Rev. Bruce Davis St. Andrew United Methodist Church
This weekend, Christians observe Pentecost. We'll read from the second chapter of Acts and celebrate the birthday of the church. In a happier liturgical world, Pentecost would be right up there with Easter and Christmas in terms of enthusiasm and attendance. But, of course, Pentecost barely creates a ripple — even less so when it falls on Memorial Weekend. Not even many Christians will be saying, “Let's go out for a Pentecost picnic!” Oh well.
That said, the convergence of Pentecost and Memorial Day isn't entirely inappropriate. I grew up in the church and have been serving as a pastor for nearly four decades. I have had the privilege of knowing so many Christian “saints” — salt-of-the-earth people who have lived and died in faith.
A few weeks ago, I learned of the passing of Bill Frick. When I was in high school Bill Frick was our volunteer Sunday School teacher. I remember him as being very patient and kind. I remember him with great fondness. He is but one of many kind and gentle saints who have nurtured and encouraged me in my Christian walk.
While the most famous parts of Acts 2 have to do with the dramatic scene in the opening verses — the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles in a rush of a mighty wind, filling them with tongues of fire — these days, I am more drawn to the concluding verses of the chapter, where it is said of the believers, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
I wish it could be said of the church in our generations that we have “the goodwill of all the people.” But a large number of people associate the church with things like bigotry, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness — and those are some of the kinder associations! And this, in turn, creates a certain bunker-mentality in the church. I am not immune myself; I get so weary of the ongoing culture wars.
But I am inspired by the Bill Fricks, who if they weren't exactly on fire with the Holy Spirit, nevertheless plodded along, getting up every day, trying to lead a Christian life in a broken world. Their memory sustains me in this Pentecost.
Rev. Michael Ewart Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
It seems most politicians will say most anything to get elected. Is there no one left in the world with unwavering convictions? How about you? Is there anything you would take a stand on at all costs? Even to the point of death? Maybe the better question: Is there anything worth taking a stand on, even if it cost us our life?
The first Christian martyr thought so. His name was Stephen. You can read about him in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was on trial for his firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the world's Savior. He knew his audience did not like his platform. A little shift in language, a bit of backpeddling and recontextualizing, and Stephen would have been a free man. Politicians have shifted for far less a reward!
But not Stephen. With his life in the hands of an audience that hated Christ, Stephen didn't mount a personal defense. Rather, he mounted an open defense of the Christian faith. He demonstrated that Jesus was the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. All of history had been shaped by God for exactly this time. Jesus was the actualization of God's rescue operation for a rebellious and fallen planet. His life, death and resurrection were the pivotal game changers of human history. Stephen knew this was a life and death situation ... for his listeners. If they were to live, they would have to recognize their wrongs, turn from them, and trust in Christ for complete restoration to God. So Stephen boldly (recklessly?) pushed them to the breaking point. Either they would break and yield to God, or they would break and silence God's messenger.
They gnashed their teeth, plugged their ears and, screaming at the top of their lungs, they rushed at him and dragged him out of the city. The story concludes: “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60) A platform worth dying for. Stephen was the first of many disciples of Jesus who chose death to waffling about the saving truth of Jesus Christ.
How familiar are you with these truths of Christ that countless have been willing to die for? This truly is a life or death issue. Would you be interested in a free course that summarizes the teachings of Jesus? Please contact me: email@example.com. You'll find this truth of God is to die for.
Rev. Lowell Nelson Immanuel Lutheran Church
We human beings like to control things. Imposing a sense of order and predictability can give us feelings of being powerful. The problem with living “in control” is that we are guaranteed to miss the power of God!
Tragically, we humans can create order and control by limiting what we observe by creating “blinders.” Blinders work well to keep horses focused on the path in front of them. However, our blinders blind us to see the broader panorama of God's deeds of power in action. One blinder is relying solely upon our own perspective (e.g., habits, prejudices, and fears). Another blinder is blindly accepting broader cultural assumptions that God does not exist or is woefully irrelevant to modern life. With our blinders, if we do not see it, it does not exist. That type of self-controlling, God-limiting power comes with a steep price.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the 12 apostles with the gift to speak of God's deeds of power in different languages so all people could hear this message. As Luke writes, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Acts 2:12-13)
As the Holy Spirit moves in our midst, it is quite reasonable to initially respond with amazement and perplexity. The ones who “sneered” at this movement of God artificially limited it to a biological response to too much wine. That is what we often do, control life by limiting it to our own pat explanations while missing the power of God in action.
Peter, who had previously shamefully shied away from public testimony, stepped forward to speak. Could the “sneerers” see God in action in his words as Peter refutes their limitation of what was happening with a simple observation that it was only 9 in the morning, far too early to be drunk? Could they see God in action as Peter follows with a powerful observation that the Scriptures foretold of this day when God's Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh? With finely honed habits to view life from within our self-made and culturally borrowed blinders, probably not. Nevertheless, God's Holy Spirit is moving in our midst. God is inviting us to be the Pentecost People of 2012.
God is in reality all around us — in the gift of Creation; in the passion of Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection, which destroys personal and cultural blinders; in the gifts of the Church where we are gathered to hear the Word and experience the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; and in our vocational call to use our gifts to serve others. Life becomes a joyful response to what God has first done and by simply responding instead of controlling, we view life accurately. By viewing God's panorama of grace-filled reality, we are free to be amazed and astonished how real God's love is for humanity.