our way into the summer and as we begin to think about fall programming, I hope we can remember the lessons of that first Pentecost: Dispersion and disorder do not have the last word.

A lot of people are beginning to ask about what stewardship programs might look like this fall. While we don’t know exactly how churches will be able to gather or what the state of the economy will be like in six months, we do know that this fall will be different than any other fall in recent memory.

And yet, at its heart, the story we get to tell is the same story we have always told. The living Christ is at work in and through our congregations. Stewardship is simply our response to that work. The Spirit that blew away the fear, disillusionment, and despair in the early church is the same Spirit that blows in and through our homes and empty church buildings today. Our job is to work in the world and to tell our story. Even as we find ourselves dispersed and disordered, we remain disciples, and the key to stewardship remains the same. Blessings as you continue to live out and tell the story!

The Rev. Joseph Moore

Joseph Moore serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Prior to joining the Foundation, Moore was the pastor at churches in Texas and Colorado. In addition to his work at the Foundation, he is moderator of the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks. He is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He and his wife, Shelley, live in Ft. Collins, Colorado with their three children, Micah, Liam, and Hettie.


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