Sunday, May 8, 2016

Praying for Another Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

This year more than ever I find myself praying for another Pentecost where differences are bridged and where we are able to hear and understand one another. Oh, there are a thousand reasons why I yearn for this in this season. Here is one:

I am so very careful not to post anything controversial on Facebook. While, on the one hand, one can certainly show support to like minded people in this way, my strong sense is that with those who differ, minds are seldom changed for comments are rarely shared in a trusted enough environment to even really be heard. I broke from my usual pattern this week, though, for I had not paused long enough to realize how divisive this piece could be.

Here is how it was. I shared a piece from Crain's Chicago Business which spoke of several social service agencies which have banded together to sue the governor of the state of Illinois for breach of contract.(You can read the editorial here.)  The gist of the piece is this. Our state has not had a budget for nearly a year, the casualty of deep political differences between parties. And those who are suffering are the most vulnerable among us.

While other institutions and organizations had the means to quickly file suit to ensure that financial obligations would be met by the state, for the most part social service agencies are individually smaller, not as well organized as a single unit, and without the excess financial resources to take such a clearly necessary step. So in the meantime, for the last year they have done their best to continue to provide services to the most vulnerable of our neighbors. In order to make ends meet they have laid off staff or simply not replaced those who have moved on for one reason or another or they have trimmed services as much as possible. And yes, sometimes programs have been cut altogether. They have done so because their contracts with the state of Illinois had never been altered. They have done so, hoping against hope, that a budget might come through. For the most part I expect they have continued to do what they could for this is simply what they do. I know this is so. I have seen it up close in the community I call home.

With all of this, I was surprised to read this week that some have organized themselves enough to file suit. I shared the story with just one word of commentary saying simply, "Wow." Within the hour people I care about and respect from different ends of the political spectrum chimed in --- each blaming those on the other side of the political aisle for this unprecedented impasse. I chose not to join in. Indeed, I was frankly grateful to observe that the others stepped away pretty quickly, too.

And so, Pentecost. As I've considered my recent foray into Facebook controversy, I am recognizing what we all know so very well: In many cases, too much of the time, a whole lot more than language divides us in our world today. In fact, it seems to me that understanding different languages without the need of translators would be no more of a miracle than Republicans and Democrats being able to listen to understand enough to begin to work towards profoundly important things for the sake of our common life together. More than that, these days one could easily argue that even within parties we dwell on our differences more than what we hold in common. Even in our congregations where often for the most part regrettably we look and sound much the same, these differences divide. And often, at least in my experience, we find ourselves so at odds with each other that we simply opt not to discuss it at all.  And while this keeps the 'peace,' it is surely a fragile and a shallow peace which hinders us from going down paths where the Holy Spirit would lead.

For it is so that as much as anything I have already offered, here is what stays with me about the heated outbreak on my Facebook page the other day. Each and all of those who chose to jump into the fray are people of faith. In fact, they are all followers of Jesus. I can't help but wonder if today --- and I do mean today --- it is surely ours to pray for an out-breaking of the Holy Spirit as was experienced that first Pentecost so long ago --- that we, too might somehow hear and understand each other across all that divides. I can't imagine that the need for such as this will ever be more pressing than it is now for so very much is at stake. Can you even imagine what a remarkable model people of faith might just be called to be in a world where the "peace" is all too often false and fragile, where we are too much of the time so very divided that a civil conversation about matters so vital seems all but impossible?

At least this seems to be how things are in my context. How is it for you?
  • I have offered an example of a profound need for the sort of out-breaking of the Holy Spirit in the place I call home. Is this also so for you? Would you offer a different example?
  • What would it mean to you to pray for another Pentecost? What might such a Pentecost look like?
  • I am considering using the  Church Innovations Thriving in Change process in my context to help build a community more at ease with discerning our way together through tough issues. This, or something like it, seems as though it could be especially helpful, particularly in this very divisive political season. I am wondering what it would look like to learn this model more deeply and then tackle several important issues together over the next months. What do you think? What would something like that look like in your context?
  • Although I have not offered any above, in the days to come I will be searching for examples of times when the Holy Spirit has helped people hear and understand each other across our differences. What instances or experiences of this come to mind for you?


  1. Very apropos . . . not only in light of the political times, but for me as a United Methodist, very relevant to our tensions over sexuality issues -- now at a fever pitch during our Quadrennial "General Conference" in Portland, OR. (May 10-20) . . . I'm not sure where the Spirit is leading me with this text, but I would like permission to use "Praying for Another Pentecost" as my sermon title, if that's OK. Thank you for your ministry of "Dancing With the Word."

    1. Dave: Please do use the title! May the Spirit break forth in your preparation and your proclamation!