What we call "church" is too often a gathering of strangers who see the church as yet another "helping institution" to gratify further their individual desires....To the extent that the church and its leaders are willing to be held accountable to the story which is the gospel, ministry is a great adventure of helping to create a people worthy to tell the story and to live it.
--Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony
The church does not exist to satisfy the religious tastes of its tithe-paying members (much less its non-tithe-paying members!). Nor does it exist for institutional self-preservation. Nor does it exist to provide clergy with fulfilling employment and generous remuneration and an unparalleled retirement package. But rather the church exists to join God in God's self-giving for the sake of this world that is loved by God.
--Brian McLaren, Address to the 187th Commencement at Virginia Theological Seminary
This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. That day is often referred to as the "birthday of the church." It is the first recorded instance of the newly-born fellowship of believers having a mass experience of the Holy Spirit in power. On Pentecost, it is written that
...the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.On that day, the church was literally set on fire by the Holy Spirit. That fire would spread across the globe and would eventually touch millions upon millions of people. That spiritual fire is a fire that we believe burns still inside each and every Christian. It may be a small ember or a raging conflagration. It may be somethng that people are attracted to or from which people flee, but that same fire is what is within each of us who call ourselves Christians. On this Sunday, the Paschal candle, which has burned from the kindling of the fire at the Easter Vigil through Eastertide, will be extinguished. It will not burn again, except at funerals and baptisms, until next year when the new fire is kindled again. The reason we extinguish that fire is not because we don't like candles in church, but because we now that at Pentecost, that physical fire is transported, passed, caught by each and every one of us as spiritual fire. May we tend and fan that fire in ourselves and in those with whom we come in contact.