“Dreams and Visions” Colchester Federated Church, May 23, 2021, Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1-21)

“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”[1]

The Holy Spirit arrives in style on Pentecost—with a fierce wind, individual flames of fire, and gifts of speaking in diverse languages.  Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian Church.  It’s a story full of passion and the Holy Spirit.  Just look at Peter facing the crowd and declaring the Good News of the Gospel for all to hear!  Look at this new revelation of God’s presence among us that ushers in the Church! 

It’s a story full of deeper meanings.  Fire accompanies the divine presence.  To this day, we light candles in our churches to symbolize the start of our worship in praise of God.  Even on the Sundays when I had to set up a worship space at the parsonage during stay home stay safe orders, candles were present.  Because lit candles traditionally help create a prayerful worship space.  The birth of the Christian Church began with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Wind is how we can feel the Spirit sweeping over the earth.  Seeing the wind blow through the trees in the midst of worship can be a reminder of the presence of the Spirit all around us.  Speaking in diverse languages shows that Christians are called to witness to God’s love to the ends of the earth and teach the Christian faith in a way that people can connect with and understand.  The church is not a private club only focused on meeting our own needs.  Christians are called to go out and meet people where they are.  We are called to make the faith our own in each new generation of the Church. 

Pentecost is a bold story of this small band of Jesus’ followers having a message so important to share that they would put their lives on the line to do it.  Those earliest followers of Jesus faced persecution and hardship to spread Jesus’ message of radical love.  Pentecost is a story that can be especially life giving for us in the Christian Church today.  In Peter’s speech to those gathered before him he references the prophet Joel.  He quotes Joel by saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young will see visions.  Your elders will dream dreams.”[2] 

As we are emerging from our months of physical separation, it’s worth asking about our dreams and visions for the future of our church here in Colchester.  What can the church of the future be?  It’s worth asking that question now when some dreams and visions may be especially on our hearts and minds.  It’s worth asking as you and I come to terms with what we have missed most during the more than full year that we have been apart as an entire gathered church family.  After all, our last worship service before this time of virtual worship only and limited in-person worship was on March 8, 2020 (the Second Sunday in Lent).  Our church building may have closed during some of this time period.  But our church certainly didn’t close and hasn’t closed—praise God. 

So yes, on this Pentecost—the day we celebrate the birth of the Christian Church in 2021—as we are emerging from some of the restrictions we have needed to abide by throughout the pandemic, what are those dreams and visions for the future? 

Here’s an example of what this dreaming and visioning could look like.  Pastor Karl Vaters wrote a blog post entitled, “10 Things Churches Stopped During Lockdowns That We Don’t Need to Restart (And 6 We Do).”[3]  Vaters put out into the church world that churches no longer need printed bulletins, in-person only services, outdated programs (because most churches are over-programmed), pastor’s office hours (because pastors have laptops and cell phones), a crowded meeting calendar (because there are very few essential meetings churches should have), and the stand and greet time (we call it the passing of the peace here, because for many this time is the least-liked aspect of the church service and most newcomers find it to be super awkward).  What else should churches not restart according to Pastor Vaters?  The obsession with attendance, big mortgages, passing the offering plate (because a healthy, generous church will continue to give even without the physical plate being passed), and making Sunday morning the entire focus of what churches do.  Now the six things that Pastor Vaters believes churches should restart are in-person gathering (because nothing will ever replace being in the same room to worship Jesus), Communion, Baptism, eating together (because Christians have always eaten together), worship through song, and praying together.

Now did you have a strong reaction to any of those suggestions?  How would you feel if we never had a printed bulletin anymore or passed the peace or passed the offering plate around the sanctuary?  How would you feel if we didn’t have crowded meeting calendars and focused on essential meetings only?  How would you feel if I didn’t have office hours in our church building at all?  How would you feel if we stopped feeling the need to be overly programed and instead focused on the essentials—worship, Communion, Baptism, eating together, singing together, and praying together?  I’m feeling very thankful that this pulpit is so far back from the pews that any rotten tomatoes that could be thrown right now would have a long way to travel.  For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with every single thing that the author states churches should let go of since needing to alter our practices because of the pandemic—but some I actually think are worth considering.

On this Pentecost of all Pentecosts, as we are emerging from lockdowns and restrictions because of a global pandemic that probably none of us imagined would be this bad and keep us apart for this long, it doesn’t seem wise to just go back to the way things have always been without some consideration for what should change.  It’s not like the pandemic is magically over.  But we have a real opportunity here as a faith community to contemplate what we missed and what needs to keep going in the life of our church.  And we have a real opportunity to be honest about what we didn’t miss.  We can perhaps have the freedom to let go of some of those things in order to get back to the essentials of what makes us who we are and why we do what we do as the Federated Church in Colchester.

Our answers to these questions won’t all be the same.  Churches are communities with all sorts of people present after all.  Though I wonder how we would answer some of these questions on this Pentecost.  What are things that our church stopped doing during the pandemic that we actually don’t need to restart?  What are things that we do need to restart?  What have you missed, and what is truly essential around here?  I would love to hear your answers in the days ahead.  What are our dreams and visions for who God is calling us to be?  Because the Holy Spirit is still at work in our world.  The Spirit is still moving among us, the Spirit is at work calling us to be the church.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Acts 2:2-4, Common English Bible.
[2] Acts 2:17.
[3] Karl Vaters, “10 Things Churches Stopped During Lockdowns That We Don’t Need to Restart (And 6 We Do)”, April 11, 2021, https://karlvaters.com/stopped-during-lockdowns/

Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash.