THE CHURCH BEGAN WITH A GUST OF WIND
Joel 2: 26 – 29, Acts 2: 1 – 13
The Church began with a gust of wind. There was a sound of a gust of wind, and spirit came down like tongues of fire. And suddenly a dispirited group of people came alive and began to speak boldly about their faith in public. That”s how the Church began, according to the Acts of Apostles.
What was that wind or that fire? I don”t know but it must have been something potent to revive a miserable bunch of discouraged people.
My father used to tell us kids about the days when radio broadcasting service and telephone service began in Japan many years ago. Telephone poles were built and wired. People were told that those wires would carry messages by what was called telephone. So people hung letters on the wires. Nothing happened, the letters were not delivered, of course. So when the government presented the idea that messages could be carried in the air, when the radio broadcasting began, nobody believed it. Nevertheless, the day when radio broadcasting was supposed to begin, everybody in the village gathered in the village community hall. A huge machine with a pair of earphones was brought in. And the time came. The man with the earphones listened intensely. He heard nothing. So the next man tried. Again, nothing, no sound. Another Government lie, and everybody left. They discovered later that it was the wrong day. The broadcasting began the next day.
You see, the point of the story is that no matter what a wonderful machine you have, if there is no radio waves in the air, the radio receiver is useless. It is like buying an expensive car with all sorts of bells and whistles, when you really want to go nowhere with it. You just want a nice decoration in your garage. What”s the point? You see, the church is not just a building, a minister, or a bunch of people. It has to have something else. We call that something else, Spirit. In other words, the church must catch the spirit of Christ and create a community of love. Otherwise, what”s the point?
You may be interested to know that in Hebrew language, in which the Bible was written originally, the word for Spirit is the same word for breath, breathe, and wind. So when God created man and woman, and when he breathed life into them, he also put spirits into Adam and Eve. It is essential for us to breathe the spirit in and out as much as we need air every moment. We have something unexplainable in us which distinguishes us from vegetables. We call that the soul which is like our lungs, and it has to be filled by spirit, like the lungs need air, to make us human. And the church nourishes us with spiritual food, like the table provides the essential nourishment for our physical body.
I once saw a gentle and kindly woman having turned into something a bit less than a full human. She was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. She had terminal cancer. Towards the end of her life, the pain became too intense, constant and unbearable, she required dangerously much morphine. The doctor decided to disconnect some nerves, so she did not feel the pain any more. After her nerves were cut, she looked peaceful with a perpetual smile in her face. She spoke normally, but there was something missing. I could only described her condition as someone who lost the spirit. She lived only a few days after. Another friend, who was a brilliant criminal lawyer, was diagnosed as having a cancerous brain tumour on the side of the brain that controlled intelligence and feelings. He was told that he could live on for a long time after a surgical removal of that tumour, if he does not mind living like a vegetable for the rest of his life. He opted not to have the surgery, and remained an active brilliant lawyer for a few more years. He died a very painful death, but his intelligence and feelings remained intact. You see he died like a human being, not like a vegetable. The church does not give you food or money. The church teaches you to breathe in and out spirit.
Now, the church in Canada is facing a turning point. We have to make a decision. Should we remain spiritual and small? Or should we become big and wealthy? You can opt for size and wealth, if you really want. A lot of television churches do that. They earn millions of dollars. But I say, let us remain spiritual and authentic as the church. I say this because I believe that the problem we have as the church is not declining membership nor the loss of power in society. It is the loss of spiritual values in society. And the church does not seem to be giving leadership, because it is too busy worrying about our declining numbers and finance.
As you may remember, there was a terrorist attack using sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system that killed scores and injured thousands of people. When we were in Tokyo recently, a cult known as Aum Shinri Kyo under the leadership of one blind charismatic man was found to be responsible for this terrorist attack and the perpetrators of this hideous crime were arrested, including the cult leader. They believed in the immanent end of the world, and the terrorist attack was supposed to have induced the last war of Armageddon to bring about the apocalypse – the end of the world. However, what is remarkable about this group and people involved in the crime was the fact that there were many well educated people directly involved in the crime. Many scientists with PHD degrees and medical doctors and lawyers became members of this religion and used their training to plan and execute the attack. Many commentators agreed that this was partly the result of a society successful in building a dynamic economy and technological advancement without any respect for spiritual values.
We are by nature spiritual beings, as well as having a physical existence. Mere material fulfilment does not give us a full sense of being. If social status and wealth are all we need to live like a human being, how come there is so much unhappiness among the rich and famous? How come there are so many personal problems in the richest countries like U.S., Canada and Japan?
The church has to bear some responsibility for this state of unhappiness. The church has been too preoccupied with the size of membership, money and buildings. We neglected spiritual matters. Spirit is the thing that started the church. And we have neglected it. Many people seek spiritual fulfilment, but can not find them in traditional religions. That”s why so many people go to strange, and often fraudulent religious groups.
When the old mill was turned into this Church seventy years ago, those stones were used to turn the site from a business enterprise into a house of God where people would hear the good news about God”s love and the message that they were to care for each other. If we lose that spirit, there is not much point continuing. But if we keep that spirit, no matter how small the group that meets here becomes, this church built with the stone of an old mill, will not revert back into a mere money making enterprise. It will remain a place of worship where people are comforted, and encouraged. You never know. You may offer a real cure of the ills of the world. David Lochhead once described Howick United Church to me as, "a spot of sanity in the chaotic world."
May you continue to breathe with the spirit of faithfulness, and send many gusts out. You may transform the world around you.