Archive for the 'Pentecost' Category

For June 8, 2014: Pentecost, Year A

The Reading            Numbers 11:24-30

The book of Numbers tells of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness. As the current reading opens, Moses has cried out for help in dealing with the people’s complaints, and the Lord has commanded him to gather seventy elders to manage things. Then something Pentecost-like happens.

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Psalm 104 celebrates the power of the Lord, who has only to look at the earth to make it tremble—but it also celebrates the wisdom of the Lord in creating and sustaining quite simply all that there is.

The Second Lesson            Acts 2:1-21

The name Pentecost comes from the phrase pentekoste hemera ‘fiftieth day’, by which Greek-speaking Jews like Luke referred to the feast of Shavuot or First Fruits fifty days after Passover. As Luke tells it, all the nationalities converging on Jerusalem to be Israelite for this Shavuot experience mind-bending phenomena.

The Gospel            John 20:19-23

The Gospel reading takes us back to the evening of the Resurrection. The disciples have heard rumors but can’t entirely believe them—and then, quite unexpectedly, Jesus appears alive among them.

 

Ponderables

The readings for Pentecost all bear on the gift of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist’s account is the most orthodox in reminding us that all life on earth is itself the gift of the Spirit as the Lord chooses. The remaining lessons show human reactions to the gift appearing where it’s not expected. As Numbers tells it, the Spirit that comes on the elders in the wilderness is diverted from Moses and, worse, given to two men who aren’t even at the tent with the other 68; Moses’ assistant Joshua reacts to news of the errant gift with what sounds like jealousy. John 20:19-23 shows us the Spirit as simply Jesus’ breath—but in verse 25 Thomas will declare that, because Jesus didn’t appear to him, it can’t have happened. In the familiar account of Acts 2, the Spirit comes as wind and fire and leads the disciples huddled in Jerusalem to speak in other languages; some onlookers wonder how mere Galilean fisherman could possibly be so gifted while others simply dismiss them as publicly drunk, or at least full of spirits less pure.

As shocking as the flame and languages are, however, Peter’s explanation includes assertions that are even more eye-opening to those in Jerusalem and all the welter of nationalities that have converged on Jerusalem to be Israelite experience two utterly mind-bending phenomena: “God’s people” means absolutely everyone.

How often do we take it upon ourselves to decide where and how and to whom the Spirit ought to be given? And how do we help God help us stop doing that?

Advertisements

For Nov. 24, 2013: Last Sunday in Pentecost, Year C

The last Sunday in Pentecost is also known as Christ the King Sunday, and the lections for the day reflect this.

The Reading            Jeremiah 23:1-6

The English word “jeremiad” is based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, most of which are bitter denunciations of bad behavior that leads to bad results for Israel. Today’s reading starts out that way, as bad shepherds are called to account—but then, behold: God announces something new.

The Response            Psalm 46

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:11-20

In the first century A.D., the little church at Colossae in western Turkey bubbled over with theories about angels and other supernatural powers and with questions about the nature of Jesus. This Sunday’s passage explains in terms that are reminiscent of our Nicene Creed: Jesus is God’s firstborn and God’s champion on our behalf.

The Gospel            Luke 23:33-43

“‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him.”

 

Further thoughts

What does “king” mean, and how does that change when it’s predicated of the Son of God?

That the rights of kingship are easily abused is an article of faith in the US; we vacillate between being skeptical of kinglike figures and adulating them. Sports and entertainment stars loom like kings in terms of the attention they attract and the cultural influence they have. Billionaire owners or executives of big corporations won’t draw thousands to a concert, but they are kingpins or kingmakers whose riches buy them political clout equal to hundreds of thousands. It is prudent to assume that any human with great power can and will do whatever he chooses, whenever he chooses. Thoughtless or even evil acts are not entirely unchallengeable, but we recognize that the process is likely to bring the challenger humiliation and pain and possibly defeat.

Some lore of kingship goes in a very different direction, however. In most of the ancient world, the king was consort of the land itself, personally responsible for it; if his health declined, its health did too, and his individual virtue was embodied in its fertility. The touch of a true king could even heal diseases. This is power exerted to serve, and it is reflected in Jeremiah’s vision of the coming Davidic king as a righteous shepherd of his people. We understand this as real leadership: using the power at one’s disposal to do right.

The epistle depicts Jesus as infinitely more powerful than any earthly king. Because Jesus is also depicted as infinitely more good, he can be expected to do right—but when he seems to fail to intervene in stopping this natural disaster or illness or that madman with a machine gun, we feel devastated and deserted.

Then there’s the vision of kingship that the gospel gives us. Hanging on a cross. In unspeakable humiliation and agony. Verbally and physically abused for being who he can’t help being. Wrongly accused by ignoramuses whose hate-filled faces look unsettlingly like our own. Taking it and taking it, all of it.

Why doesn’t this King teach these wretches a lesson?

Because he is teaching them and us a greater lesson: to love as he loves, not because he makes us but because it’s what the world needs.

And that is what it means to reign as the Son of God.

 

For Nov. 17, 2013: Proper 28, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25

The prophet Isaiah speaks to Israelites who, after exile in Babylon, return to Jerusalem laid waste, the temple burned, and their lives in ruins. Isaiah attributed these disasters and more to the people’s disobedience. This Sunday’s reading, however, sings joyously of God’s gracious intentions for the people.

The Response            Canticle 9

“Cry aloud inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.”

The Epistle            2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

While the Old Testament this Sunday prophesies grace, the epistle lays down the law. The author, who may or may not be Paul, is vexed with first-century believers who, instead of doing productive work, are ataktos peripatountos—less nearly ‘living in idleness’, as our translation has it, than ‘going around sowing disorder’.

The Gospel            Luke 21:5-19

“‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’”

 

Further thoughts

As the beginning of Advent nears, the Proper 28 readings fittingly touch on order and irony.

The passage from Isaiah is a glowing depiction of orderliness and rightness. We deeply feel the unfairness of little children having to lose their parents and parents having to bury their children; we perceive wrongness in people dying too young to collect on their 401(k)s; in nature documentaries, we flinch when the defenseless little zebra calf falls to the ravening lion even as we concede that the lion is simply being who the lion is. Isaiah foresees a world in which things are put right, and it is tremendously appealing.

On the face of it, the epistle goes in a different direction. 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”—is widely quoted out of context as a condemnation of the chronically lazy; it resonates well with the sense of enjoying what one has properly earned that makes Isaiah’s vision appealing, and the NRSV’s rendering of the Greek phrase ataktos peripatountos in 3:3 and 3:11 as ‘living in idleness’ contributes to that impression. The problem that the passage addresses, however, isn’t mere laziness: ataktos is ‘disorderly’ and peripatountos is literally ‘around-walking’ (as in English peripatetic), so this is active interference. The rest of 3:11 calls the ataktos believers not ergazomenous ‘working’ but periergazomenous; the play on words suggests the painful irony of busyness that is badly off target. In such a world, professing Christians toting prayer books toddle off for a comfortable round of gossip about people we just finished hugging and sharing Eucharist with. In this world budgets dictate slapdash subsoil containment from which toxins leach into drinking water; monuments to piety and/or greed soar and shine while those who have never caught an even break—and, too often, those damaged while serving our nation at war—squat in doorsteps and scrounge in dumpsters for food.

It is messy, this world of ours, and in today’s gospel Jesus fails to do much about it. He doesn’t promise to strengthen the Temple or eliminate war or make natural disasters stop, or to keep out of jail or the media or others’ gossip, nor to keep our families from splintering, nor to eradicate any of the predators of which this world is so full (including the two-footed ones, and sometimes that means us).

What he does promise is to give us the wisdom and the heart to stay in this messy world and speak his words and be his hands and feet, if we choose to listen and keep listening. For, in God’s richest irony, it is meeting the deepest fears and needs of God’s children around us with God’s love that is the real work of the Kingdom.

For June 16, 2013: Proper 6, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel and the prophets during their reigns. In today’s reading from the first book, notorious King Ahab pouts because he wants land he does not own; Jezebel, his even more notorious wife, arranges for the land’s owner to be executed under trumped-up charges. It falls to the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab about his wrongdoing.

 The Response            Psalm 5:1-8

The Epistle            Galatians 2:15-21

As the second chapter of the book of Galatians opens, Paul defends his call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He makes a narrow point and a wider one. The first point, made in verses that we are not reading today, is that the circumcised and the uncircumcised are to share the good news together. This leads to his second point, which we read today: what justifies us with God is nothing whatever that we do.

The Gospel            Luke 7:36-8:3

“‘…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.’”

 

 Further thoughts

Today’s readings present somewhat unappetizing views of righteousness. The psalmist tells us that God shuns the bloodthirsty and protects the righteous, but righteous Naboth is publicly humiliated and killed on trumped-up charges just so Ahab can take his land for a vegetable garden. Super-righteous Paul tells us just how far his super-righteouness goes in buying him justification with God: absolutely nowhere. Jesus’ host clearly believes he has done two extraordinarily generous and superior things in inviting this controversial itinerant preacher to dinner and in not making a public issue of Jesus’ gaucherie in allowing a “sinful woman” to touch him, and then Jesus sets him straight on, among other things, Simon’s unfortunate lapse from the standards for hospitality.

It is hard not to cheer when grasping Ahab and Jezebel finally reap what they have sown, and it may be even harder (because the consequences are less) not to feel satisfaction at Simon getting taken down a peg. This may not be altogether inappropriate: as we will see in the course of the summer’s lectionary readings, justice and equity are very much on the mind of God and so they ought to be on ours.

It is sobering, though, to realize just what Jesus has to say about that nameless woman: she loves extravagantly not because she is good or gifted but because she has been forgiven extravagantly.

What might the world look like if we forgave like that?

For May 19, 2013: Pentecost

The Reading            Genesis 11:1-9

The first reading today, from the book of Genesis, explains how human beings created by the one God of Israel have come to speak so many different languages: they imagined that they could work and scheme their way to heaven, but God had other plans.  As we will see later, however, the story does not end here.

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35, 37b

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! in wisdom you have made them all.”

The Epistle            Acts 2:1-21

The story of the first Pentecost in the book of Acts is even more familiar than the story of the tower of Babel. The Pentecost story also involves people and languages. During today’s reading, if all goes according to plan, we will hear Acts 2:4 read in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Samoan, Choctaw, Russian, Croatian, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Dutch, and Old English, and later we will hear the Lord’s Prayer in all of those languages. God’s grace through Jesus works not for division but for unity, and our differences cease to divide us.

The Gospel            John 14:8-17 (25-27)

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.”

 

In lieu of further thoughts, I offer the language texts that we read today and some comments on the languages.

The language texts that follow are renderings of Acts 2:4—“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”—in various languages; for most languages that are not written in a Roman alphabet I have found, devised, or begged transliterations. Within language families I have underlined cognates—related words—to show the commonalities within the differences.

1. The Semitic language family includes Arabic, Hebrew, and the ancient Phoenician language. Semitic word roots typically have three consonants; vowel patterns work like inflections to signal grammatical information, so in classical Arabic the aaa pattern gives a verb (kataba ‘he wrote’, malaka ‘he owned/seized/ ruled’, nazala ‘he dismounted’, lamasa ‘he touched’); the ā-i pattern, a doer of the action (kātib ‘writer’, mālik ‘owner’); the i-ā pattern, a result of the action (kitāb ‘book’, nizāl ‘lining up for battle where one dismounted’); ma‑Ø-a-/i- a place where something is done (maktab ‘office’, manzil ‘stopping place’, malmas ‘place touched’, mamlaka ‘kingdom’), and so on. The transliterations here differ somewhat, but ‘holy’ is q-d-s or q-d-sh and ‘spirit’ is r-w-ḥ orr-w-ch.

Arabic: (transliterated)

wametla aljamey‘ min alruwḥ alqudus wābetdawa yatakalamuwna biilsinah ākhrā kamā ā‘khṭāhumu alruwḥu ān yanṭiquwā

Hebrew: (transliterated: credit to the Rev. Andy Welch)

Vekullâm nimleû rûach haqadôsh veheiheilû ledabeir bilshônôt acheirôt kefî shenâtenâ lâhem hârûach ledabeir.

2. The linguistic classification of Japanese is somewhat subject to dispute; the Japonic language family is not very closely related to other languages, though a relationship to Korean is possible and some scholars place these languages in the larger Altaic family. Even though Japanese is written partly in Chinese characters, it is not related to Chinese: unlike Mandarin, Japanese is not a tone language and it is highly inflected. Seirei is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Japanese: (transliterated)

Suruto, ichidō wa seirei ni mitasare, mitama ga kataraseru mama ni, iroiro no takoku no kotoba de kataridashi ta.

3. Choctaw is a Muskogean language originally spoken in and near modern Mississippi; the ancestors of most speakers were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Choctaw is closely related to Chickasaw and may be very distantly related to Kumeyaay or Diegueño, though the evidence is not strong. The letter v is used to write a vowel that is something like the first vowel in English about. Shilombish is ‘spirit’ and holitopa is ‘holy’.

Choctaw:

yvmohmi na, moyumvt Shilombish Holitopa yvt isht anukfokvt alota ma, anumpa inla puta anumpula he a, Shilombish vt apelahanchi na, okla anumpulit ishtia tok oke.

4. The Karen or Kayin languages, spoken in Burma (Myanmar), are members of the Tibeto-Burman grouping along with several languages of China (though neither Mandarin nor Cantonese). Karen languages, like many other languages of eastern Asia, are tone languages: not only are words distinguished by different vowels and consonants, they are also distinguished by six distinct tones or pitch contours. စီဆ is ‘holy’ and သး ‘spirit’.

Sgaw: (Myanmar Bible, original script)

ဒီးပှၤခဲ လၢာ်လၢထီၣ်ပှဲၤထီၣ်ဒီးသးစီဆှံ, ဒီးကတိၤတၢ်လၢအ ပျ့ၤအဂၤတဖၣ်, ဒ်သးန့ၣ်ဒုးကတိၤအီၤအသိးလီၤ.

5. The Austronesian language family probably originated in or near the island of Taiwan, off the coast of China. The Greek root nesos means ‘island’: most Austronesian languages are spoken on islands, from Madagascar off the east coast of Africa to the Easter Islands off the west coast of South America. The Polynesian languages of the South Pacific include Hawaiian, Fijian, and Samoan, all languages with relatively few consonants and simple consonant-vowel syllables. In Samoan, Agaga is ‘Spirit’ and Pa‘ia is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Samoan:

‘Ua fa‘atūtūmuina fo‘i i latou uma i le Agaga Pa‘ia, ma ‘ua amata loa ‘ona tautalatala i gagana ‘ese‘ese, e pei lava ‘ona faia e le Agaga ‘ua mafai ai e i latou ‘ona tautala atu.

6. The Indo-European language grouping has members spread across the globe. It includes the Slavic, Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic families and more.

a. The Slavic language family includes Russian and a number of languages spoken in Eastern Europe, such as Czech and Polish. Many but not all Slavic languages are written in Cyrillic characters; Croatian and Polish are among the languages that are written in roman script.  Dukh- and Duh- are ‘Spirit’; svyato- and sveto- are ‘holy’. Croatian and Serbian are essentially the same language.

Russian: (transliterated)

I ispolnilis’ vsye Dukha Svyatogo, i nachali govorit’ na inykh yazykakh, kak Dukh daval im provyeshchyevat’.

Croatian:

Svi se napuniše Duha Svetoga i počeše govoriti drugim jezicima, kako im već Duh davaše zboriti.

b. Greek is the sole surviving member of the Hellenic family. The Greek alphabet is descended from the Phoenician alphabet, though the Greeks converted a number of Phoenician consonant signs to symbols for vowels. Pneuma- is ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’; agiou, as in the Hagia Sophia, is ‘holy’.

Greek: (transliterated)

kai eplēsthēsan pantes pneumatos agiou kai ērxanto lalein eterais glōssais kathōs to pneuma edidou apophthengesthai autois

c. The founding member of the Romance language family is Latin, the language of the Romans. It is no longer in use as an everyday language, except in the Vatican, but its traces are strong in not only in the Romance languages but in English. Among its modern descendants are Italian, Spanish, and French. Latin –pl– as in repleti ‘filled up, replete’ often shows up in Italian as –pi-, as in ripieni ‘filled’ and in Spanish as –ll-, as in llenos ‘filled’ (so chiles relleños are quite literally filled-up or replete chilis). ‘Spirit’ is Spiritus/Espíritu/Esprit, and ‘holy’ is sanct-/santo/saint.

Latin:

et repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto et coeperunt loqui aliis linguis prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis

Italian:

Cosí furono tutti ripieni di Spirito Santo e cominciarono a parlare in altre lingue, secondo che lo Spirito dava loro di esprimersi.

Spanish:

Todos fueron llenos del Espíritu Santo y comenzaron a hablar en diferentes lenguas, según el Espíritu les concedía expresarse.

French:

Aussitôt, ils furent tous remplis du Saint-Esprit et commencèrent à parler dans différentes langues, chacun s’exprimant comme le Saint-Esprit lui donnait de le faire.

d. The Germanic language family has three main subgroups: Northern Germanic (Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic, but not Finnish, which is closely related to Hungarian), East Germanic (all of the languages of which are extinct), and West Germanic (including German, Dutch and English). Heilig-, hellig, and halg– are cognates of Modern English ‘holy’. Geest and gast mean ‘spirit’, though Modern English ghost now means specifically ‘spirit of a dead person’. The Northern Germanic languages instead have ånd or ande, from a Proto-Germanic word meaning ‘breath or spirit’ which is cognate with an Old English word meaning ‘malice, envy, hatred’ (that is, bad spirits) and with Latin anima ‘breath or soul’.

Norwegian:

Da blev de alle fylt med den Hellige Ånd, og de begynte å tale med andre tunger, alt efter som Ånden gav dem å tale.

Dutch:

En zij werden allen vervuld met den Heiligen Geest, en begonnen te spreken met andere talen, zoals de Geest hun gaf uit te spreken.

Old English:

and hi wurdon ða ealle gefyllede mid þam Halgum Gaste, and ongunnon to sprecenne mid mislicum gereordum, be ðam þe se Halga Gast him tæhte.