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Happy Birthday, Church!

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Jun 09

Text: Acts 2:1-21

The story we just acted out, comes from the Books of Acts, which tells about Jesus’ followers and the very beginnings of the church. This tale of wind and fire, visions and prophesy, is the story of a birthday party, for Pentecost is the birthday of the church. And it is one crazy party! Fireworks and rushing wind, people speaking in many different languages - miraculously able to understand each other. It was so wild that no one could explain it, and everyone wondered if the people were drunk! A really crazy birthday party!


Kids—when you think about birthdays, what comes to mind? Do you think about your favorite cake? Presents? Dance music? Maybe a friend’s party where there was a super-fun activity. Or some special treat your parents made for you. Maybe you think about your tenth birthday, when you rolled from single to double-digits. Or a special sleepover party. Or—adults—the birthday when you were finally old enough to get your driver’s license or vote. Maybe you think of a surprise party you planned for someone, or a ninetieth birthday for an aging relative.


I think of my sixteenth birthday when I was in Norway—my first time out of the United States—visiting the family of an AFS student from my high school. The whole summer was a huge, wonderful adventure of new and beautiful things. I remember that Karin Haugen’s mother made me a summer birthday cake with raspberries.


I think of a seventh birthday party for our daughter Molly, when Kevin and I put together a scavenger hunt in our back yard. I think of a 90th birthday luncheon for my mother-in-law with all her children and grandchildren present—Brigid, the matriarch, presiding over her realm of joy. I remember a surprise 80th birthday party we planned for my mother Ann a few years back—with family, work colleagues and friends from church—a gathering of her many communities over eight decades of life. All of these were wonderful celebrations.


To my way of thinking, the best birthdays have elements of surprise and mystery. They are deeply joyful and there is a bond of love and affection among those present. I’m sure all of you have your own memories of such times in your own lives.

When it comes down to it, the most amazing birthday of all is not a celebration that comes years later, but the actual day of birth. If you’ve given birth yourself, or attended a birth, you know what an extraordinary moment it is. Entirely commonplace in human experience, yet unsurpassed in all our lives. A sacred, high-stakes moment when an utterly new being enters the world. The Spirit has done her work in knitting us together—a marvelous combination of spirit and flesh. And the moment comes, full of hope and expectation. A moment we may approach with fear and trepidation or wonder and awe—or (most likely) a crazy, hormonal, upside-down mixture of all that. And the new being arrives, in a gush of surprise and blessing.  


I suspect the Day of Pentecost felt a bit like that—crazy, mixed up, and powerful beyond words. The day the church was born—the day God was doing a new thing.


But what, exactly, is new? It’s certainly not the first time the Holy Spirit shows up. There’s plenty of evidence of the Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures and throughout the gospels. Jesus and his followers already knew the Holy Spirit and had experienced her power.


And it’s not the first time Jesus’ followers had been in the streets of Jerusalem, acting with purpose. In fact, they had walked the length and breadth of Galilee as Jesus’ companions on the Way, listening to his preaching and teaching, witnessing his healing power. They had even helped make the way—calling people to come and follow their rabbi and friend, procuring fish and bread for the crowds, circling Jesus with hope and expectation. On a day filled with foreboding, they had followed him into Jerusalem in a Palm Sunday procession. So, it wasn’t the first time Jesus’ disciples had gathered in the streets of Jerusalem.


But it was the first time in a while. Since that terrible day of crucifixion, they had felt timid, frightened, and unsure, sometimes even hiding behind closed doors, wondering what would happen next.


Here, then, is the miracle and meaning of Pentecost. Pentecost is the moment when the Holy Spirit forms a church out of this small band of frightened followers, who are “thrust by the Spirit into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim the gospel in terms everyone can understand.”[i] Pentecost is a moment when fear and strangeness are overcome by wonder, power, and promise.


Pentecost is such a grand, splashy event, that we forget it is the culmination of the Easter season. As one author writes, “The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church…ekklesia… means “those who are summoned.”[ii]


So, friends, we are summoned to this crazy birthday party! In this digital age, here’s what I imagine the Evite might look like. It begins an image of fire and wind—like Nellie’s collage on the bulletin cover. Inside the evite, the Pentecost invitation reads:


Summoning all followers of Jesus and walkers on the Way.

Calling all who want to know the Risen Christ.

Put aside your fears!

Come out into the streets and let our truth be heard,

for, God is making all things new!

Friends, neighbors, strangers and aliens welcome.

No RSVP required—just come!

Fireworks display begins at 9 a.m.


So, my friends, welcome to the party!

Are you ready to answer the call to be the church?

[i] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar, Christ’s Time for the Church, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 74.

[ii] Ibid., p. 76.



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