As I add more years to my life and to my faith, I am finding that it can be difficult to know where to begin when sharing my story with others. I don’t actually remember a time that faith was not part of my life. Partly that is because my parents ensured that we were always in church. ALWAYS in church. And while the act of being present at church was vitally important, it was what I encountered while I was at church that formed me, influenced me, and left its marks on my heart. Sunday school teachers, GA leaders, ministers, and many others who taught me about a God who loved me no matter what, who showed me what it meant for God to love me no matter what.
So certainly, there was a beginning – a point in time that I chose to follow in the way of Jesus, that I chose to follow this man whose life was brimming with love, and especially full of love for people otherwise deemed unlovable. Like Zacchaeus…who I sang about with my Dad every single night.
My faith was quite literal at the beginning, though. I took literally that Jesus was the man upstairs. As I told the search committee I thought Jesus lived in the steeple of First Baptist Lumberton, my first church. There was a mysterious door in the balcony and windows around the steeple and I just assumed that was where Jesus was. When we left Lumberton when I was 7 years old it caused a little crisis of faith until my parents explained that Jesus lived in my heart and would be at our new church too.
Steeple-dwelling Jesus aside, there have been many new beginnings since I first chose faith. Over the years my faith has been made new again and again. As my life shifted, so too did my faith. New seasons brought new questions, new experiences.
It was made new when I first had a sense that I was being called toward a life in ministry as a teenager, even though I had never seen any women in ministry. My faith gained imagination. I grew to understand that God was not limited by my life experiences to that point. I learned that God’s imagination is so much brighter, broader, and more inclusive than I could imagine for myself.
My faith was made new when anxiety cast a dark shadow across my life in my early 20s. My faith grew a deeper than comprehensible sense of God’s peace. I learned what it meant for God to be present with me in moments when I did not understand what was happening to me. I learned about God’s presence in our pain and God’s hope for a future I didn’t know was possible.
It was made new when I was immersed in ministry as my life’s work for the first time and when I was ordained, blessed by God’s people for ministry with and among them. My faith grew a greater sense of our interconnectedness, our need for each other, how we belong to each other.
And most recently my faith was made new with the birth of both of our children, William and Elizabeth. Honestly, I have never talked to God so much as I have since they were born. Small things like begging God for them to go to sleep but also big things like talking to God about how I live out my faith and this calling now that there are 2 new lives completely intertwined with mine.
On this day that we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit, I feel like these first followers must have understood something about their faith being made new so I want to continue our Pentecost story in Acts before I share a little bit more with you about my calling and my hopes for our children.
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Reading the Pentecost story always brings to mind the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis for me. Sometimes it’s even read as a prelude to this Pentecost experience. Some have suggested that Pentecost is actually a reversal of the tower of Babel, this moment when God confuses the languages, when the people go from speaking the same language with the same words to many languages, scattered about the earth.
And on Pentecost understanding does return where confusion and chaos had ruled. Unity is made possible through the outpouring of the same Spirit on all people. But it is not a reversal of Babel. Uniformity of language, expression, and culture is not what the Spirit brings. The Spirit comes that diversity might be celebrated through the language of God’s love. Pentecost is about the celebration of God’s diversity and the force of love that brings unity to that diversity.
From their earliest moments this is what our children teach us. They are who they are. They do not come to us to fit a particular mold but to be their truest selves, to be exactly who God made them to be. Our children show us what it can look like to celebrate our differences and in their earliest years to feel no shame about who they are.
For our children I desire for church to be a place where they are loved unconditionally, where their earliest memories of God, and faith, and church are wrapped in the warm embrace of loving relationships with people of every age.
I desire for church to be a place that our children learn foundational truths about God. That God loves each and every one of us. That we are made to be in relationship with each other. That we can be a part of bringing God’s restorative love to our world.
At Pentecost the church was made new, the faith of the first followers was made new. As a minister my hope, my goal is to impart a faith that is expansive enough, flexible enough, resilient enough to be made new throughout all of life. And I want parents to feel empowered to do exactly the same at home.
My faith, my calling to this work, my calling to parenthood and family have all come together to draw me toward this next season of life and work with you. I am grateful for the continued movement of the Spirit that has brought me here and I have faith that the Spirit will accompany us on our journey together.