This is an extraordinary text for an extraordinary day – Pentecost combined with Memorial Day weekend, when we remember those who have served this country. The day after the Brelo case as crowds gather waiting for a word that makes sense. Even game 3 as 20,000 gather in one place sharing one home court spirit.
Back at the beginning, a small group of Jesus followers claimed Joel’s prophetic vision, which is inclusive and universal: of God’s spirit breaking down the walls of status and income and gender and age. This small group makes the audacious leap: the last days are here!
The status quo has been shattered and things are topsy-turvy.
Peter’s sermon is quite brief: Jesus of Nazareth performed deeds of power, wonders and signs, these are well attested. Jesus was killed but he rose from the dead. The Bible gives witness that everything has been pointing to this moment.
Those in the crowd who had ears to hear are cut to the heart, asking, “What do we do?” Peter replies, “Get a new mind for this new age – repent and be baptized. You will receive power to change the world.”
And what happens? In Verse 41, “that day about three thousand persons were added.” Three thousand!
Just let that verse have its way with you for a moment.
A small group – devastated at the death of their leader – experienced something that transformed them into powerful witnesses for Jesus. And this is an historic fact: the world hasn’t been the same since. Their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) worked. You and I are here today because of Peter and the first disciples thinking big and living large.
Extraordinary. And the question that agitated me deeply this week is this: Do I, do you, do we, still claim the prophetic vision to turn the world inside out and upside down, to proclaim a message that changes lives and grow this church?
Do we have a BHAG?
Now I love this church. Forest Hill is an anchor church. We are looked at and held up as a healthy, dynamic, functional, and active congregation. And yet we really haven’t grown in numbers in 40 years. We were, we are around 450 members.
We get congratulated because we don’t lose members. I wonder what Peter and the first disciples would think about that? They got 3,000 in a day.
Here is a Pentecostal BHAG – What would Forest Hill look like with 1,000 members, or 1,500 members? Yes we might have to have two or three services. Yes, it would change the dynamics of our comfortable community. But since when was church and its mission about maintaining the status quo of comfort?
I know, I know, we can talk about growth in lots of ways, and use metrics. How many are coming to Adult Ed. How many are reading the Bible, how many are following spiritual disciplines, how many are tithing – and all of that is important. But it makes me wonder – have I, have we, lost the prophetic imagination to proclaim Jesus and him crucified to a world longing to hear good news? Is simply holding our own, doing our job?
Listen to these words from the Book of Order of our denomination:
The good news of the Gospel is that God … creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people…. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces the nearness of God’s kingdom bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation.
In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.
Who knew Presbyterians were so radical? Do you believe that we are change agents, transformative agitators? Do we even want to be part of something like this?
The first disciples were accused of being drunk. Presbyterians today are usually accused of being “decent and in order!”
The main business of the church is only one thing: to proclaim Jesus Christ and offer to everyone a transformative spiritual experience; To be a beacon of hope and welcome in a sometimes hopeless and inhospitable world; to be on the side of the marginalized.
I remember last summer, when the staff had a retreat. And I bought everyone a shirt with the initials of our mission DCW: Discovering, Celebrating and Witnessing! On the following Sunday in Fellowship Hall, the staff wore the T-shirts with DCW written on them. When I asked what DCW might mean, even though the key words were written on the soffit in Fellowship Hall, nobody knew it. But, I believe it was Mary Ball who said: “DCW – Doing Christ’s Work!” I like it… YES, that is precisely what we must be about.
I know in this day and age, there are many options. Sometimes it is tough admitting that you are a Christian. And we want to be respectful of people’s spiritual paths. I get all of that – but there are still so many who wander and wonder and want to feel connected, and want to know God, or know something that gives meaning – and our primary job as church is to let them know that there is a place; and it is not Starbucks, or the soccer team, or yoga (and those are all good things!) it is Here!
So on this Pentecost Sunday; I encourage you to get your “evangelism” on. To share with others not what you don’t know, or don’t believe, or haven’t experienced, but what you do know, what you do believe and what you have experienced. You have the language that others will understand – just start talking!
Share with others your transformative story – when you bumped into the holy and experienced God. It will be more than enough to change the world.
Are you up for this? In ten years:
• 1,500 members, at least a third racially diverse. If we are going to talk about the importance of racial diversity and the end of racism, it has to start here – by counting heads and making heads count.
• a full time Youth Pastor,
• a center for theological and spiritual formation,
• a pantry that serve 1,000 a month,
• a budget of $2,000,000
• air conditioning for the choir;
• more Bible nerds so that we can connect why we engage outside these walls in matters of justice;
• 30 confirmands a year, and maybe 2 or 3 who want to enter ordained ministry; and finally,
• 50% of this church completing the Faith Leaders program.
Let’s defy the trends. Call me drunk … I have been called worse! (Really – I was called the “antichrist” once. Can’t top that!)
Again, from Book of Order:
In Jesus Christ … the church seeks a new openness to the sovereign activity of God, to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work;
A new openness to its own membership, becoming in fact as well as faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly condition, made one in Christ… as a visible sign of the new humanity…
The calling of the church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life…
Wow! And it started on Pentecost when a band of women and men had an experience so compelling and a BHAG about which they had to tell the world!
We still have the Word that brings life and hope… let’s speak it! The crowds are waiting.