How did they do it? Really, how did they? How did a handful of Christ’s followers 2000 years ago start a movement based Christ’s teachings? Teachings of forgiveness, justice, inclusiveness, mercy, acceptance and love that was so successful that today over 2 billion people all over the world claim to be followers of Christ. Establishing Christianity has got to be one of the greatest success stories of all time. What was the secret sauce?
What was the secret ingredient that made the difference between establishing one or two church communities for a few years to establishing millions of church communities over the last 2000 years? Whatever the secret sauce was, it had to be big so I decided that it was time to dust off my William Barclay’s study of the Book of Acts and got busy looking into the world of the early church. And I was gob-smacked.
I was gob-smacked because it only took me two chapters to run headlong into the primary secret sauce ingredient that’s really no secret at all. Jesus spilled the beans when he said quite plainly, “And when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power.” Ah ha! The men and women of the early church were able to pull off this amazing feat because they had power. But not just any power;
Holy Spirit power. It was gale force wind power. It was tongues of fire power.
It was this power that the early church tapped into with the enthusiasm of a hungry dog at mealtime. They claimed that power, and they ran with it.
However, the Holy Spirit has many sides. Matthew writes, “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—"
The Holy Spirit it seems is not just gale force wind power but also quiet dove power. These two different sides of the Holy Spirit remind me of a trip my husband and I took to Disney World a few years ago.
If you have ever been to Disney World, you know it’s different then going to a theme park like Cedar Point. I’m not even sure I could put the difference into words, but Disney is more experiential and doesn’t have nearly as many of the chills and thrills sort of rides. Our first day at Disney was just that sort of experience. It was a gentle sort of day. On day two, we walked to a building that said the ride was called the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Aerosmith? The rock band? The music blaring from nearby speakers told me “yes” it was Aerosmith the rock band. I laughed because my husband only listens to classical music so I knew he was going to hate this music.
Inside the building with music blaring, we were strapped into a smallish roller coaster car. I mean we were strapped in very securely. A big padded bar came down over our heads and there was extra padding on either side of our heads. I thought this was odd. Why would they have to strap us in so securely for a gentle Disney roller coaster? I’m puzzled but think that Disney must like to take extra precautions. The small car creeps forward. I smile and pat John’s leg thinking, “You are so going to hate this music…” That was my last thought as …well, words escape me at this point because it was like being shot out of a cannon. We must have gone from 0 to 60 in about a millisecond. And it never let up. The speed was incredible as we careened up and down with a few spirals thrown in. I was holding on for dear life screaming a mantra of “Oh my goodness!” over and over. There was nothing mild and gentle about this ride. Lurching from side to side, I was very thankful that I was strapped in so securely. Our car finally came to a halt, and we got out on wobbly legs. The music continued to blare, but we hardly noticed. I gasped to John, “I think I need a diet coke!” He replied, “Yeah, well I think I need a diaper!”
The Holy Spirit experienced at Pentecost wasn’t the gentle dove power of It’s a Small World ride, but of the Rockin’Roller Coaster. It was the experience of being shot out of a cannon and needing a diaper power. It was the kind of power that the early Christians claimed and it gave them the courage to do what we still find so hard to do. It gave them the courage to invite everyone into the circle of Christ’s love; the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius the gentile, Paul the persecutor of Christians, & the uncircumcised. It gave them the courage to stand firm when they were in danger for their very lives. It gave them the courage to start this new community where those who had more gave to those who had little. It gave them the courage to disagree, and to discuss and then to disagree again. It gave them the courage to create something new. And, It gave them the courage to be communities of hope.
I certainly don’t have a blueprint for the way forward for our churches of today, but whatever way we choose, we might want to take a page out the early Christians playbook and grasp with both hands the secret sauce; the power of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit power to give us the strength and stamina and courage to welcome everyone. Holy Spirit power to have the courage to disagree and to discuss and to disagree again. Holy Spirit power to give us courage to stand up with those who are poor & powerless. Holy Spirit power to create something new and be communities of hope. The Holy Spirit power of being shot out of a cannon and needing a diaper.