Pentecost was the Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover that marked the giving of the Torah and was also the time of giving first fruits at the temple. The crowd in the story who are gathered, would already be celebrating God’s gifts, unaware that another gift was coming. In last week’s ascension reading we heard Jesus’ promise that the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit – that the power of the Holy spirit would descend upon them so that they would be his witnesses in all the earth. Like Janet said last week – Jesus’ absence from this world would become his presence through all of them. This gift of the Spirit comes to the disciples and they are able to speak different languages, and then all of those gathered in the crowd could hear their own language spoken. The Spirit gives them the gifts to speak in the language of the people they are trying to reach.
This new community that is being formed that the prophet Joel speaks of, is remarkably inclusive – not just gender inclusive, but also age inclusive – for the young and old, and specifies that it is for all people. All people, no matter who they are or where they come from or what their social status is, or what language they speak, they are welcome as part of this new community.
The Holy Spirit’s power is the power to transcend these differences in order to share God’s message of love more widely. As the crowd began to gather, the power of the Holy Spirit enabled all of those gathered to hear and to understand the message, whatever their background was.
At Mt Seymour we invite the Holy Spirit to transcend differences and speak through us all, when we extend the welcome at the beginning of every worship service. The welcome that we extend is as broad and as deep as we can make it. We welcome you no matter how old or young you are. Wherever you are on life’s journey – you are welcome here. Whatever your marital status, your sexual orientation, your gender identity or expression… you are welcome here. Whatever your ethnic or cultural heritage is… you are welcome here. However you express your faith or seek to understand the mysteries of God – you are welcome here. The Holy Spirit will transcend our differences to allow those connections with each other and with God.
Thank God for the Holy Spirit and its ability to transcend differences – because no two of us is alike. We all experience God in different ways, we understand God’s intentions for us in very personal and unique ways. We hear God speaking to us in different ways and different languages. And we express our faith in unique ways.
Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit is considered to be the birth of the church – this gift of transcending differences, this gift of understanding, this gift that does not just reach Jesus’ friends and followers, but reaches far beyond. It extends their understanding and gives them the ability to speak and share outside of their circle. This birth of the church is marked by empowering the followers to connect with others who are different from themselves.
What a beautiful example of what we do as followers of Jesus – we are moved by the Spirit to go out into our lives to live out our faith in our particular way, through our particular lens, and with our particular language.
Over the next five weeks we are going to be exploring five different ways that we might live out our faith. Janet Gear has developed The Theological Banquet, which identifies five distinct ways that United Church people tend to engage church and express our faith. God connects with each of us in unique ways. We have different words and images to speak about our experience, and we value different things about church.
I remember quite a long time ago in a former congregation, someone saying to me – I always get something out of worship – it may not be the same thing every week, but it is something. One week we might connect deeply with a story in the sermon that is exactly what we need at that time, or it might be a hymn, or hearing the organ… it might be the display on the table – or maybe a line in a prayer. Maybe it is sharing communion. Or maybe it is a conversation we had with a friend at church, that fed our soul that day, or hearing the words at the beginning, reminding us that we are welcome.
Much study has been done in the last several decades in education about different learning styles, and how we tend to have a preference for a style of learning, whether it be learning by hearing, or by doing something with our hands, or by exploring their curiosities through inquiry, or by seeing how things work. I have a friend who is a grade 5 teacher, and she tells me about some of her lesson plans. It amazes me at how she is able to include so many different styles of learning into one simple math lesson. There’s something for diverse learners, for the visual learners to hold on to, the tactile hands-on learners.
The same applies to worship styles. When I first started here at Mt Seymour in 2017 – actually it was the day before my very first Sunday here – I went with the Worship team to a workshop which was led by Dr. Marcia McFee. She teaches about worship design and her primary message is to involve all of the senses in worship. So she stresses the importance of the visuals in worship, the music, involving movement or use of our bodies during prayers or in actions and of course the words that we say. So here at Mt Seymour we are so blessed – with Carol’s artistic eye to put together beautiful table displays, and here today for Leslie’s artistic rendering of the Holy Spirit. We are so blessed week after week with Julian’s music and thoughtful selection of pieces that enhance and support the themes for worship and the overall feeling for each service, and today we are blessed with the inspiring music that Marcus and Dominique and Mary share with us.
So just as we have different styles of learning that are preferred, we also prefer different styles of worship. For me growing up at South Burnaby United, every Sunday morning began with the choir lined up at the back, and they processed into the front choir pews, while we sang Holy Holy Holy. When I hear that hymn now, it feels like home. It is not a favourite hymn of mine, but it feels like home.
For these next five weeks we will be experiencing different ways of expressing our faith and different worship styles. The theological Banquet provides a language and set of lenses for us to talk about the various ways that our faith is lived out in our church, in our lives and in the world. We hope that it will serve to affirm and articulate your way of living your faith. We hope that it will deepen your appreciation of the differences between each of us in how we live out God’s intention for us in the world. When I was reading and learning about Janet’s work on the Theological Banquet, this was my experience. I really resonated with aspects of two of these expressions. It was affirming to know that I fit somewhere, and that my expression of faith is not only valid, it is a valued and important part of the life and work of the United Church.
We trust that your experience will be similar – that you will feel at home in one or more of these expressions, and that it will give you a deeper appreciation and understanding for your own lived faith and where you might find your passion and your place.
In the coming weeks, Janet will dive deeper into each of these five expressions – five places at the banquet table that is our diverse yet United church. These five are Evangelical, Ecclesial, Missional, Ecumenical and Spiritual. You may find yourself at home in the evangelical lived faith, where sharing of the gospel is central to your mission. Or maybe the ecclesial lived faith is home to you, where the church building and church community and working to build those up, would be key to your life of faith. Or maybe missional lived faith, where the focus is to go and be the church in the community and the neighbourhood, or in the Thrift Shop, places where there is need, and those places are where you live out your faith. Or for you it might be the Ecumenical lived faith where you feel most at home, where working for social change – seeking justice, peace, reconciliation and the integrity of creation is where you live out God’s dreams in your life. The final expression is the spiritual, where faith is lived out by opening your life to wisdom and seeing the sacred in all things.
Like Jesus followers at Pentecost were given the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit which allowed them to speak diverse languages in order to reach out beyond themselves into the world, each of us is given these gifts of understanding and gifts of diversity in how we share our faith and how we are nurtured in our faith.
The church birthed at Pentecost carries this deep DNA, to make a home in God’s life for all, and to invite others, in a way they can understand, to make a home in God’s life, too.
Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit’s gifts of diversity and of understanding.