Notes from Our Pastor Jan. 2018 – One Body, One Spirit

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There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4: 4-7)

        As I read over the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the words there struck me as the best possible hope for the new year, which is why I’m using the text for this month’s newsletter. Paul envisions, not only the congregation at Ephesus, but all future bodies who assemble in the name of Christ, as having an essential unity.  “One body and one Spirit” are the hallmarks of the Christian faith, of our calling to join and belong to not only our church communities, but also across time to our sense of belonging to something that is bigger than any one time, place, or denominational identification. We are grounded ultimately in our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that identity, we can look at our fellow Christians and see commonalities, rather than simply differences. More than that—we can use the strength of that unified vision to act creatively to transform the world.

Differences among us certainly abound! In fact, we read that Paul’s churches were mixed even within each particular congregation. If we were able to use some sort of time machine to go back to Ephesus, or any of the Pauline churches in his day, we would see people who look different than we look, whose language and customs would seem very far removed from our own, and whose manner of interacting would appear every bit as strange as if we were transplanted into a village in the depths of Africa or the top of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, through Paul’s eyes, we can see that all these differences pale when contrasted to the essential unity that we find in Christ. Though he says that among them they have various natures, Paul identifies these not as problematic, but rather as “gifts of the spirit,” making some of them prophets, or evangelists, or pastors—and the list goes on. Furthermore, all these gifts come from one Spirit.  Each person is valued because he or she brings those gifts into the community to be utilized, as he says, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 12) Paul’s response to such diversity is to embrace it as an abundance of riches, rather than categorizing it as a threat to the group. Such vision redeems, rather than disparages, differences among members of the Church.

As we enter 2018, what we see in our nation, let alone the world, is a confused mix of partisanship, of what one reporter called “tribalism.” We are very quick to identify ourselves ideologically as either for or against a whole laundry list of items.  We have become less a nation with a shared vision than a mass of factions each of which only listen to themselves and to those who speak the same language or who say the same things we say.  We seem to have lost our greater identification with one another, of sharing the recognition that we are all American citizens. I am disheartened by this continual factiousness.

But even if this is the case across our country, it cannot be allowed to characterize the Church. Call me a dreamer or a Pollyanna, but I do believe that the Church is still a sacred institution. I believe it is founded always on the presence of the Spirit of Christ, despite the way history has shaped and molded its particular contours. This is why I always return to our source texts in the Bible – the Gospels, the letters of Paul and the early apostles – as the foundational statements about Jesus Christ and about the Church as the witness to Christ both in that age and in our own. When we come upon a text such as Ephesians chapter 4, I believe we are given a kind of head slap to wake us up and remind us again of whom we are called to be.

Christians may vary in their understanding of how to deal with the problems of the world; Christians may approach political problems from a variety of perspectives; but ultimately, Christians need to test every other belief and application of our energies against the call of our Lord to be faithful to him and to the needs of this world. We will always remain different from one another – that is the nature of human identity and personality. And yet underlying our differences, there are basic human needs, such as the need to be loved, to be affirmed, to have purpose in life, to mourn our losses and to rejoice in our blessings:  all these should unite us as humans. In response to this basic humanity, God’s response was to send the Word to embrace the flesh of which we are made and to dwell among us (John 1:14). Being among us as one of us, Jesus knew the full nature of what humanity could encompass. Yet we affirm that he came not just to first-century Jews, or even to those Gentiles who later in the century would embrace the message, but ultimately for the salvation and transformation of all peoples.

Mindful of our basic relationship to Christ and his call to us in our current state—limited, petty, egotistical, yet endowed with “gifts” of the Spirit—we can embrace Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4. Let us resolve in this new year to commit ourselves to accepting one another, perhaps despite our differences, as equal recipients of God’s grace and God’s call.  Hearing Paul’s gospel, let us put aside our judgement of one another and replace it with the vision that makes us one Body called by one Spirit in Christ.

 

Fr. Bill

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Notes from Our Pastor Dec. 2017 – Spirit of Christmas

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If someone were to try to capture “the essence of Christmas,” one really could not improve on the message which Linus delivered to Charlie Brown over 50 years ago. When Charlie Brown is discouraged because everything in his Christmas season has become a train wreck, Linus responds by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2: 9-11, NRSV)

There is much in those few verses that still speaks to us today. We are a people who have an incredibly high standard of living compared to previous ages and to much of the rest of the world, yet we are very afraid of so many things – the prospect of war, the cost of healthcare and virtually everything else, the fear of those beyond our borders and many of those within our borders. How can we, in our fear-ridden age, hear the Good News which the angels proclaimed to those shepherds?

We must remember the context of the story. The time is two millennia ago, when darkness after the setting of the sun was total unless someone lit a fire. The scene is in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, where foreign troops are billeted everywhere and life in Judea is precarious and cheap. The audience is comprised of shepherds – persons without social standing, probably eking out a limited existence as they keep the night watch over their herds. It is into that darkness and brutal context that God chooses to announce to this unlikely band a message not only of hope, but of fulfillment.

For the Good News proclaimed to all people was the fulfillment of promises made generations before to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the whole of Israel in their times of oppression. And what was proclaimed in the birth of Jesus is nothing less than the inauguration of a new time when God comes fully into God’s reign characterized by the promise of peace and goodwill.

The problem we face every Christmas is that, when we look around at the darkness of our world, we find it hard to believe that God is truly in charge. Put another way, does it really seem like Jesus, his life, death, and even resurrection, have really made a difference? What the angels proclaimed so long ago was not a promise, but the fulfillment of a promise. And if that is true, then somehow we Christians have missed the boat.

For if we truly believe that Jesus is the long-expected deliverer who makes God personal and present, who has inaugurated by his redeeming presence a new age of the Kingdom of God, then we should be living a life which proclaims, by word and deed, our experience of God’s reign over and through us. In other words, Christians should take the message of the angels as genuine, and our lives should be a reflection of the presence of God as we know God through Jesus Christ. Nothing less will actually serve to celebrate Christmas as the gospel proclaims it.

Beyond all the lights and tinsel, beyond the music of exultation and joy, certainly beyond any gifts we might exchange in celebration, the giving of ourselves to the world as a people transformed by the knowledge of the living God and God’s presence in our hearts would be the most acceptable way to celebrate Christmas. Indeed, then Christmas itself would be only a yearly marking of our acceptance of the grace which God has bestowed upon the world, and the welcoming of the living Christ as the center of our being. We would then live as if we truly believed that we are in the new age of God’s reign – and we would do that to the glory of God’s Name. And in that spirit, we would make this our song:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors
!”  (Luke 2: 14, NRSV)

Have a blessed Christmas season, and made the spirit of the God-given Christ dwell within each of us every day of the year!

 

Father Bill

Notes from Our Pastor – Thanksgiving Day

GiveThanks

Thanksgiving Day is becoming a lost holiday; not only is it losing ground to the overwhelming pull of Christmas shopping, but I believe that the rationale for the holiday itself is fast disappearing as well. For this reflection, the history of the American holiday of Thanksgiving is not as important as the shift in attitude pervading our culture.  My father and his generation who grew up during the Depression wanted for many things in their lives. If the family could keep a roof over their heads and food on the table so that the children went to bed without hunger pains, they considered they were doing all right. Many people had no cars, even though they might work on the production line in the auto industry. When life was harder and existence threatened – first economically by the Depression then by the coming of the World War – people seem to learn how to value the basics and essentials of life. People could be thankful to have any job, not worrying about whether it offered them “fulfillment” or some other higher but more abstract value. The range of foods and beverages which compete for our palate were unknown except to the very wealthy. Bread, starches, soups, and perhaps a little meat from time to time were more appreciated than the luxuries we take for granted now. We might perhaps conclude from this that a thankful spirit is more likely to be found among those who have less than among those who are completely filled and satiated.

The perspective of earlier generations also seems to have found its center in love of family, in patriotism, and above all in religious faith. A belief in God was widespread and perhaps was held by the majority of people, regardless of which religious tradition they belong to. The understanding that God as our Creator and the provider of all good things (which is an apt description of the God found in the Bible) puts God at the center of everything. As our brilliant, radiant sun sits at the center of the solar system, radiating heat and light to the earth and making life possible from day to day, so our faith sees God as the source and sustainer of life. From that perspective, a spirit of thankfulness would be a natural response within us.  At this point in the year, when agricultural harvests have been gathered in, it would be natural to think God for the produce and rewards of our labor, lending itself to setting apart a special day for Thanksgiving.

Returning to the analogy of the solar system, however, our current cultural perspective is more like the ancient view that the earth is the center of all things, with the sun and other bodies just circling around it. A culture of plenty measured by the amount of goods and services produced and consumed does not consider our relationship to God  as the measure of our human worth; instead, all too often people are measured and valued (or devalued, degraded, and disregarded) based upon economic standards. Hand-in-hand with that is the belief that what I have results solely from what I have worked for and earned myself – it is mine and I claim both possession of it and the credit for obtaining it. Perhaps I was lucky in finding the right job, but otherwise all things derive from my own work and effort. Why therefore should we be thankful? You can see how this perspective based on an economic model of the person elevates the self to its own center, while at the same time creating within us a desire for more and more to consume or own.  It also engenders within our hearts a contempt for those who have not reached the same place we have. Ideas such as the intrinsic or God-given dignity of all people, a positive regard for (let alone love of) our neighbor, and showing gratitude for the blessings that we have all disappear.

Thankfulness actually requires a degree of humility, for if I am not self-sufficient and solely responsible for what I have based on my own achievements, then I must acknowledge that these are gifts or blessings from God. Unless I am willing to grant God His due place at the center and recognize that all that I am and all that I have come from God, I will never know what true thankfulness is.

We can see then why Thanksgiving seems to have lost its place in our national life. To be sure, it is still a day of feasting, celebration, and the ingathering of families, but the immediate associations are excessive eating, football games, and the kick off (nope unintended) of the season of buying and consuming. The picture of an extended family feasting together, enjoying one another’s company, and giving thanks for the good things they have received has sadly become a black and white snapshot stuck in an old photo album from years past. The night before Thanksgiving, for example, is well documented as the busiest time in bars and taverns across the country as returning college students and other young adults gather with their friends, rather than the previous expectation that they would visit with older relatives to begin the holiday. And the day after Thanksgiving is aptly referred to as “Black Friday,” because people cannot wait to leave their families and feasting to start buying and partake of sales as soon as possible.

Taking a page out of the Prayer Book, we remember that the word Eucharist is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” The service begins with the dialogue between the celebrant and the people:

Lord be with you!

And also with you

Lift up your hearts!

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

 

It is indeed good and right and proper to give thanks to God in all times and in all places for God’s goodness towards us, starting with the fact that we are alive and present, and that God has seen us through so many trials and heartbreaks, and has given us so many gifts and blessings. Our weekly Eucharistic service is one expression of this understanding of the relationship between ourselves and our God. The same impulse and humble response within our hearts can help us celebrate this Thanksgiving Day in a manner which sets it aside as holy and acceptable to the Lord. I can think of no more apt words to conclude this meditation than the collect for Thanksgiving Day:

Almighty and gracious father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  (BCP, 246)

-Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Nov. 2017 – Autumn Reflections

AutumnReflection

November may be the most introspective month of the year.  Not only has the weather turned colder, driving us more and more indoors, but the darkening days also tend to make us more reflective.  The calendar seems to support this, as the key days of this month bring to mind lost loved ones and the terrible cost of the last century’s wars.  Even Thanksgiving Day receives its power to move us from our recollection of blessings we have received.

Episcopalians begin the month of November with All Saints’ Day (November 1), also celebrated by other Christian churches.  This is not only a celebration of those whose exemplary faith has inspired us, but also the celebration of the many others who have lived their lives in faith and who now enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.  This feast day always contains a somber element as we remember those we still love, even as we mourn their loss. Each parish lovingly recalls its own saints (as Paul called them), their connection to us, and their contribution to our common life.  The celebration of All Saints’ Day reminds us that our own days on earth are finite.  The reflection upon our own passing lives gives us cause to assess our impact on the world around us, our relationship to God, and the purposes by which we live out our baptismal covenant.

Ninety-five years ago, the nations who put down their arms after the Great War solemnly declared that never again would the world have to suffer the cruelties of such a disastrous conflict.  While history has again and again mocked their expectations with greater and even more destructive wars, I believe their hope that someday we will learn to resolve our conflicts in more productive ways and value the gifts of peace will be realized.  I am certain that every veteran shares that dream as well.

November includes our celebration of Thanksgiving.  Despite the threats around the world and frustrations of trying to govern ourselves as a republic should, we Americans understand how God has not only blessed us in the past, but continues to bless in our day.  In reflection upon these our blessings, we take this day to acknowledge the good things we enjoy—the security of peace, our families who surround us, the comforts and richness of our lives—as gifts from the loving God whose steadfast love endures forever.

Finally, this year, the Church reaches the climax of its liturgical year in the celebration of Christ the King Sunday.  Completing the vision of that place where all the faithful are eternally gathered before God, this feast day acknowledges that Christ is our Lord and Sovereign over all.  Putting all our inward thoughts into this cosmic perspective, we can know that all things have having their meaning within the framework of Christ and His governance.  Thus, November can contain the worst of human fears found in war and death and move past that darkness into the vision of God’s realm and the thankful outpouring of our hearts for the gifts of this life and the greater gift of eternal life.

Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Oct. 2017 – Hospitality

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We are both Christians and Americans. When we face problems which affect our nation and define us as Americans, how do we Christians know how to answer questions such as those concerning immigration and how to treat aliens within our borders? Whenever we are faced with such decisions to be made in our everyday lives, it is best if we do a thoughtful theological evaluation of the problem, which I hope to illustrate in this pastoral note to you.

Real theological reflection on any issue always includes consulting Scripture as the basis for our understanding. As Christians, we give priority to the teaching of the New Testament. But we should remember that Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the writers of the New Testament were versed in Hebrew Scriptures, which shaped their perspective and ethical framework. We therefore cannot discount what the Torah taught them. When they address the situation of sojourners or aliens among the people of Israel, for instance, the Torah commandments are clear. First of all, the Lord recognizes sojourners or aliens within the land of Israel and directs that, these “outsiders” are to be treated as fully human and given respect. This is clear in the commandment concerning the Sabbath, for the sojourner is also entitled to the freedom of the day of rest, just as the Israelite enjoys it.

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:10)

Not only are sojourners allowed the Sabbath rest, but provision is made even for them to participate in the holy festival of Passover, which marks God’s act of deliverance (see Numbers 9:14). God stresses this need for equitable treatment in the commandment, “You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:22; see also Numbers 15:15)

Recognizing our human propensity to take advantage or oppress those who are different, the Lord repeatedly commands that no such oppression is allowed. In fact, Israel is to take special care to provide for the needs of aliens, like other poor and oppressed groups. They are to be given the opportunity to support themselves and the means of living:

And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  (Leviticus 19:10)

God instructs Israel, God’s Cherished People, to show their love by justice, which cares especially for those who cannot fend for themselves:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17-19; see also Deut 14:29)

Pay particular attention to that last phrase, for the Lord reminds Israel that they themselves were once aliens and sojourners in Egypt, where they were oppressed – and God heard their cry; therefore, Israel shall not be like Egypt to its sojourners and aliens. In fact, the Lord reminds Israel that the whole world—including the land of Israel– is His, and therefore even those who have possession of the Promised Land do so as temporary sojourners with God’s blessing.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. (Leviticus 25:23)

The point is clear: God alone is sovereign, and all people and their lot in life come under God’s surveillance.

When we turn to the teachings of Jesus himself, two examples will serve to illustrate how Jesus equated aliens even with the most “righteous” of his own people and followers.  For example, the parable of “The Good Samaritan” shows how putting into practice the key commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is exemplified by the alien Samaritan, in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10:25-37).

But even more telling is the parable of the Last Judgment found in Matthew, chapter 25.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Mt 25: 31-2)

The Son will reward those who were compassionate and righteous in their dealings with the needy, specifically equating their needs to His own person:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  (Mt 25:35-6)

When those being rewarded are confused about what Christ refers to, He clarifies by stating, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25: 40)  In so doing, the parable equates the person of Christ with all those who were in need—including the “stranger.”  Response to their needs wins His approval, while neglect of those same persons and their needs brings under judgment those who lacked the compassion to respond. The parable is clear that it is the actual stranger or needy ones whom we must address if we are to show our love for Christ and serve God.

Finally, Paul uses the alien/stranger metaphor as the means to explain the reconciling work of Christ:

Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  (Ephesians 2: 12-14, 17-22)

In this statement, we are told that we were once aliens, outsiders, strangers—but that is no longer the case because our alien nature has been obliterated by the work of Christ.  Thus, in the true spirit of Christian community, we not only respect the alien and care for them, but we are told that all such distinctions and separate natures disappear.  As our own alien status has been removed through Christ, now all are equally part of the community.  Where, therefore, is there ground for any who are in Christ to condemn, persecute, or turn away from the stranger or alien, if Christ Himself has abolished such distinctions in our understanding?

Fr. Bill

Notes from our Pastor July 2017 – Gratitude from a child

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When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

I recently had a very different sort of experience when I made a home visit to some parishioners. We always have extensive conversations before I give them Communion. This last visit, their grandson Randy was home after school. Even though he’s only in elementary school, he likes to talk to adults and always engages me. But this time, he really took me by surprise when he suddenly said, “Father Bill, I just want to thank you.”

My natural response was to ask, “For what, Randy?”

“Why, for baptizing me at church.” While I had not forgotten that he had asked on his own to be baptized, and that he had made his own declaration of intention during the service and stood up proudly at the font to receive baptism, I was surprised to hear how deep an impression that had made upon him. So, when the visit with his grandparents was winding down, and I opened my Communion kit and began to lay out the elements, Randy asked whether he could receive as well. “Of course you can,” was my response. “After all, you are just as much a member of the Church is anyone else here.” And so with deep seriousness, young Randy received Communion along with his grandparents.

I mention this story for two reasons. First, even as a priest who believes that his special duties as a priest are to administer sacraments, I sometimes forget how very special and powerful those sacraments can be. Not only for those such as shut-ins or the sick whose access to the Eucharist is more limited than those who can attend church regularly, but also for all who seek God’s grace in this formal way as they deal with private, personal struggles in their daily lives. Whether it is an encounter using recognized sacraments such as Holy Communion or the anointing of the sick for healing, or the other Christian actions which convey God’s grace, such as various forms of touch or laying upon of hands, shared prayer, or being present to hear the needs of another in Christ’s name – all of these are extraordinary in their own ways. And while the call of an ordained priest is specifically to administer sacraments, our belief in the priesthood of all believers affirms how many ministers of the Gospel there are among us and in how many ways God’s presence and grace are made manifest by our service to others.

Remember this, my brothers and sisters who are also called to ministry in the Spirit: that no act which shows the love of God is ever trifling or insignificant in God’s sight.

The other point I wish to make concerning Randy and his expression of thankfulness to me concerns humility. This child, still in elementary school, was cognizant that something important had happened at his baptism – and he was outwardly thankful for it. I’m not sure exactly what Randy had in mind by saying that. Clearly, he understood that he was now part of the Church. He understood that he had a place in that congregation, making him as much a member as any adult present. Did he have a theology that told him he had been “buried with Christ in a death like his and raised with him in a resurrection like his?” I am more than 50 years older than Randy and have had the benefit of seminary training, and I cannot fully comprehend that statement of Paul’s, yet I believe it and am humbled by my comprehension of it. Randy is still a child, and yet even with his child’s understanding, he knows that he belongs to Christ and can receive Communion with his elders because they are all in communion with God.

His only “mistake” is thinking that he should thank me for his baptism. True, I consider it a blessing to be the one to officiate at this holy moment when, through water and the Spirit, Randy was brought into Christ’s one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. But is to Christ alone, who through his death and resurrection made possible our new life in him, that we should all be thankful. Only by the grace of God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” and the self-giving sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ that we have the baptism which Randy, and I, and all Christians have received. If thanks are to be given, give them only to the Lord of Life, without whose grace we would not know but life truly is.

Father Bill

Notes from our Pastor June 2017 – Community

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Some questions for us to think about in the season of Pentecost:  What does it mean to be a member of the community? How do we hold ourselves accountable to each other within the community? How is the community as a whole, and each individual member of it, accountable to God?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus called a small group of disciples during his lifetime and that he promised them power if they put their trust in him. He told them that they had one commandment of his to fulfill, namely to love one another as he loved them (John 13:34-35). This fellowship was temporarily broken when Jesus was arrested and put to death, but by his resurrection and his repeated appearances to his disciples, Jesus re-called them into a group centered around him (Acts 1:1-3). Finally, as he left them to return to the Father, he promised them that the Spirit would soon come to change their lives—it would mold them into a community which became the Church

In Luke’s description of the day of Pentecost, it is important to notice that the Spirit came upon all those who were assembled (Acts 2:1-4). Peter may emerge as the spokesperson in the confrontations with the outside community, but whatever ecstatic experience was given, it was given to the whole assembly. Henceforth, what we will later call “the early Church” in Jerusalem would be a community bound by their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and empowered equally by the visitation the Spirit. As the book of Acts continues, we repeatedly find that new converts who hear and believe the proclamation that Jesus is Lord are also given the Holy Spirit (Acts 10: 44-47) – meaning that this community shares a like gift which creates their identity. From the very beginning, the Church proclaimed–as we do in our baptismal ceremony–that we believe there is

One Body and one Spirit;

There is one hope in God’s call to us;

One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

One God and Father of all.                 (BCP, 299)

The essence of the community, therefore, is characterized by its oneness in Christ.

Acts goes on to describe how the very earliest members gave up their earthly goods and possessions and shared their wealth among all members of the community (Acts 2: 44-45). This had the effect of eliminating barriers among the members of the community: rich vs. poor, haves vs. have-nots, entitled and privileged vs. needy and deprived—all were made equal within the community. It was as if the long-awaited Jubilee of the Lord had finally been realized in the egalitarian nature of the Church community (cf. Leviticus 25: 10-17). Although we have no idea how long such an idyllic situation existed among the members of the Church, the consequences for the community were amazing. No one considered that anything was their own, and therefore the implements of power which so often reserves privilege or prestige to one person or group at the expense of others was absent.

Lest this sounds too good to be true, the first phase of building the community which would become the Church began with equal empowerment for all members. Imagine if all the familiar pyramid-like structures of power and privilege were replaced by an ever-growing circle of people standing shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters, all serving one Lord and serving each other solely out of the love and regard for that person’s needs!  Idealized or not, that would serve as a worthy model of the Christian community.

Most communities have rights of initiation; the early Church also adopted baptism as its right of initiation. Baptism expressed repentance and the death to someone’s former life, and resurrection and rebirth into a new life in Christ. This new life was not solitary, but social, allowing the newly-baptized to join in the company of others who prayed for one another, who cared for one another, and who demonstrated by loving acts that they were truly all children of one God.

I write about these aspects of community because it serves to remind us of the standard to which we are called by our baptism and by our continuing life together.  As we consider ourself a community striving to be what we were called to be, we are not closing our hearts and minds to those outside the Church, whether our own local parish or the wider world we share with all of God’s children.  But it is important, especially as we celebrate the season of Pentecost, to take time to reflect upon ourselves and to ask honestly whether we are the community described above.

First, do we acknowledge that we have been “called” by the Spirit to be part of the Body of Christ and to belong wholeheartedly to our Lord by our membership within that sacred mystery called the Church?  Do our acts honor the Lord above all else, especially by demonstrating our love for one another and for our neighbor?  Do we turn away from anything which would give honor or prestige to some members, especially at the expense of others?  And by our prayers and with our hearts, do we seek what is best for any and all members of this community, leaving no “outcasts,” but always connecting and affirming others in their life in Christ?  Are we able to be a model of forgiveness and love, so that we be a sign of God’s reconciling love to and for the world?

Let us together in the power of the Spirit seek and serve Christ in all persons, and in all things rejoice to be part of the fellowship and community which lives to exalt the Lord and to proclaim by our words and acts the grace which God has shown to us through Jesus Christ.  So let it be!

Fr. Bill