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The Advent Breakfast is postponed to Sunday, Dec 8.

The Day of Pentecost; Acts 2:1-21

Sometimes we should listen to our long departed parents, even when we’ve become seniors ourselves, like me. I should have remembered, “Don’t talk to strangers!”

It was about a year ago, and I was actually shopping for some travel guide books in preparation for our vacation in Newfoundland. Having found what little they had, I bumbled into the Religion section of Chapters, idly scanning titles, when a person standing next to me asked, “Are you a Christian?” I should have known better, but I said “Yes”. “Where’s your church,” was the next question. “I’m an Anglican,” was my not quite responsive reply. “No, what church do you go to?” I made one more attempt; “I’m an Anglican, and most Sundays I worship at St. Andrew’s Church in Kitchener.” (There was no way I was going to admit to being a priest, because I knew what was coming.) Sure enough, I heard a litany of what was wrong, possibly non-Christian, maybe even pagan, about Anglicans, and a recommendation to a much more acceptable church, right here in sunny K-W! I did what I should have done in the first place; I went and browsed the mystery section!

I have trouble with those kinds of question, and the sectarianism behind them, because while I love the Anglican tradition, and while it satisfies my spiritual needs, I don’t equate it with The Church. And I wish other people would simply love their own tradition, because it satisfies their spiritual needs, without feeling the need to persuade others that theirs is better, or More Churchy, or the only church.

Today is Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming to the first Christians. In a real sense, Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church, and so today is a good day to speak about that Church. By what I’ve said so far I have implied that the question “What church do you go to?” may not be the right question, and perhaps really has no answer. Even a casual reading of the Gospels will make it clear that Jesus intended to found only one Church, indivisible and undivided, and that that Church is the community of it’s members, not a building you go to. (Indeed, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word we translate as “church”, ecclesia, means an assembly of those “called out”.) And it is clear that this is how the authors of the rest of the New Testament understood the Church as it developed in the first and early second century. Further, it is also clear from the New Testament that there is only one way in which one joins this assembly of those called out; baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit, grafts a person into the one, indivisible, and undivided Body of Christ which Jesus left on earth, the one Church.

Yet it is also clearly evident that there are many bodies in the world today, all claiming the name of “church,” some even claiming to be the only “true” church and wanting nothing to do with any other group claiming the name “church”. It seems obvious that the Church of Christ, as found here on earth, rather than being indivisible and undivided, is divided into many parts.Most Anglicans are quite proud of our traditions. We here like our way of doing things, and are happy to be a little different from those other Anglican churches, and perhaps more happy to be a lot different from those other, non-Anglican churches. Of course, those others are just as proud of their differences. And yet, as long as that pride keeps us and them from welcoming one another as Christians, or cause one single person to not feel welcome here (or there), so long are we all sinfully proud.

Let me be clear; I am talking about welcome, not comfort. Others who come here may not feel comfortable with how we worship, but they should not feel excluded. We may visit another church and not feel comfortable, but we should not feel unwelcome. I am not promoting some kind of homogenized super-church, in which everyone, everywhere, every time, worships in exactly the same way. I have said it before, that’s one of my worst church nightmares. One of the strengths of the presently divided church, one that should not be lost, is that it potentially allows everyone to find a way of worshipping and relating to God that is meaningful to them and meets their human spiritual needs.There is no sin in similarly minded people meeting together and worshipping God in their own way. It becomes sinful when they decide that their way of knowing and worshipping God is “better” than that of others, or worse, thinking it is the only acceptable way. It becomes sinful when a group decides that they have a monopoly on revealed truth, and use their own peculiar needs and practices as the standard for judging the faith of others, and for excluding them and making them feel unwelcome.

This is not the time to discuss the differences that divide denominations from one another, or which of the differences are significant, and which are merely cosmetic. On this Pentecost, I want to emphasize that the Church, which was born by the action of the Holy Spirit, is not a denomination, not ours or anyone else’s. Nor is it simply the collection of all the denominations and congregations and parishes that exist.
The Church is above and beyond all these. The Body of Christ is indeed undivided. It is the communion of saints, the gathering of all those baptized into Christ, anywhere and by anyone, past, present, and future. Our baptism does not join us to a denomination, it does not make us Anglicans or anything else; baptism makes us Christians and members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the communion of saints.

This is a birthday, and on birthdays it is customary to give a gift. Let me offer a gift to you, you who are The Church, a gift of a vision. Like all gifts, you may or may not find it useful, attractive, or quite what you would have chosen for yourself. Like all givers, I do not know your tastes perfectly. But, this vision is my birthday of the Church gift to you – do with it what you will!

It is a principle in church processions that the more senior you are the further back you walk. Today, when you come up to receive Holy Communion, instead of seeing yourself in line with the few people here gathered, see yourself as part of the whole communion of saints, all making their communion together. In front of you, stretching further than the eye can see are unknown generations of Christians yet to come, countless persons, all walking forward to receive the Body and Blood of their Lord and Saviour. To each side of you are the great masses of your Christian brothers and sisters, of all denominations, who today are worshipping with you in just about every country and place around the world.

Behind you are those who preceded us in the faith. If you look back at that immense throng, all eagerly pressing forward to make their communion, you will see mostly simple folk, like ourselves, undistinguished and unknown. But you’ll also see church dignitaries in rich vestments, and noble persons, and kings and queens dressed according to their rank. If you look closely, you will recognize some of them from the pictures in newspapers in your lifetime, or further back from history books, and perhaps you’ll see some unlikely companions. A few centuries back you’ll see King Charles I with his Archbishop, William Laud, walking with their bitter enemy in life, Oliver Cromwell; all differences forgotten in making their common communion. And you’ll see Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon walking with Cardinal Cajetan and King Henry the VIII, their bitter debates forgotten. You’ll see a group of martyrs of the English Reformation, Anglican and Roman Catholic, side by side, and you might recognize a few of the more famous ones, like John Fisher, who was executed at Henry VIII’s orders, or Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, or Nicholas Ridley, walking with Cardinal Pole and Queen Mary, who sent these last three to be burned at the stake.

And further back, among the thousands of unknown faithful you might recognize the rather dour figure of St. Thomas Aquinas, all his scholastic theories about the Eucharist forgotten before the reality of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord again. Even further back you will see that the line of worshippers begins to thin out, and no one is recognizable because we have no pictures. You might try to guess at who might be the famous ones, like Pope Gregory the Great, or St. Augustine, or St. John Crysostom, and all the other Church Fathers. And there will be some Church Mothers back there too, even if church history has tried to make them invisible. And even further back you might see some poorly dressed figures, pale from a life underground in the catacombs of Rome, eagerly pressing forward to receive once again their Lord and Saviour.

Almost right at the end of that long line of communicants, stretching behind you for almost twenty centuries, you’ll see a small, unattractive man, talking a mile a minute to those around him and obviously on fire with the message he is trying to communicate, and you might guess that is St. Paul. And then finally, right at the end of the line, you’ll see a group of twelve, rough working folk, brown and fit from a lifetime of heavy work and walking the dusty roads of Palestine, standing in quiet expectation to meet again the One they knew so well, the One whose Spirit came to them on the first Pentecost, the One they will meet again in the bread and the wine.

Look about you as you receive Holy Communion, look beyond the walls of this small city church and beyond this time, and see in front of you, and behind you, and beside you, the whole Communion of Saints, all gathered at one holy table, to receive the Body and Blood of the one Lord.
We, all of us, of every theology, everywhere and every-time, are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the communion of saints. We are one, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Happy Birthday!

Copyright ©2019 by Gerry Mueller