The Gospels record the message of angels and of Jesus as “Do not fear!” And we continue to forget that lesson. The church entering the second decade of the 21st century is a lot like the disciples after Jesus’s Ascension and before Pentecost – huddled in the upper room in fear and confusion. These people had seen all that had been their foundation taken away. Jesus had been arrested and killed. Their visions of a long life and career as the sidekicks to the rabbi/messiah had been shattered. And they could not see a way forward and could not go back.
The church leadership, clergy and lay, know that the vision of how the church operated for decades is not working well. Attendance is down. Finances are tight, it is a harder stretch to afford clergy leadership. Aging buildings are expensive to maintain. So we stay inside the buildings supporting one another as we wait in fear for the knock on the door that will mean our end.
But we know the rest of the story. There was an outpouring of grace and hope, of spirit and courage and as a result these scared fishermen, tax collectors and other rag-tag followers ended up out in the street sharing their story with other rag-tag folk. And a community formed in which they shared with one another and cared for others – including those who were not part of their community. The Spirit gave them boldness and a conviction that there was something more important than keeping safe. To live in community and to reach out to others gave them something more important than living in confusion and fear for their safety. It gave purpose, and a groundedness that was attractive even when being a follower of Jesus it was illegal and dangerous.
We who still huddle within the walls of the church need to relearn the lessons of Pentecost. We must allow the wind of their spirit to blow through us and our congregations to remove all sense of safety and blow us out into the world to share our story, to care for others and to allow the Spirit to work though us in the lives of others. Let’s put aside concerns about the survival of the institution and focus on the work we have to do. We are called to plant the seeds, love God and love our neighbors. And a new vitality and energy will enliven us and our congregation where love will cast away fear and hope will again conquer death.