An Order of Worship for this reflection can be found here: Bulletin-05-28-2023 Pentecost YA
Scripture References: John 20:19-23; Acts 2:1-21
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
What can we learn from today’s passages from the dawn of the church’s new beginnings when the Holy Spirit was loosed upon the world? Commentator David Gushee reminds us that “the early church…seems to have been remarkably open to a dynamic and fluid way of operating, based on its theology and experience of the Holy Spirit.”
For us today, in a world already filled with the Holy Spirit loosed upon it, I wonder if our task is not so much to await it, as it was for those in the Upper Room so long ago, but for us to look for it, seek it, and find it in unexpected places. This kind of reframing challenges us to not be passive recipients of the Santo Espiritu or the Ruah Elohim but to be active partners with her in transforming ourselves and the world around us.
“This narrative challenges [us] to find the Spirit within … and to locate, claim, and utilize [our] authentic voices, gifts, and skills with which to love and serve. … This Spirit that swept through the house gifted more than those disciples at Pentecost and the disciples with whom we minister today. [Having] been loosed into the world, … its creative and life–giving power is now the gift of families and communities, of churches, and of nations. The relevant question becomes not just “How will I respond … but “How will we respond to these gifts?”
In Friday’s electronic newsletter, I made reference to two fields that I have turned to for inspiration; the study of the cycles of religious church history and its reformations, and the field of generation theory. When both these fields are laid atop one another like a set of transparent blueprints, we begin to see the shape of something like a foundation for the exploration of potential crossroads for intergenerational formation and the future of the church. It also reveals how the Holy Spirit has been constantly at work in the world through centuries of history. So where is she now? The wind blows and we see its effect but we cannot see it.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Church – not just this church but every mainline Protestant church in America is the tsunamic transition facing us right now: It includes a cultural shift, a religious shift, an ideological struggle and global repercussions for every act of industry we pursue. Our every act has ramifications rippling like wind across the globe for other peoples, other nations, and the balance of life in the greater Community of Creation.
But let’s focus on something here and now for a moment. One particular challenge and opportunity from within our faith perspective is passing on our faith to new generations not as open to what the last four generations have known and been comfortable with as traditional religious institutional Christianity. Before we can ask the Holy Spirit for help, we need to know why.
Why is it such a challenge; and what makes it an opportunity? Part of it is informed by Strauss and Howe’s observations. Each generation type tends to relate to one another within and without their own agemate groupings in certain ways that have proven cyclical in nature through history. Another part of it is Phyllis Tickle’s and others’ observation of the movement of religious history.
How do we apply these insights in practical action within the life of the Church? Even more specifically, this church? John Mabry, author of Faithful Generations, pulls together insights on specific factors relating to each of the generations alive today and how they understand the world, and offers some ideas on how best to communicate across the divides from one generation to another. It also leads me to ask: Do we have any examples from within our tradition of how to teach across generations that we can apply to this contemporary time in the Fourth Turning, as Howe and the late Strauss describe it?
Reviewing our gospel passage today, we find one of the last visitations of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Putting on the lens of generation theory, we see a group of mostly older men, established in the Jewish faith, who had trades, religious, cultural, and familial positions within the institutional and ethnic milieu of first century Palestinian Judaism. Within the honor/shame society at the time, Jesus, a religiously nontraditional Jewish young man, had challenged the establishment of his Elders, won his place as a Rabbi, yet alienated the socio-political rulers within both his ethnic culture and the foreign administrators outside of it. With his unorthodox yet practical ways of enacting the Kindom of God, he became a very beloved itinerate teacher, drawing people of all generations. He established himself as an authority despite not being a member of the generational cohort of his Elders, those who traditionally held the reigns of social and religious power.
Now putting on the lens of the cycles of religious transformation within the Abrahamic faiths, we also see his teachings taking place at the cusp of the tsunamic transition from a God-Creator-centric understanding of the previous two thousand years of religious development and the advent of the era where religious development gave rise to the split between Judaism and the Christian era.
Today, we have reached a double benchmark: First, the 2000 year mark where we might expect the Christocentric development of our faith has passed its peak and is now on the wane. Second, the cusp of the 500 year mark of the cycle of great reformations, the last giving rise to the Protestant Reformation we know from church history. Through the lens of the cycle of religious history we can see this time we are in today is on the cusp of the next era. Phyllis Tickle has suggested it will be the Age of the Spirit. Our current faith – the faith most of us are familiar and comfortable with today, is the institutionalized version of what came out of that great uprising two thousand years ago with the dawn of God’s incarnation as Christ our Lord and the rise of Christianity, as well as the institutionalized version of Protestantism. Institutionalized Judaism experienced Jesus and a new faith was born. The curtain in the Temple was torn into from top to bottom and God became accessible to all – not sequestered away and guarded by one people, one faith. With Martin Luther’s 92 thesis, the authority of the Western Roman Catholic Church was challenged and the Protestant Reformation was born. I wonder what that means for today’s moment of transition?
When Christ rose and set the Holy Spirit loose upon the earth, she was set loose upon the whole world; not just to the Jewish community of 2000 years ago. I wonder what happens when deep seekers of the spiritual life broaden their horizons beyond organized religious traditions and weave together nuggets of truth from all of the Holy Spirit’s revelations across the various world faith traditions.
I wonder: what would it look like to rise up and offer our story to the greater stream of Spirit that is even now blowing across the earth seeking those souls who are yearning for something more, something deeper, some nugget of deep spiritual truth and recognition that we are all One. I wonder what it looks like when all generations mutually pass on their faith stories, learning from one another across older and younger generations than our own. I wonder if we are brave enough to find out.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, to offer us the Holy Spirit. Amen? May it be so.
 David P. Gushee, “Theological Perspective, Acts 2:1-21” Feasting on the Word, Year A (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
 David M. Bender, “Pastoral Perspective, Acts 2:1-21” Feasting on the Word, Year A (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).