May 23, 2015

Pentecost Sunday - "Come to Jesus"

We often refer to a moment of crisis or a need to confront others as a “come to Jesus” meeting.  That might take many forms but the point is to confront another with the truth of a matter; to maybe be shaken up in order to challenge and change a person or a situation. If we “come to Jesus” we may be astounded by what we discover in our need to change.   

Just last week an interesting report was published by the well-known and respected Pew Research Center on religion in America. Its results might be labeled a sort of “come to Jesus” finding.  Depending on how you feel about statistics and their reliability it seems to confirm our general sense about today’s culture.

This study tells us that Christians here in America are declining both as a “share of the U.S. population and in total number.” In 2007 for example 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups in established religions.  In 2014 that is down to 70.6%.  The decline in the Catholic Church has been among the biggest along with mainline Protestants. 

But a significant  rise has been among what have been labeled the “Nones” - those with no religious affiliation.  People who “self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as those who say their religion is ‘nothing in particular’ now account for a combined 22.8% of adults – up from 16.1% just seven years ago.  I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to state that many people today give no thought to God in any serious way and live life generally as if he doesn’t exist. 

Still, many claim to be “spiritual” yet not “religious.”  That claim certainly leaves the door open to multiple options. Yet, if we looked at trends overtime we would find other eras of the Church more apathetic or scandalized than our own such as in the earlier 12th or 13th centuries when the material corruption of the Church was heavy or the moral scandal of leaders including that of the 16th century Popes was common. We can be assured that one infallible sign of the Holy Spirit's presence is that we are still here in spite of ourselves! 

Still, we may wring our hands and wonder what we can do to offer the “Nones” something to care about. I think it begs a more personal question of the still majority of affiliated.  Simply said, “Why do I stay?”  “What have I found that others either haven’t found or have rejected?”  “What keeps me coming?” Is it guilt?  Obligation? Old memories? A desire to be socially acceptable? Is it a love for Jesus Christ and the Eucharist and my fellow brothers and sisters in the faith? What keeps you here rather than in bed on a Sunday morning? Maybe a good “come to Jesus” meeting is necessary for those who come as much as for those who have left?  Is it about “them” or also about “us?”

By contrast we mark this weekend a Feast we have often referred to as the “birthday of the Church.” If God always worked as the Scriptures relate today, our Churches might explode with regular members.

We hear of bold preaching; about a risen Christ who appears truly alive again and breathes on the startled disciples to grant them his Spirit.  We hear of wind and fire and diverse ancient languages spoken miraculously by simple uneducated men who were temporarily in a holding pattern about their next move. 

This is a God of relationship and his Spirit that moves beyond borders like a blowing wind which cannot be contained.  In the continuation of our first reading from Acts we hear of 3,000 people converted and baptized that Pentecost morning due to the Apostles now courageous witness and preaching.  So, this Sunday we are confronted with power and tremendous possibility as the Spirit reveals God’s plan to confront apathy and isolation. 

We hear of a God who brings unity in the midst of diverse languages that separate and confuse as in the story of the tower of Babel.  God brings a new language of relationship with him and each other. All humanity can be united in the common language of love and forgiveness.  That Jesus is the one who unites us as his own people.  The newly born Church would be the true people of God gathered from many nations and include everyone by one common language of faith. 

A new family is created by the Spirit.  We speak the common language of faith, of one baptism, and one God of love who sent his Son for our sakes.  While we are proud of our ethnic diversity and diverse cultures and varied traditions, it is our unity in Jesus Christ that measures our value.  The Holy Spirit has flooded the world with this possibility and potential.  Our sacraments enrich and empower us to live that out at all stages of our life.

What God has created and the Spirit he has given us and continues to pour out invites us to mission.  He gives us words to speak to others about invitation, inclusion, mercy, God’s love, forgiveness, and a better way to live that brings a peace only he can give us. 
Our second reading from first Corinthians has St. Paul remind us that: "As a body is one though it has many parts . . . in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and all given to drink of one Spirit." If there was ever strength in numbers it is our shared unity.
We have to renew this new language of faith in Christ and of the strength we find by being connected in relationship to a community of faith where we hear God’s word and share in his life of the Eucharist.

Maybe the best thing we have to give is what we already have.  Yet, those who stay may well need a renewed sense of mission and a reminder that the Spirit will blow its way ahead of us if we only trust him.  One by one, person by person, household by household we may see the Spirit at work.  Whether it’s the conversion of 3,000 in some dramatic manner or the gentle welcome of only one to a renewal of faith isn’t that a sign of the Holy Spirit in our midst?

So, come to Jesus this Pentecost season.  Give thanks for the faith you live and ask to reawaken the Spirit in our hearts and lives.  A little self-examination would do us all well.  

O God, who by the mystery of today's great feast
sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation,
pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit
across the face of the earth
and, with the diverse grace that was at work
when the Gospel was first proclaimed,
fill now once more the hearts of believers. 

(Collect for Feast)