James Enry White, in his book, “Rethinking the Church” notes an interesting story.
Years ago, the Swiss dominated watch making. They had for generations. By 1968, the Swiss made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world.
By 1980, however, they had laid off thousands of watch-makers and controlled less than 10 percent of the world market.
They’d lost sight of their actual mission – to make the world’s best watches.
You see, the Swiss had refused to consider a past development—the—the Quartz movement and use it in their watches. Ironically, the quartz movement was invented by a Swiss inventor years earlier. Seiko, on the other hand, embraced it and quickly became the leader in the watch industry.
The lesson of the Swiss watchmakers is profound. Their future was destroyed by their inability to consider their real mission – making great watches and how that might need to happen in the present day.
That’s a story that the church of Jesus Christ in America needs desperately to hear. After all, mainline denominations are plummeting in membership faster than a lead zeppelin falls to earth. Even where there is apparent growth, like at some megachurches, most of the new faces come not from conversions bur rather from pew-swapping, moving from one church to another.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, not really.
In a very real way, we are like those Swiss watchmakers. We’ve got our quartz-movement but we discount it, believing it not to be what the world wants or needs from us.
Today is the day upon which the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. The birth of the church, really. And I believe, quite rightly, that within our reading this morning, we can re-discover our power. A power given to the church by God to change the world. Hear now the Word of our Lord from the second chapter of the Book of Acts of the Apostles:
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Y’all, I’ll never forget one of my first classes in seminary. My first actual class in seminary was a real barn-burner, let me tell you. It was “Presbyterian Polity.” That’s right, a full semester before I’d start studying the Bible or theology, I spent a long summer learning all about our Book of Order.
The professor Dr. Richard Boyce, current President of Union Presbyterian Seminary, made the material interesting, engaging even. But one thing he said in the course of that class troubled me then and continues to do so to this very day. Dr. Boyce told us that he almost never preached from the Book of Acts.
His reason – he didn’t want congregants to compare themselves to those earliest apostles and disciples. In short, he feared people would study what the early church was able to accomplish and judge their own efforts to be entirely lacking.