Thursday 16 May 2013

A Theology of Forward

Everyone has a birthday.   It goes without saying really, doesn't it: you have a day of birth, you have to have a birthday.

Perhaps you don't celebrate it.  Some don't because of religious or cultural reasons.  Some don't' think it's ever a big deal and for others it's a big deal or not depending on how old you are.

When you're very little, it's a big deal because "wow, people are making a fuss about me and there's presents."  Then you get a little older and it's more like "soon I'll be old enough for a driver's license and there's presents."  Then it's "soon I'll be able to vote and consume alcoholic beverages (though definitely only in moderation and never at the same time - voting and drinking, I mean) and there's presents."  Before you know it there's a job, marriage and children and then you're 30 or 40 or 50 and we might start to think birthdays are somehow not important anymore.  And, before you know it, we've had so many we'd like to stop counting.

But then there's sometimes a little change: we've had so many that every one begins to count more because it's another one.  But even that gets a little tiresome.  After all, it's been so many.

And there's the birthday conundrum: you have a day of birth, therefore you must have a birthday.  Our view of birthdays is based primarily on the view that it's an anniversary.  We count the years past.  We look back.  Even when we look at ourselves and ponder where we are on this year's birthday, our reference point is the rear view mirror.

When people have a birthday at our church, we sing a birthday song for them.  Not the standard "happy birthday," this one goes "Happy birthday to you, oh happy birthday to you!  May you feel Jesus near every day of the year.  Oh happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!  Have the best year you've ever had."  The year ahead, that is, may this year be the best ever.  And may you feel the presence of Jesus each day of this year ahead.  Ahead.  Forward.

Pentecost is the church's birthday.  Not just our church, but the whole church, the day we celebrate the beginning of the christian church.  Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival (it still is, called "shavuot"), and all of Jesus' original disciples were meeting to celebrate.  The story (Acts 2) tells how the Holy Spirit came to them as wind and fire and inspired them to begin preaching and teaching the story of Jesus.  The "church" was born!

Perhaps the best part of the story from the past to remember is that the Spirit inspired them to "begin," to take all that they had learned and experienced with Jesus and move forward with it, to make change happen and make this world a better place.  Looking back over the past 2,000 years that's not always happened.  The world hasn't always been made better by church.  Or by it's absence, either.

But here we are, looking back again.  Sure, a glance to see what we might learn can be helpful, but let's remember the Spirit inspires us to begin, not end; to go forward, not back; to step out, not retreat in; to live, not just survive.

Jesus promised that the Spirit would work among us, teaching us and inspiring us to live - and love - as he had taught (John 14:26).   It began with the disciples, it goes forward with us.

This Pentecost, celebrate the church's birthday with the excitement and enthusiasm of new life.  Let's live a theology of forward.