Birthdays, while a time to celebrate another year of life, are also a time of reflection.
What did I learn about myself in the last year? How did I grow spiritually? Has this gray hair patch gotten bigger? Am I too old to have a birthday party?
We can learn a lot about ourselves when we take the time to pause and reflect. What might the church learn from that practice?
Forty days after Easter each year, the church celebrates its birthday.
We celebrate with red and orange banners, avian decor and, if your church is lucky, perhaps a multilingual retelling of the Acts 2 story. Maybe the pastor will invite children down to the front and use a birthday cake as an illustration, which the little ones can understand.
We celebrate that the spirit could not stay contained in an upper room, we remember that holy fire is potent, and we celebrate that the church of Jesus Christ lives on.
But we must also hold in tension that while the church is still alive, we must ask if the church is alive with the fire of the spirit or if it is alive and simply making it? And do we even know the difference?
I will say that the last year has not been an easy one for many churches.
For the last year, churches had to make hard and unpopular decisions about safety for their congregations and to ask what purpose their buildings served when the Sunday morning address became a Zoom link or a Facebook Live invite.
Some churches struggled financially and faced hard truths about money and living wages.
The pandemic forced us to slow down and perhaps finally forced us to ask, “What about church should change upon our return to the building?”
But I also saw us use creativity to stay connected, Zoom happy hours with Sunday school groups, social distance movie nights measured by Hula-Hoops, and people learning new video and editing skills.
In the days where we had more time to pay attention to our neighbors, people of the Christian faith were invited to see Christianity from the perspective of siblings who have experienced injustice in subtle and significant ways.
We have been given the opportunity to rethink what it means to be the church.
And so, the season of Pentecost should not only be a season of celebration, but the church’s annual review.
But let me be clear: I am not referring to looking over budget numbers and color-coded productivity trackers. I am not talking about tallying up how many souls were saved and how many of those souls happen to be big tithers.
I am referring to us asking our communities of worship where we see the holy fires of change lighting a way for a more inclusive and liberated beloved community and paying attention to when we stomp out change out of fear of it, or worse, out of fear of losing power.
Every so often, the Pew Research Center will share stats about how quickly people are leaving the church.
A few think pieces will go around telling us why. We will break it down into which generation is leaving and going, and we’ll ask a well-liked millennial to assure us they are not going anywhere.
Then, we forget all about it until Pew comes out with more stats in eight to 10 business weeks.
As Easter people, we forget that death is not the end. We honor those who have gone onto glory, we sing about being in heaven for 10,000 years, and yet when it comes to the church, we fear its death.
Why is this the case when we have the opportunity to rebirth something new and good?
The birth of the church was not just a celebration of something new, but also an invitation to give birth to a new chapter of our communities.
It is also a time to put into question institutions that keep some down and lift a small few up.
The birth of the church invites us to recognize that we are those children and elders prophesying and dreaming wild dreams.
The birth of the church asks us to recognize that ancient and holy fire in our bones that cannot be contained.
Pentecost is the reminder that we are called to speak into existence a world unimagined by those who seek to stomp out the flames of change.
Will we speak that truth? Or will we blow out the candles of another church year and ease back into familiar patterns and never learn our lesson?