Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
For Summer Gospels-at-a-Glance and Epistles-at-a-Glance, and Hebrew Lessons-at-a-Glance, go to www.bishopmike.com/lectionary.
For last year's Pentecost post, go to http://bishopmike.com/2010/05/16/52310-is-pentecost/
June 12, 2011 - Pentecost A
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
Prayer of the Day
O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us your Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
The Unifying Power of the Spirit
To hear this podcast click here.
The power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was the power to unite a diverse and divided church.
That the church was divided should come as no surprise. Jesus had twelve and apparently that was one too many. They were already having problems. Even with a small group of twelve, the disciples argued about who was the greatest, about how the money in the common purse should be spent, about who would sit at Jesus' left and right in the kingdom and more. When the going got tough, one of Jesus' 12 betrayed him to the authorities, resulting in his execution. The leader of the twelve pretended to not know him, and the others hid in the upper room so that only the women were present at his crucifixion with the exception of disciple whom Jesus loved. Even before Jesus' death and resurrection there was dissension among the ranks.
Post-resurrection the followers of Jesus seem to have a hard time agreeing on anything. Some of them believe it's okay to eat the meat from pagan slaughterhouses. Some believe Christians should not. Some believe Christians must be circumcised according to the law of Moses. Some believe circumcision is unnecessary. Some believe you must eat kosher according to the law of Moses, no pork or shellfish. Others believe that the law of Moses was our custodian until Christ came, and now we no longer need a custodian, only to follow the law of Christ, the law of love.
Peter and Paul have such disagreements over the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 15) and circumcision that Paul and Barnabus have to go to Jerusalem for a high-level summit and arbitration. Peter pointed out the Law of Moses was an everlasting covenant. Paul asked, "Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?" After "much debate" they agree to disagree. Paul loves Peter and Peter loves Paul. They cannot agree on this issue, but they are united in following Jesus, and in their love of God and one another. They believe that Jesus is the hope of the world, and that overrides all other disagreements. And so, one side agrees to evangelize the Jews and the other the Gentiles, that the gospel might thrive, because that's the highest value. If the church had continued to fight, would the gospel have thrived?
They reach an agreement, much like the African church, which I visited last month. In the Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic, Muslims are converting to Christianity. Some of them have several wives. One pastor I sat with had 32 brothers and sisters. His father had eight wives. When a Muslim converts, can he have several wives? If he keeps one wife, what happens to the others? Will they be unsupported? Go into poverty? You see life didn't always fit into our neat imaginary categories. So the church has made an exception. The law of love overrides all else. We know there are Christians who have taken wives after conversion. The church does not excommunicate them. Do we break fellowship with them? Of course not. Peter said, "Therefore we reached the decision we will not trouble the Gentiles that are turning to God."
A little bit later (Acts 15:36-41) Paul and Barnabus also have a clash. Barney wants to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, but Paul considers him unreliable. John Mark had ditched the group in Pamphylia during the first missionary journey. They couldn't agree, so Barney took John Mark and Paul took Silas and they had two missionary journeys, that the gospel might thrive. What would it mean to make every decision so that the gospel might thrive? Unity in diversity?
The church all too often thinks we have to be monolithic, homogenous. We alienate and expel those who differ in just about any way. As Time Magazine said so many years ago, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America.
We are the only ones who have the luxury to think this way. Restaurants can't. What if a restaurant in this town said, "We're only going to cater to German people." How long would that restaurant last? How about a car dealership? What if they said, "We're only going to sell cars to white people." You can't. It's a competitive market. You need everyone.
Furthermore, when the mission is the most important thing you let everyone in. Have you ever noticed how racially diverse football and basketball teams are. White people, black people, Asians, Latinos. Because the goal is to win games. I don't care what color your skin is. I don't care about the multiplicity of ways you may or may not be wired sexually. I don't care if you're divorced or a recovering alcoholic. Can you shoot? Can you catch? Can you work okay with the team?
Same with Alcoholics Anonymous. Have you ever been to an AA meeting? Rich, poor, tatoos, soul patches, piercings, veterans, young old, white, black, Latino. Why? They are united by a common goal: to stay sober.
In my experience, when a church unites under a common goal, and agrees that that goal overrides all else, exciting things happen. One writer I read ("It" by Craig Groeschel?) described going to a dog race. You know the dogs chase the rabbit on a mechanical arm. In this race the dogs were tearing around the track after the rabbit, graceful, powerful beauty in motion. Then the mechanical arm broke. The dogs stopped running. They wandered around and started fighting with one another. Without a vision, the people perish. When the church has a clear mission, there is graceful beauty in motion. Miracles happen. Differences don't disappear, but they become less troubling. Diversity becomes an asset, that helps us reach a diverse world.
Pentecost is an exercise in diversity. The group is diverse. It's that lesson that no lay reader wants to draw, including many places hard to pronounce, places that have been in the news a lot recently: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. And they all hear the gospel in their own language.
Eric Law asks, is Pentecost a miracle of the mouth or the ear? Think about it for a minute. Is Pentecost a miracle of speech, or hearing?
What if it's both? Speaking in tongues and hearing the gospel in our own languages? Then our role as witnesses of the resurrection is to be agents of reconciliation both by listening and by speaking. We cannot witness without first listening, to the context, to the pain and suffering of others, to their hopes and dreams. Before Paul preached the gospel in Athens, he listened. He observed their religiosity and their gods. He listened to their poets, so that when he proclaimed the gospel he could speak to their heart and quote their poets back to them in a way that made their hearts pound.
Pentecost is a global church launch. It is an event in which people of all cultures and languages in Jerusalem hear the gospel and then go home. The gospel explodes into the world. What if that happened here. We are gathered from all over the Gulf Coast. We work in schools, businesses, and government. We are here to recount the marvelous deeds of God, to preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead, to be fed with the bread of life. When the dismissal happens we all explode upon the world, carrying with us the love of Christ and the hope of the gospel.