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Pentecost gives us vision, hope

An interesting and joyous time we’re in during this late spring season. An intersection on the church calendar and community calendar with Pentecost (a celebration of the birth of the church) and graduation celebrations happening throughout these days. And if you think about it, these events have some things in common. 

First of all, as any of the parents of our graduates know, planning a good party takes a lot of time and effort. Will there be a theme? What food will we serve? How will we decorate. This planning takes copious amounts of time. Which got me thinking, how long has God been planning this Pentecostal birthday party for the church?

Turns out — for a long time. We learn about the main character at this party, the Holy Spirit, all the way back in Genesis. In the first chapter, we hear about God’s spirit blowing over the formless void and creating life out of nothingness. And then God’s life-giving breath inspires the first human creatures into existence.

In the New Testament, when the promised Messiah arrives, and he appears on the banks of the river Jordan and is baptized. And the Spirit descends upon him like a dove and the voice from heaven is heard saying, “this is my dear son, with him I am well pleased.

Apparently, God has been preparing for the church’s birthday for a long time. The Spirit has been active in bringing creation out of chaos, life out of death, hope out of hopelessness. When the Spirit came upon those disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost, it was another moment of God’s activity in the world gathering us together in a common unity, and the Church is born.

Then there is the guest list. Who will receive invitations to your celebration? It’s important to factor into the preparation for how much food and how many places to set. At some point we have to make a difficult decision about where to draw a line about who is invited to our party. 

But for that first Pentecost, “devout Jews from every nation” were a part of the celebration. And Peter proclaims, “God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” It is an inclusive invitation. Today, we continue to offer that open invitation to the church. That no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome into the family of faith. 

And don’t forget about gifts. Gifts are an important part of any festive celebration. Both here at Pentecost and later in many of Paul’s writings, there are many gifts of the spirit mentioned. Each person is given unique and special gifts that are to be used for the good of the whole body. They are to be put to use, serving neighbors, uplifting community, loving our fellow brothers and sisters of God.

The joy of Pentecost is that it gives us a vision and hope for a church, a community and a world made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. This miracle involves being open to the shocking and surprising ways of the Spirit. Where sons and daughters shall prophesy; the young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams. The gifts of the Spirit will empower us to reach across differences in order to experience full communion with all God’s people. In the midst of all our diversity there shall be unity. That is something worth celebrating. Congratulations graduates! Happy Birthday Church!

— Reflections appears regularly on the religion page. The column features a variety of local writers, coordinated through the Monroe Area Clergy Group. Todd Hackman is senior pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Monroe.