Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Day of Pentecost, Year B
May 23, 2021
Lessons: Acts 2:1-21 (or Ezekiel 37:1-14); Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 (or Acts 2:1-21); John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people comprise the church, and as we move into this post-COVID era, they are willing to adapt and change.
Key Scripture: I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD. – Ezekiel 37:14
(Note: This week’s reflection takes the form of an open letter to the North American church rather than a lectionary reflection for those preparing for worship leadership. This letter does not necessarily reflect the views of the Stewardship of Life Institute.)
I write today as a sibling in Christ who loves you dearly in almost all your forms. You have nurtured me since I was a baby in my mother’s arms, have been patient with me when I pulled away, and you’ve welcomed me back as a minister of the Gospel and beloved child of God. That said, I have a bone to pick with you as we prepare to celebrate the Day of Pentecost this coming Sunday. I want you to consider whether these “dry bones” can live again in the spirit of the very first church in Acts. Are you really willing to be on fire for the gospel—no matter what it takes?
Across America restrictions are lifting as the Centers for Disease Control learns more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and as more adults are full vaccinated. Yet more than 587,000 Americans have died from the virus and its complications. It’s been a difficult time in the life of our nation, stretching medical resources and practitioners to the edge, and affecting all aspects of life. Add to that the polarization of American politics, Christian nationalism, and systemic racism, and it’s not tough to see that the Church is located squarely in the middle of a toxic societal soup.
Now we are told that fully vaccinated adults may ditch the masks in most cases, including church. You’d think there would be rejoicing and careful planning for easing back into congregational life. In many cases, this is true. Yet, I’ve also heard of many congregations who have challenged their ministers’ wisdom and best efforts in a feverish desire to “get back to the way things were before the pandemic.” Political and social divisions also contribute to the issues of masks, gathering in person, and social distancing. These challenges, often accompanied by anger and/or defiance, are leading ministers to vacate their positions. In fact, some 250 pastors leave ministry each month, according to LifeWay. Other sources report much higher numbers, such as the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Of their 2,000 member churches surveyed, a full twenty-five percent of ministers reported are considering leaving ministry or retiring post-COVID. A friend’s parish lost their rector during the pandemic and now cannot afford to replace her due to the high cost of living in the area and need to provide an adequate salary and benefits. Church, wake up! Hear your ministers’ pain and suffering. Hear how they love you, but how you may be devastating their physical and mental health at this crucial time. I ask you: Can these dry bones live?
Take the example of St. Betty’s in the Bower (name changed to protect the guilty). Restrictions are being lifted just in time for them to hold their annual Blueberry Festival, wherein a shrinking cadre of aging volunteers prepare everything from Blueberry pancakes to Blueberry bread in a massive fundraiser that helps keep the tiny church afloat from year to year. Somehow they believe they can pull this event together in two weeks if only their rector will play along. The rector is having none of this move to return to “the way things were” and isn’t ready to abandon all COVID protocols. Tensions are running high, and angry words have been exchanged, particularly between the octogenarian coordinator of the event and the rector. I predict if the Blueberry crowd pushes too hard, they will find themselves without a rector in short order. Is any pancake or cobbler worth that result? And just how does the Blueberry Festival spread the good news of Christ to a community that’s down on its luck thanks to economic exploitation and the devastating effects of COVID anyway?
What are you willing to do, Church? I’ve heard many times that you’ll do anything—except make meaningful changes perhaps—to grow the Church, foster meaningful ministries and outreach, and provide excellent worship opportunities. What will it be? The time has come to fish or cut bait. If you’re not willing to do so, you may find that your minister decides to preserve what’s left of their own physical, spiritual, and mental health and leaves you with many fewer options. Don’t think of this as threat, but rather as painful reality. No one wants to lose their beloved church community or life’s vocation.
This weekend we once again read the story of Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones of Israel (and to us today) and the story of the first church at Pentecost. It’s up to each one of us to decide: Can we leave our petty differences at the door and welcome all people to Christ’s table of love and grace? Can we shed the skin of Christian nationalism to become the Church of that first Pentecost? Will we do whatever it takes to ignite the fire in our bellies that will lead to renewal and revival?
Finally, are we willing to do the hard work of change and quit trying to spin backward to something that no longer exists? Just what are you willing to do for the sake of Christ and the very good gospel we proclaim? What am I willing to do to welcome the Spirit winds that may take me where I don’t really want to go? Who will we be as beloved children of God?
Church, I love you in all your glorious imperfection. Let’s not disappoint one another yet again. Let’s rise to the Pentecost occasion and light a fire of revival that nothing can quench. Let the flames of love and grace rise high! Amen and amen.
Wherever you are in your COVID protocol and planning, give thanks that you can worship in some form or fashion. Give thanks that your ministers and congregational leaders have invested so much time and thought into your safety and care. Be ready to commit to a new day as Church, to a new way of being Church, and to loving God and your neighbor with your entire being. We can’t go backwards, and the Church will not look the same going forward, but with the Spirit’s guidance and the love and grace of Christ we can be what we ought to be.
In many places today is celebrated as Confirmation Sunday or Affirmation of Baptism Sunday for congregational youth. If that is happening in your context be sure to celebrate fully and include older and younger youth, too.
This week’s focus verse is Ezekiel 37:14 – I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, that event in the life of the early church where the Holy Spirit filled the people and helped them to communicate with one another in their own languages. It’s also the day we remember the church’s official start as a body of committed believers who held everything in common, worshiped gladly, and welcomed all. I hope our church today can reclaim some of that fire that descended on the leaders.
What kind of languages do we need to learn to speak? Do we need to speak a language of love and acceptance? Do we need to speak the languages of new neighbors in our community? Do we need to learn to speak a language of hope and reconciliation? Do we need to put aside language that is hateful and divisive? What do you think? (Let the children provide their answers and affirm their efforts.)
Let’s pray to God for help:
Dear Lord (Dear Lord),
Thank you for loving us (Thank you for loving us). Thank you for teaching us new ways to speak the language of love (Thank you for teaching us new ways to speak the language of love) and for teaching us to listen for your Holy Spirit (and for teaching us to listen for your Holy Spirit). We want to learn to love like you (We want to learn to love like you) so that others may feel welcome (so that others may feel welcome). And let all God’s children say…AMEN!
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
How are you stewarding your COVID reopening plans in light of the Centers for Disease Control’s new guidance and loosened restrictions in most states? Thank you for being thoughtful, calm, and caring. It’s good stewardship!
Stewardship at Home
Get a copy of Thom Rainer’s new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six urgent challenges plus opportunities that will determine the future of your congregation. Learn more here. Consider hosting a book group to discuss the book as you read it. Invite your minister and church leadership to join you. Keep an open mind, and avoid looking in the rearview mirror.
If you have young children and/or teens ask them what they like about church the way it used to be versus the way it has been during COVID quarantine. What would they like to see going forward. Take their answers seriously and share them with church leadership (with your children’s permission, of course).
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/05/holy-chaos/
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