Lauren J. McFeaters
November 20, 2022
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By the time we get to Acts 2:41, Peter has finished his Pentecost sermon and he gives us a snapshot of communal life in the early church. Community. The Community of early believers.
Community. A word we toss around a lot. The idea of Christian community, attracts and repels most of us. We long for the life-affirming benefits of community, but we resist the demands that community makes. To be committed to Community, we realize just how much independence and autonomy we might have to lose. We’re tempted to dismiss the whole notion of early church community as quaint and charming, even as we yearn for the very same kind of faith-filled living, connected and attached.[i]
But when we’re faced with another day of fear, filled with unending violence against LBGTQ+ folks including last night’s massacre in Colorado Springs. Another day of fear, filled with mass shooting madness, unending pandemics, an exodus of teachers from our schools, and a tipping point in climate change, we cannot dismiss a passage that represents the best of what God’s people are capable of.
Each generation of faith is fed by this passage about those first believers, because we are in the end, just like them: not quaint, not charming, but flawed and broken, another generation of faith, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and hope.
Tucked in the first chapters of Acts are seven small verses that give us everything we need to know about what the Holy Spirit can do.
For these past five weeks, Heath Carter has taken us on an adventure in history. Have you been a part of Adult Education, a Small group, listened to a sermon? Heath has given us an honest look at our Presbyterian past, our present, and today – our future. He’s touched on a lot of fear we have about what’s ahead for the church. Fear of change. Fear of the other. Fear of a world moving too quickly. Fear of a nation intent on dividing itself.
This week, Heath has asked us to take a breath and face the fear of an unknown future. He quotes Martin Marty, who says, while it’s easy to become overwhelmed by stories of decline, and worries of the church, of cascading crises, we have not been given a spirit of fear. [ii]
And this is the crux of the matter. We have not been given a spirit of fear. We have not. We absolutely have not.
In the midst of our fear, the Spirit rummages around our hearts, plucks us out of our hiding places, and releases us from our dread. Thank goodness. Thank you Spirit for being relentless, steadfast, and unyielding, because fear, our fear of what we cannot control, is the very thing that freezes our hearts and makes us bitter. So the Spirit of God lays this at our feet:
- Fear about the future has no place in our lives of faith.
- This soul-sickness only demoralizes; it weakens our capacity for generosity; it keeps us immature and under-developed,
- It damages our joy;
- It harms all the things we’ve learned from our text, that awe is a spiritual discipline, that communion and baptism are grace-alive, and that prayer is ours to revel in;
- We believe together, hope together, give our possessions and goods together, distribute together the proceeds to all.
- What would we do without each other.
There is a perfect sound and image of this. It sounds like a whisper. It turns into a Murmur. A Murmuration. A Murmuration of Birds. (Stay with me here). It’s a Murmuration of Starlings.
Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s the name that’s given to animal groupings. The collective noun that describes a gathering of creatures. You know: a Colony of Bees; a School of Fish. The names of animal groupings are fascinating:
- A Coalition of Cheetahs.
- A Pandemonium of Parrots.
- A Coterie of Prairie Dogs.
- And Crows. What’s for crows? Do you know? A Murder of Crows.
- A Conspiracy of Lemurs.
- A Parliament of Owls.
- And for those preparing for Advent, a Crèche of Penguins.
The most interesting to me, is the one about Starlings. The small, iridescent birds that fly all over the globe. A group of them is called a “Murmuration of Starlings,” because, when in flight, they whisper to each other by the flapping of their wings, and that murmuring whisper provides guidance as they seek food and avoid predators.
But they also do something amazing: when flying, starlings do so in complete synchronicity. Individual birds flock together as one.
It’s an aerial ballet. In one coordinated movement thousands of starlings swoop, plunge, climb, plummet, and twist, and then disappear altogether back to earth. Give yourself a gift and Google it: A Murmuration of Starlings.
It’s like watching:
- a shape-shifting cloud,
- a single being moving and twisting in unpredictable formations in the sky,
- one swirling liquid mass –
- as thousands, sometimes millions of individual birds act as one. [iii]
The flock’s movement is based on staying healthy as a whole.
No bird is left for the taking. There is protection in numbers, so the individual starlings do not scatter, but rather are able to move, thousands of birds changing direction simultaneously.
It’s the church isn’t it:
- A Murmuration of the Church.
- An Assembly Called Church.
- Flapping our wings in glorious praise to God.
- Swirling, shape shifting, twisting as we look out for each and every one.
- Murmurs of everyday devotion as we plunge into teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. [iv]
- Eagerly swooping into commitments of selflessness and sacrifice for the one in trouble.
- It is then, I think, from the perspective of heaven that we look like a Flock Called Church, moving and swaying in such exquisite harmony it takes away the very breath of God.
Not from Peter, no matter how courageous his sermons;
Not from Martha, no matter how intense her devotion;
Not from Paul, no matter how deep and wide-reaching
his missionary work.[v]
A gift. A gift with the power to wipe out fear.
A swooping, shape-shifting gift, that reminds us of who we are.
A swirling liquid mass, heart-rending,
unpredictable, mesmerizing, gift of the Holy Spirit.
Given in love and given to you.
I pray we never, ever, forget it.
[i] Matt Skinner. “Commentary on Acts 2:42-47.” Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, April 13, 2008.
[ii] Martin E. Marty. “From Declinism to Discovery,” The Christian Century, christiancentury.org, August 21, 2013.
[iii] See a YouTube video of a “Murmuration of Starlings” filmed by Dylan Winter at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY, November 13, 2010.
[iv] Lori Anne. “An Unkindness of Ravens, A Murmuration of Souls.” Mammasteblog.com, December 2, 2011.
[v] Laura Truman. “The Church This Side of Heaven: Acts 2:42-47.” Day 1, Alliance for Christian Media Inc., Atlanta, GA, day1.org, May 11, 2014.