– When do you think the church started? At the birth of Jesus? When he was baptized in the Jordan and called the disciples? At the Resurrection? Well, actually, we use to consider Pentecost as the day the church started. When the Apostles were gathered in the house – 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection – when they received the Holy Spirit and started going out, speaking in different tongues to all kind of people, proclaiming the good news of Jesus-Christ. We sometimes call the feast of the Pentecost the “birthday” of the church. Until this day, the disciples had been following Jesus, trying to gain insights from his teaching, make sense of his life, death and Resurrection, but on that day – as Jesus had promised – the Holy Spirit was sent to them that gave them a clear understanding of what God did in Jesus’ life, and this sudden realization irresistibly led them to testify / to proclaim.

It’s important to look at our History because it helps us understand who we are. A lot of people here in the US try to find their ancestors by making their family trees, looking up archives, sometimes they even have their DNA tested. When we know where we come from, it often helps us figure who we are and who we are called to be. It is the same for us Christians when we look at the History of the church. We are reminded what the church is about, what God wants it to be from the beginning. What is very clear from our passage, and what I would like us to reflect on today, is that the church is not a building, maybe not even a community, but first of all it is a movement outwards. From the house to the streets, the market place and the world. From the disciples to the foreigners and the newcomers and those who have never heard of Jesus. The church is a movement outwards. The church is, paradoxically, not made for believers but for people who are outside the church.

– We have to think about that because it goes so much against our human instincts / aspirations. We generally like it better to keep to ourselves, and we have a clear illustration of that in the famous story of the tower of Babel. We usually don’t understand very well this story so it’s good to hear it again today. We often assume that it is about people who wanted to build this great building to defy God, to make themselves as high above the earth as God, but then what happened was that God was not happy about that and so God confused people’s speech to send them back to the ground. Yet, if we listen closer to the story, we realize that it is much less about competition with God than about people wrapped up on themselves, choosing to defend themselves against the rest of the world, and claiming an identity that has much more to do with uniformity than unity.

– We read that the people in the story: “had one language and the same words”. I think it says a lot about their way of living, because language is indeed much more than just words (You know that probably if you speak a foreign tongue). Language is a culture, a way of seeing the world and understanding things. We don’t see reality in the same way based on where we come from. For this reason, languages are not only tongues. Languages are the way we express ourselves: it can be a form of art for example: Painting, poetry, music. And for each one of these languages, there are multiple dialects: church music, jazz, pop songs and so on. And so what the story of Babel tells us is that the world as God wants it is unbelievable rich, dynamic and creative, but men and women were afraid of this diversity and they just wanted to keep to themselves, to protect themselves and have dominion over the world instead of trying to understand the world and participate in it.

Their quest for uniformity is really something we can see at work in every totalitarianism. Each dictatorship teaches that people have to be the same (Based on race, social class…) when God wants all people to be different and enjoy different gifts. At Babel, people wanted to stop the movement of life, set it in stone, but by ignoring what life was really about, they were actually building a prison for themselves. Don’t we see that sometimes around us – People building their own prisons? Contractors tear down perfectly nice little housing to build big houses that forever belong to the banks because those who try to buy them never manage to pay off their loans and spend their lives working like crazy, while their houses remain empty because they end up not having enough money to buy furniture and not enough time to invite their friends? Sometimes we do the same with our churches as well. Buildings take up all our finances, our attention, our worries…and there is not so much energy left for God and our neighbors.

– Of course, it’s not only about physical buildings, there are plenty of other prisons we build in our minds: The way we cling to some beliefs, traditions, way of doing things…our obsession with self-preservation and survival. In this context, the “punishment” from God we hear about in the story of Babel looks more like salvation than actual punishment. God frees us from the prisons we build for ourselves, and God scatters us over the face of the earth.

– And indeed, this is the story of the church. The story of the church does not start with the ground breaking of the first cathedral! The church starts with the breaking in of the Holy Spirit, this wind that rushes by the windows inside the house and scatters the Apostles outside on the streets! The first thing the Apostles do to build the church is to go out to talk with other people, all sorts of people! The story of Acts tells us something really fundamental about the church: Building the church and being the church is an outward movement because the church does not exist to make the Apostles and the believers happy, the church exists for the people who are outside the church! We say here at Christ Church that we “don’t put God in a box”….We don’t put God in a building either. The first (and only) mission of the church is to go out to bear witness of the risen Christ and help people come closer to God by engaging in a relationship with Christ. Not because – as I have mentioned in my last sermon – because we’d believe that people “outside” are not good enough, or wrong, or because they may go to hell if they don’t convert, but we want to bring them the good news of the love of God shown in Jesus because it is for us a deep transformative experience, because it brings us joy, hope and purpose and because ideally, as the Apostles, our hearts are so full that we cannot not share the news!

– We cannot not share the news…Yet, looking at our own hearts, we may realize we are not there yet. Maybe we too would be tempted to believe that the Apostles were drunk on that day of Pentecost because we don’t always recognize ourselves in their enthusiasm. Most of us, we keep our faith much more private and quiet, a little locked inside of us. And I think it does not mean that our hearts are not in the right place, maybe they are just not oriented in the right direction. We keep looking inside when we should look outside. I was reading a book about church growth this week, and I came upon those lines I really needed to hear and I would like to share them with you as we are reminded on this Pentecost feast of who we are supposed to be.

The author said:

The church’s heart must change (…) the leaders and the people of the church need to experience a spiritual transformation that shifts their focus from playing church to reaching people for Jesus. For the church to return to sustained health, a growing core of people need to realize that the church isn’t about me. My preferences aren’t as important as the people we are trying to reach. My needs aren’t as important as those outside the church. My faith is meaningless if it isn’t backed by actions to carry out God’s mission.

– How do we do that? Not a natural tendency indeed! We are turned inwards, towards self-preservation / survival. We see that at Babel, but even the Apostles were like that to start with. They were gathered together in the house. The opening, scattering, witnessing comes from God, when God fills us with the Holy Spirit. So we can pray. Pray that God turns our hearts towards God’s mission field / set our hearts on fire for God. Does not mean that we are going to be jumping all over the place! Maybe at our age we can’t do that, but there will be so much love, and passion when we speak about God that people will want to check this Christian thing out…

Next step for us: Learn their language. How do we speak about our faith? We are starting conversations about faith today, revisiting the basics of Christian beliefs. What the church teaches, how we think about it, how we can articulate it today…Because as the Apostles we should not expect people to speak our language, but we have to find a way to talk about God today that can touch unchurched people’s hearts and bring them closer to Christ. I invite you to join us after the service – because, once again, it’s not about us, it is for this world that needs God so much. In this world, each one of our testimonies matters. Amen.

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