When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)
It is painful that we cannot gather together today to celebrate the birthday of the Christian Church. Historically, Pentecost was second only to Easter as the high holy day of the Christian faith – even more important than Christmas. It is a day to be together, and yet this year it is a much greater witness of our faith to celebrate the day apart.
In the days of the early Christian movement, there was no greater witness to the faith than the willingness to make sacrifices for others. To lay down one’s life for another was viewed as the ultimate gift, on par with the death of Jesus on the cross. To do without that others might gain was the essence of the Christian faith. Certainly, we would love to be together on Pentecost, but not if it put anyone else at risk. In the first century, pestilence and illness were taken very seriously. A virus could literally wipe out a village, a town, or decimate a city. When people were sick, they were isolated. When they had contagious disease, they were quarantined. The early church did this because concern and care for others was the most important value defining the early movement.
Care for widows, orphans, the elderly and the infirm were basic expectations of every community. No one would have even considered putting a vulnerable person at risk. The purpose of most Christian households and communities were to care for those most at risk who could not care for themselves.
Today, as we celebrate the birth of the church, let us not celebrate the birth of an institution or a building or a structure. Instead, let us celebrate the meaning of the church – to show our love for God and our commitment to Christ by the way we care for all of God’s children – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and caring for the most vulnerable among us.
Thank you, O God, for teaching us to care. We are so thankful for your church, not as a place to go, but as the identity of who we are. Make us more loving, more giving, less selfish, and less indifferent. Inspire us to do whatever is within our power to show kindness, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness to those who need it most. Work the miracle of your Holy Spirit in our lives, that we might be your church for the world. We ask your blessing and strength. Amen.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).