Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

After Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is regarded as the most important festival in the liturgical calendar梩he reason being that we Christians commonly celebrate it as the birth of the Church. On that morning in Jerusalem梖ifty days after the resurrection of our Lord and Savior桮od filled the disciples with the Holy Spirit that they might speak to their fellow Jews in a new and powerful way. That抯 the account as we have in the Book of Acts.

In Christian history, there have been those at one point or another who have held the Church was established instead at another time, namely, when the risen Christ came to the disciples behind closed doors and breathed on them the Spirit .Part of that account appears as this morning抯 gospel. In contrast to the sudden, dramatic event in Acts梬itnessed by dozens of people, if not more, the appearance of Jesus to Peter and the others is, while surprising, subdued and intimate. That抯 why it抯 sometimes known as the Quiet Pentecost.

This morning I am going to compare the mood and nature of these two versions, so to speak, as they relate to our confirmands and in light of the fact that this year we are observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But for now I want to start off with a few words to and about these young persons sitting here in the front pew.

First of all, Confirmands, I want you to take a deep breathe條iterally and on the count of three: 123. Inhale and hold it.Go ahead now and exhale. Didn抰 that feel good? Didn抰 coming to the end of the last Sunday night class of catechetics also feel good梩hree years worth? And how about the end of Sunday morning catechetics two weeks ago? And maybe all your Explorations in Ministry? For the rest of you, what those are are a variety of events and experiences our students sign up for as requirements above and beyond their classes. Most of them are listed in the insert of the worship bulletin, which I ask that you look at not right now but later.

[Addressing confirmands again] When I was your age梐s one of my children says, in prehistoric times梚t was a lot different. Besides Sunday school, we had an hour or two of classes on Saturday mornings梖or two, not three years. That was it. No service projects. No field trips. No church camp in the summer. Oh, one thing that was the same was serving as an acolyte, although back then only boys did it.

All the work you have done these past three years in catechetics梒ompared to what I had梔oes that seem fair to you?...It doesn抰 to me, either. However, also unlike me, you will have the satisfaction of knowing how much more of a solid, a well-rounded foundation you have received in the faith. And, believe me, in the future that foundation will serve you well. It will give you both the understanding and strength to meet the spiritual challenges that you條ike all Christians梬ill face.

And already in parts of your lives you抳e had some big challenges. For example, just as the catechetics program has been demanding, it抯 certainly even more so with regular school, right? Growing up, I didn抰 have all the homework you have today I also didn抰 have to take a bunch of state-mandated, standardized tests. The fact is, along with so much else, life in this day and age is much more complicated and stressful than in my years as a teenager. Although the most recent revolution in technology梑ig-screen computers, I-pads, and smartphones梙elp make life much easier, it also makes things more complex. Just as earlier advancements in the world have made life easier and better, they also always have to them a downside梥ometimes even dangers that their creators could hardly have conceive of條ike hackers getting into millions of credit-card accounts and creepy types who stalk others on the internet and people texting while driving.

One technological change that made a world of difference for the Reformation梡ositive or negative, depending on one抯 perspective梬as what?  Anyone?...That抯 right. The printing press. When Martin Luther and others brought attention to and challenged the abuses of the Medieval Church, they would not have otherwise been nearly as successful in getting out their views as quickly and to so many people had it not been for that invention. As Luther so often says in the Small Catechism: 揟his is most certainly true.

Even for people who could not read梐nd that was most of them梩hey too could learn some of what was going on. Accompanying many of the essays, treatises, even books were pictures depicting various events and points of view梬hich had come from woodcuts that were printed along with the words.

And so during that time great changes came about in the Holy Roman Empire and beyond :religious; economic; political. Unfortunately, a series of wars also transformed the world of that time and place.

When we hear that word棑Reformation敆we tend to think exclusively of the one in the 1500s. However, a number of those who research and write history about Christianity claim that there have been multiple reformations. One such person梙er name Phyllis Tickle梬ho died just two years ago, believed that such renewals of the Church have, on average, occurred about every 500 yrs.

         About 500 A.D., the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.

         The Great Schism in 1054, when the Church split into the Orthodox East and the Catholic West.

         And what she calls the Great Reformation, leading up to and including

the year 1517.

At the end of the introduction to her last book, she wrote the following:

            The卻aying that 揈verything that goes around comes around rests gently

            in our memories, in fact, right up until that moment when it dawns on us

            that the匯eformation was five hundred years ago, the last expression

            of a pattern that Western culture seems [destined] to reenact every.

            揫Why, m]ercy! That抯 now![i]

And indeed it is! In the following chapters of her book she mentions a number of new changes unfolding in the Christian church梐nd in society at large. It is what she and others have been calling, 揟he Great Emergence.

As far as Christian life goes, one example of this has been the phenomenon known as house churches. I抣l say that again: house churches. What that mean is that more groups of Christians are meeting and worshiping in private homes梠r in small rented spaces, such as those at older shopping centers and strip malls. Such believers no longer belong to traditional churches with good-sized facilities梪nder the roofs of which multiple ministries and programs are held.

In this regard, these new fellowships resemble patterns practiced more in the Early Church. In spite of big events like Pentecost, after which many people, for example, were baptized梐ccording to the Book of Acts 3,000 persons in just one day[ii]--the norm was small groups gathering in homes where they would break bread, sing hymns, and lift up prayers to God.

It was only many years later when they began constructing buildings strictly as houses of worship. Until then, their faith life looked a lot more like that of the disciples encountering the risen Lord in the room of a home than out in a great open space filled with people. Their community resembled much more that of the Quiet Pentecost than the big, loud, and dramatic outpouring of the Spirit we especially celebrate on this day.

You might be interested to know that house churches, or those like them, are beginning to sprout up in our own denomination梕ven in this synod.

A related phenomenon is more intentional outreach to the neighborhoods in which many of older churches are located. For example, the contract between one Lutheran congregation and pastor here in York is that he spend at least 50% of his work time out and about in the neighborhood梐ttending civic events, say, like school-board meetings and preparing sermons while sipping coffee in a local caf闂wearing his clerical collar, of course, so he is easily identifiable and approachable as a pastor to those who might never darken the door of a church building.

A related change in the church is the growing number of part-time clergy serving in congregations梐nd lay ministers as well. As in the days of St. Paul梩hat self-supporting, tent-making minister梩hey too need to have jobs in the secular world. That reality should give pause to any young person today going to seminary with the expectation that he or she will be a fulltime pastor for many years to come.

These facts or predictions may sound somewhat sobering to many of us. They are further evidence that the Church as we have known it is changing, and that can be a scary thing. Change in some strong ways evokes in us a sense of loss梩he loss of the familiar, of good things in our lives.

For you young people, you Confirmands, the last thing on your mind right now may be the likelihood that the Church in the not-distant future條ike the rest of the world梬ill probably look a lot different than it does at this time. You may not today or tomorrow or for a long while worry about its pace and the various shapes or forms it takes. It抯 the world you already live in梚n which a new Reformation is fermenting in a kind of soil, beginning to pop up here and there, like plants that even now are bearing good fruit.

Whatever you encounter in this new world梘ood, bad, or indifferent梤est assured that the roots of the faith in which you have been nurtured will hold fast, will enable you to weather the spiritual storms, droughts, and disease that will most assuredly come your way梐s they do for all of us. Keep in mind, too, that you will not only survive, but also prosper, bearing good fruit that will benefit the lives of many.

Above all, remember that though change will come梕ven in the life of the Church梩hat you can rely on these words from the Letter to the Hebrews梩hat our Lord and Savior 揓esus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.[iii]



[i] Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: 2012): 21.

 

[ii] Acts 2:41.

 

[iii] Hebrews 13:8.