What a story. The crowd! Rushing wind! A riot of languages. And fire! Lots of fire!
Filled with God’s Spirit, Peter preaches. He quotes the prophet Joel, who quotes God:
I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind. Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams.
That first Pentecost was so powerful, 3,000 people joined the church. And from that day,
they devoted themselves to the apostles’ instructions and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and prayers. A reverent fear overtook them all, for many wonders and signs were being performed by the apostles. Those who believed lived together and shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, sharing the proceeds with one another as each had need. They met in the Temple and broke bread together in their homes every day. With joyful and sincere hearts they took their meals in common, praising God and winning the approval of all the people. Day by day, God added to their number. (Acts 2:42-47)
What a story! Birthday of the church, we call it. Pentecost is where it all began!
Hmm. Let’s think about it. You’ve been following Jesus for a year or two. Fifty days ago at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, he was executed by the Romans….which devastated you and the rest of Jesus’ followers. Now what were you going to do?
Then, three days later, Jesus appeared! He hung around for 40 days, reassuring you and the rest of his followers, reminding you of everything he’d taught. Then, just as you were getting used to his being around again, Jesus vanished. Again. Right into heaven. This time, he stayed.
So. How do you get from Jesus leaving the scene again to the day of Pentecost? What happened in those 50 days? Did the Spirit just chill for 50 days, then jump out of a box and shout “Surprise!”? Or did something happen that created space for Spirit’s arrival?
I’m completely open to possibility that God’s Spirit can show up whenever she wants. She can create her own soundtrack and special effects. She can go as big as she wants whenever she wants. God’s Spirit is God’s Spirit. It can’t be pinned down.
I do suspect, though, that we become aware of God’s Spirit when we cultivate spaces for its arrival. The more we prepare ourselves to welcome God’s Spirit, the more we actually experience God’s Spirit.
So, how do we do that? How do we prepare ourselves to welcome God’s Spirit? Let’s see what Jesus’ followers did after he left the scene for good.
Right before he leaves the scene for good, Jesus tells his followers to return to Jerusalem, where they will receive the Holy Spirit. So, that’s what they do. They go back to Jerusalem…
…and hold a Council meeting. Judas, you’ll recall, overcome with the grief of betraying Jesus, had taken his own life. Peter reminds everyone of Judas…and of the need to fill his position on Council, I mean, with the 12 apostles.
They nominate two people, then pray, “‘O God, you know the hearts of people. Show us which of these two you have chosen for this apostolic ministry.’ Then they draw lots and Matthias” becomes one of the 12. The next thing Luke reports is the day of Pentecost.
So, the book of Acts begins with Jesus dramatically flying off to heaven. Then a few verses later, in even more dramatic fashion, Pentecost happens—with its mighty wind, raucous linguistics, fire, and 3,000 converts. And sandwiched between these two fantastic events is….a Council meeting. The Nominating Committee proposes two names to fill the vacancy created by Judas’ death, the group prays, draws lots, then welcomes Matthias to the group of 12.
Seems like a mundane thing to include in such an energized, powerful narrative. Jesus disappears–again! The Holy Spirit swoops in and 3,000 people join the church! And in between–The Council quietly fills a vacancy.
Is the inclusion of this tiny administrative detail superfluous? Should the editor of Acts have made one more trip through the text with her blue pencil? Or is the placement of this quiet administrative task intentional?
A year and a half ago at a Council retreat, we created some norms by which we try to live. At the beginning of each meeting, we pray, then read the norms aloud. The first line of the first norm reads: We will remember that our work is a part of our spiritual leadership of our congregation. A little thrill goes through me every time I hear that line. It reminds us that ministry and administration aren’t mutually exclusive categories. Effective ministry happens when we attend well to administrative details.
I learned this lesson well at the church I attended during seminary. The congregation gathered Wednesday nights for a community meal and Bible study. To make sure there was enough food, they asked that people make reservations. I eagerly signed up.
When I got to the door to pay for supper that first Wednesday, my name wasn’t on the list. Having an overactive superego, I couldn’t bring myself to go in and eat anyway. My name wasn’t on the list, I wasn’t going to eat. I didn’t want to take someone else’s food.
The next week, I called again to sign up. When I arrived with my $5 bill in hand, the cashier again couldn’t find my name on the list. I gave the church one more try. You guessed it—again, my name wasn’t on the list. I’m sure I would have been welcome to eat anyway…but being forgotten by my church three times in a row? I never signed up for another dinner.
Now, administrative slip-ups happen from time to time. They’re inevitable. Sometimes things just fall through cracks. My experience at my seminary church, though, taught me just how closely linked administration and ministry are. Indeed, both words come from the same roots in Latin and Greek. In Latin, the word is ministerium; in Greek, it’s diakonia. Both words translate as “service.”
It’s easy to see and live as if administration and ministry are separate categories, to see ministry as fun and touchy-feely and administration as dull, but necessary.
But the story between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost, this report of the 11’s quiet meeting to replace Judas, suggests that ministry and administration are two sides of the same coin. One informs the other; each needs the other. Ministry without administration isn’t effective. Deacons couldn’t do the ministry they do so well without being organized. This coming Wednesday, we’ll have another Praise Service. I anticipate a wonderful time of the moving of God’s Spirit, a holy time. In order to prepare for that service, though, we’ve had one meeting and three rehearsals. Without those meetings and rehearsals, Wednesday night would be a mish-mash. Ministry needs administration.
By the same token, administrative processes that are imbued with prayer create spaces for people to meet God. Everything we do on Council, every list created by Parish Life or Worship or Properties, every financial report created by our Treasurer or Financial Secretary, every note taken by our Clerk—every single administrative task we attend to is an opportunity to create space for all of us to meet God…which is kind of the whole point of being a church, right?
Do you know who embodies everything I’ve been saying? Who best, in this community, embodies the mutual and dynamic relationship between ministry and administration? Our Administrative Assistant, Lynne Buell. I’ve never seen anyone move so easily between the worlds of administration and ministry. Need a report produced? She’s on it. In the hospital and need a visit? She’ll visit you. Need help on formatting the bulletin—she is so good at that! Need a day-brightening devotion? She writes those, too.
In Lynne, it’s impossible to tell where administration ends and ministry begins. That’s because for Lynne, they’re pretty much the same thing. Everything we do is an opportunity to create a space for people to meet God.
As we seek to “build a stronger community” this summer, I encourage us all to be like Lynne—to attend equally to ministry and administration, to see everything we do as an opportunity to create a space where people might meet God.
What might help us to do that? Practice. We learn to see God in the world by opening ourselves and actively looking for God. Consistent practice leads to healthy habits. And here’s the thing. Once we get in the habit of looking for God, God seems to show up more frequently.
So, how do we practice looking for God? Two things might help. The first is an introduction to opening and learning that Victoria Owens will be leading called “Practicing the Presence of God.” From the earliest days of our faith, people have been dreaming up all kinds of practices that prepare them to meet God—various forms of prayer, mandala coloring, labyrinth walking. The sessions Victoria will lead will help participants explore some of those practices.
The second thing that will help us—as a community—to tune in to and welcome God’s Spirit is to pray together. A lot. Way more than we do now. Get ready! Every gathering I’m present for, we’re going to pray. As your spiritual leader, that’s the practice I’m committing to. Sometimes the prayers will be spoken; other times we’ll simply sit quietly and in the silence become aware—together—of God’s presence with us. When the apostles had a position to fill, what did they do? They prayed over it. Then look what happened! Pentecost! And 3,000 people joined the church that day.
If prayer worked for the 12, might it also work for us? Let’s give it a try. One minute of silence. Let us open ourselves to an awareness of God’s Spirit. Let us pray. Silence.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2017