Still the Church

In the last few weeks our airwaves and been filled with strident voices claiming that stay at home orders and restrictions of in-person gatherings are somehow an abridgement of the church’s first amendment rights. At a time when a deadly virus is moving at will through all of our communities this argument seems misplaced.  The argument seems to be predicated on the idea that somehow the church can only be the church when it gathers together in its own building or space.  And yet, from persecution to pandemics, there have been numerous instances when in-person attendance was just not possible.  What I can say, unequivocally, during this time of Stay at Home is that Redlands First UMC is still the church.  We are still the Spirit-empowered, faithfully following worshipping community that aspires to be an Invitational, Nurturing and Inclusive faith community.  No matter how long the Safer at Home protocols remain in place, we are still the church.

Empowered to Evolve

If our 2,000-year history teaches us anything, it is that in every generation the church, the faith community evolves to meet the challenges that it faces in its work of faithful discipleship.  While some might argue that this evolutionary process is a capitulation to a secular culture, the Pentecost story itself points us in a different direction.  The story of that first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ sets a foundation for the faithful interplay between the movement of the Holy Spirit and the life of individual Christian disciples, living in real time situations.  The Spirit’s empowerment goes way beyond this small group of individuals who were empowered to speak languages they didn’t previously know.  The impact of the Spirit’s movement was that this diverse group of many thousands of persons were able to hear a witness to God’s great work in and through Jesus in their first language, their mother tongue.

The Language of Our Heart

Language carries with it culture, idioms and a spirituality that cannot be under estimated.  Many of us know languages other than the language we heard in our home.  As we learn new languages one thing becomes clear very early on.  We may know words, but without the cultural understanding and context, our ability to communicate can be limited.  The way we work through that obstacle is primarily through listening.  When we apply this lesson to how to be the church today and witness to the Gospel in a rapidly changing world, we move powerfully into not just building a church, but extending a community.  As we celebrate a physically distanced Pentecost this Sunday, yearning for a rapid ‘return to normal’, let us consider how the Spirit is moving among us.  Let us listen to the Spirit’s guidance as we embrace new languages, new experiences and new expressions of faith and need in the human community.  It is true, and always will be, that We Are the Church.  Let us always keep in mind that it is equally true to say We Are Always Becoming the Church as we are always becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus.