Where do you put yourself in this story? Are you amazed and perplexed and asking the question, What does this mean? Or are you a sneer-er saying, They are filled with new wine.
Though I had a playful bit of fun using stick figures to tell this story of the early church, today's scripture asks important questions for which the text demands serious answers. Here is the beginning of the church 2,000 years ago. And the first question asked of the church is "What does this mean?" The first commentary on the first church, "Oh, they are filled with new wine."
2,000 years later...guess what? The Pentecost event happens each and every day in the life of the church. It is particularly poignant and powerful for us today. Life is radically different. We are gathered together...though each in our own dwelling place. That's okay. The Holy Spirit can divide and find us no matter where we may be. The question is, where are you in the story today? Are you amazed and perplexed and asking the question, What does this mean? Or are you a sneer-er saying, They are filled with new wine. And probably, bad new wine at that. Or, there is the third character in the story: are you filled with the Holy Spirit?
People all around us are scratching their heads with what they hear. I certainly am a head-scratcher when it comes to all of the information about COVID-19 and how best to go about living life. I am dismayed at individuals and institutions that push the envelope of safety in the midst of the unknown. I sneer at them and say, They are most definitely filled with new wine. I go on to say to those drinkers of selfishness and greed and carelessness, "By drinking that new wine you are endangering the lives of people that I hold dear, the least of these, those most at risk." But don't get me preaching...
Our being closed for gathering at the corner of Malfalfa and Sycamore does not make First Christian Church any less church. We are no less church for me now then our church was before the pandemic. Our worship services have never been better attended than now. (If that's how you judge church effectiveness.) More importantly, we are not worshiping apart today out of any sense of fear. Fear at the possibility of becoming infected by exercising our religious freedom. I am still free and worshiping how I am called to worship in this time. And that is the question. "What does this mean?" becomes "How am I called to worship in this new and different time?" Here is my response to What does this mean? Love for my neighbor and taking care of the least of these by not increasing the possibility of exposure by being out and about unnecessarily...that love is far greater than any need to be in a building with others for worship at this time.
Am I filled with new wine in the eyes of others? Probably. But I know this: I am on the side of love for my neighbor over anything else. And I have faith that God is as well. And those who speak my language in this moment are telling me that that love is best shared from a distance.
The earliest church, the first church of those twelve apostles, was NOT a church because they were together, scared, alone, in one house. The earliest church did not immediately set about worshiping God. Nor to worship Jesus. Jesus never said to worship him. The earliest church, the first church, was A church because they made themselves heard by speaking the language of the other. Let me invite you into a secret: speaking the language of the other does not require a building. The house where the first church spoke, wasn't even the apostles' house.
But, Eric, I don't know how to speak Cappadocian or Parthian. I don't know how to speak the language of the Medes, the Elamites or the Mesopotamians. I don't know the language of the Judeans or that of the people of Pontus or Asia, Phrygia or Pamphylia. Egyptian and Libyan, indeed the language of Rome and the Creetans and the Arabs are completely unknown to me.
Perhaps. There is...though...one language that IS universal to all others that we as the first church of today can continue to speak. You will be able to understand it. You have heard it before. You have spoken it before and can continue to speak it again.
This language crosses to the other side of the Jericho Road to help a stranger in need. This language steps in front of stones being thrown at a woman condemned. This language heals the blind. This language feeds thousands. This language unbinds the manacles and chains that keep a man naked and insane in the local cemetery. This language resurrects a daughter. And a son. And a brother. And a friend. This language crosses to the other side of the river where "they" live. This language overturns the tables in places of worship that do not look out for the least of these. This language holds the widow and celebrates her contribution to the realm of God. This language collapses coliseums and erodes the power of empires. When all appears lost, this language appears outside a tomb in a garden, saying, "Hi."
This language is the language of Love.
- Rev. Eric J. Brotheridge