It is a tradition that our Minister writes a letter every month which is printed in our magazine, "The Messenger". The magazine was paused at the start of the pandemic, but is now back quarterly and the May to July edition included this letter from revd Stephen and Deacon Marilyn.
The Stewards at Four Oaks have decided that in-person worship should resume here in the church building on Pentecost Sunday (23rd May). This is a profoundly significant choice.
Let's look at the Scripture together. You'll find the story in Acts 2, along with Peter's famous sermon.
For Jesus and other First Century Jews, Pentecost was an agricultural festival that took place 50 days (Aha! Did you spot that in the name?) after the Passover Festival. Passover remembered the sacrificial lambs whose blood smeared on the doorposts saved the Israelites from the avenging angel who killed all the Egyptian firstborns, and with it, that very night, the start of the Exodus. Fifty days down the line in the Exodus story, we find the Israelites gathered at the foot of Mt Sinai, and Moses bringing them the Law in the form of the Ten Commandments. These commandments represented the new way of life that was being shown to God's redeemed people. The Pentecost Festival was celebrated down the centuries by farmers offering to God the first sheaf of wheat ('first fruits') from the crop, partly in gratitude, and partly in prayer for the safety of the rest of the crop.
So we come to Acts 2, where we find that people from around the known world had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost Festival, when suddenly the Holy Spirit comes with great power. Luke's first readers would have known about the Pentecost festival, and would have quickly made the jump from the presence of God seen in tongues of fire and a mighty wind back to the presence of God powerfully on Mt Sinai. They would have heard Peter's sermon, and understood that God was offering a new way of life, not bound by Law but bound by Grace. A fulfilling of the Law which was now perfected in the risen Jesus. Where before Moses went up the mountain and came back down with the Law, now Jesus went up to heaven (the Ascension) and came back down, not with a written law carved on tablets of stone, but with the dynamic energy of the Law, designed to be written on human hearts.
Christians have noted the Acts 2 Pentecost as "The Birthday of the Church". The Spirit came, just as Jesus promised, and the explosive growth of the Christian Church began. In the Methodist Worship Book, there is a special Order for Holy Communion on Pentecost Sunday, subtitled "and other times of renewal".
Renewal! What a day to be returning to in-person worship at Four Oaks! This is a call to be a NEW way of being church, which has been growing powerfully during the Exodus months of lockdown. We are moving to a way of being church called Hybrid Church, which makes full use of streaming technologies, WhatsApp, YouTube and other social media and still gathers in person to worship, pray and study the Scriptures together. We are being called to a new way of being church that refuses to look back through the rose-tinted spectacles of tradition ("We've always done it this way") but instead seeks to discern where God is calling us next in our local mission.
We are always moving forwards. We must remember the old adage - the Church is the only membership organisation which exists for the benefit of those who are not members - and seek to put literal flesh, our flesh, on the words of Jesus, that we are called "to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19) We are called, no less, to take this manifesto of social revolution into our streets and beyond..
The renewal of Pentecost is the renewal of this earth as God's Kingdom is revealed. We are all called to be agents of transformation.
To God be the glory!
Deacon Marilyn Slowe and Reverend Stephen Froggatt