“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
Our God is a God of expansion. Abraham was called in order to be a blessing to others. The nation of Israel was birthed so that all others could be blessed through it (Genesis 12:2–3). God pours into his people so they might share that blessing with others.
Orthodoxy is right belief. Orthopraxy is right action. Paradoxy is a faith riddled with seeming contradictions, and the Christian faith is paradoxy extraordinaire. At the very heart of our faith lies paradox: Death leads to life. In fact, our sacred story is more of a triple paradox: a God who is three in one, who embodies his divinity in humanity, and who dies to bring life.
Singing songs of the oecumene—the whole inhabited earth—is rooted in the feast of Pentecost, portrayed in the book of Acts, when people from the whole known world gathered in Jerusalem and heard the disciples singing of God’s glorious acts in many tongues.
Now, as then, we are assured that we are surrounded by the unseen host of the saints of God, who in countless tongues sing with us the unending song of praise.
Our church celebrates Christmas and Easter, but not the rest of the year. We are bit perplexed by the long stretch from Pentecost to Advent. Help us understand.
What should we name the season after Pentecost? We debate this every year and never quite arrive at consensus.
“¡Buenos dias, hermana! ¿Cómo amaneció? ¡Good, morning, sister! ¿How are you today?” These are the words I hear every Sunday when I arrive at my congregation. We start the day with a short prayer meeting. We sing a hymn, read a psalm, and then voice the petitions and prayers for the day: healing for those who are ill, safe journeys for those who are traveling, jobs for those who are unemployed, and the needs of the community, both local and global.
When people visit our church for the first time, one of the things they often are most surprised to find is that we allow young children to stay in the main worship service. For the most part, churchgoers today are used to having children separated from the adults to attend children’s church while the adults have their own “big church.” The first thing most parents must figure out when they arrive at a church is where to drop off their children with the church’s child care workers or children’s programs.
Ted Kooser—Iowan, former US poet laureate, and, like Wallace Stevens, an insurance man—famously described the reader he would choose as someone with “hair still damp at the neck / from washing it,” who takes down his book from the bookstore shelf, peruses it, and puts it back, saying, “For that kind of money, I can get / my raincoat cleaned” (“Selecting a Reader,” Flying at Night, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005, p. 3).
These two services are based on the full texts of the letters of Ephesians and James, providing worshipers an opportunity to hear, dwell in, and reflect on God’s Word to each of us. This echoes the way the early church would have experienced these words—prayerfully listening as the letter was read aloud. In planning these services, we let the Scripture guide the order, pausing for praise, prayer, and reflection where the text suggests.
When I began to write this article, it had been only a few days since philosopher Alvin Plantinga formally received the 2017 Templeton Prize at a ceremony in Chicago. Through his teaching at Calvin College and then at the University of Notre Dame—and through a bevy of influential articles and books—Plantinga revived serious philosophical engagement with theological and religious topics.
While I was planning our Trinity Sunday worship service, I was inspired by my study of 2 Corinthians 13:11–13. In verse 11, the word that is often translated “be perfected” or “put things in order” is the same word used in the gospels to describe the mending of fishing nets. In this prayer, the joys and concerns of the congregation are lifted up to the triune God, who is the mender of our nets and our lives. This idea became a theme for this prayer.
Since I first saw pictures of Janet Echelman’s sculpture made from thirty-five miles—yes, miles—of technical fiber hanging over a park in Greensboro, North Carolina, I’ve been thinking of ways to capture some of the same airy, flame-like look for a Pentecost visual for worship.
What if we strung netting of some sort—dyed or left natural—from floor to ceiling? But to keep it from looking like a spiderweb, it needs an anchor of some sort—something to give it focus and a purpose.