The Rev. Celal J. Kamran
I speak to you in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and sustainer. Amen.
Happy Pentecost Sunday!
This is a big day. And not just because we have youth Sunday at the later service or that we have the parish picnic after both services. It is a big day because today is the day of Pentecost. And Pentecost is not just a change in our liturgical seasons, or vestment colors, nor is it a shift from spring to summer, although it usually does coincide with that… No, Pentecost is when we recall the birth of the church.
Yes, Pentecost is when we remember the move from Biblical history to church history. In fact, Pentecost should be up there with Christmas and Easter in my opinion because today we remember the start of the Church after the ascension of Christ into heaven. It was with the disciples in that upper room, when the Spirit descended upon them like a violent rush of wind. And the disciples were able to proclaim the Gospel in various languages, so that all who were there would hear it.
Therefore we should celebrate Pentecost! We should hold it up with the rest of our high holy days because it started the Jesus movement through God’s Church. So that in Jesus’ bodily absence, the world can still experience the grace and love of Christ, through his Body in the church, led by the Holy Spirit. And the amazing thing is, that in the beginning, it looked nothing like what we think about churches today.
Today, we often associate church with the building, the beauty of the space in which we worship, the grand architecture or the historical significance of the building. All these are important and do bring a certain beauty to our communal worship. These things also shape the community that is being formed and has been formed in the space. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But the early church was not tied to a place, a physical building… In fact it was their freedom from physical spaces that let them reach the ends of the world with the message of Christ and in the audience’s language through the power of the Spirit. The missionaries went all around the Roman Empire and some even further to create communities centered around Christ. And they did not have buildings, grounds, or historical sites like we do today. What the church was for them and continues to be IS THE PEOPLE.
The people who were involved with the movement, the people of God. That is what Pentecost is all about, God descending down on the people to lead them and guide them. The central part being the people not the things. And the imagery of the Spirit descending like a fire shows the purpose. That the Word of God was to be spread from person to person like fire spreads with the right kindling, expanding from person to person and place to place.
A couple of years ago, right before the pandemic shut downs in fact, I had an amazing opportunity to visit Cuba. At the invite of the Episcopal Bishop of Cuba, a couple of seminarians and I were able to have a religious visit which is still allowed. I had met the Bishop of Cuba, in the US at the General Convention in Austin. In our conversation, I learned about the extremely limited resources the Church in Cuba has. How the Priest and ministers receive miniscule stipends and are tasked with ministering to an even worse of community.
Yet, yet, despite not being resourced like Churches in the United States, they are still able to have thriving ministries. They are able to pool people, talent, and monetary resources to sustain the work of Christ.
When I heard this, I knew I had to learn more about it. This is a part of the Body of Christ that is doing amazing things with so little, and yet we do not hear much about them at all. So I asked the Bishop to extend an invitation for myself and a couple of fellow Seminarians interested in learning about how Cuban churches function.
And we were able to go visit, first in Havana and then all-around rural Cuba, visiting twelve churches in three weeks and a couple of other religious sites… What I learned about their ministry… truly amazed me.
Most churches in Cuba are community centers, where everyone in the town goes for various needs that the church provides. Some have the only filtered drinking water in their entire town, some grow herbs and plants for medicinal use, because health care is so poor there. One town, which has three churches run by one priest, pooled all their resources, and bought land to raise cows and bees. And their farm, raises enough funds to accomplish the ministry of all three churches.
At another church, which grew and processed coffee beans, I sat under the shade of a coffee tree, drinking coffee from that very tree which gave us our drink.
It was beautiful to see the church in Cuba and these lessons will never leave me. Because this too is the ministry of the church because it centers around the people and what they bring to the Kingdom of God, their gifts, their resources, and their love.
And that I think is what Pentecost is all about. It is about the people of God, coming together, giving of their gifts, to do the work of Christ. And it feels so good to be part of this work here, doing church in this community and being part of the larger body of Christ doing incredible things in and around the world. Because that is church, when we DO as the Spirit leads us.
Let it be so.