Revised Common Lectionary for the Day of Pentecost, Year A
June 4, 2017
Lessons: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23 (Alternative Gospel: John 7:37-39
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people experience Pentecost as an opportunity to examine and renew faith, to affirm baptism, and to commit afresh to stewarding God’s love, grace, and resources to a world in need.
Key Scripture: And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. — Acts 2:6
Read this week’s lesson from Acts carefully. I know. Yes, you’ve read it many times before. You know the story. Just humor me. Take another pass at the story and let yourself be transported back to the first century. Imagine you are in Jerusalem in that place with Peter and the others. It’s a busy time, a festival, so faithful Jews from all across the empire have converged on the city. Perhaps you, too, have traveled there from afar and speak a different language. You care enough about your faith to make this journey; God has drawn you to this place at this time. You find yourself hungry to be a part of this new thing, “the way,” to hear the latest news from the disciples of Jesus.
Suddenly the wind of the Holy Spirit fills the space. You hear the roar as it rushes through. What else do you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel? Everything is crazy. People come running to see what is happening. A cacophony erupts—excited voices speaking in many tongues. Then an amazed silence blankets the room. The disciples begin speaking, and it’s fantastic because everyone hears it in his or her own language! You, too, hear the message plainly, and you are speechless, stunned even. Their words make perfect sense. Is it a miracle or is it drunkenness? Is it a holy happening and the realization of prophecy?
Yes, it is holy, but it is also a remarkable expression of God’s wholly encompassing, holy love for all humankind. People heard the good news in many languages, but the common language was love.
Fast forward to 2017 and back to reality. We live in an increasingly pluralistic and diverse culture, yet even so there is significant and sometimes increasing resistance to this change. Nonstop talk of terror, racial profiling, and fear of immigrants — this drives many of us to avoid our neighbor, to close our ears to the sound of a foreign tongue and avert our eyes from any kind of ethnic encounter.
Our churches, too, feel this tension in so many ways. Are we truly welcoming in Jesus’ name to all people? Do we all look, sound, and act pretty much the same, or are we a crazy quilt patchwork of God’s beloved? What languages are spoken in your congregation? What messages are people hearing? How do you hear the good news? Most importantly, is the language of love infused in every song, every sermon, every handshake and hug? Is love woven into the fibers of ministry and the mission of all disciples? Is love the last word in all you say and do in the name of Jesus?
According to the Barna Group, 51% of regular churchgoers say their lives have been somewhat or greatly changed by attending church, but 46% say their lives have not changed as a result of attending church. It makes one wonder what language the 46% of folks in the pews are hearing. How can one hear about the wondrous love and grace of Jesus and not be transformed by it? What gets lost in translation?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but it is important for us to re-imagine Pentecost for this day and for our time. Sure, we recognize it as the birthday of the early church, but the Holy Spirit didn’t remain in Jerusalem. The message was not just for that group of folks. Indeed, the gospel is still spreading, and it’s spoken and proclaimed in many languages. The Holy Spirit still blows in faster than a summer rain squall and drenches God’s people in possibility and hope. It’s the same Spirit–timeless yet totally today.
This Sunday consider how the language of faith is spoken in your context. Is the Spirit pouring over the people in a mighty rush of renewal and reformation? Is the church equipped to translate the message in an increasingly pluralistic world? Are you multilingual in a way that spans the generations, that taps into tweets, and blogs, and social networking? Can you communicate the story in images that are visually appealing and relevant?
Consider how the good news might be heard by the unemployed single parent who is carrying a heavy load of worry. Think about what the body-pierced teenager is or is not hearing as she sits uncomfortably in the pew under parental duress. What about the retired couple who has watched their church change radically over the years? How about that person for whom English is a second language and the American dream a brass ring that seems always just out of reach? What does the Pentecost message mean to them this year? Yes, dear faithful ones, our church requires a facility with language that goes far beyond Greek, Hebrew, or any modern second language. We must be fluent in the languages of faith and love as well.
Don’t let Pentecost be just another date on the liturgical calendar, a festival day where red clothing, paraments, and flowers are the big deal. The Spirit is present and accounted for, so let that mighty wind wash over you and all God’s people. Let the Spirit whisper in your ear in the language you most need to hear, and trust that same Spirit to give you the words you need to speak to those assembled. May you be awakened to the divine will for community in which you serve and live. My prayer for you is the gift of fresh, bold, faithful words spoken in love and carried on the wind of that wonderful advocate and Spirit of God.
The Spirit came to the Church in extraordinarily ordinary and elemental ways–in wind, fire, and word. It wasn’t at all what people expected, yet it took a struggling movement and gave it the breath of life. This life continues even when we try to tame it, contain it, or even extinguish it. What images and objects, sight and sound might you use today to help people enter the story and find their connection to it? How can let love be the universal language both spoken and understood?
Consider weaving poetry into your Pentecost worship—a truly foreign language to many, but a universally lovely one. One to consider is 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Derek Walcott’s poem “Pentecost.”
The Day of Pentecost in our congregations is often marked by youth celebrating the Affirmation of their Baptism. What does this really mean in one’s life—to affirm a faith and to live into promises made for you before you were able to make them? How can one grasp the significance of being knit into this community, this body, that is both broken and beautiful, in bondage and radically freed? How have we taken this strange and wildly non-conforming notion and tamed it into something less appealing than tepid bathwater?
Consider talking about the domesticating of the Church in the way we have taken candles and made battery-operated facsimiles. You can get a package of battery-powered tea lights at your local dollar store. They are, however, a poor substitute for the real thing. Invite youth to explore ways we reclaim the elemental fire of the Spirit with all of its wild, unpredictable, and holy ways. Consider having them write a manifesto for renewing your congregation in its place and time.
Wind Power: Gather several fans ranging in size from a small hand-held personal fan to a box fan to a high-power shop fan. Be sure to take good safety precautions. Talk to the children about the lesson from acts and the mighty wind of the Spirit coming down from heaven. Turn on the smallest fan. Ask the children if it makes a mighty wind. Turn on the next smallest fan and ask the same question. Finally turn on the shop fan and ask them if this is a mighty wind. Connect the idea of the mighty wind with the excitement of the gift of the Spirit and tell them the next time they are outside in the wind to rest assured that the Spirit is with them.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Pentecost is traditionally the day that we “celebrate” the birthday of the church. It’s a festival Sunday painted in shades of fiery reds. We remember those who were “on fire” for the gospel and filled with the Spirit. A birthday is also a good time to take stock of how the last year unfolded while looking forward to a year ahead. As stewards of the faith, how might we take stock and cast a vision for the future? What is the Holy Spirit cajoling, prodding, and leading us to do in Christ’s name?
Stewardship at Home
This week aim to keep the fire of Pentecost alive by speaking and doing “small things with great love,” as Mother Teresa of Calcutta suggested. She spent her entire life and ministry delivering and living the message that love and caring are the most important things in the world. Find some way to love and care for someone else without expectation of return each day, particularly someone in need who is not in a position to reciprocate your action. Give thanks to God each day for the opportunity to love and care for others. Give thanks to Jesus for loving you and giving you an example of love beyond measure. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to greater love and care and to present you with opportunities to serve others.
Photos: Denise Krebs, Maronite Icon, and Jason Wohlford, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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