Almighty God, on this day through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation. Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel, your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer
Spring Break and the Spirit
During one spring break in college, I was a part of a smaller team made up of students from our college ministry, scouting our missionary opportunities in Belize. I spent an entire day in the back of a truck with one of my buddies named Ryan. We were driven from village to village across the country by a man we had met for the first time early that morning. Soon, we pulled up to an orphanage at sundown to join the rest of our group, who had been playing with the children for most of the day.
I was supposed to give a sermon that night after dinner during worship. Before the trip, I had prepared what I might talk about, what Scripture I could use, what stories I could tell, etc. But after spending a few days in Belize, and an entire day in the back of a truck and helping with various physical tasks, I realized that nothing I had prepared would have mattered.
When we got out of the truck, Ryan and I made a beeline to this small concrete plot with a basketball goal and joined some of the kids from the orphanage for a game of two on two. It was during this game where I realized that what I had prepared to talk about wasn’t going to work.
We were called into their bigger room, and I was asked to find a spot toward the front of the room. Sweating and still catching my breath from the game, my mind started to race as I thought about what I would say when I got up to speak. I couldn’t think of anything, so I prayed. I asked that God would still use me and give me words.
So I stood up, looked at all of the children – ranging from babies to a couple of guys who had just turned 18 and were soon going to be leaving home – and I smiled. The only words I could say were, “Jesus loves you.” I remember asking, “Do you know that? Do you know that Jesus loves you?” And as those words came out of my mouth, every child broke out in song – “Jesus loves me this I know…”
And as I smiled even bigger, tears started rolling down my face. I have never been so moved by the Spirit in my entire life.
We are told that when the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ disciples were together and sitting in a house. Now, we are told that among them were the original 11 disciples, a new guy named Matthias (who had just been added to the 11), some certain women, Jesus’ mom, and Jesus’ brothers. We know they are back in Jerusalem, and they are sitting in a house, and I would guess that they are a bit on edge. Jesus, now risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, has informed them that they are to receive the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses in Jerusalem (where they are), Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Then, as they were watching Jesus ascend, some angels asked them what they were doing and told them to get on with it – to get back to Jerusalem because Jesus has given them something to do.
But now, they are sitting in a house in Jerusalem – waiting.
I am sure they were praying. They were probably discussing all of this over and coming up with the best plan as to how they might actually carry out this whole “witnessing” thing that Jesus has given them to do.
And then, it got really loud…think wind tunnel, the rush of air thundering in your ear so loud that you can’t think kind of loud. And then, tongues of fire. Yes, you read that right. Tongues of fire appear above the disciples’ heads, glowing as they descend upon each of them and rest there. The disciples are then filled with the Holy Spirit, giving them the ability to speak the languages of all who are present in Jerusalem – those who have come to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).
Of course, you are probably familiar with what happens next. Crowds gather together. People are amazed but shocked. The disciples are accused of being drunk at 9 am. And Peter delivers an incredible sermon. Then, 3,000 people come to faith and are baptized. The church of Jesus Christ is birthed.
For the followers of Jesus today, Pentecost provides the opportunity to become aware of the gift of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Because God’s Spirit came to us, we as Christ’s body have been brought to life and given the power to know God’s will and do it.
Here is the thing though…
This world presents plenty of challenges. To be completely transparent, most of the time, I feel like the disciples might have felt when Jesus was ascending to heaven before their eyes. I would surely have been thinking, “Oh no, what now?” Surely they began to feel hopeless or worried, even with Jesus’ final words still ringing in their ears. At least one of them must have asked, “How am I supposed to do that? If they killed Jesus, what will they do with me?”
Think about your life. If you are like me, there have been moments of doubt, despair, or helplessness – especially when we see racism lead to the death of men who need not have been murdered, or while we live in the midst of a global pandemic. Confusion and weariness are natural feelings that come during such times.
It can lead to a deep loss of hope. It can lead us into a place of complacency.
Enter Pentecost. God’s Spirit rushes in and shakes us out of our complacency and renews our hopes. Though things may be dire and life may present incredible challenges, the good news we learn from Pentecost is that Jesus was not lying when he said he would “be with us always until the end of the age.” The Spirit of God enables us to live out and live for justice, peace, mercy, and love. We are given new life, the church is born, and we celebrate the power of life in the Spirit.
This is the life we are called to – a life in the Spirit where we live in relationship with God, with our selves, with our neighbors, and with the world around us. A life seeking God’s Kingdom and His will to be done.
Little Children and the Spirit
I felt a little bit like the disciples might have felt when Jesus ascended as we pulled up to the orphanage that evening in Belize. I had prepared and knew that I had been given an opportunity to share about Jesus. Before leaving Chattanooga, I had thought through some ideas for a great sermon. But then I got to the children’s home, played with them, laughed with them, and got to know them. I started to think, “Oh no. What now?”
And then, at the mention of Jesus and his love for us, the Spirit rushed in. Instead of a wind tunnel and the sound of air so loud and intense that one could not hear themselves think, the Spirit moved through little children. Sweet, innocent, and beautiful children. As the Spirit moved, I stopped talking and got out of the way. As the Spirit moved, all I needed to do was watch and receive. And that is the heart of Pentecost, isn’t it?
Let the Spirit move. Watch. Receive.
May we have eyes to see this Pentecost. May we have ears to hear. May we have hearts open to receive what the Spirit may be trying to do in us.
[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady. Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]
By Michael Bowman
If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”― A.W. Tozer
The next day, Holy Saturday is a time of solitude and sabbath. It is a chance for us to meditate on the time that Jesus was dead and buried. This Saturday is one of anticipation because we know the end of the story.
We know that death is not the end. We know that, soon, Jesus is walking out of that tomb. Yet, we wait with anticipation and longing. We await the coming of the third day, where our true hope is found.
Because of Easter, you and I are new people living in a new world.
We fell away from what we were intended to be, as beloved daughters and sons created to bear the image God. Yet, on Easter, our image was restored. We have been mended back together, and our broken relationship with God has been made right again. This does not mean that evil no longer exists, for it does. However, its power is no longer final. We are living in the already but not yet, where all is now new, and yet God is continuing to restore all things. And this is what we come together to celebrate on Easter Sunday: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady.
Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary.
Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]
By Michael Bowman
Our creation story in Genesis tells us that God made man (Hebrew word, adam) out of the dust of the ground (Hebrew word, adamah). God makes woman the same way. And God has a great plan for their lives.
The man and woman, as they walk with God in the cool of the day, learn how to be fully alive, how to tend and care for the garden, as well as how to tend and care for one another. Being fruitful and multiplying, as God had commanded them, became a natural part of what it meant to be alive. All was well.
That is until the man and woman wanted more. There was one forbidden tree that seemed to offer the more that the man and woman were looking for. They wanted to learn good and evil for themselves…they wanted to be like God. As they reached for that forbidden fruit and took turns eating it, they did, in fact, learn new things, but it was not quite what they expected. With each bite from the forbidden fruit, the man and woman learned fear, blame, guilt, and shame. When God comes looking for them, the man and woman now hide.
Then, the man and woman are sent out from the garden by God, and they learned a new reality – death.
“…you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19
Or, as Eugene Peterson translates this verse, “…you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”
These words ring out from sanctuaries and chapels, homes and cathedrals, throughout the world every year on a Wednesday (known as Ash Wednesday) that begins a season known as Lent.
As it goes, people will enter into these sacred spaces and as these words are shared with them, a mixture of oil and ashes will be smeared (the church-y word is “imposed”) on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. This mark is a reminder of our mortality as humans – that one day, we will face the reality of death.
Lent has begun, and the reminder of the reality of death will ring in our ears for the next 40(ish) days.
HOW WE GOT HERE:
Advent begins the Christian year with the pregnant expectation of new life in God. At Christmas, birth has been given to new possibilities of life in God. During Epiphany, we, like naive children, or like the naive magi, dare to dream big and impossible dreams and journey after a seemingly unreachable star not knowing what may be waiting for us when we arrive.
And then we come to Lent. Lent is a season of adolescence. We have spent the last two months as childlike dreamers, but we now recognize our innocence has been lost. At Lent, we come to a full stop and take an account of who we are, or maybe who we have become. We look inward and focus on the difficult realities of ourselves, others, or the world around us. We allow ourselves to ask questions, work through doubt, and even wrestle for our identity and purpose.
Matthew tells a story in his Gospel about a ridiculous looking and sounding man named John. John baptized people, so he was known as John the Baptist…because that’s what he did (kind of like how Big Bird is named Big Bird because he’s a big bird…okay, sorry for that). Jesus, who happens to be John’s cousin, shows up one day to be baptized by John.
As Jesus comes up out of the water, God speaks and shares with everyone present exactly who Jesus is – “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Holy Spirit descends and rests on Jesus like a dove. Then, the Holy Spirit immediately sends Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Notice, Jesus was not led by the Spirit into public ministry – preaching, healing, etc. – but into the wilderness to be tempted.
This is meant to cause the reader to remember the story of God’s people when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The Book of Exodus shares with us how God’s people, the Israelites, spent 40 years in the wilderness (the desert) before God led them into the Promised Land.
In both stories, one may notice how God provides for Jesus and his people. When the devil leaves Jesus, we are told the angels minister to him. Even while the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness, God provided them with “manna” that they may continue to be fed.
LENT FOR YOU AND ME:
During Lent, we not only remember these stories, but we enter into our own wilderness – whatever it may be. Our journey in Lent begins with a reminder that we will die one day – all of us. Throughout Lent, if we allow it, we enter into the wilderness and face head-on our present temptations, the threats of evil in our world today, our biggest questions and doubts, how we may need to die to ourselves to make more room for Christ, and all of the ways in which we have misplaced our loyalties or our desires. In the wilderness, we can see more clearly the places in our lives where we need healing most, the aspects of who we are that need to be made whole, or the dead places in us and around us that need to be restored back to life.
“Lent invites us to risk the journey through death to life, to enter a wilderness filled with danger, to enter the desert where both God and the evil one dwell.” – John H. Westerhoff III
(I can’t get through one of these without quoting this guy…)
If you are like me, you may want to skip Lent completely. It might sound because Lent, as a whole, sounds too sad. Maybe, all you know about Lent is that we are supposed to give up sugar or Facebook, and you don’t want to give up either. Or, maybe, you would rather skip Lent and get to Easter, because Easter means feasts, time with family, pastel colors, and smiling faces.
The good news for us is that Lent is a season devoted to giving us room to remember just how easy it is for us to forget that we are totally dependent on God and his grace for life, itself.
Lent is not a season to be skipped over. The season is set aside to allow followers of Jesus to form new habits rooted in spiritual disciplines. It is a time where God’s people rid themselves of comforts or things of this world, to create more room for God in their lives. Really, Lent can be thought of as a time where we open our broken selves to God to allow him to make us whole.
Though Lent is 40-plus days long and can feel long, the wait is worth it. Lent ends with perhaps the biggest and greatest celebration of the entire Christian year…
Easter is coming.
Yet, to skip over Lent would be to miss the point of Easter.
Without death, there is no resurrection.
The apostle Paul said it another way – “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies…What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:36,42)
We begin Lent with ashes being smeared onto our foreheads and being told that we will die. We are adolescents searching for our identity in the dark. Yet, we end Lent with an acknowledgment of who we are and what we live for, on the cusp of our new story – we are to become witnesses and recipients of God bringing the dead back to life.
Again, most people think Lent is a time where we are supposed to give up stuff we like – social media, sugar, fatty foods, laughter, or fun (just kidding about those last two). But this would be missing the point.
This Lent, try something different.
First, go to an Ash Wednesday service and be reminded of your mortality. Then, give yourself time and space each day going forward to look inward. Enter into the wilderness, knowing that you are not going alone – the Spirit is with you. Search for how you have been trying to define yourself, for the ways in which you have done wrong, for the questions and doubts that you may have, for the areas in your life that need healing, or for the dead parts of your life that need to be brought back to life. Ask God to help you. Fast. Give yourself time for silence. Read the Scripture. Listen.
As you do this, you may begin to find broken areas of your life. Offer these areas of brokenness to God. Allow him to make these places whole.
Dare to remember that God made life from ashes, and he is going to do it again.