The Gospel Lesson Is All Wet

After Jesus’ ascension*, his followers gathered in an upper room. There, fire stunned them. Maybe the holy flames were literal; maybe metaphorical. But the factual or mythic fire reported in Acts was life transforming.

Pentecost Sunday (last official Sunday of Easter) – for June 12, 2011

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

No water allowed. Nor booze! After all, the disciples, flame-fueled and able to speak unexpected languages, were accused of drunkenness. Not a chance, said Peter, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning.” I smile when I read that. I smile, even after a thousand readings, of the morning spirit that had nothing to do with a champagne buzz.

Odd then, in the lectionary, that the gospel lesson chosen to compliment Pentecost is all wet. Quoting from Zechariah, In John 7:37-39, Jesus declared, Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

Another example of "Living Water": Clear Creek Canyon in the Grand Canyon...

Almost always our talk about the Holy, of the ways known and unknown of how God works, use the most basic elements—fire, water, wind—to prop up our inadequate reporting. So it doesn’t surprise me, on fiery Pentecost, where the spirit dazzles, that the Gospel lesson happens to be all wet.

The elements of fire, water, and wind are fearsome and necessary, healing and horrible. Have you preached or heard a Pentecost sermon after someone’s home was burned or, on a larger scale, a wildfire raged and hundreds were forced to flee? Have you baptized a child while the national news reported the flooding from Katrina or when, on an international scale, a devastating tsunami killed thousands? Pentecost arrives this year twenty-one days after the Joplin, Missouri tornado. How will the survivors of that furious windstorm receive the breezy “good news” from the gathered disciples?

Suddenly, the “safe” scriptural metaphor is dangerous. More awful than awesome.

And yet, dangerous as it is, and all Pentecost flames considered, some of my life-changing, spirit-filled moments were born from “living water.” Wild water. No known flames were nearby.

This I know, we humans are 78% water. 70% of Earth is covered by water. However 97% of the surface’s 70% liquid coverage is seawater. Which means 3% (or less) is fresh water. And—more wet math—about 2/3 of the 3% is “trapped” in the polar ice caps.

H2O is precious. I’ll drink to that!

What’s the best water I’ve ever tasted? Over three decades ago, on a backpack in Kings Canyon National Park, I gulped water from Bubbs Creek. Below me, Bubbs Creek drained into the mighty Kings River. Above me, it was birthed from mountain peaks teasing the sky. Those were the days before backpackers were warned to filter water, to eliminate nasty, naughty parasites like giardia. I was tired, there were still miles before camp, and I knelt by that creek, snow-fed, spring-fed, with sweat and grit encrusting my body, and drank. Continue reading →

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P is for . . .

PENTECOST

Musings* on Acts 2…

Proper definition: “It originated in the East in the 3rd century and is probably the Christianization of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, originally a thanksgiving for the wheat harvest but later linked to the giving of the ‘Tablets of the Law to Moses on Sinai’.” (from the Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend,” 1983)

Liturgical definition: “The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth and last day of the Easter Season, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (from the United Methodist Book of Worship)

Or my confusing attempt at a definition: Lighted candles known as humans realized that speaking and hearing were of equal importance if the spirit were to be understood as The Spirit. There are, after all, as many languages as there are human beings. You may not think you know any Parthians or Pamphylians, but the very next person you encounter may need you to carefully listen to who he or she uniquely is. When you are in Pamphylia, you’re a Pamphlyian.

 

*For what it’s worth, I hope anyone preaching on Pentecost will honestly and humbly imagine you are speaking to residents of Joplin, Missouri (among other places). Wind as reality and wind as metaphor sometimes collide like an accident on the freeway…and the worst thing to do is ignore the damage and drive by.

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Strive To Improve

When does something begin? How will it end?

T.S. Eliot famously began his poem East Coker with, “In my beginning is my end.” The conclusion declared, “In my end is my beginning.”

Ascension Sunday – for June 5, 2011

“In the first book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning…” (Acts 1:1)

As a child cheerfully attending Sunday school each week, I wasn’t told the same person wrote Luke and Acts. Until seminary, probably during a bleary-eyed moment in a New Testament class, I didn’t realize Luke’s end transitioned into Acts’ beginning. Luke highlighted Jesus’ life and work. Acts revealed what followed for his disciples and their post-resurrection ministry. Part 1. Part 2. Jesus’ birth “in the east” was bookended by Paul’s preaching “in the west.”

A long, long ways from the last catch...

Then why doesn’t Luke’s end and Acts’ beginning match? Both depict Jesus’ final moments with the disciples and yet contain oddly different versions. Writing the last words of a first book to parallel the opening words of the follow-up seem a simple task. Perhaps I’m influenced by the silly “reality shows” I spend too much time viewing. In programs like THE BIGGEST LOSER I weary of the hype about a contestant’s weight loss or gain that’s interrupted by endless commercials. When the show returns, the last scene is repeated. Grrrr! There’s no need—in spite of the mindless, endless ads—for a rehash. Just show me the weight loss!

But Luke’s finish and Acts’ start, with only the Gospel of John and no commercials between them, are not in agreement.

I understand why agreement can be difficult because choices are always being made by scholars to decide—based on the available manuscripts—which words should be included or excluded. A perfect example comes from the end of Luke in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) Bible given as a birthday present forty-five years ago by my parents. I still occasionally use it. In the RSV, Luke 24:51-53 reads:

(51) While he blessed them, he parted from them. (52) And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, (53) and were continually in the temple blessing God.

In my updated, more modern New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)—the Bible I currently use for personal study—Luke concludes . . .

(51) While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. (52) And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; (53) and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Well! The NRSV’s italicized words are different! In my birthday present Bible, the RSV has footnotes explaining, “other ancient authorities ADD” the italicized words. In the NRSV, those italicized words are footnoted with, “other ancient authorities LACK” these words. And that’s merely Luke’s add & lack ending, from only two different translations of the Bible. Reading the Good Word ain’t for the fainthearted, or those who like “easy” beginnings or endings! Continue reading →

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