When I first stumbled into the Auckland Normal Intermediate hall where Central Vineyard was meeting at the time I was at the end of myself spiritually speaking. Katie and I had been visiting churches for well over 9 months trying to return to local church after a three year hiatus where we’d been meeting in home churches, prayer gatherings and through local and international travel.
We were exhausted. Exhausted because we were tired of walking into church communities that felt foreign to who we’d found God to be. But also exhausted inside. We were wondering whether to give up hope that there was a community that felt as if the Spirit would be free to lead us as a people, together.
Walking out of ANI that day, out of that small gathering of forty people, Katie and I didn’t even discuss it, we just knew we’d found our home.
We felt at the time like we were exiles who had found a table to eat at, sojourners who’d finally found a place of acceptance. A place we could rest. We’d found our home now not only in God’s kingdom, but in a particular local community that understood.
This story and this language has been a consistent theme over the years when we’ve asked newcomers their experience of walking into one of our gatherings. From day dot we’ve been walking in a story of homecoming, and on our first birthday the Spirit confirmed it when he told us through a prophetic word that we were and would become a Psalm 107 community.
Psalm 107 depicts a people - an exile people - being gathered from the four corners of the earth, being healed by God and welcomed back into his family. It’s the only Psalm or small body of writing in the entire bible that repeats the same phrase four times only to represent the four navigational points of both our physical and spiritual worlds.
for us, This Psalm is an all-embodying statement that God was bringing us home from spiritual malnourishment, disappointment, hurt, cynicism, depression, pride and loneliness. it was our homecoming.
This word and Psalm were the foundation of our Faithful Presence series which helped us lay a foundation of hospitality, gratitude and spiritual expression in the worlds around us. Many of us felt like we were re-building the basics of following Jesus together through the months and years that followed.
As we slowly grew into who God was inviting us to become we became living proof that “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water” (107:35).
From that first birthday of around 80 people or so to the next we doubled in exiles finding their way home. Now, as we head toward our fourth birthday we’ve tripled that and then some the size of our table with people who have met us over dinner, found us in our aching to overcome, sat with us in our desire to beat numbness and celebrated with us in the new life that God has brought.
This Pentecost, we remember that god spoke, then transformed us. He made a highway in the wilderness for us. he made a people where there had been no people.
On our first coming of age he told us he would bring in more of us, and he did. He kept his promise because it was his pleasure and longing to do so. That’s so much of what the prophetic is.
In our story so far, the Spirit moved among us to do what so many people thought would be impossible - he brought in hundreds of us from a “lost generation”. One we’re told were doing little more than leaving religion behind for cynicism and hurt.
So maybe our own prophetic Psalm could go something like this:
“God saw us out there in the far reaches of our liminal spaces,
and he loved us too much to leave us in our wandering.
He drew us in, little by little,
until the deserted city became a flourishing garden -
One not full of overconfidence and self assured know-how,
but full of the meek,
God brought us together and blessed us so that we could heal,
so that we could re-understand his love for us
and his promise to make a Way.
Now, Central Vineyard has become a gather place
for the North, South, East and West of a lonely generation.
Our own little monument to hope,
in the midst of a world experiencing a crisis of faith.”
But God is speaking to us as a people in a new way again.
The Spirit is on the move - as he always is - and we’re not about to stop following him.
This Pentecost we’re preparing for a change, a pivot, a swing into something new, discomforting and exciting.
And we hope you’re ready for the adventure.
[As part of our preparation for Pentecost I’ve created some questions and prompts to pray through individually and in whatever circles you’re gathering in these next few weeks. Each blog post will end with an opportunity to allow the Spirit to prompt you in your own journey and your place in the whole as we work toward our Pentecost evening on June 9.]
God is the welcomer of exiles. He goes out to find any person who is lost, overwhelmed, exhausted or dehydrated by their own mistakes and by the worlds. He has drawn us all into a particular spiritual family in a particular place - Central Vineyard - and now we have a particular story together. God is restless until he has met us kindly in the wilderness. We remember and we celebrate him in our communal awakening story this Pentecost season.
Read through Psalm 107
Where do you find yourself in the story of the exiles coming home?
What was it like for you before you joined the Central Vineyard whanau?
What’s changed since you have?
Who has God revealed himself to be in this journey?
Father of the four corners of our hearts,
we celebrate your welcoming disposition toward us;
your drawing us in and your making us a home together
in this place of hope and healing.
We remember our unique collective story -
That you have given us a family,
And that you have built us a home.
May we never forget it.