Living the Deeds of a Love So Noble: Being Pentecost People in 2021

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash 
As our churches move into Pentecost and to the end of this project in innovation with Pivot NW, it is a good time to return to the most basic of questions: what, then, is the nature of the Church?  So much of our work with you over these past 5 years have returned to that question.  This week my Seminary class is reading an excerpt from Tertullian of Carthage’s Apology written in 197 CE.  Tertullian’s concern in his Apology is multi-faceted and in many ways central to what we all continue to wrestle with as the COVID pandemic, racial justice, economic unrest, and political divides continue to fracture and splinter our collective sense of what we see as being “the Church.” Tertullian is writing in part to bridge the difficult divide between full participation in civic duties under Rome yet also a call to moral purity that stands in radical contrast to idolatry that was his context. But it is also a pastoral reminder to Christians in such a challenging time to remain “a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.” Such a good word for us all at this moment. Part of the example to be set for the world as to what faithfulness looks like according to Tertullian is for members of the church to put aside “a small donation” that will be “piety’s deposit fund.”  This “piety’s deposit fund” is to be deployed for charity and witness: “…not taken thence and spent on feasts and on drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they became nurslings of their confession.”
 
From this witness Tertullian says that we can find our “brand”: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another… how they are ready to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner be put to death… Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with all good things of the feast will benefit the needy.”
 
So many management consultants take about “branding” yet I love this phrase by Tertullian  – the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us – and I wonder who indeed is “branding” us now in this moment and is the brand something we can hold our head high with?
 
We hope and pray that as we move into the Spirit’s work at Pentecost you will also find yourself with a “brand” put upon you thanks to your faithfulness in the Lord’s work for those who God has called you to serve and witness the power of justice, mercy and redemption in this season.

~Jeff Keuss

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