The Day of Pentecost
May 31, 2009
The Day of Pentecost 2009 Psalm 104 May 31, 2009
We arrived back in Chico early Saturday evening after two and ½ days in lovely downtown Fresno with about 600 other Lutherans at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly. I bring greetings from Bishop Mark Holmerud and from ELCA Vice President Carlos Pena who greets us for Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. We were also addressed by the Vice President of the Lutheran Synod of Rwanda, Pr. John Rutsindintwarne (Try saying that!) and his wife, Robin Strickler, Director of the Rwanda School Project. I would love to tell you all they said, but another time.
I do want to tell you that I had breakfast with Pr. John Saturday morning and he is very moved by our congregation’s commitment in accompanying one of the more impoverished of areas in Rwanda. Out of the 14 Lutheran churches in Rwanda, the Kagitumba Parish is one of the most rural and one of the few without running water or electricity. Yet they are one of the most diligent in terms of their goals. Pastor John affirmed his strong hope that Pr. Elidard’s visa will be granted because it is a significant way to deepen our companionship. There’s nothing better than personal connection. It’s one thing to give money, but companioning includes relationship. Pr. John and I prayed about it together as we sat at the breakfast table. More on that later too!
For now, I want to reflect on Psalm 104 appointed for The Day of Pentecost. It’s beside the point that it’s my favorite Psalm. I encourage you to take time to read the whole thing! Today we highlight verses 27-30 “You send forth your Spirit… and renew the face of the earth.”
One of the Resolutions the Assembly passed with flying colors is that the Sierra Pacific Synod would become a Book of Faith Synod! That means as a Synod we want to do all we can to help each other become fluent in the first language of faith, the Bible.
How many of you have learned a foreign language? Or tried to? I have. It’s not easy. It takes time and intentionality. It doesn’t just happen. These are some of the most exciting days in the ELCA because we have stopped assuming we are fluent in scripture or assuming it doesn’t really matter if we’re not. Perhaps we’ve figured we’ll always have scripture and can get around to it some other day. Or, maybe we’ve thought it’s the clergy’s job. Or, maybe we’re afraid it’s too confusing. Whatever the reasons, the ELCA is now boldly challenging us to take it to heart.
It’s not only our heritage as Lutherans that says scripture is important – it is the experience of people over and over in their own lives that it is a life-giving word – when read as a book of faith. And not just a book! 66 books! Perhaps it wouldn’t’ seem so overwhelming if we saw it as a little library containing 66 of the most amazing books we’ll ever read.
Lutherans talk about being encountered by the scripture. It addresses us. It’s a living word – a Holy Spirit thing. Without the Spirit, it’s just a book. But the Spirit is involved. What makes the difference is approaching it as a book of faith. It is not just a literary work, or a history or a novel. It is a means of communication between us and God – facilitated by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world. It is a four-fold relationship between scripture, God, us, and the world.
Perhaps the thing that frightens us most about scripture is the differing interpretations we hear. It is perhaps the biggest thing dividing Christians today. But it becomes exciting when we allow these differences to lead us into dialogue. This is what’s happening between the full communion partnerships we have with the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian, the UCC, the Moravian, and the proposal that will be voted on at our Churchwide Assembly that we enter into full communion with the United Methodist Church.
Lutheran/Catholic dialogue has been happening for a long time. We are now in agreement on the 95 Theses. We have much in common with other Christians and there is no harm in our otherness as long as we are willing to enter into conversation with each other. Harm comes when we refuse dialogue and assume we have nothing more to learn.
So we approach scripture asking for the grace to be open to the Spirit that Psalm 104 says God sends to renew us. Scripture is a means of renewal. Luther says, “In reading, conversation and meditation on the Scripture, the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever greater light so that it tastes better and better and is digested.” (Large Catechism 381) The Bible is to taste good! Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza says, “It is bread, not stone.” Using it to stone people is outside its intent and not the voice of the Spirit. Scripture as the Living Word of God is bread fresh from the oven and when interpreted rightly its aroma moves us to open and savor its delight.
Scripture is a Holy Spirit thing and I hope this Pentecost Day can launch the Book of Faith Initiative even more fully among us. Summer, I hope, will not be a break from scripture, but will find us diving into them in a new way! On the back of your bulletin, underneath the line near the bottom is Next Sunday’s Readings. I have a Pentecost challenge for us. I encourage each of us to read these scriptures before next Sunday. And not only read them, but meditate on them, savor them as you would fresh bread from the oven, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your reading.
I’ve heard it said that it takes 30 days to create a habit. The summer gives us more than 30 days. I believe it would transform our congregation if we would take our bulletins home and begin the habit of savoring the texts for the next Sunday. God sends the Spirit to renew us through this very means! But like the piano, trumpet or French horn, instruments do no good until we engage them. If they just sit here, they even go out of tune. So with scripture – if it just sits here it does us no good. It is as we learn the art of playing that an instrument comes alive. And I like that we call it playing the piano or bassoon or trumpet. We can learn to play the scriptures, too!
The ELCA is guiding us to look at Scripture from an historical perspective, a literary perspective, a devotional perspective and from a Lutheran theological perspective – all of which can be interactive play. And all of it can be from whatever level we’re at. The Bible will be the focus of Vacation Bible School. And, the Bible is meant for the most mature! It is wise to engage it as play, as delight, as kneading, baking and savoring bread – as caring for a garden or tilling a fruitful field. When we do it as a joyful task we reap the greatest benefits.
And how vital to savor it in community! The Bible is the community’s book. The more conversation we have with it the better. It is not a book to be read in isolation from the community of faith. If through the summer we will have developed the habit of savoring the texts during the week and allowing them to engage us in our corporate worship together, then in the fall, we will be well poised for our Book of Faith series beginning with a September Smorgy the Warthog Book of Faith Retreat! There will be something for all ages and appetites.
Our loving, living God comes to renew us through water and word, bread and wine. The banquet is overflowing – preparing us to overflow for the world. Through the Bible; at the font; at the table – we learn of this love that first loves us. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We are loved, that we might love. We are fed, in order to feed. And I have one last suggestion.
Our Psalmist says, “God opens God’s hands and we are filled with good things.” Worship is about being caught up in the banquet of the Loving Spirit. It may raise our expectations if we brought a fork with us. And a napkin! Good things are often a bit messy and finger-lickin’. Come hungry and expectant to be filled. Scripture says, “God sends forth God’s Spirit and renews the face of the earth.” To bring a fork may be a way of saying “Come, Holy Spirit, come! I am prepared, expectant and hungry! Come, Holy Spirit, come!”
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA