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Today’s Audio Blog
Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17, 26-27; John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Hey kids! Here’s a fun game for the next time you’re bored or waiting for someone in the mall (do we still have malls?). Don’t waste time looking down at your phone …. look up … and watch the people around you. Then try to guess what church denomination they belong to! Go ahead – it’s a chance to use up all those well-worn prejudices and stereotypes. What fun!
- Preppy and chatty? Methodist.
- Tie clip and serious? Baptist.
- Large smile and serious hair? Pentecostal.
- Tight jeans and T-shirt? Mega church youth pastor.
- Old hippie? United.
- Well-pressed slacks and silver hair? Anglican.
- Late to the restaurant for Sunday lunch? Charismatic.
- Really late for lunch? International Holy Ghost Healing and Bible Believing Church of Victorious Apostles (or equivalent).
- Straw hat and bib coveralls? Mennonite. (That was for Cheryl).
See what I mean? Normally you would have to pay for that much fun. (Seriously, if you feel like paying it was my idea.)
Speaking of fun at the expense of Christians (that is the topic, right? ) I’ve heard that when my grandfather was a young man he worked building roads in what was then remote northern countryside. The men would live together in camps while working and lots of wild stories were produced from that rugged environment. Sometimes, when the workers had time off, there wasn’t much entertainment nearby so they might go to a ‘camp meeting‘ just to watch the entertainment provided by the holy rollers. If you know about holy rollers you can imagine that it was worth the price of admission (which technically was free).
Laughable Christian activity is at the root of the Acts 2 reading listed above. Here is a sample from that reading:
‘On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
‘At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers …
‘… They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
‘But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
‘Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.’ (NLT)
We are now in the season of the church year known as Pentecost. Its roots are outlined in the reading from Acts 2 when the Spirit of God falls on the first believers and enables them to speak in various languages to accommodate the multitude of nationalities visiting Jerusalem at the time.
Onlookers are entertained by the unfolding events and they laughingly assume that this odd activity has something to do with alcohol. Peter refutes this by reminding everyone that they can’t be drunk because it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning. I love Peter’s logic here – his go-to line is, Of course we’re not drunk, we just got up.
However the story raises an interesting dilemma. Christianity at its heart is radically inclusive and attractive, yet many times Christian activities seem foreign, odd, maybe even laughable to the uninitiated.
Sometimes it’s our own fault: think of our churchy words and all the time we spend in church standing, sitting, hand-raising, singing and shaking hands. How could a new person even begin to fit in? That’s our fault – we need to realize that most of what we do are simply habits and they can make guests feel confused or unwelcome. Importantly, we need to find ways to share our faith with actions and words that anyone can understand and participate in.
On the other hand there are some odd Christian activities that we can’t surrender. The first believers were called atheists because they only worshiped one God and cannibals because they ate flesh and blood (symbolically). Nevertheless they persisted in those things. Christians sing and pray and read Scripture and share the Lord’s Supper because it’s what has been done from the beginning; it’s who we are.
Reading about believers speaking in languages or doing miracles can tempt us to see those as normal Christian activities. That’s not the reality and it’s not the point.
It is helpful to look at Paul’s version of Pentecost, which I have copied a portion of below, in order to understand the subject from another angle. In this scenario, the Spirit of God acts in a seemingly ‘normal’ way but is still miraculous because it involves quiet, daily intimacy between me and the God of the universe.
Read some more
‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
‘So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father. ”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
‘… And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.’ (NLT)
Open and Closed
Notice that it is the Spirit of God who: calls us children and heirs; connects us with our abba (loving) father; interprets words we can’t speak; brings us into harmony with God’s will. Elsewhere this spirit is a counsellor, and also the word neno which is an inward, personal, exclusive relationship. God’s Spirit quietly interprets Jesus’ words, thoughts and ambitions for us.
So on one hand the Spirit is constantly at work in the world – wild, unpredictable, inclusive and available to all, yes.
Yet at the same time it is predictable, exclusive and private because only children of God can experience the fuller benefits of the Spirit. Without the Sprit, Jesus would be just another impersonal religious founder, but with the Spirit he is able to live within us in a very real way.
The invitation is for all but the experience is for those who say, ‘Abba Father, help me’, making a big, laughable idea into something deep, personal and kinda normal.