Some Post-Pentecost Thoughts


 I am once again reminded that I don’t like open time.  Even with the thought that Isaac Newton developed his ideas on gravitation and calculus during one episode of the Black Plague in England (which is perhaps ironic for me as my first major scientific work dealt with Newton’s Law of Gravity) and William Shakespeare did most of his best writing in similar periods, for some reason I do not find the same spark of creativity. 

But that is not to say that I haven’t been thinking and in the coming weeks, I will have to not only be thinking about what I am going to be writing but I will have to put some effort into the research phase of writing as I look at the history of our favorite hymns. 

But, let’s step back a day or two on think about Pentecost and what it means for the coming days. There were three points made in the Lectionary for Pentecost – common languages, skills, and community. 

When I was in high school, I planned on taking three years of German.  But this plan was quickly cast aside when we moved from the Denver area to the St. Louis area and then to the Memphis area.  The high schools I attended in Missouri and Tennessee did not offer German and I was not interested in taking Spanish, French, or Latin.  So, the plans of my freshman year were cast aside. 

That’s not to say that I don’t have a “foreign language”.  My interests in computer programming would provide the basis for meeting the language requirement for my doctorate at Iowa as I used my proficiency with SPSS to meet the language requirement (and produce my first set of professional papers). 

The idea of a foreign language being part of one’s doctoral program goes to the idea of being part of a community.  For many years, German was the language of science and mathematics because much of the ground-breaking work was done in Germany.  But over the years, the language of the lab became English and the demand for German dropped.  But the development of computers suggested a new language, that of computers, as the means for communication. 

There is still a need in science and mathematics for traditional methods, but computers offer ways to assist those traditional methods.  And it was through computer-based communication that several of the papers that I wrote with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett were produced. 

On Pentecost, many individuals, from various places around the Middle East, had gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Harvest.  One can only imagine the chaos of that time and place as people found it impossible to communicate with each other.  But when the Holy Spirit came, it suddenly became possible for the visitors to Jerusalem to understand the Christians and each other.  And though there were many different individuals, from many different lands and backgrounds, through the Holy Spirit, a new community was built.  It was a community of believers, using the skills and abilities to meet the needs of the community. 

If we fast forward to today, we find that the idea of the community of believers is being tested, tested perhaps to the breaking point.  Can Christianity or any of its denominations, survive a time when many who identify themselves as Christians demand that believers accept what they believe as the absolute truth. 

Can society survive when the search for truth, a process that requires many different skills and, often, people working together, is questioned.  It strikes me than the greatest resistance to the search for truth often comes from people ensconced in their self-contained bubbles, impervious to change and new information? 

Can society survive when, while we speak one common language, are unable to understand what others are saying?  We see the same object but, at the same time, we do not see the same object. 

We are at a crossroads and we must decide which way we are going to turn.  One way leads to the Kingdom of God and the other leads away.  What Pentecost tells us is that we must turn as one community, working together, using all the skills we have, finding many ways to communicate.  If we declare that our way is the only way, we may find ourselves going in the wrong direction.  But if we see that we are a community of many believers, then we will find the right path. 

“A Convergence of Time, Place, and Ideas”


Mediation for Pentecost (Year A)

8 June 2014

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39 (note in the text I that used John 20: 19 – 23 in preparing these notes).

I have noted on a couple of occasions in the past that June 6th is an important date in my life because it is the birth date of my youngest daughter, Meara Lee. As I wrote on my Facebook page, “There are no words that I can write or say that express the joy she and her sister have brought to my life.”

But June 6th has another meaning to me, one that I seldom thought about since I was more interested in the completion of the process that started on that date. Still, any process that is finished has a beginning and it was on June 6, 1966 that I began my college career by enrolling as a first quarter freshman in the High School Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now known as Truman State University).

For the record, I was only 15 when this happened and just completed my sophomore year in high school. After the summer session was over, I would go to Memphis, Tennessee, where my family had moved while I was in school and begin my junior year in high school at Bartlett High School. I would return to Kirksville the next summer and then the summer after I graduated from high school to complete my freshman year and begin my sophomore year in college.

I had no idea what I would be getting myself into or what paths my life would travel when I went to Kirksville that summer day some 48 years ago, nor what would happen when I told Dr. Wray Rieger, Dean of Students and my adviser that summer, that I would major in chemistry.

What is interesting, at least in terms of today being Pentecost Sunday, is there never has been an occasion while I have been either preaching or writing blogs where Pentecost occurred on June 6th and only four times where there was a day or two difference between these two events.

And I suppose that I should wait until such time that does occur but the events of this day and age suggest that I should not wait. If June 6th marks the beginning of a journey, so too is Pentecost.

Pentecost may be considered the birth date of the church, for it was on this day that the Holy Spirit came to the people gathered in Jerusalem per the instructions of Jesus Christ. But birth dates can quickly turn in counting mechanisms and that, if you will excuse the pun, make things rather old rather quickly.

But Pentecost was and is more than simply the birth of the new church. It was the beginning of a movement, a movement that would change the world in ways that no one could foresee or even imagine. And with all the talk in the church today, especially in the United Methodist Church, about the impending death of the church, perhaps we need to think about what we are doing for tomorrow rather than counting the days from last year or the years that have passed by us rather quickly.

If we are to look to the morrow and begin again the movement of the church and this denomination, we need to realize at least two things from the Scriptures for today.

First, no matter where the people came from, they were speaking a common language. They understood each other rather clearly and when you consider the tone of the words in the reading from Acts, they were rather surprised that they were able to do that. Differences between people in terms of nationalities and cultures quickly disappeared.

For me, the problem today is that we no longer speak a common language. Oh, we may all speak English but the words we use often times have multiple meanings. And I think at times, we stretch our sensibilities to get the words we use to mean what we want them to mean.

Second, there seems to be a movement to make everyone in the church identical, no matter what side of the issue each person may stand on. And if you don’t stand with me on this issue, then you stand against me and I don’t want you in my church. What was it that Groucho Marx said, “I do not want to belong to any organization that would have me as a member.”

Paul points out that the people of God have been given many gifts and the assumption that I get from that is that we need as many individuals as possible to insure that we have all the gifts we need. For it is only when we have all the gifts are we able to function as a whole community.

If we choose to cast someone out because they don’t have a special gift or perhaps because we already have that gift, then we risk causing the community of believers to fail.

In the Gospel reading for today (I mistakenly used John 20: 19 – 23 instead of the regular Gospel reading – John 7: 37 – 39), Jesus asks the disciples what they will do if they do not forgive the sins of others. What are we going to do if we say to someone that they don’t meet what we consider the qualifications of our little club?

I know where I stand as to the future of this church and this denomination. I also know that there are many people who do not feel the way that I do and I sometimes wonder why that is. I also know that many of the beliefs and thoughts about people that so dominated the discussions in this denomination almost two hundred years ago were wrong and we have changed. What bothers me is that we are doing the same thing today. And if our judgements prove to be wrong, what shall we say to those whom we rejected today?

Let’s look at Pentecost as it was some two thousand years ago – the beginning of a process, a movement and let’s go out and change the world as we are supposed to be doing.

And They Gathered Together


Here are my thoughts about Pentecost Sunday. I know, I know, it should have been posted two days ago but I was occupied with other matters and getting this piece up was not a priority.

My first thought about Pentecost this year, especially when I read the translation, was that maybe we shouldn’t be thinking about the birth of the church. The problem when we do that, think about the birth of the church, we don’t adequately think about the church then but rather the church today. That makes the church way out of date and hardly relevant to any discussion today.

The church that developed two thousand years ago was not the structured church of today, though I would hazard a guess that many people today don’t realize that.

The church that began was more of a community, a collection of individuals each with particular gifts, all working together for the good of the church. They received these gifts, these talents from the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that brought them together on that first Pentecost.

It was the Holy Spirit that allowed the various people who had gathered together that day and it was the Holy Spirit that allowed each person to speak to each other, even if they were of different nationalities or spoke different languages.

I recall one of the commentaries that I have used saying that this moment, when everyone is able to understand what others are saying, reverses the moment that we became different peoples, nationalities, and races during the building of the Tower of Babylon.

It would seem that today we have forgotten this commonality and have regressed to the separation of peoples and nations. I find too many churches where a particular task is one person and one person’s alone. They “inherited” the task and it will be theirs until such time as it has to be passed on. And quite honestly, this is one of the main reasons that people leave the church or don’t join. They see a hierarchy in place and you have to wait your turn, no matter if you have some good ideas or not.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we are more interested in calling our own shots. We want our churches to be separate enclaves, where everyone is the same and everyone fits the same mold. We know no longer look for ways to work together or to build the church.

And that takes us away from what this day was and should be about. Yes, we should celebrate the birth (and if your church was like mine, celebrate those who have been a part of the church). But it should also be an occasion to think about where we are, as a church, right now and how are we going to make sure that we are around next year and perhaps 50 years from now.

Can we go back and look at what the early, the real early church was doing, and see what we can do to make that possible today?

Can we again look at the skills and abilities of each person and find a way to utilize those skills? Can we make sure that we utilize the skills of everyone and not just those who have, through time and perseverance, earned their “place?” This comes with a caveat though; don’t assume that just because someone is good at something that they will want to do that skill in church. Someone might come up to me and say, “You are a college professor so why don’t you start a Sunday School class for college students?” One of the things that many teachers don’t need these days is to have their day of rest become another work day. What other skills might a person have that often doesn’t get used?

If anything, Pentecost Sunday ought to be a day on which we consider what the early church did (and that would include our own particular church when it was first founded) and see if we are still doing whatever it was that cause the church to begin. And then we need to think about whether that is what we need to be doing now and for tomorrow.

Those who gathered together on that first Pentecost gathered together to receive the Holy Spirit and to be empowered to go out into the world to show the world what Christ had done for them and what Christ can do for each one of us. We probably out to gather together for the same reasons.

On That Day


This is the message that I presented on Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.

In every learning opportunity, there comes a time when you realize that you have learned something. You have been trying to learn something and it hasn’t been easy. But suddenly, without any forewarning, you find that you understand perfectly clear what it is that you are trying to learn. And the funny thing about it is that after you understand this new concept, it seems so simple and clear that you wonder why it seemed too hard in the first place. That moment of learning is known as the AHA moment.

It is really hard to define this moment in any other terms simply because the time and place are determined by the characteristics of the learner and what may be that moment for one will not be the same for another.

Today may be considered such a moment. It is that moment in time when the early church became immensely aware of the power of the Holy Spirit and the true meaning of the Gospel message. But there is a difference between one’s knowledge of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s own life and the sudden acquisition of knowledge.

The one thing that these two events have in common is that how one gains the knowledge, be it of the Holy Spirit or just “book” knowledge, is different. As Paul pointed out, each person comes to know the Holy Spirit in a unique and singular manner. And what one does with the acquisition is determined by one’s own skills, not by some common definition of utility and usage.

Now, it is entirely possible that you can go through life without learning the intricacies of some abstract concept. But you will know when the Holy Spirit has come into your life. It is also possible to go through life without having to use the knowledge of various abstract concepts but you will find that life is immensely different because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

Notice what happened to those gathered that day when the Holy Spirit came into their lives. “They spoke to each other in their own language yet were able to understand what the others were saying.” You can spend most of your life working to acquire particular concepts but the presence of the Holy Spirit is an immediate occurrence.

Finally, learning and studying will prepare you for that moment when things all come together but no studying or preparation can actually prepare you for that one singular moment when the Holy Spirit enters into your life. The one example that illustrates this is the degree of preparation John and Charles Wesley put into their efforts to become faithful followers of Christ.

But for all their efforts, all their studies, all their hard work, neither Wesley could truly say that they had found Christ or that Christ was a singular point in their lives. They both knew who Christ was but they did not know Christ in their own lives.

For John Wesley, the moment when the Holy Spirit came into his life is that moment in the Aldersgate chapel when he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” What John did not know was that at that moment when the Holy Spirit was changing his life, it was also entering and changing the life of his brother Charles.

Charles had accompanied John on the mission to Georgia and served for a time as the secretary of the Governor, James Oglethorpe. As was the case for John, this experience was a disaster for Charles and he returned to England in December of 1736 (John remained in Georgia until February of 1738). During the year apart from his brother, Charles was able to gain a measure of strength and self-respect. But it appears from history that Charles’ struggle to find Christ in his life lead to many illnesses. The Moravian missionary, Peter Bohler wrote “His brother [speaking of Charles in reference to John] is at present very much distressed in his mind, but does not know how he shall begin to be acquainted with the Savior.”

In the month of May 1738, the Wesleys were in London. Charles was recovering from a recurrence of illness in the home of some Moravians in Little Britain, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Through the humble concern and sincere Christian testimonies of his hosts and others, Charles was deeply affected. God was truly dealing with him. Opening his Bible at Isaiah 40:1, the light of salvation shone upon him! His Journal entry for May 21st reads:

“I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ….. I saw that by faith I stood, by the continual support of faith…….I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness….yet confident of Christ’s protection.”

On the following day, Charles strength began to return. He also commenced what proved to be the first of some 6,000 hymns! The day after – May 24th – John himself found assurance of salvation during a meeting in nearby Aldersgate Street. Charles wrote of his brother’s experience:

“Towards ten, my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends, and declared, “I believe.” We sang the hymn with great joy, and parted with prayer……….”

The joyful account is not complete without the hymn (UMH #342):

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire!
How shall I equal triumphs raise
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

Exactly a year later, Charles wrote the more famous hymn, “0 for a thousand tongues to sing”, which he recommended for singing “on the anniversary of one’s conversion.”

For both John and Charles Wesley, that moment in time when they became aware of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s presence in their live was the changing point in their individual and collective ministries. As D. M. Jones wrote, “After this experience Charles Wesley was for a time at least lifted quite above all timid introspection and anxious care about his own spiritual state. It seemed as if this release was all that was needed to make him a channel for immense spiritual forces.” (http://www.christian-bookshop.co.uk/free/biogs/cwesley.htm)

It has been said that the church was born on this day some two thousand years ago. Because the people gathered that day opened their hearts and minds to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, others were to come to know the same power and presence. And, as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, how the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is used by each individual in the church is unique and separate. But while unique and separate, put together the works of the individuals come together for the benefit of the whole church.

In bringing people into the church, we integrate church and culture. Unfortunately, in today’s society, we find a battle ensuing in this attempt. There are those who would place the culture under the auspices of the church and there are those who would rather the church just quietly go about its business and leave them alone. Unfortunately you cannot distinguish between faith and culture. You cannot separate the work of the church from the work of society.

It was the work of the early Methodists, preaching salvation by the Grace of God that changed England in the mid-18th century. It was the evangelical revival first started by the Wesleys and the early Methodist church that had a profound impact on stemming a revolutionary tide sweeping England. Conditions improved by changing the hearts of the people; the wealthy become more caring and lower classes more respectful and civilized.

It would be nice if we could say that this was still true today. Unfortunately, evangelism no longer has the same connotations that it held for the Wesley brothers. One thing is true; opposition to the evangelism of Wesley is still true today. Both Wesleys were attacked by those claiming to be Christian.

Today, you have a chance to be one of three individuals. The first can be called a separatist. They have their Christian friends, their Christian music, and their Christian church. They wear their faith all the time but fail to relate to the world around them. They pride themselves in having a pure faith. But they fail to see that no one wants to hear about their faith because it is so completely irrelevant to the culture. When you challenge them to integrate their faith with their culture, they get a frightened look in their eyes. They don’t want to integrate the two because then they would have to give up control.

The second individual is a conformist. These individuals live a one-day religion, going to church for two hours on Sunday and then placing their faith on the shelf and living a life of the current culture for the remainder of the week. When it is needed, they bring their faith down from the shelf and wear it when it is convenient; they remove it when it becomes too uncomfortable.

The third type of individual would be called a transformist. Like both John and Charles Wesley, they sought to make faith a part of culture and used their faith to change society, not for the purposes of a self-proclaimed religion but rather for society. Such individuals understand that one cannot categorize faith, love for God, and love for people into separate and independent categories. Such individuals integrate their faith with their culture and their love for God with their love for people. (Adapted from The Journey Towards Relevance by Kary Oberbrunner)

The question for today is what type of person will you be? The world is a big place and each of us is just one person. That may well have been thought of those present that day some two thousand years ago. On that day, their lives were transformed and with that transformation, the world changed. On this day, we are offered the same opportunity to let the Holy Spirit come into our lives as was offered to the people hearing the Gospel message that we heard today. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

On that day some two thousand years ago, people’s lives were changed. On this day, your life can change just as theirs did.

“The Time Has Come”


This is the message that I presented on Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 1999, at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.

This was the last Sunday for me at Neon. I would leave for New York following the service to begin a new ministry with the Walker Valley United Methodist Church and a new life with Ann. But I left knowing that this small little mountain community church would continue and I hope that it is going well today.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

A time to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill and a time to heal;

A time to break down and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

This passage from Ecclesiastes, assumed to be written by Solomon or someone known as the Preacher, was talking about the passage of time through the ages. It has always been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I suppose that it is because it was one of the first folk songs to ever be a rock and roll hit. And I am sure that there are many people who sing this song who have no idea that it comes from the Bible.

The measurement of time has always been a challenge to mankind. While we can say for sure that it is 1030 a.m. on Sunday, May 23rd, the telling of time has not always been so precise. In John Wesley’s time, clocks were bulky and highly unreliable. For the people of Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hourglass and by noting certain events (as noted in the Gospel reading for today — “On the last and greatest day of the Feast”)

So it was that time was seen in terms of the passage of seasons and the completion of tasks. But there are times separate from seasons and tasks. Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While he was referring to the early days of the American Revolution when things were not going good for the colonists, such a sentiment could be justly as easily expressed today.

We look around us and see countless examples of problems for which we feel there is no solution. We feel hopeless and unable to comprehend what is going on.

But, while there is not a lot that we as individuals can do, there is a lot that we as a church and a community can do. While we may think that Jesus spent most of his ministry preaching the Good News, the majority of His time was spent building a community. Jesus knew that if His work was continue beyond His time on earth, it would have to be through the community of believers.

Paul writes

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

But for the body to function, it must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Throughout the time between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus told his disciples to stay as a group so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.

For without the Holy Spirit it is not possible to accomplish the great things Christ asks us to do. And without the community, there is no place to do His work.

The challenge is two-fold. As individuals, we must have a place where we can go to celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives. As a community, we must offer a place where others can see and hear what Christ is all about. And in this time when people are crying out for comfort and solace, the church must be ready to offer such.

But no matter how hard we might try, we cannot do it by ourselves. Paul noted that there are many different kinds of gifts and many different kinds of service. How we work can vary but it is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The miracle of Pentecost, what this day is all about, was possible because the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Paul noted also, no works could be accomplished unless each individual first received the Holy Spirit by accepting Christ as his personal Savior.

The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Torah, offers the following comment,

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

The time has come. The offer has been made. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Jesus offers to all who believe in him the gift of living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit in us, great things can be accomplished, both by individuals and by communities.

I Should Be Wearing Green This Sunday


Here are my thoughts for Pentecost Sunday, 2008. The Scriptures for today are Acts 2: 1 – 21; 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.

I should be wearing green this Sunday. Yes, I know that it is Pentecost Sunday and we are supposed to be wearing red. But it is also Mother’s Day and I need to honor my mother as well as honoring my church. So I shall wear green.

You see, I am red-green color blind. That means that things that look red to you look green to me. This peculiar genetic trait is passed from parent to child through their mother.

Now, my mother has told me that no one in her family is color blind so it is not her “fault”. The particular gene in question is recessive in nature so it is quite possible that it has been handed down through the generations without anyone knowing it. So, if I wear something green, it is because I thought it was red and I honor both my mother and my church. But, of course, I will be wearing red.

Red, of course, is the color of fire and it was the fire of the Holy Spirit that descended upon those gathered together in Jerusalem some ten days after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven in anticipation of the promise that He gave them as He ascended into Heaven. And many seeds do not grow unless there is a fire to germinate the seeds.

I won’t go into the biology and the mechanisms of germination but many wild flowers and trees need the heat of a prairie fire to begin their growth. This has caused many problems out west where, for many years, mankind tried to control the prairie fires instead of letting them burn. And just as we need the fire of the Holy Spirit to start the growth of the church, so too do we need something to sustain the growth.

Many people come to Christ and they are filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit but like a fire that has no fuel, they quickly burn out. They may continue coming to church but they do nothing but sit in the pew on Sunday and offer nothing towards the growth of the church. Pretty soon, others get burned out because the fire that started the growth is soon gone and there is no impetus for growth.

Besides, green is a good color when we think about the church and its beginning. While Pentecost is the day the church began, we need to also think about how the church grew back then and how it will grow in today’s society.

It was my mother that planted the early seeds of faith in the lives of my brothers, sister, and me. Through her, my faith began to grow. Of course, there came a time when I had to take steps in faith without her presence. And that is true for all of us. In each of our lives there is someone who saw to it that our early growth in faith was nurtured, fed, and watered. But there came a time when we had to take those small and hesitant steps in faith on our own. And many times, we have fallen as we took those beginning steps. We have encountered many difficulties in those steps but we endured and we grew. I would encourage you to read Michael Daniel’s thoughts on this subject (Back to the Basics) over on the RedBlueChristian site.

The problem is that many people do not take those steps away from the environment that they grew up in or in which they came to Christ. They are quite comfortable living a life based on the fundamentals of Christianity and are not quite able to make the jump from a sheltered life into the wild, wild world outside the shelter.

When you are in the shelter, you are protected and you do not necessarily have to think or fend for yourself. But when you leave the confines of the shelter and are exposed to the world outside the shelter, things change. And it can be rough.

I think one of the problems that fundamentalists have with the teaching of evolution in the classroom today is that it requires that the students think and question things. There is no conflict if you are willing to see that science and faith are different; but, if you are locked into one specific manner of thinking, it is very difficult to see beyond that frame of thought. I would also add that those teachers who do not understand what evolution is and only teach it as it was taught to them are guilty of the same fixed form of thought.

You have to be taught the basics of Christianity if you are to be a Christian. But the basics go beyond the Old Testament; they include the New Testament and an exposure to what Christ was saying and doing. Too many fundamentalists today seem to be fixated on the Old Testament and the laws of the Old Testament; they are incapable of moving beyond the fixed structure that those laws inherently trap you in. This was the same problem that the religious and secular authorities had when Jesus was offering a new way of life and a new way to think.

We see that in many ways today; those who wish to be in authority are preaching but no one in the congregation is listening. Some do not listen because they feel that the teachers have not listened to them. If there is to be constructive growth in any community, the leaders must listen to the people as much as the people listen to the leaders. But too many people are not listening because the message is stale or out-of-date. The Bible has become a fixed relic of the past instead of the living, breathing document that it was meant to be.

Borrowing a note from the May, 2008, issue of Context, Chanon Ross noted that we often try to make our ministry relevant to those whom we want to attend. And the target audience does come more often and everyone involved feels rewarded for their efforts. But he cautions that increased attendance and our own happiness do not necessarily mean that they have received the message. Relevance does not come from understanding the culture of our audience but, rather whether grasping the total implications of what it means to be a Christian.

Ross points out that,

To say the Apostles’ Creed is to imagine the unimaginable. We not only hope for the impossible — “the resurrection of the body” — we expect it and look forward confidently to its realization. The scriptures are equally imaginative and audacious. They teach us that God came to us as an impoverished, first-century Jew and that this man, Jesus, is the second person of the Trinity. (The Trinity is another exercise in imagining the impossible.) As Christians we understand ourselves to be in the image of a Being who created the vast expanse of the universe by simply speaking it into existence. Let any of us try to wrap our imaginations around that! But if the creeds and scriptures express the core of Christian faith, imagination and audacity are at the heart of Christian practice. WE can neither teach nor practice our faith without them. (Context, May, 2008)

The people who saw the disciples and followers that first Pentecost could not imagine what had happened; they thought they were drunk. If you are tied to one structure or form of thought, it is very difficult to see another. And that is the problem that many churches have today.

But, as Paul pointed out in his letter to the Corinthians, we have been given many gifts. And with those gifts, we will be able to help others see and understand that which is often unseen and not easily understood. And just as the wild flowers of the Mid-west plains are germinated by prairie fires, so do is the growth of our own gifts started by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The challenge for each of us today is not to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit but to let the Holy Spirit set ablaze in us those gifts and talents that we have been given so that the church today will grow beyond what it is and will become what it was and what it can be.

When I came up with the title for this little piece, I thought of the phrase “I shall wear purple.” I did not know where I had heard it or when I heard it. It comes from a poem by Jenny Joseph called “Warning – When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.”

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves and satin candles, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells and run my stick along the public railings and make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat and eat three pounds of sausages at a go or only bread and pickles for a week and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry and pay our rent and not swear in the street and set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

So maybe people will understand that when I say that I should be wearing green today, it is because I want the church to grow beyond what is now and into what it can be.