Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Pentecost Sunday, Year A
May 31, 2020
Lessons: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn to “see red” and experience Pentecost in fresh ancient ways.
Key Scripture: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23
Dear Church, my beloved siblings in Christ, we have an opportunity this Pentecost Sunday to listen to the Spirit, proclaim a hard and loving word, and be the church in our place, time, and context. Are you willing to take yet one more important risk? I hope so, because the power of the Gospel should not be underestimated. The story of the first Pentecost has shown us that for as many years as we have celebrated the Spirit’s descent on that day recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
Until this year, many of us have celebrated Pentecost in a flurry of red: Red attire, red paraments, red flowers, fire, wind, banners, ribbons, mobiles, and so much more. It’s a happy day, a joyous worship often accompanied by baptisms and/or affirmation of baptism. Some refer to it as the “birthday of the church,” but it’s really more about when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit descends upon the followers of Jesus and completely disrupts and resets their lives and way of being.
I don’t know about you, friends, but I am weary as I write this reflection. My heart is hurting with the news of this week, with the continued discounting of the lives of brown and Black siblings, with the manipulation of the masses by those intent on keeping intact their power and greed, and by the collective weariness I sense, hear, and read about from friends and colleagues. The struggle is real. Come, Holy Spirit! We need your Pentecost winds to blow through our homes and hearts. We need to be equipped, reminded, and then booted into a new reality to actually BE the Body of Christ, the Church for this time.
Never mind the buildings! Loosen that grip on nostalgia and what you “love” about your particular congregation or faith tradition. We need some flat out wild-goose kind of Spirit action that shakes us, wakes us, and sends us out to be LOVE in Jesus’ name. And beloveds, we can’t be LOVE if we aren’t filled with the Spirit and connected to the Christ. So plug yourself into the divine power source through Word, creative participation in the Sacraments, prayer, and trust. Believe that God can use us to accomplish the divine purpose. And above all, speak a prophetic word of hope, power, and possibility for those on the margins. Remember, Jesus has a preferential option for the poor. Christ’s church should, too.
Some thoughts on the lessons:
Numbers 11:24-30: You have to love when Joshua complains to Moses about Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp rather than in the approved and appointed setting outside the camp. This lesson rarely makes the cut for Pentecost Sunday, but maybe this year it should be told. The Spirit descends on the two men, and Moses shuts down Joshua’s complaint, saying, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” Our visions of how religion and spirituality should rightly be are usually so confining and comfortable. God is so much bigger than our imaging of God.
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b: Yes, praise is the first and most appropriate response when God is in the house (and that’s all the time, since God is everywhere). It’s all about God, and God loves us. The appropriate response to such unmerited love? Love God, love neighbor, bless and praise the LORD always and in all times.
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (12:7). Did you see that? It’s not about individuality or a personal (and highly managed/curated) relationship with Jesus. The Spirit is given to us for the common good (my emphasis). That means we are so much better together, even when it’s crazy, messy, and chaotic. Again, love God and neighbor: The hardest simple commandment you’ll ever keep.
Acts 2:1-21: Ah, the lesson preachers love and lectors dread (at least verses 9-11)! How does this lesson speak to our current situation? What seems fresh and helpful? Verse 21 spoke powerfully to me this time around. I’m also intrigued by the image of the gospel being proclaimed in ways that all can understand in their own language. Perhaps all of our newfound tech skills and creations are proclaiming the gospel in the language of others we have not yet reached. One hopes that same gospel is being heard by us in a new way/language, as well.
John 20:19-23: This gospel speaks a prophetic and timely word this week? When Pentecost is all about the Spirit being breathed into a people and changing everything, how can we not hear Jesus’ words about peace and breath without the refrain of George Floyd’s agonizing words, “Please, I can’t breathe!” Are we ready for Jesus to send us out? Are we willing to do the hard, holy work that lies ahead? Are we eager to be pushed beyond our comfort zones into deeper spiritual waters? If you answered yes, this gospel will preach.
John 7:37-39: If you decided to go with the alternative gospel lesson, there’s a wonderful hymn around which you might frame a sermon: “Let Streams of Living Justice” by William Whitla and Gustav Holst. The imagery of the Spirit flowing out of the believer’s heart as a river of living water and Christ inviting all who thirst to come within offers a powerful circular rhythm. For what do we thirst? What river is flowing out of you? Does your river need any environmental cleanup or restoration? How is Christ providing life/water for all, and how do you participate in that process?
Here we are as church dispersed on Pentecost Sunday. Are you sensing restlessness or peace? Hopelessness or hope? Fear or anxiety? Anger or love? What opportunity might this strange current context provide to experience Pentecost through a first century lens. What “languages” are not conveying the gospel? How might we learn to speak new “languages” as the church post COVID-19?
It might be fun to get your youths’ take on this story from Numbers. How do they see Joshua, Moses, Eldad and Medad? What do they make of how the Spirit works in this story? What lessons can we learn for today?
This week’s focus verse is Acts 2:21 – “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
You know some things never really change. Look at the first get-together of what we now call the church, the story we heard from Acts. The Spirit shows up in wind and fire. It is a pretty BIG entrance! Everybody can hear and understand in their own language—better than Google translate. You would think everybody would be happy and excited, right? No…people start accusing and making up stories. Peter clears things up by setting the event in the context of Hebrew scripture. Then he sums up everything in a few words: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pretty simple instruction: Call on God and know that God has you covered.
We humans love to take simple things and make them really complex. Just remember that Jesus does the opposite. He takes big stuff and breaks it down and makes it simple: Love God. Love neighbor. Call on God. Work together. We can do that, right?
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for keeping the instructions simple (for keeping the instructions simple). Love God (Love God), love neighbor (love neighbor). Call on you (Call on you) for you are with me (for you are with me). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Ministry continues even though we are not yet able to worship together. Our church is open for business, meeting needs and sharing God’s love. Thank you for the many ways you are helping this to happen. Your gifts of time, talent, and resources are deeply valued.
Since the week begins with Pentecost Sunday, let’s spend a week seeing “red.” Red is a color often associated with both love and anger. This week let’s look for one instance of “righteous or holy anger” and once instance of God’s love at work in the world. For example, one might choose the response to the murder of George Floyd as an example of “righteous or holy anger,” and one might choose the news of a young girl who gave away 1500 art kits to children to help them through the COVID-19 crisis as an example of God’s love at work through human hands and creativity. Learning to see red in the world may not be such a bad thing all the time!
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/06/love-and-care-spoken-here/
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/06/go-church/
Images: Dale Martin, Bill McChesney, and laurastpauls, Creative Commons usage license.Thanks!
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