The Pastor’s Word: An Early Pentecost
An Expanded Edition
Part 1- Acts 2:1-5, 12-17
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem… 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Part 2 – An Old Man Dreaming Dreams
As many of you know, I had to leave town when I heard my father was ill. He ran a fever, was in an altered mental state and his blood sugar was soaring. Dad is a retired pharmacist and businessman, a PC(USA) Elder, Sunday school teacher, and known for being an all-around sweet guy. But when he arrived at the hospital, he was confused, angry, scared, and not a sweet guy. They could not tell us with any certainty if he had a UTI, some other kind of infection, a stroke, something else, or all of the above.
It scared the whole family to see him that sick. I called him on the phone to see if I could get a firsthand account of how he was doing. “This is the worst hotel I have ever been in!” he declared. In all fairness, the Emergency Room would make for a very bad hotel experience, and who even knew if he was kidding or not? Like me, humor is his defense mechanism. I pressed further. “Dad, I know this may seem like a silly question, but I need a serious answer. Can you tell me where you are?” The silence was only a few seconds, but it felt like months. “I’ll tell you where I am,” he said, “I’m over here making America great again!” It is a funny line now, and we all laugh about it, but I can also tell you that is when I decided to pack my bag and set off for Georgia. By the time I got there, he was in the ICU and heavily sedated.
To make a long story short, the doctors identified a staphylococcus infection, most likely originating from his legs. This drove his blood sugar problem, his UTI, and some signs of heart failure. He was probably a very short period of time away from cascading organ failure when he arrived at the hospital, and their broad spectrum antibiotics, along with a patient and determined medical staff, saved the day. But the journey was rough. As they practiced the painstaking practice of diagnostic medicine, the family rode every high and every low of the process until my stepmother finally told the doctor, “Don’t tell me what you are thinking anymore until you know it’s real!” The speculation, trial and error, and its everchanging nature were just too much.
Day by day, I watched Dad get better. His fever broke. He regained his mind. His blood sugar came down. His heart went back into the correct rhythm. As he began to piece together the story, he was confused. He counted at least six different possible diagnoses and the cold realization that for a period they did not know what was wrong, and if they had not caught a break or two, he might have died. In the hospital visit, he had lost control over his body, his mind, his kindness to others, and with all hospital visits, no shortage of loss of dignity. It was a very bad week.
As he reflected on the stories we told him of his altered state, he was the most embarrassed by the way he had treated the nurses. Dad has one of the softest hearts of anyone I know, and I could tell this pained him horribly. The nurses all accepted his apologies and told him it was no big deal. “We’re used to it,” one nurse told Dad. “But you shouldn’t have to be used to it. Everybody should be treated well,” Dad said. This was not the first time he told me this. It was something he told me over and over in every stage of my life.
Dad and I had many running conversations through the week as he became himself again. Some were practical- how would we take care of him until home health started? I would stay. I would set up a little office at my step-sister’s house and get some work done, but I would make sure he could get showered, dressed, and all of the physically demanding bits. How would he stay on track with his medicines (especially because his memory was still very fuzzy)? His wife (my step-mom) would help. How would he get around? How could we make sure he got better sleep? How would we watch his legs, his important stats, etc.? These were all very important questions.
The most important running topic of our time together was mortality. We all know that every day is a gift, though sometimes this truth slides out of our consciousness. As one ages or encounters death, all of those feelings come to the forefront again. Dad’s parents both died in the 1980’s. My mom died at 49, and Dad was devastated. Karen’s twin sister’s husband died in a car wreck, hit by a distracted driver. I knew several kids who were killed when I lived in Los Angeles. And the list goes on. Our family is no stranger to death at any age.
Dad talked about his calling. Over the course of his life, Dad raced sailplanes, sailed a boat, shot competitive sporting clays and ran a successful business. But, when he talked about calling back then, it was always about two things: The first was helping people get the medicine they needed, whether they had money or not. The second was prison ministry. In his drug store, he was the last store in the county to accept store credit for medicine. When he closed the store, and still had a long list of people who owed him money, he tore up the list. He said, “Their debt is forgiven, even though they don’t deserve it. Just like me.” Of course, he was talking about Jesus then. And with regards to prison ministry, he went to the Hays Federal Penitentiary once a week for thirteen years to teach a Bible study. When he first started out, he did not teach very much, but watched and listened. He also helped keep order. This was a closed security prison (one step below maximum) and this might shock you, but the inmates would act up from time to time. Dad would regularly tell people that he had finally achieved last place in the Kingdom of God because surely “Prison Bible Study Bouncer” was the lowest rung on the ecclesiastical ladder.
Talking about calling is different when you are feeling the effects of old age. Now he talks about calling as being a peacemaker in his circles, whether family or church, or wherever. He refuses to engage in church gossip, and when controversial decisions arise for the Session, he tells them, “I am praying for you and I support you. Just tell the nominating committee not to call me. That is not my part in the Body of Christ.”
They have a new minister at Dad’s church, and in his sick and vulnerable state, he felt funny about reaching out to her. Dad complained, “But she doesn’t know me at all. I don’t feel comfortable calling her.” I grinned a bit. This was a dilemma that felt familiar. “Don’t worry, Dad. I will call her for you. I guarantee she wants to talk to you.” Before long, we had all kinds of church people reaching out, and the minister called Dad even though she was traveling. Before I handed the phone to Dad when she called, I told him, “Don’t forget to invite her over when she gets back.” He did. And she’s coming. And Dad is glad.
On Monday, Home Health Care started for Dad. That was the point when I felt like I could leave. On the 9+ hour drive back home, I had a lot of time to reflect. In the midst of all the chaos, pain, fear, anxiety, and caretaking, I actually got more quality time with Dad than I had in years. I started to put together some of the highlights of the wisdom Dad said or displayed in my head:
Be kind, even when you disagree.
Say you’re sorry when you are wrong.
Try to make each day better than the last in some way.
Do not let your pride get in the way of doing the right thing.
Stay engaged with supportive circles and especially your faith community, even when it is awkward.
Remember, you belong to God in life and in death.
Do not lose faith.
Be aware that your calling can change because God always has something for you to do.
These were the dreams of this old man, who just happened to be my father. As preachers say to one another when they hear wisdom, “Now that’ll preach.”
Part III- And Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy
While I was in Georgia, I tried to help back at our FPC in whatever way I could. I set up a little desk area and I made some phone calls and tended to some business. I moderated one Session meeting and participated in another. But the joy of my FPC work while I was gone was getting to run the Zoom for Youth Sunday. I hated that I could not be there. It was yet another in a long line of times something has come up that kept me from being with the youth on big days, and I hated that. But “at least I could help out by running the zoom,” I thought to myself.
First, I will say that I was very impressed by Youth Sunday. They ran an excellent service, bound together by their theme of “Faith Through the Setback and the Comeback.” I thought it was an excellent theme that really spoke to the moment.
The music was beautiful. All the musicians did a wonderful job. Camryn’s liturgical dance was divine. Each youth who took part did an excellent job. My heart was full when I heard Ivy Bowers express heartfelt condolences to the family of Janice O’Rear. It just sounds so beautiful and meaningful from the mouth of one of our young ones.
The meditations were thought-provoking. Both Aidan and Lucy gave powerful testimonies and painted poignant pictures of what faithful Christian community looks like and how their youth leaders, Sunday school teachers and mentors helped them grow in their faith. Aidan talked about a low point for him in which faith leaders were there for him and how much of a difference it made.
And, as I reflected upon the lessons of the service, both the ones that had been expressly said out loud and the ones that had been demonstrated through practice and action, I realized the youth had taught us a lot.
God is good. God is alive and still working in the world, and it is evident that God is working in our youth.
There are many gifts, but there is one Spirit that gives them and activates them among us all.
While someone can have faith on their own, its better in community, especially when everyone builds each other up instead of tearing each other down.
Mentors matter. God puts people of faith in responsible positions and their duty to convey their faith is a vital calling.
Hard work matters and pays off. And, when something is not perfect, grace abounds in a healthy spiritual community.
Success in community comes not only through the people who are up front, but also through people behind the scenes.
These kids are oozing with gifts and talent, and I cannot wait to see what God does with them next because they are still growing.
That’ll preach, too. And they proved it because they preached it with conviction.
When considering these two events, the wisdom of my Father who was sick and the wisdom of our youth who were vibrant, I realized that one of the key Pentecost texts had come true right before my eyes. And the lesson is this: Our God is still at work. The promises of Pentecost still apply. The Holy Spirit is still guiding us and has good things for us in our future. And, no one is too young or too old to be called by God to important work in the world. Big or small--all callings from God are holy, and besides, God does not measure big or small the same way we do.
Grace and Peace,