It is two weeks past Pentecost Sunday as I write this, but I am still hashing out some of the thoughts which Pentecost stirred up this year. Most years Pentecost Sunday doesn't make much of an impact. It is a festival Sunday that competes with college graduations and other end of the school year celebrations and some years Memorial Day weekend. The general feel of Pentecost in the Lutheran church is kind of like the Pentecost reading from Acts 2, feeling slightly forced and awkward. Every year our reader dutifully stumbles through the list of nations hearing the good news in their own languages (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphlylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs).
I have taken part in several services where we tried to make the Pentecost story more dramatic. We tried reading the text in a variety of languages to highlight the international feel of the day. We tried reading the text in a round to convey the noisy confusion we imagined that day to be. We asked everyone to wear red so the congregation might look like flame. We had the worship assistant process with a bowl of fire. (It was a small bowl with an alcohol-soaked rag in it. She was not happy.) Yet no matter what I have seen tried to promote the day of Pentecost the overall feel is "That was interesting but I hope it doesn't happen here." We get our annual dose of the Spirit's discombobulation and then settle back into our routine of good worship with good order.
This year as I was preparing for Pentecost, an idea clicked that hadn't before. I noticed when the Spirit came to the disciples, it led them out of the house in which they were staying. It seems like a small detail but it made me think about the orientation of the congregations I have served. Namely, most of the time when we talk about outreach and evangelism, our focus is on getting people into our house. We host concerts, lectures, meals and other special events with the hope that someone who steps onto the property might return to the property for worship. We fret over friendliness and hospitality with the hope of turning the one-time guest into a repeat visitor. Welcoming people into the house becomes an overriding concern for congregations and clergy.
Yet as I encountered the Pentecost story this year, I was confronted with the outward push of the Spirit. The Spirit doesn't say, "Come in." The Spirit says, "Go out." Go out and witness to the good news. Go out and live the story.
Perhaps the reason that Pentecost is awkward is that the story goes against our sensibility of church. We want to stay in, where we are comfortable, accepted and know what is going to happen. We assume that other people want what we want. The Spirit sends us out with a story to tell. We want to stay in where we know the language and culture. We assume that other people will want to be like us. The Spirit sends us out to tell the story in the language of the spiritual but not religious, the agnostic and atheist, and the bitter ex-church attendee. We want to be inside, where faith is neatly compartmentalized within the four walls of the sanctuary. We assume there is a clear distinction between church and the rest of life. The Spirit calls us out with a story that impacts every moment and every place.
The Spirit calls us out. I wonder what the church will look like if we listen.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
My mother was born in Denmark and grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, which is home to a number of families of Danish heritage. One of the defining tastes of my youth was Danish kringle. Every time we visited my grandparents, there would be a kringle waiting for us and a few more purchased while we were in town.
Recently, I was back in Wisconsin for the funeral of my grandmother (and they did have kringle at the funeral home). It was a good opportunity to be with my family and to remember all the the good times that we had together in my grandparents' little house.
It was also a good opportunity to remember my Midwestern roots. I shared with my congregation how different the sense of being Lutheran is in Racine and on Cape Cod. Racine, with a population of around 80000 has 14 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations, 10 Missouri synod Lutheran congregations and 3 Wisconsin synod congregations. I'm sure there are also a few independent Lutheran churches but they are harder to research. In Racine they might not ask "Are you Lutheran?" but "What sort of Lutheran are you?" Cape Cod, with a population of slightly over 200000 has a grand total of 4 Lutheran congregations. No matter how I drive, it takes me at least 40 minutes to get to the next closest Lutheran church on the Cape. It made me realize that on the Cape, we need to do a more intentional job of defining ourselves because we are not a major player in the religious culture.
In any case, partly out of nostalgia for those Midwestern roots, partly out of a desire to share my experience with my children and partly because I really like kringle, I decided to take one on the plane with me. My parents were kind enough to stop at a bakery on the way to the airport (They also bought a kringle, so the detour was not in vain for them). I was dropped of at the Milwaukee airport with my check-in bag, my laptop bag and a blueberry kringle.
I toyed with idea of stowing it in my suitcase because a kringle would be fairly awkward to carry around an airport not to mention on two plane flights, but I had visions of trying to convince my children that well-traveled, smashed pastry is just as good as the regular stuff. However, I discovered that the pastry was just about as large as my laptop. The kringle traveled in the protected area usually reserved for a computer. The computer traveled unprotected. Everything made it back to Massachusetts with just a small amount of frosting loss.
I could have gotten home and ordered a kringle online and I will probably do so sometime this year. They ship them in sturdy containers that seem to travel well. But there was something about taking that piece of Wisconsin with me, protecting it from the press of crowds at O'Hare, carefully sliding it under a seat during the plane ride, and offering it to my family when I returned home that briefly connected those Midwestern roots to a Cape Cod life, offering a piece of my childhood to my own children. It was worth the effort.