Who is Your Freedom For? 3rd of 4 Sermon Series on Ten Commandments

Sermon inspired by Exodus 20:12-16

I ended that short reading with the response, “Word of God, word of life.” Truer words have never been spoken after a Bible reading, because that is exactly what these Words from God were meant to deliver: life. Last week we dealt with the Second, Third, and Fourth Commandments, or as the Bible calls them, Words from God. And those Words from God were mostly about our relationship with God, and how to tend to that relationship so that we can get the most out of it. Now, that might sound a bit self-centered, but trust me, it’s not meant to be. Although there certainly isn’t anything wrong with tending to our own personal needs, spiritual or otherwise, but that’s for another sermon. However, just in case we lean towards an inward, self-focused position, as we humans often do, the next five Words from God make sure we don’t. 

Words Five through Nine are what we read today, and these Words are all about our relationship with others, or as Jesus would call them, our neighbors, and for him, that meant everyone, hence the horizontal arrow on the cover of the bulletin. We ended last Sunday with the question, “What are you going to do with your freedom?” This came from the Fourth Word from God, “Honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Having recently been freed themselves from slavery in Egypt, where rest was unheard of, let alone a day off, they now had the opportunity to decide how they were going to use that freedom. And there were lots of paths they could have gone down. There were lots of models for nation-building to choose from all around them. 

Would they strive to be an empire that spread over the known world, conquering everyone in their path? Or would they become a great kingdom with impenetrable walls that protected all that they could hoard for themselves? Would they become nomadic pirates, scraping by, looting and pillaging wherever the wind blew them? Lots of choices for them at this point. But you know our God, God had a few ideas and said, let’s try these first. And in the same way that I said that God was a little sneaky in last week’s reading, God continues to be sneaky here too. Because what we soon realize is that the focus is not on us after all, this is not just a list of things we can’t do, but the focus here is on others, the focus is on our neighbor. 

And that question, “What are you gonna do with your freedom?” quickly becomes, “Who is your freedom for?” And if the answer to that question is some form of “self”, then God promises a very bumpy ride, no matter which path we take from here, whether “self” means us as individuals, or us as a clique, a community, a church, a city, state, nation, whatever. This is yet another way God has communicated to us, “This is not going to be all about you.” So, let’s take a look at each of these, with that question, who is our freedom for, in mind. On the surface, the Fifth Word just seems to be about children behaving for their parents, but it’s much bigger than that. This is about caring for our elders of society. Again, we must remember the context. They had just lived through generations of slavery, where the elders were worked to death, literally. 

And so, the Fifth Word from God both ensures that our elders are not discarded or devalued, but also protects their wisdom from being discarded or devalued. This is the only one of the Ten that includes a promise, “so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God knows that they will need their wisdom if they’re gonna make it in this new world, with this new freedom they have been given, just as we do today. Unfortunately, our elders are not always valued and protected the way they should be. 

One of the unfortunate parts of my job, is seeing so many elderly having no one to visit them, and it’s not because they have no family. Those of you who live or visit retirement facilities know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe worse, is seeing families treat their elders as objects whose possessions they will fight for as soon as their casket closes. The Fifth Word from God gives us a different path and answers that question, who is our freedom for, with, our elders. 

The Sixth Word from God seems pretty straightforward on the surface. If you only hear this as God telling you not to physically take the life of another person, then you can check that box and move on. If it were only that simple! Let’s go a little deeper, and ponder some of the ways that we not only take life or livelihood from other people, but also stand idly by as so many people don’t feel free to live as they ought. One of my daughters was telling me that when she is in a public place, she often scans the area for escape routes in case there is a mass shooting. We’re raising a generation that doesn’t have the freedom to go to the grocery store without the thought that they might die there. But maybe that’s too on the nose for you. Let me give you some other ways to apply this Sixth Word from God. 

We have raised generations upon generations of black folk who don’t feel free to be their black selves while driving or jogging or banking or sleeping in their own beds in their own homes without threat. We have raised generations upon generations of brown folk who must fight the thought that they couldn’t ever be more than a maid or a gardener due to our flawed immigration laws and prejudices. We have raised generations upon generations of poverty-stricken families who society has labeled as lazy or criminals, just to keep them in their place. 

And, after this week’s Supreme Court ruling, we are about to raise a generation of women who do not have freedom over their own bodies. Yeah, there are lots of ways this Commandment, this Word, gets broken. Sin can be very creative. Who is our freedom for? It’s for those whose lives or livelihood are under threat, while our own freedoms and privileges could be of assistance. But we’ve gotta keep moving. 

The Seventh Word from God on Mt. Sinai is where it gets tricky. We have really romanticized this one. “Do not commit adultery” though, is much less about love and romance, and way more about protecting your neighbor’s inheritance. I know that might sound cold but they thought of it like this: if a man, remember, very patriarchal society, if a man slept with another man’s wife, it would then call into question the inheritance of that man’s children. 

There were no DNA tests back then, so unless it was very clear by appearance alone whose child it was, then things got really messy. Knowing this, applying this to today gets a little difficult. What we can say is that, no matter the century, marital affairs affect a lot more people than just the two couples, but also the children, the in-laws, the friends, and more. The pain it creates is widespread and can last for generations, and this was God’s way of trying to help us avoid all that pain. Whether that pain be of a financial nature, or of the heart. 

The Eighth Word, “Do not steal”, can be expanded much like “Do not murder.” This calls us to be honest with the ways that we allow our society to keep some segments of society on a lower rung. Who is your freedom for? In The Eighth Word God says, anyone who has less than. This is directed at anyone who has more than they need, urging them to acknowledge and respond to those who don’t have enough. If you’ve never made a connection between “Do not steal” and the offering plate, or wherever you may donate for that matter, I’d encourage you to begin making that connection. And to be fair, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also an indictment on the many corporations, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, lending companies, who take advantage of so many people in our world. 

And finally, at least for today, the Ninth Word from God on Mt. Sinai, “Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.” I grew up learning this one as, “Do not lie.” Did any of you? That’s not wrong, just maybe an oversimplification. This was less about lying in our everyday lives and more about the legitimacy of the justice system. When you hear the word testify you probably think of a courtroom trial. So did they, and God knew that if there was going to be justice, then truth must prevail in their trials. Who is our freedom for? In the Ninth Word, God says, it’s for the accused, to ensure a fair trial. And that includes a justice system that isn’t just free from lies, but also free from racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, or and every other kind of prejudice. I’ll let you connect the dots to the justice system in the United States. 

So, with those five Words, God shows us how to treat others, how to tend to our relationships with others, and as I hope you have seen, are far more than just the basics, but have farther reaching ramifications than we were ever taught in Sunday School. Rather than a list of things we’re not allowed to do, we have a list of ways we can give life to others, through the freedom given by God, out of unconditional love for our neighbors. It’s a list overflowing with grace and good news for our neighbors. And, funny enough, it’s also a list that makes it very hard to follow while striving to be a conquering empire, or a hoarding kingdom, or pillaging pirates. Like I said, God’s a sneaky one, God is. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Loyalty, Respect, & Freedom: 2nd of 4 Sermon Series on the Ten Commandments, Juneteenth 2022

 Inspired by Exodus 20:3-11

We continue our four-week series on The Ten Words. Last week we learned that the Bible does not call them the Ten Commandments, but rather The Ten Words. We also learned that our Jewish siblings number them differently, making the First Word, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” What I loved about that is that it starts us off on this Ten Words journey with relationship at it’s heart. So, we are going to continue with their numbering, because all ten of these words are going to have to do with a relationship of some kind. That will continue to be at the heart of this series. Now, some of you may be wondering what the arrow big arrow on the bulletin is all about. 

I just read to you the next three Words that were given to Moses, Words 2, 3, and 4. And these, like the first Word, mostly have to do with our relationship with God. Hence the up and down arrows. I say “mostly” because these have far-reaching ramifications, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The key question for us today is: What does it look like to tend to our relationship with God? Like any relationship, it needs tending, it needs caretaking, it needs nourishing, it needs protecting. And that doesn’t just happen automatically, but takes intentionality. And let me be clear, this is not a future salvation issue! How much or how little we tend to our relationship with God makes absolutely no difference to how much God loves you! 

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more, God cannot love you more than God already does! Is this a present salvation issue? Hmmmmmm, maybe! Meaning, tending to our relationship with God might not affect how much God loves us but it certainly could affect how that relationship manifests itself in us, how that relationship bears fruit in us, how that relationship transforms us, molds us, into the children of God that we were born to be. Like any parent/child relationship, sometimes it doesn’t matter how good a parent is, if the child doesn’t at some point meet the parent halfway, doesn’t at some point begin to absorb what the parent tries to pass on, then there’s going to be a huge discrepancy between the parent’s hopes for their child, and what the child actually becomes. 

And so, it is by tending to this relationship with our parent, in this case, God, that we have the best chance at becoming what God hopes for us. Which brings us back to the original question, what does it look like to tend to our relationship with God? In Words 2, 3, and 4, God gives us three ways that we can do just that. Let’s take them in order. The Second Word is about not having other gods or making idols. Since we only have four weeks on The Ten Words, we’re gonna have to focus on the big picture of each. And so, the first answer to the question, what does it look like to tend to our relationship with God is, loyalty. I don’t know about you but when I hear the word “loyalty”, I kinda cringe a little inside. Loyalty is so misused in our society. 

It’s used to intimidate people, keep people in line, keep people on a lower rung of society, and don’t get me started on how loyalty plays out in U.S. politics! But these are not the kinds of loyalty at play here in this Second Word. There are more positive, wholesome examples of loyalty out there, that are better suited to our relationship with God. Like, the loyalty between spouses, the loyalty between two friends, the loyalty of our dogs, the loyalty between siblings. My daughters have taught me a lot about loyalty. They may fight with each other and get on each other's nerves to no end but as soon as an outsider hurts them, all that is forgotten, and they're ready to go toe to toe to defend the other! It’s a pretty amazing and beautiful thing to see. And also quite terrifying. 

But let’s keep moving. The Third Word is centered around God’s name. The translation I read said don’t use it “as if it were of no significance.” Many of you might have grown up with, do not use it “in vain.” And I think most of us grew up thinking this was about using foul language. Like saying “God damn” when you’re really not asking God to damn anything. Or saying “Jesus Christ” when you’re really not beginning a prayer. This, unfortunately, is not what this is about. That would be too easy. It has much less to do with our language and has way more to do with honor and respect. In the same way that we shouldn’t talk about someone behind their back, or be rude or racist or homophobic or sexist, all ways in which we dishonor and disrespect others. 

However, I think we have to go just a bit deeper than that. Because this is about more than just showing God honor and respect, as if God’s feelings are going to be hurt if we don’t. This is about honoring and respecting and protecting God’s reputation, as we go about our daily lives in the presence of others. This is about how we represent God in the presence of others. I don’t have to tell you that church attendance is down, and this is not a Bethlehem problem but a global problem. It’s happening everywhere. Why? One response I hear often goes something like this, “The church just doesn’t mean that much to people anymore!” That’s such a copout. Because the number one reason that people don’t go to church like they used to, is because of the way that God has been misrepresented, by the church. 

For far too many people, the church is known as the people that believe that homosexuals are going to hell. Just the other day I saw a pastor, from his pulpit, say that all gays need to be shot and killed. For far too many people, the church is known as the people who won’t allow women to read the Sunday scriptures, let alone be a pastor. The Southern Baptist Convention is currently debating this topic as we speak. For far too many people, the church is known as the people who stood in deathly silence, as our African siblings were used as slaves, as our Jewish siblings were exterminated, as our Native American siblings were systematically decimated. If we aren’t going to protect God’s reputation, who is? If we aren’t going to repair God’s reputation, who is? 

Which is a good segue to our final Word of the day, “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy”, which is all about freedom. This final way of tending to our relationship with God is tending to our freedom. The question before us here is, “How will you use your freedom?” Remember the context. They had just been freed from slavery in Egypt, by God. Freedom was at the heart of their relationship with God. And now God asks, what are you gonna do with it? God has some ideas about that. The Fourth Word from Mt. Sinai goes on to say, “Do not do any work on it—not you, your children, your slaves, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you.” Now, God does something a little sneaky here. God’s a sneaky one, God is! Two things happen here. 

First, they take a rest, which causes them to acknowledge their freedom, the very fact that they can take a rest is due to the freedom given to them by God, and respond to it. But the other thing that happens here is this, they have to then give this same gift of rest to others, which causes them to acknowledge all those around them, people and animal alike, who don’t have the freedom that they enjoy, and respond to it. How brilliant is that!? I told you, God’s a sneaky one, God is! All this talk of freedom today is appropriate for another reason. Today is Juneteenth. For those of you who don’t know what that is, don’t be alarmed. I didn’t know what it was until seminary, but not until I took a class called Preaching in the Black Tradition, at a non-Lutheran seminary, with a black professor.

Juneteenth is the celebration of the announcement of General Order No. 3, of the Emancipation Proclamation, by Union Army General Gordon Granger to the enslaved people in Texas, on June 19, 1865. Now, you history buffs might be thinking, 1865? I thought the Emancipation Proclamation happened in 1863? And you’d be correct! January 1st to be exact. However, that’s how long it took for the Emancipation Proclamation to be enforced, and announced, to the far reaches of slavery in the United States. So there they were, these last remaining slaves, being told that they were free, and oh yeah, they had been made free two and half years ago. Can you imagine! And so, not January 1st, but June 19th, quickly became the day celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States by our black siblings. 

But not becoming a federal holiday until 2021. Regardless, since that first Juneteenth, they have become a beacon, a model, for anyone brave enough to answer that question implied in The Fourth Word, “What are you gonna do with your freedom?” They continue to celebrate, yes, so that it will not be forgotten, but they also continue to work for freedom and equality, for the effects of slavery still linger to this day. So, The Second, Third, and Fourth Words that Moses received on Mt. Sinai compel us to tend to our relationship with God, and that looks like loyalty, respect, and freedom. And I can’t think of a better hymn to highlight those, than this next hymn, which has come to be known as the Black National Anthem. Written in 1900, by James Weldon Johnson, please stand as you are able and join me in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing!


The Author of Healthy Relationships: A Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon

 Inspired by Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-2

There is a lot going on. In this Bible story. In our nation. In our world. In our synod. In our worship today on this Holy Trinity Sunday with the final rite for our Journey of Faith participants. There’s a lot going on in many of our families, maybe all of them! Whether good or bad, there’s just a lot going on right now, and I just feeel like it is helpful to name that. It’s a lot! And can seem a bit overwhelming. And your pastor thought it was a good idea to kick the summer off with a four-week series on the Ten Commandments! Because where else would we turn when life is kicking us while we’re down than a biblical list of rules and regulations?! I don’t know why Hallmark hasn’t figured this out yet! Can you imagine getting a “feel better soon” card and you open it up and all that’s inside are two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them? 

We laugh but that’s kind of what happened on Mt. Sinai thousands of years ago when Moses went up that mountain to commune with God on behalf of God’s people, three months after they escaped Egyptian slavery. They had wandered around for a few months before stopping there and were already getting a bit restless, and that’s putting it mildly. It only took about three days for them to start complaining, and accusing Moses of leading them to their death. God provided for them along the way though, but in spite of that fact, they were still wandering the desert, months later, and therefore were still wondering if this was all worth it. And not only were they getting restless but issues of governance were also at play here. Even though they didn’t have a land to call home, someone needed to provide some governance when issues arose. 

In a word, chaos is what they were experiencing, in their community, in their minds, and in their souls; and we all know that chaos can bring out the best in people, but also the absolute worst. As a people who have been in a pandemic for over two years, no one knows this better than us. And so, Moses goes up that mountain, probably hoping for some help. I imagine Moses thinking, “This was your idea God, you figure this mess out!” And so, what does God do? Gives them the Ten Commandments. But did you know, that this is not what the Bible calls them? Take note of this now, you can use this at your next cocktail party! Like anyone does that anymore. The Bible calls them, the Ten Words. Not the Ten Commandments, the Ten Words. I like that much better. 

However, the church was always looking for a way to control people so they went with Commandments, it had just the right harsh tone to keep people in line with. Here’s one more bit of trivia for your cocktail party schmoozing, our Jewish siblings count them differently. Yeah, they number them differently. So, the first word for them, is the one we read today, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” We Christians have called this the prologue of the Ten Commandments. But for our Jewish siblings this was number one, the first word from God on Mount Sinai. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that, a lot of wisdom in naming this number one of the ten. And even more than wisdom, a whole lot of love and care. 

Today is also Holy Trinity Sunday. I know that seemed like a random transition but bear with me, it’s not. This day is always the Sunday after Pentecost and for many pastors, one of the worst Sundays to have to preach on! Why the church would give a whole Sunday to one of the most difficult to understand, even harder to teach, having very little biblical support, convoluted doctrines, I’ll never know. But the one thing that I have appreciated about what seminary attempted to teach me about the Trinity is it’s focus on relationship. The relationship between the three aspects of the Trinity, traditionally known as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is what I was taught to focus on and I continue to find that the most helpful way to approach the doctrine. 

I love the way our next hymn uses the imagery of dance to play with the doctrine, even inviting us into the dance! The way that our creator, savior, and comforter interact with each other must be quite the dance indeed. Even now as I speak aloud of them, I fear I’m walking on shaky theological ground because it sounds like I’m talking about three beings, three Gods, when, of course, I’m not. One God, just in three distinct ways that they have revealed themselves to us. Or so they say. The reason why I bring up the Trinity is not just because of the day, but from the beginning of time, God has modeled for us, the kind of relationship that God strives for, with us and all of creation to the farthest stretches of the cosmos: the closeness, the love, the intimacy, the synchronicity, the dance, the rhythm, the harmony. 

This is who God is, and this is what God is constantly working for, both with us, and for us to have with each other and all of creation. Relationship. Which is why this First Word is so important. Without it, the rest don’t make any sense. The rest would have no power without first hearing, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” It was God’s way of saying, we already have this history, this back and forth, you and I. We’ve already established this relationship, let’s not throw it away but see where it can go. Especially in light of the nine words that they are about to hear. Which, in all fairness, probably sounded a bit harsh to a people that were wandering homeless in the wilderness for quite some time already and would continue to do so for years to come. 

But in this First Word, it’s as if God says, consider the source, consider the source of what you are about to hear, consider who I have been to you. And I don’t think God says that in a manipulative way. Meaning, not in a I have been good to you so know you have to be good to me. But rather, in the way a loved one might come to you with a directive, or maybe even constrictive criticism, or maybe even outright correction, and will hope that you will consider the source, of what you are about to hear, consider what they have been to you up until that point. For instance, if our council president, Debbie, I like how I can pick on someone else now, I bet she didn’t think that’s what she was signing up for! 

If our council president came to me and said, “Pastor, you done screwed up. I think what you said or did was wrong and here’s why.” Now, my knee jerk reaction might be to ask, “Who do you think you are! Who are you to tell me that?” And though my tone may need some adjusting, that’s precisely the question I should be asking! Who is she to me? And it would be at that point that I’d have to stop, breath, sigh, and then close my mouth and listen because who she is, is not just our elected council president, but she someone who has, for six years now, shown me and my loved ones, nothing but love and care. And the same goes for all of our relationships, whether that be with our God, our family, friends, church, coworkers, all of them. The core of who we are is worked out in our relationships. 

Some key questions here are: What are the relationships that bring you life and wholeness and freedom? And when they don’t, what do you do about it? When a relationship is strained, what are the foundations, the history, that you fall back on to make things right? As most of you know, synod assembly was a painful experience for me and many others, especially the people of color, women, and LGBTIQ+ community. There’s a lot of chatter online about whether or not the ELCA is a safe place for many of us anymore. It was so bad, it made me physically ill, I thought I was coming down with something: headache, body aches, upset stomach. I was this close to calling Pastor Al and saying I just can’t do it. I even took a COVID test but everything was coming up negative, I didn’t even have a temperature. 

So, I sat down to write my sermon and thought how am I going to do this! And then an image came into my mind, and that image was this. Gathering with you here, to try and figure out this thing we call life and faith, in the midst of so much chaos. And I was overcome with a sense of peace at the thought of being here with you the next morning. After experiencing some of the worst that Christians have to offer at synod assembly, I would have been justified to never want to step into another church again. But it was this, this relationship that you and I have formed, a relationship that brings life and wholeness and freedom to me, that brought me back. And as some of you know, after the experience I had in my first call, that means a lot. 

As we dive into the rest of the Ten Comma…, the Ten Words this month, I encourage you to consider the source, the God of life, and wholeness, and freedom. And as you do, I will keep you all in my prayers as you tend to all the other relationships in your lives. May the ones that fill you with life and wholeness and freedom, assist you with the ones that don’t, through the power of the Holy Trinity, the author of healthy relationships. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Thoughts and Prayers

 A sermon inspired by Philippians 4:4-9 on the Day of Pentecost 2022

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and that means different things to different people. For some it’s the day we wear red to church. For others it’s the day churches confirm their youth. For others it’s the day we decorate with flames and doves. Biblically, it’s the day we remember the story of the Holy Spirit being gifted to the Jewish followers of Jesus that had gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday of their own. Therefore, it has come to be known as the birthday of the church, not the birthday of the Holy Spirit, as she has been with us since the dawn of time, but the birthday of the church. So, it’s a big holiday. Technically it’s as big as Christmas and Easter! However, nobody told that to Hallmark. So, here we are, celebrating this big but little-known to the rest of the world holy day of Pentecost. 

Rather than focus on that old story from Acts concerning the birthday of the church though, we have this final reading from the letter to the Philippians, and I couldn’t help but notice something that has been on my mind lately in this reading: thoughts and prayers. Did you notice those in our reading? Paul wrote, “focus your thoughts on these things” and also, “bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers.” Thoughts and prayers. It has become a phrase often heard when no other words can be found, and often after a tragedy of some kind; whether it’s a natural disaster or another school shooting. Thoughts and prayers are what people send, when they don’t know what else to do. 

Even when those thoughts and prayers are backed by genuine love and care, it’s difficult sometimes for victims of tragedy to take those words seriously—especially when the same tragedy happens over and over and over again. There comes a time when thoughts and prayers are insufficient, when more substantial assistance is needed. Let me put it this way, if you saw someone standing on the edge of a cliff and begin to lose their balance, are they gonna want your thoughts and prayers, or do you think they’d rather have you extend your hand and keep them from falling? They’d rather have your hand. Why? Because they know thoughts and prayers are not going to save them from falling off that cliff. Oh pastor, how can you say that? Don’t you believe in the power of prayer? 

Well, sure, but I think I might have a different idea of what prayer is, or more accurately, what prayer does, or should do. And for that matter, what thoughts should do. So, let’s start there, with thoughts. I don’t know if sending thoughts started as a way of expressing care to non-religious people, or if it was a way to let someone know that they were thinking of them, but it is a curious thing, isn’t it? What does sending thoughts even do? Consider this, I can think about being a good dad til my brain hurts, does thinking about it make it so? Well, to an extent, but those thoughts are meaningless if I don’t turn out to be a good dad, right! But if those thoughts begin to work on me, to change me, to alter my decisions, to influence my actions, to actually make me a better dad. Well, then, those are thoughts I can get behind! 

If those are the kind of thoughts that people are talking about after a tragedy, then I’m all for it. Paul writes, “focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure…practice these things” Paul says. Even for Paul, it wasn’t enough to just think, but to put those thoughts into action was key. Now, let’s turn our attention to prayer. This is where it gets a little more complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s only complicated because we have been led to believe that prayer is just conversation with God. And while that’s not wrong, I think it’s so much more than that. Humor me for a second, and think of one of the most influential persons in your life, someone you actually knew. Everyone thought of one? Ok, now I want you to think of all the conversations that you’ve had with that influential person. 

I want you to think about how those conversations influenced you. How did those conversations change the course of your life? How did those conversations change you, make you a better person, help you make good decisions in your life? You see, those conversations weren’t just conversations, were they! Those conversations took on a life of their own, helped to form the person you are today. Those conversations translated into action of some kind. If they didn’t, you probably wouldn’t have considered them an influential person in your life, right? Whenever I’m going through a rough time as a parent, my dad always tells me, “Just keep talking to them, Son. Just keep talking. Don’t give up.” 

And I think that’s because my dad knows that it’s not just about words, but that those conversations have the potential to make a positive difference. Restated in our faith language, those conversations have the potential to create life. And that is how I see our conversations with God, that’s how I see prayer, which is why I think prayer is so much more than just conversations with God. But like so many other conversations we have, they have the potential to make a positive difference, they have the potential to create life, to change you, to transform you, to be willing to be an answer to someone’s prayer. Now, if that’s what people mean by prayer when they send their thoughts and prayers after a tragedy, then I am all for it! And maybe they do. Maybe they do. 

This different way of thinking about thoughts and prayers may not be very popular and that’s probably because it takes some work on our part. It moves us from being spectators and receivers to doers and givers. And I can’t think of a better way of celebrating this Day of Pentecost. Because isn’t that what the Holy Spirit is always doing in us? Encouraging us, urging us, pushing us, to move from being spectators and receivers in this world to being doers and givers? That’s probably why Pentecost didn’t really catch on to the folks over at Hallmark. 

One theologian put it this way, “The problem with Pentecost is that it so unambiguously requires of us that we carry the gospel out into the world, and blow our own covers. It is one thing to adore the infant Jesus, to mourn the death of Jesus in our insular communities. It is something else, VERY else, and to many, VERY scary, to proclaim the gospel in every action we take. Pentecost gives us marching orders. Christmas is so much easier.” On this Day of Pentecost, my friends, I encourage you to keep up with your thoughts and prayers, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may you allow her to work in you in such a way that those thoughts and prayers create transforming life in you and those around you. Thanks be to God. Amen.