The Problem of Pentecost
2009-05-25 by Christie Ashton

     At our church, we celebrate Pentecost in much the same way every year.  When it comes time for the Scripture reading, the pastor reads Acts 2, at which point some previously identified members of the congregation who know other languages stand and read one line of the text in that other language, each in turn, in an attempt to “recreate” this blessed occasion.  The pastor then gives a sermon about how Pentecost is the birthday of The Church, which I imagine most members of the congregation presume looks and acts and worships a lot like this congregation but perhaps they speak one of those other languages we heard earlier. 

     The more I reflect upon the overall impressions left by the lectionary texts for the day, the less I think we would know what to do if such an event were to actually occur in worship today.  The Acts 2 text describes a whirlwind or tornado, fire, and then a cacophony—bystanders think this is some wild, drunken party.  The other lectionary options for the day do not present a calmer picture:  Ezekiel has his skeletal horror show; Romans likens it to a woman in labor (before the time of epidurals); and even the psalmist describes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  All when God’s Spirit intercedes.  That sure makes me think twice before praying “Come, Holy Spirit.”  This is the stuff of end of time, not the beginning of the church. 

     I have often wondered why the Acts 2 text is not paired in the lectionary with the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel.  The parallels illumine a somewhat different meaning of the “birthday of the church” than we often celebrate.  In both Genesis and Acts, people who previously spoke one common language suddenly find themselves speaking many languages by the power of God; however, in Genesis, the result is “babble,” while in Acts it is proclamation.  What is the difference?  The difference is that Acts recounts a people who proclaim God, while Genesis warns against a people who pretend to be God. 

     Perhaps our “traditional” celebrations of Pentecost in worship more approximate the Tower of Babel than the pouring out of the Spirit.  Our nod to that first ecumenical worship service (so to speak) is often permeated by the implicit (or explicit) assumption that the church universal is just a larger form of the church particular that we know so well.  For many of us this is a community with organized programs and ministries, staff and dedicated lay people who contribute countless hours to keep the "church" running, and only superficial differences (if any).  Thus, we celebrate on Pentecost the “birthday of the church” as an institution, often birthed of our own efforts.  The Biblical account, on the other hand, calls us to consider Pentecost as “the birthday of the church” in terms of mission, birthed out of God's intercession (interruption?) in the world. 

     When God pours out the Spirit on the people, they do not immediately form a committee or elect elders or call a pastor or plan programs.  They do not organize or administrate or even gather together.  Instead they go out.  The Spirit empowers the gathered community to proclamation, to people, and to performance.  They proclaim what they have witnessed (God’s deeds of powers), they seek out others (regardless of nationality, status, race, or creed), and they enact the coming kingdom of God in their worship and their work.           

     I wonder what will happen if we consider (and reconsider) what it is we celebrate at Pentecost.  I wonder what will happen if as we celebrate “the birthday of the church”, we remember that perhaps this celebration is less about what the church is and more about what the church does.  And Who it is who calls us together and to go out in the first place. 

What a River!
2009-05-21 by David von Schlichten

Wow, the lectures, sermons and music this week have been gushing with wisdom, beauty and grace. I think I'm in love.

The venerable, down-to-earth yet eloquent Fred Craddock challenged us to respond to the Gift with "must needs go." He was wise and concrete in gospelic ways. Amazing. Poignant. Miraculous.

Brian Blount called us to reach out to "else" people elsewhere. We are to dare to venture beyond the same people we always minister to, the people in our pews who are a lot like us. Reach to else people in else places.

It occurred to me that "else" is an anagram for "See L," as in "See Elohim" and "See Lord."

Diana Butler Bass gave an uplifting lecture about misperceptions of the Church in the main culture and media. The Church is not in decline but is shifting. We need to learn and re-view our history, challenging the old meta-narrative.

In addition, Bass suggested the image of Church as river, on which we all flow together, helping each other not drown. And God is in the rapids.

Thanks be to God for Bass in the River!

Tonight: more music. What balm.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

The Implications and Side B
2009-05-20 by David von Schlichten

Mark Hanson challenged us this morning to consider what implications we want our sermons to have for our hearers. What did you come up with?

I want my parishioners to hear the goodness of the Good News in a way that compels them to do more and greater acts of love toward God and other people, including acts that overcome divisions through Christ. 

Otis Moss, III. gave us a stunning sermon this afternoon in which he called us to be patient when we are on Side B, that is, those times of difficulty and obscurity. Moss noted that Jesus spent most of his life, i.e., the first thirty or so years, on Side B. We are to be patient on Side B, open to the blessings God gives us on that side as he prepares us for Side A.

What a challenge that is. As I listen with gnawing envy to Moss's brilliant talent as a preacher, I find myself longing to be on Side A, that is, a renowned and virtuoso preacher. God grant me patience on Side B and to be open to the possibility that Side A may end up being something other than what I expect.

I'd love to hear from others. Jump in!

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Unity and The Festival
2009-05-20 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Stephen Schuette for his reflections about the theme of unity for this Sunday. He is indeed correct that one of the Church's greatest challenges is dealing with internal struggles in a way that "answers" Christ's prayer for us to be one.

Unity - overcoming division - is the theme of this year's festival, and many of our speakers have addressed this theme in exciting ways.

Tuesday morning, for instance, Tom Long, with his usual brilliance, spoke about the economics of the gospel of Luke and how that gospel challenges us toward radical unity.

According to Luke's economics, Long contends, we are to care for the poor in radical, far-reaching ways. Then, when the Kingdom comes in that great, final way at the End, we will not have to hang our heads in shame when those same poor, now exalted and seated at the head table, welcome us.

To underline this vision, Long told the story of a man and his son giving all their change to a homeless man. The father and son then realized that they needed a coin in order to use a pay phone, so they called after the homeless man.

"Could you give us a coin to make a phone call?"

The homeless man held out the money he had just received from them and said, "Here, take what you need."

That is Luke's Christo-economics, and it is an economics of unity. Alleluia.

I hope others will post. Also, you can sign up at the Festival to be a blogger for one week during the coming months. Give blogging a try. You'll find it fulfilling and, well, unifying.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2009-05-19 by Stephen Schuette

    As a collection of texts the selections of this week have to be some of the most challenging of all the lections to address as a group.  The tension between the rupture of community in the actions of Judas and the need for unity certainly presented a challenge to the early church.  One answer given in Acts is to draft a replacement for Judas to preserve the wholeness of the witness.  There was another answer from the Coptic community in the Gospel of Judas suggesting that Judas was about genuinely “fulfilling the scriptures” in a way that was in harmony with rather than in opposition to Jesus and God’s plan.

     While not entirely resolving these tensions – which is perhaps the genius of scripture – it’s impossible to engage these texts without being keenly aware of the present context.  Looking at it from another perspective, perhaps it was important for the story to suggest that the real challenge to the Church lies not outside the community but within.  Isn’t that true today?  And wasn’t it true from the very beginning in the Letters of Paul?  Even when there were “outsiders” trying to confuse the followers (in Galatia), Paul’s interest is in re-establishing the unity of the Church from within and drawing them together.  He didn’t suggest using a sword to rid the world of the “circumcizers.”  Paul’s earlier life was about persecuting others.  But now he is about building strength from within.

     Read the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and you understand the skepticism about the Church that exists.  Every pastor knows there are always, at any moment, a thousand things that can cause people to go spinning off in all kinds of directions.  Sometimes we even participate in the “spinning.”  But there is only One Thing that can hold us together.  That this One Thing is stronger than the thousand is an act of faith and witness that is sorely needed if Jesus’ prayer is to be fulfilled among us.

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