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|Pentecost 2017 Foreword
We lost power in our town at 7 am on last Ash Wednesday. We regained power just as we were leaving for church so that our priest could remind us, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Every reader will know the dozens of things one cannot do without electricity. But dust! Talk about a power failure! We go to church to participate in that truth: you are mortal, you will die, you have limits, you are finally powerless. The priest’s words recalls Genesis 2:7 wherein God must breathe on and create a new living person without vitality. They also recall Psalm 103:14: God knows our limit. It is of course a long way from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, but during the days between Ascension and Pentecost, there is a failure of power during which the earliest church must wait for a new gift of power.
As usual our editor Erskine Clarke has recruited and assembled a ﬁne variety of rich suggestive pieces. Thomas Currie offers a compelling, close reading of the Pentecost narrative that will sustain preachers well into the season. Brent Strawn ponders the “unity God does not want” (hubris) and the diversity God does want. Rush Otey comments on the richness of “amazing grace” that is genuinely amazing without ever mentioning the name of Jesus. Tom Long explicates the sweep of “God’s love,” a sweep that matches our most elemental fear of being abandoned. Catherine Gonzales takes the notion of “Communion of Saints” seriously and precisely and shows that such fellowship pertains to every material and spiritual reality.
Sam Wells links the Mary/Martha episode to the courage of Ernest Gordon as a prisoner of war. Gordon, not unlike Mary, saw that God offers no easy way of obedience. William Brown continues his remarkable probe of the creation traditions, this time with reference to Job. He asks, “Where in the dramatic plot does Job ﬁnd comfort?” Thomas Watkins presents an analogue between the church and Southeastern football and concludes that above all people want to “belong.”Amelia Stuckey lifts up joy as a central mark of the community of Jesus.
Try this: Pentecost as God’s response to the power failure of the world. So what might evoke power failure in pastors and in the church? There are many candidates, but I name three. First, fear. I do not know many pastors who fear their congregations, but I know many who can readily name a few folks they fear; in my little circle, those are right-wing ideologues who are intransigent on a cluster of issues. In their presence it can be fearful to say what needs to be said. Second, fatigue. I know many pastors who are weary of trying to be too much of the church on their own to cover less engaged parts of the church. Third, cynicism, the uneasiness that nothing will ever really change. Fear, fatigue, cynicism...power failures! And then comes Pentecost! In the book of Acts the apostles received energy and courage to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.
Against our fear, the truth of Easter means to have freedom to bear witness in the midst of old ideologies that want to suffocate. The apostles did not shrink from truth-telling in the face of the empire. Against fatigue, Easter truth is the afﬁrmation that Jesus has broken the seduction to overdo in the interest of goodness or obedience. Against our cynicism, Jesus has broken all the resistance against newness and has authorized changes that until now had been too frightening to contemplate. The future is made possible by fresh gusts of the new wind.
In the book of Acts, Pentecost features a new resolve to enact the Easter story in many new contexts. One could not ﬁgure the Apostles being frightened of their congregations or wearied by the authorities or cynical before old-line religious conformists. Easter gave them remarkable freedom toward God’s new world. They refused to accept any “power failure” as the truth of their life. Such a gift of power, to be sure, is not given to everyone on demand, and some will remain without power. But not to worry; until it is given, there is good work to do to be faithful in our dust even before the breath is given anew.