Sent Out to Transform the World
Today we celebrate the day the disciples became apostles, when those who learn became those who are sent out. Today we celebrate the day the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Today we celebrate the beginning of the gospel spreading around the world like wildfire. Today we celebrate the day the church was born!
After ten days of waiting patiently in Jerusalem like Jesus instructed them to, the disciples found out what it was they were waiting for. That morning the Holy Spirit descended upon them like tongues of fire and they had the ability to speak in different languages and tell everyone about Jesus and His message of God’s transformative love, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God, and their mission of manifesting the Kingdom. They spoke to people in all sorts of different languages and later in Acts 2 we learn that 3,000 people were baptized that day.
It’s important also that we understand ourselves as disciples who are called to be apostles. That we are those who learn, and then who are sent out. We’re called to learn and grow in our relationship with God, and then to share the message of God’s transformative love with others. To experience divine healing and forgiveness and freedom from all that separates us from God—and to share Christ’s message of the Kingdom of God, a world which manifests God’s way and embodies God’s love, truth, and justice.
Pentecost shows us how this happens. The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to go to each individual personally, in their own language. This makes it clear the Spirit calls us to speak to people in their way of understanding the world. To share the gospel not in a way that overrides people’s past beliefs or culture, but in a way that incorporates all things into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One example is how St. Patrick incorporated pagan symbols like the shamrock into early Celtic Christianity. Or any number of early Christian missionaries who never forced people to reject their past, their culture, or their language, but saw Christ present in all those religious expressions as well.
Pentecost teaches us that God meets us where we’re at. God makes the effort to come to us. Whether in Christ crucified or in the Spirit giving apostles the ability to preach the gospel in all different languages. God comes to us in our own situations and personal circumstances and speaks to us on our level. Inviting us into oneness with God and healing from our woundedness, and welcoming us to be ambassadors for Christ who manifest the Kingdom in our lives.
There’s a man who’s been in the news this week who knew how to share the gospel with people where they were at. His name was George Floyd. He is now unfortunately known as the latest victim of police brutality, killed by the sin of excessive force and racism. But in his life Floyd was an ambassador for Christ. He had gotten into some trouble when he was younger, but turned his life around and was turning others to God. His pastor called him a “person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward,” and said Floyd embodied the phrase “Be the change you want to see.” He lived in Houston most of his life but moved to Minneapolis a couple year ago for job opportunities through a Christian work program. Back home in Houston he known as a mentor to young Black men who lacked positive male role models. For a time he was also a rapper, who sought to share the gospel through that genre of music. His friend, a Christian rapper named Reconcile, posted on social media that he’ll always remember Floyd as “The man that helped me drag a baptism pool to the [basketball] court in the projects so we could baptize dudes in the hood. The man that helped put down & clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace! A good man.”
He also said, “The things that [Floyd] would say to young men always referenced that God trumps street culture…he wanted to see young men put guns down and have Jesus instead of the streets.”
Floyd encouraged young men to leave violence behind and embrace the Gospel. He did so, in a way reminiscent of the apostles on Pentecost. Just like how the Spirit speaks to us in our own languages, in our specific situations and circumstances, so did George Floyd do street ministry in Houston to teach young Black men the gospel—meeting them where they were at, speaking their language and culture. He is an example to us of someone who shared the message of God’s transforming love with others.
Our calling as Christians is to share the message of God’s transformative love with the world. And part of the way we share that, part of the way we are ambassadors for Christ, part of the way we manifest the Kingdom, is by doing justice. By working to end systemic racism, police brutality, and economic oppression. We honor God when we work for justice. Churches are usually pretty good at charity: at working to ease the suffering of the disadvantaged. But churches today aren’t too great at justice: challenging the systems that make them disadvantaged in the first place.
The past few weeks I’ve been participating in a community organizing training with GHIAA (Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance), in which we’re learning about specific ways religious groups can organize for justice on the local level, specifically in the Greater Hartford area. They’re doing another training series on Zoom this summer, and I’d encourage all of you to prayerfully consider joining it. Especially if you want to learn more about concrete ways of initiating change in our local community.
I hope and pray that George Floyd’s death was eye opening for a lot of people—and that it might inspire churches across the country to mobilize for the cause of building a more just society. Personally I love praying and meditating, studying scripture and growing in my spirituality and relationship with God. We all need healing and comfort and transformation in worship and in prayer. We all need to be disciples for a time. But what true spiritual growth does is drive you out into the world to take positive action. To be apostles who manifest God’s love in concrete ways in the world. And not just in one-on-one interactions, but striving to create systems guided by love, structures that manifest divine compassion and justice.
Pentecost teaches us that it is the church’s calling to spread the good news of God’s transformative love throughout the world. And when this transformative love takes root in every heart, individuals will bear the fruits of the Spirit and society will too. The Holy Spirit inspires us to do this work. Not because our salvation depends on it like some kind of good work. But because manifesting this transformative love is what we were created for. To shine the image of God all over this broken world.
And so, as we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church, let us remember our calling as disciples and apostles of Christ. Those who learn and those who are sent out. Let us follow the example of people like George Floyd and share the gospel with others in their own specific situations and circumstances. The Holy Spirit sends us out too. To be minsters of reconciliation. To be ambassadors for Christ. To be a light shining on a hill. To speak the Spirit’s language to all people all over the world. Amen.