I went to see Avengers 2: Age of Ultron this weekend. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t seen it, I found something kind of biblical/Pentecostal about the quest to create a physical body for an alien/superhuman consciousness (Ultron). But no more of that for now. You can watch it yourself and tell me if you see what I saw.

We’re at Pentecost once again, commemorating the naissance of the Church and arguably its most dramatic day. Year B’s readings have us talking of tongues of fire, glossolaliadry bones, and labor pangs — lots of physical (and, again, dramatic) imagery.

As a preacher, I always struggle with how to make this day, for lack of a better word, “fresh.” It’s one of those days on which we read the same texts describing the same event every year, which means you either have grown to look forward to it or it’s lost its luster after a while. Moreover, it’s a day that’s celebrated quite divergently throughout Christendom. I grew up in traditions with some Pentecostal leanings; we danced, we shouted, there was speaking of tongues in worship, etc. I now minister in a denomination in which the people are affectionately (or not) labeled “the Chosen Frozen.” Pentecost observances can look very different from what I was once used to, although I’d say no less powerful or Spirit-filled. Even within my denomination there’s a great deal of variance in how the day is commemorated; some of us have thawed! But given the physical and dramatic imagery of the texts, I often wondered what this day means to Christian communities that aren’t quite so demonstrative in their worship services.

Peter quoting the prophet Joel has always been my favorite part of the Acts 2 text. It speaks to the universal permeation of God’s power, which breaks down barriers and defies and challenges our human distinctions. For me, it’s the bone for the hermeneutical soup; it has the greatest potential to speak to us in our time. It’s a bold proclamation that God would no longer favor (if God ever favored) certain people over others and would be indiscriminate in the dispensing of the Spirit. We have to wrestle with what it looks like in our context for God’s spirit to be poured out over all flesh — female flesh, melanin-rich flesh, gay flesh, trans flesh, incarcerated flesh, undocumented flesh, working poor flesh. In other words, how is this event “fleshed out” in our 21st-century lives?

Even if the worship service isn’t as demonstrative as that first Pentecost day, how can our lives — where the worship is really performed — be evidence of the Spirit’s presence and prevalence?

Where are you going with these texts, preachers? Any fresh meat this year? What hermeneutical application(s) might you have for this week?

4 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Flesh and Bones

  1. This is only my third time to preach on Pentecost. I’m struck this year by two aspects of the scene in Acts 2–that the Spirit enables the people to hear and understand, and that what they hear are people praising God, which is what the fire falling on them prompts. I recently ran across a quote from Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz” in which he talks about learning to like jazz music after he saw a saxophonist playing for fifteen minutes with his eyes closed. He says, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Our expressions of love are the fuel for the fire of faith, so I’m talking about how we show love for God and calling this “Stoking the Fire.” ….O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise….

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  2. I loved the Age of Ultron and all the theological stuff it presented. I love those movies that question what makes us human as well as the drive for good to triumph over evil. Great stuff! As far as Pentecost goes, my current congregation is young and has lots of folks who don’t know church traditions or liturgical year or even some basic Bible stories. So I’m going with Acts and we’ll likely have pinwheels and bubbles and kazoos to liven things up and make it celebratory. No balloons since a few of us have pretty severe latex allergies. Anyway, I’ve posted my percolating thoughts if you’re interested… https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/an-important-little-celebration/

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  3. My favorite quote so far as I prepare to write today: “For many today the activities of the Holy Spirit are viewed with scepticism, even those within the Church, perhaps because the manifestations of the Holy Spirit can seem strange and unconventional and cannot be controlled by human will. These activities can be viewed as unsettling, even undignified in a manner which can be akin to the dismissal of the behaviour of the disciples by some of the crowd as drunkenness.

    We do well when we remain open to the activities and the leading of the Holy Spirit, but we must be clear of what we do when we pray “Come Spirit, come”, for when the Holy Spirit comes in power we may be taken where we do not wish to go. We need to be prepared to be upset and disrupted and challenged, but what joy the Spirit will bring when we open ourselves to his power.”

    From http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/27376/24_May_2015_additional_Pentecost.pdf

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