Note: This is a revised version of something I wrote and preached about a couple of years ago. Please don’t take me literally when I say things like ‘get out’, etc. But I do think we need to be, phased in, or not, about the business of being the church!
This Sunday is ʻPentecostʼ. Pentecost is a day to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church following the Ascension of Jesus. We read in Acts 2:2 – “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” It always raises in my mind this question, If the Holy Spirit is indeed like a “violent wind,” like an untamed hurricane, or a sudden and destructive tornado, what makes us think we want it in our lives? Growing up in the Methodist Church we sang a song that goes, “Breathe on me Breath of God.” Itʼs a comforting image; like a baby sleeping on your chest, or a wife or husband curled up, dozing at your back, breathing a sweet gentle breath. Or, have you heard this one? “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.” Or, do you know this one? “Thereʼs a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, And I know that itʼs the spirit of the LORD.” Comforting songs about the “Comforter”—songs that give you a sense of peace, just as Jesus said when he breathed the Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room on Easter evening. But as you read what happens in Acts 2 on that day of Pentecost, you get a different feeling than the songs I remember growing up.
Reading it again, I donʼt think the Spirit is always all that sweet and gentle. Indeed, I think the Spirit is a lot like how my Aunt Sarah (my Dadʼs youngest sister) told me a story about “Mama Mac, my paternal grandmother. “Mama left the house one day with orders for us to do our ‘chores’. We got busy with others things when: suddenly, from the kitchen door there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire room where we were sitting . . . and the name of that wind was Mama Mac, and she was not happy! She came home unexpectedly and instead of finding her children busy with the tasks she had left them to do, she found them sitting around doing nothing. Mama Mac roared into the den, the fly swatter in hand. We quickly scattered to finish the jobs she had given us earlier that day!“
But this is a different time you say. We have been, in this time of pandemic and turmoil in need of that gentle breath of God, that “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” that I sang in church growing up! At a time when many of us are at least cautious, if not still shut in and away from the world, perhaps a dose of “mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire”, those phrases used to describe the outbreak of the Spirit on that first Pentecost is needed to move us back out into the world and to the tasks we were given by Jesus as he left us.
It was fifty days after Easter and the disciples had done very little in that time but hang out with Jesus, spending some quality time with their Risen Lord. Then he left, really left, ascended into heaven left. (As we preached about last week!) And before he went, he told them to get busy, he told them in Acts 1: 8, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended. After he went up, angels came to them and said, in essence, “Quit standing around. Get busy” (Acts 1:11). But, they really hadnʼt been doing anything yet. And as our story opens, they were all together in one place, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting .” And, as the rest of the story tells us, that wind gave them a job, and the ability to do the job, and then it drove them out into the street so that they would get busy doing that job. Which is why the Holy Spirit, the mighty and powerful wind of God, is more like an Mama Mac than any sweet baby or gentle lover.
And, as we prepare to mark Pentecost in 2020 the Holy Spirit is after us:
It has been an information overload week for many pastors/preachers I know, of all persuasions. Email, Facebook posts, and texts focused on Governor Reeves “Safe Worship—Guidelines for In-Person Worship Services” that was released on Tuesday. As expected, there has been the full range of responses from ”Now we can go back to church”, to “Eight pages of fine print that still don’t make me feel any safer”. Some have had ‘emergency’ council, deacons, or session meetings; others are ‘waiting on the Lord’.
Perhaps you have thoughts on the subject? If so, feel free to share them with me, or any member of our Session. One of the best things I saw this week came from our neighbors in the Mississippi Presbytery. In their ‘guidance’ on the subject of ‘reopening churches’, here are two questions they asked Sessions and congregations to consider:
These will be a focus of our Session’s next stated meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd. In addition to your input to the Elders, please be in prayer as they consider the ‘when and how’ of resuming face to face activities, particularly worship. Meanwhile, if you are open, we are looking for those who would like to offer their gifts to assist with our video worship services.
This weekend marks two months since we have met “in person” on Sunday for worship and fellowship. We are not certain when we will be able to resume what we once considered our normal routines, but there are hopeful signs.
In this “in between” time there are some things I want to encourage you to do. First, and some of you are already doing this, make a connection with someone you have missed. This is not limited to “church members”, although that would be a good starting point. Second, let your own needs, and those close to you, be known. Not simply as prayer concerns, but as a way of sharing with one another and caring for one another. I know that there are safety guidelines, but within those limitations, reach out. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).
For some reason—perhaps it is coincidental to this being the weekend leading up to Mother’s Day—My Mom loved, mainly because she loved my Dad, and at 92 still watches Gunsmoke. Perhaps in honor of her, but probably because as I get older I become more like my Dad and Mom (It happens!), I’ve become a fan of some of those ‘Westerns’ that Mom and Dad loved. As I worked on the sermon for this Sunday (May 3rd) I‘ve caught myself tuning in to “The Big Country” and “Nevada Smith”. (Lonesome Dove is still my favorite!) In between the soaring musical themes and sweeping vistas of the West...As I studied about a ‘good Shepherd’...not on cowboy heroes...it gave me a chance to think about the difference.
Behold a hero of the West: The Cowboy.
He rears his horse to a stop on the rim of the canyon. He shifts his weight in his saddle, weary from the cattle trail. One finger pushes his hat up on his head. One jerk of the kerchief reveals a sun-leathered face. A thousand head of cattle pass behind him. A thousand miles of trail lie before him. A thousand women would love to hold him. But none do. None will. He lives to drive cattle, and he drives cattle to live. He is honest in poker and quick with a gun. Hard-riding; slow-talking. His best friend is his horse, and his strength is his grit. He needs no one. He is a cowboy—our hero!
Behold a hero in the Bible: The Shepherd.
On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his home.
But that is where the similarities end.
The shepherd loves his sheep. It’s not that the cowboy doesn’t appreciate the cow; it’s just that he doesn’t know the animal. He doesn’t even want to. Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd caring for a sheep? Why the differences?
1-The cowboy drives (wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes) the cattle. The shepherd leads (guides, feeds, and anoints) the sheep. This alone would be enough for most of us to say, “Give me a shepherd!” But it is strange when the church buys into ‘cowboy models’ of leadership and even organization. I knew of an extremely popular and what we would call ‘growing’ church that ‘fired’ their small group minister, because he had not “rounded up” enough small group participants and leaders! Jesus would have failed as a ‘cowboy’ because he started out with thousands and ended up with a handful of scared sheep in the upper room! I won’t even go down the ‘branding’ issue lane: Can you say Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, etc.
2-The cowboy knows the name of the other cowboys. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep. A herd has dozens of cowboys. A flock has one shepherd. The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name.
3-The cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. (And the shepherd himself is “led like a sheep to the slaughter” for His sheep!
This is so rooted in our theological understanding of who our Good Shepherd is and what He offers us in the way of life. Perhaps it is a bit strong to say the cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. Most of the images we have of cowboys on the ‘cattle drive’ give little indication of where the cattle are going to end up—see stockyards of Fort Worth or Chicago for the final destination. Suffice it to say, they treat the animals differently. Jesus solves the way of how each ‘sheep’ will be viewed, not as some weak or lost and others healthy and worth saving, by telling us stories of the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost one while the 99 are safe. We are not a product to be sold, but a people for whom Christ died! This point might help us in how we care for and treat each other; how we approach those ‘outside the gate’.
Aren’t we glad Christ didn’t call himself the Good Cowboy? But some do perceive God that way. A hard-faced, square-jawed ranch-hand from heaven who drives his church against its will to places it doesn’t want to go. But that’s a false image. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. The Shepherd who protects, provides, and ‘keeps’ his sheep.
|FPC PC(USA) Starkville, MS||