Punctuation Saves Me

Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost Sunday – for May 27, 2012

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”

In the meal of ministry, I received leftovers at the first church I served. I was the associate pastor.

Did I preach at Christmas? No, the senior pastor did (though I’d often get the Sunday after Christmas when my “boss” headed outtatown). What about the first Sunday of Lent or Easter? No and no. How ‘bout that moveable Sunday in late August or early September when school started and folks scurried back to church? Nope . . . never on that Sunday.

In those early, youthful halcyon years (I’ve so desired to sneak halcyon into a sentence), there was only one special time of the church year—of the holy ride from Christmas preparation through Easter glory until Advent loomed again—when I was guaranteed to stand at or near the pulpit:  Pentecost Sunday.

Okay, fine, Pentecost typically blazes in on a Sunday in late May or early June. In other words, like a spring storm, it swirls across the calendar when school ends and Memorial Day barbeques are creating a haze of smoke in the ‘burbs. It’s a kind of leftover Sunday. And yet, in the peculiar church pantheon of super-duper days, Pentecost at least gets ranked in the top ten. Let’s say:

  1. Easter Sunday
  2. Christmas Eve/Day
  3. Moveable Sunday in late Aug/Sept
  4. First Sunday of Lent
  5. Pledge Sunday
  6. Super Bowl Sunday
  7. Good Friday
  8. Pentecost
  9. Maundy Thursday
  10. Senior Pastor’s Birthday*

You can re-jigger my list or make your own. But for several formative years, my associate pastor list bumped Pentecost up to the top.

I know Pentecost.

I’ve heard many a layperson stumble on the names of places where “outsiders” heard their language spoken. Oh, for the pleasure of pronouncing Cappadocia or Pamphylia to a congregation of your peers. As the congregants repressed giggles, how grateful they are not to be you while you weave through Pentecost’s scriptural landmines.

I’ve seen many smiles from pew-dwellers when the disciple Peter declared, in the oh-so-serious Pentecost verses, that those filled with God’s Spirit shouldn’t be called drunkards. After all, “it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Bingo! Which is to say, Jesus’ followers might get bamboozled with new wine in old wineskins at noon or by nightfall, but they’d never hit the sauce this early!

Then there’s the prophet Joel’s prediction of “blood, and fire, and smoky mist.” Those words don’t predict what’ll happen at the picnic later on Sunday afternoon when you grill burgers . . . they were gloom and doom warnings. Nothing like the apocalypse to get minds wandering out in the pews. Instead of hearing how some will be saved and others punished, it’s better to muse if today’s a good day to wash the car or fix that broken sprinkler in the back yard. Continue reading →