On Pentecost: Windy Words Aflame

Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost Sunday – for Sunday, June 4, 2017

“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place . . .” (Acts 2:1)

At Pentecost, pronouncing the countries “from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” is always a challenge!

The Parthians and Medes aren’t terrible.

Cappadocia and Pontus represent more of a struggle.

With Phrygia and Pamphylia, my brain and mouth are hurting.

Whenever scanning the list of “every nation,” I wonder about the absence of the Han Dynasty in China or the Mayans in Central America. However “every nation under heaven” is defined, there were regions and languages from that long-ago first century world that never made Pentecost’s first team in the Acts of the Apostles.

But there was wind. There were flames. Those central images of God’s Spirit transcend the parochial, inadequate, and contradictory ways of words.

Wind is universal.

A summer breeze brings us together; a hurricane tears us apart. God’s Spirit soothes and roars, and no matter the language, it can be discovered in the clacking of branches or the whisper of lovers. We are, whether claiming old Pamphylia or new California as home, buffeted by winds from the balmy ocean or chilly arctic. We lean into the breeze, irritated or inspired by its persistence. It’s easy to understand why Jesus’ first followers identified the gifts (and burdens) of God’s Spirit as if a rush of wind.

Wind demands attention.

Once my wife Jeanie and I camped at Hart Lake in Yosemite’s backcountry. Though using a well-trod path for much of the trip, the last stretch to Hart was off trail and rarely explored. We settled at the sapphire lake, with no other backpackers arriving as day welcomed night. After quiet chatter around a small fire (ah those dancing, spirited flames!) and stunned gazing into the endless array of stars (more flames), we retreated to our tent. Both of us awoke a little later. Why? Something was . . . Continue reading →

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Plunging Between the Numbered Verses

Acts 1:6-14 – The Seventh Sunday of Easter – for May 28, 2017

“They said, ‘Galileans, why are you standing here . . .” (Acts 1:11)

When first reading the lectionary’s four scripture lessons this week, boredom was my companion. Or is “bored” overly harsh? Still, the assigned passages were either too familiar or lacked inspiration.

I started with John 17:1-11. And then onto Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, and I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11. Early morning by early morning, I sought one that tickled my fancy.

Near week’s end, my fancy remained tickle free.

If I were now serving a congregation, striving to be open to God’s guidance while trusting my homiletic cleverness, I’d be a tad panicked. After all, Sunday’s coming. What to preach? What to preach! Help . . .

However, when serving a church—even in the honeymoon phase as a newly appointed minister, when I hardly knew the members and couldn’t tell which key opened the sanctuary versus the storeroom—I was preaching to those people at that particular moment.

While listening to and learning from the ancient, living Biblical words, I was also alert to the here-and-now situations of real people with real experiences:

  • Had there been a recent death or birth in the congregation?
  • Was the church in serious debt or debating a serious issue?
  • Had there been a hate crime or a hopeful event in the city where the church was located?
  • Had a church member’s child, serving in the military, been hurt or killed while far from home?

Oh, the ways congregations—small or large, liberal or conservative, rural or urban, dying in the inner city or thriving in the suburbs—are alike! People hurt. People unwittingly (and wittingly) do stupid things. People argue. People tell you they’re fine when they’re not. People deceive, hoard, and outright cheat. However, they are also as beautiful as they are broken. Honest. Hopeful. Resilient. Tender. People delight, bless, and unexpectedly forgive. Continue reading →

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Leaning Forward For The Truth

John 14:15-21 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 21, 2017

“I will ask the Father and he will send another Companion . . .” (John 14:16)

I haven’t used John’s fourteenth chapter at every funeral, but there have been quite a few occasions when it was read.

The mowed grass of a cemetery, with endless stone markers as sentinels, sprawls green to the horizon.

In the graveside and memorial ceremonies I handled as a young pastor, I probably chose snippets of the fourteenth chapter because of their inclusion with the suggested scriptures for “Death and Resurrection” services in the United Methodist Book of Worship.

The grave’s freshly dug earth is piled in a mound, moist and wet. The dark brown hump is covered by a blanket-sized swathe of artificial grass. It never disguises the obvious contents.

Though I wonder if I opened the Bible to the middle of John because the passage had been part of movies or TV shows. If it was good enough for Hollywood funerals, it was good enough for me?

A canopy has been erected, with slender silver poles supporting the canvas material, stretched tight and secure. The family has shade from the sun (or protection from rain). Several rows of folding chairs, each slightly askew on the uneven ground, face the coffin.

John 14 also contains, in its opening, one of the most familiar of all Gospel verses: In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. How could any pastor, young or old, arrogant or humble, an angry bible-thumping preacher or a kindly absent-minded priest, not want to reassure the grieving family about a mansion awaiting their beloved?

The women of the grieving family sit on the metal chairs. Mostly, the men stand. Children fidget, maybe whispering to parents, negotiating to see if they can leave for some hide-and-seek on the inviting lawn. A boy—it’s usually a boy—escapes from his parent’s grasp and begins exploring the temporary “mountain” created by the grave’s dirt. His father, face streaked with tears, scoops up the child and returns him to the seat by the mother. Each of them is unhappy for different reasons. Continue reading →

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