I’ve read so many articles about the limitations that we’re going to experience, even as we reopen from COVID19. It seems very discouraging, all the things that we cannot do. And yet, I’m reminded of what Abraham was experiencing when he looked at what he did not have in Genesis, Chapter 15 – all that he had hoped he would have at that time in his life, in terms of an heir, and all he felt he lacked. He poured out his heart to God, and in Genesis 15:1-4, God responded by taking him outside of the confines of his tent to look at the stars.
I wonder if, like Abraham, we’re living in a tent constrained by our own fears and anxieties about what life will be like in the new normal. I’m wondering if we’re feeling more constrained by what we think we don’t have rather than by the possibilities God wants to show us as he leads us out of the tent of our own limited vision.
I’m reminded of the article we reposted on Tuesday from Christianity Today by Jeff Christopherson entitled “Jesus’ Reshaping of a Post-Pandemic Church.” In the article, Jeff outlined three repentant moves towards God in this season of reopening that create new possibilities for us as a church. The first two he described as genuine orthodoxy and genuine orthopraxy, what we believe and what we actually do. His point was that our sovereign God is on a rescue mission, and that’s all that matters. Everything else we do – our music, our pews, our buildings, our stained-glass windows, our programs – all of that must take a back seat to God’s rescue mission. He asked whether the church online, scattered by the pandemic, can be as effective in reaching lost people as the church scattered by persecution after Pentecost? He also discussed genuine orthopathy, or genuine feeling/passion, and noted that a genuine move towards God after COVID19 would involve joy-filled believers fulfilling God’s mission with affections turned outwards to God and others – to the lost, the least, and the last. This genuine move is composed of a people passionate about what God is passionate about.
I was recently reminded by my dear friend Bishop Kevin Allen of the Diocese of Cascadia of an important message that the Rev. Billy Graham gave on Pentecost in 1957. He said, “When the Church loses its fire, warmth, and passion, it cannot penetrate the barriers of paganism and materialism which surround it. The disciples of Christ made no impression on a godless world until they became a church on fire.” Is the new normal a church that is on fire for a sovereign God whose great passion is a rescue mission for the lost? Is the new normal a church on fire for reaching those lost people in as effective a way as the Church did at Pentecost and on the days following?
This Sunday we will be reading from Acts 2, Peter’s great sermon on Pentecost. You’ll remember how travelers who were watching the disciples, baptized by the Spirit and empowered to declare the praises of God, thought they were drunk. Peter raised his voice and said, “These people are not drunk as you suppose!” Here the great saint is saying “Get out of the tent of limited expectations!” He goes on to say, “This is what was spoken in the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants, in those days I will pour out my Spirit.’” In verse 21 it goes on to say, “And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We know that those who heard Peter’s sermon were cut to the heart and replied, “What must we do?” And Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Three thousand people came to know Jesus that day and were baptized, and that was only the beginning. Daily, people were added to their numbers with continued teaching, fellowship, prayer, and signs and wonders. Could this be a picture of a new normal for us in this generation?
As we approach this Pentecost Sunday and the promise of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit for all who call upon his name for salvation, may the new normal be for us a new Pentecost, a church on fire with the same passion for the lost and the same vision for God’s saving grace. That’s the mission we’ve embarked upon as North American Anglicans as we together press on towards the transforming love of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Anglican way.