On Sunday, May 23rd, the church will observe Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the earliest followers of Jesus. (You can read the story in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2). For Christians, Pentecost is a day of celebration, renewal, and joy, as we remember how the Holy Spirit emboldened Jesus’s first disciples to live deeply and boldly into the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. You might even call Pentecost the “birthday” of the church, since it marked the beginning of rapid growth among the early disciples, as people of all languages, cultures, and backgrounds heard and responded to the Gospel.
Needless to say, birthdays are always significant, but this year, as we emerge from the pandemic, and look to “begin again” as a faith community, we want to especially honor this milestone as a day of recommitment, both as individuals, and as a church family.
One way in which we’ll do this is by renewing our baptismal vows. The promises we make at baptism are sacred and serious vows that bind us to God and to each other. They constitute promises that identify us as people committed to following the way of love, the way of faith, the way of Jesus. We don’t make the promises lightly, simply repeating them on autopilot as the liturgy dictates. Nor do we make them on the assumption that we will always keep them perfectly. Rather, we make them in hope and in humility, trusting in God’s eternal promise to help us honor the promises, and to restore us when we falter.
In order to prepare for this renewal service, we invite you to spend time this week reading and reflecting on the baptismal promises you have made. They are listed below, along with some questions to guide your meditations. We encourage you to use these questions to prepare your heart and mind, so that you can come to our Pentecost service in a spirit of readiness. Let’s ask God to guide us as we consider what these vows mean for us now, in this time, this place.
The Baptismal Promises:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
- In this last year of pandemic, how have you persevered in your spiritual learning and prayer life? What challenges have you faced in doing so?
- Looking ahead, can you identify some specific ways in which you might go deeper in your own faith formation? How might you grow in prayer? In Bible study? In “the breaking of bread” within Christian community?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
- When we speak of “sin” in the Christian tradition, we’re talking about brokenness — all the ways in which our choices, our inclinations, our actions, histories, and experiences pull us away from trusting in God’s love and grace. Where in your life are you experiencing brokenness now?
- The rhythm of the Christian life is a rhythm of repentance and return. We are not perfect; we stumble and fall. But God’s loving Spirit is always at work, inviting us to return, inviting us to begin again. How might you “return” in this season of Pentecost?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
- Evangelism doesn’t look the same for all of us. How we each share the Good News of Christ is unique to our own personalities, gifts, and circumstances. As you look back over the past year, how have you, by word or by example, shared the Good News of Jesus? What have you found challenging in your attempts to do so?
- Looking ahead, can you identify some ways in which you might grow as an “evangelist?” How might you bear witness in fresh ways to the hope that is within you?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Who are your neighbors? How has Christ revealed himself to you through them?
- Whom do you find difficult to love as yourself? Can you ask God to help you see the divine image in all people — especially the people whom you struggle to love?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
- The work of seeking justice and peace in the world can feel daunting, because there is so much need, and our individual efforts can feel so small. Where, specifically, do you sense God instilling a passion for justice and peace within you? What commands your attention in these arenas? What specific kinds of justice and peace do you yearn for? Sometimes our own desires are an indication of God’s calling, so ask God to help you seek the world’s healing in the specific places and situations that call to you this year.
- What actions might you take this year to “respect the dignity” of people who are outside your immediate circles of affinity and connection? What fears or reservations do you have as you anticipate doing this work?
One of the other ways in which we can live into the joy and promise of Pentecost is to consider our own faith community here at St. Mark’s, and discern where God might be calling us to participate more robustly in the life of the church. All of us have roles to play, not merely as “consumers,” but as active participants working together to build up Christ’s Body here in Palo Alto. Sometimes this means continuing work we’re already doing. Sometimes it means following a new call, into a new area of ministry.
This year, we’d like to invite all St. Mark’s parishioners to consider where you might “plug in,” both for your own spiritual enlivening, and for the strengthening of the community as a whole. Below is a list of ministry areas. Over the next few days, would you prayerfully consider where God might be calling you to engage?
Buildings and Grounds
Please contact Debie Thomas, Minister of Lifelong Formation, for more information and to be connected with leaders of these ministry teams.