In the gospel reading for Pentecost we hear Jesus say, "now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’"
I thought this was odd because only in the last chapter, the disciple Thomas asks Jesus, "where are you going, and how can we know the way?"
Is Jesus saying this because now they know and they are no longer asking? Or is he pointing out that even though he's saying all these things, they don't even think to ask the question, where are you going?
I'm wondering if the same applies to us. Throughout the Easter season we've heard the post-Pentecost stories of Acts, with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus going ahead of his people, leading them out, testifying ahead of them and leading them to testify the Gospel to a broader and broader group of people. This is exemplified by the collect prayer for Pentecost Sunday:
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We cannot take this for granted. We need to be asking today, where is Jesus going? Where is the Holy Spirit going ahead of us, and calling us, beckoning us forward?
IHS is in a major time of transition, just as our members, our country, and our world are in a major time of transition. The environment for congregations is not the same as when the pandemic began. Our congregation is not the same as when the pandemic began. Everything has fundamentally changed. The pandemic exacerbated trends and created new ones. If we believe we are going back to how things were, we are not asking Jesus the question: where are you going?
Let's look at some of the changed conditions for our congregation. The faces we will see for worship have changed. A number of our active members who were older became homebound during the pandemic, or likely will not return because of the health risks to worshiping in person. For those folks, it has been harder to stay plugged into the church because of technology difficulties, and because of social distancing rules. A few prominent, active members of our congregation passed away during the pandemic. Others have moved away during the pandemic and won't be coming back. We have gained new members and even new staff over the past year who we have only just begun worshiping with in person on Sundays. We are baptizing new children, some of whom were born during the pandemic and we've never met.
Much of the institutional memory of the congregation has faded away over time as the generations have shifted and active membership has changed. Membership in our volunteer roles disappeared during the pandemic, so we will need to rebuild our usher teams, hospitality teams, altar guild, nursery care, Sunday School, choir, etc.
On top of all of this we have new building challenges. We discovered in the past year that there is extensive mold throughout the parish hall, the kind of mold that needs to be abated as soon as possible. It is wide ranging and throughout the entire space, including the kitchen. Unfortunately this means the whole space needs to be abated of mold and rebuilt. This is going to be a very large and expensive project, and sadly comes at a time when we were re-imagining our space with our accessibility campaign and just after we had received a large diocesan grant for that project. If we want to begin using our physical spaces for ministry again, we will need to do the work to be rid of the mold problems. Our vestry, property committee, and development committee are all actively tackling these issues.
If we look at these challenges and hang our head in loss and mourning at what was, or give up in despair at what seems impossible, we would be missing the opportunity that is before us. Where is Jesus going? Think about that question being asked on the first Easter morning. Jesus had been killed. His disciples were scattered. All hope seemed lost for them. And yet the messenger at the tomb offered a different testimony: Jesus was going ahead of them to Jerusalem.
If anyone had the opportunity to give up in fear or despair it was Peter and the first disciples. And yet we hear the testimony from Acts that instead they followed the Holy Spirit against all odds to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection to the ends of the Earth. They risked everything for the sake of the Gospel.
So where is Jesus going now? Where is he leading us and calling us?
I believe we need to think of this time at IHS as an opportunity to follow the burning passion of God's Spirit into new mission. After a year in online, pandemic worship, we are almost like a new church plant, with an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. We aren't bound to do things the way they've always been done, we can envision new, bold ways of being the Church and doing ministry. The truth is we were never a building or an institution, but ambassadors of the good news of the Risen Jesus, witnesses to the never-ending love of God. We are not another club to join or association to belong to. IHS is a gathering of God's people, an assembly that worships together, so that fed by the sacraments we might serve the world in his name and bring his peace and reconciliation to all people. God's Spirit has given each of us gifts to use and roles to play in our assembly so that we might further his mission in this place.
Where is Jesus going? Let's ask, and empowered by our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, let us find out together as we rebuild our ministry during this transition time.