As I write this I am thinking about Pentecost. I am excited to celebrate this important day in historic Zion (Organ) Lutheran Church in Rowan County, N.C. Organ church is the oldest Lutheran Church in North Carolina. The service that I will attend will be held in the original building, built of granite and completed in 1794. It is a marvelous place of history to observe Pentecost, the birthday of the church.
Why is a United Methodist pastor excited about celebrating Pentecost in a historic Lutheran Church? Because I am descended from one of the original founders, John Jacob Oberkirsch, whose family left their home in Germany and came to the colonies so that they might worship and grow in their faith freely.
Each time I attend a worship service in this historic church I am reminded that for some of my ancestors, faith was not only important, but was the center of their lives. I am reminded that their faith was so important to them that they left everything they knew, came across an ocean, settled in a place where not everyone spoke German, and became Americans. Their faith is a gift to me over 200 years later. And I am grateful.
Pentecost marks the yearly observance for Christians of the birthday of the church. On a morning long ago, followers of Christ were gathered together in a room for prayer. The story from Acts indicates that something happened, in a moments notice, without warning. A rush of a mighty wind filled the place where the group was praying, flames of fire danced about their heads and exciting things began to happen. In the same way that I am grateful for John Jacob Oberkirsch, whose faith brought him to this country and let him help found a church that has lasted centuries, I am grateful for those believers who gathered that morning long ago and felt the wind and flames of the Spirit.
I have always wondered what this group of faithful followers was praying for. If we knew, maybe we could turn our prayers in that direction and feel the rush or the mighty wind or see the flames dancing above us. If we knew the depth of their prayers, maybe we would hear the power of our voices proclaiming the Gospel in such ways that everyone, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, would be able to understand and embrace. If we knew, maybe we would have faith that our prayers for justice and mercy and faithfulness would be bold and passionate for our world.
Recently, I have read many places that the church is outdated and that people no longer believe that the message of the church is important to hear. This notion saddens me. If our ancestors of the faith could have foreseen that there would be a day when society thought that the church had become outdated, would they have gathered that day and received that powerful gift of the Holy Spirit? Would they have put so much time and effort into what became the center of their lives - proclaiming that life could be different for everyone because of a man named Jesus? I am glad they didn't know.
As they received the gift of the Spirit in the mighty wind and the flames of fire, this small band of people, who were insignificant in number, received something powerful that would help them grow in their faith and in their courage so that others, who were hurting and longing for a different life, might receive as well. That gift was not given just once, but over and over, again and again, across the years. It is meant for us as well - whether or not we are outdated. We still have an important message to proclaim. We still have lives to live to make a difference in a world that is hurting and confused.
There may be many who feel that the church is outdated, but our message is not. Jesus Christ gave His life for the sake of this world so that the places of pain and strife could be healed. It might be easy for some to feel that we are outdated, but imagine what would happen if there were no churches in this world. Would there be acts of kindness and generosity and love and mercy? Would there be struggles for justice and peace? Would there be places of safety for fellowship? Would there be questions asked so that the world might be a better place?
I am not sure about the answers to these questions, but I am certain of one thing, the Spirit has not abandoned the church and is ready to rush that mighty wind across our hearts and our lives, over and over again and again, as much as it is needed. The Spirit has not given up on us, but continues to send flames across us to inspire us to be better than we are at this moment, right now. The Spirit still calls us to be the church, even when it might not be so popular in our world today.
So let us receive the wind of Spirit, the flames of the Spirit, and commit ourselves to be the church that Jesus Christ intended for us to be, whether or not it is popular to do so.
Glory to God.
On the parish calendar:
Pentecost picnic, 5 p.m. Sunday at Holly River State Park, to be followed by sing at 6:30 p.m. at Jerry Run Theater. Parish van leaving from Parish House at 3 p.m.
Annual Conference, Wednesday to Saturday at West Virginia Wesleyan College
Spiritual and Emotional Care Team Disaster Response Training, Wednesday at WV Wesleyan College
Barbecue dinner, 5 to 7 p.m. June 7, Upshur Parish House. Donations support Upshur Helping Hands mission trip to McDowell County, set June 17 to 23.
Parish House fundraiser, with salad lunches served at the Parish House during the annual conference, beginning at noon Wednesday to Saturday. Anyone is welcome to eat, and donations will be accepted. The "world famous" hot chicken salad will be featured along with other salads and assorted cookies, including gluten free.
Operation Overboard, June 10 to 15. Vacation Bible School at Chapel Hill UMC will take children exploring deep under the sea.
Bug Zone Vacation Bible School, June 10 to 14, Kesling Mill UMC. Classes for all ages.
Upshur Helping Hands Work Team will spend the week of June 17 with Big Creek People in Action in Caretta, McDowell County.
SKY. June 2426. Vacation Bible School at First UMC shows children that "Everything Is Possible with God."