Sunday isn’t just the Day of Pentecost, but it is also the last Sunday before my sabbatical. I’ll be out of the pulpit for eleven straight Sundays after this one. As I prepare to preach, I am finding myself struggling with what, if any, challenges I should place upon the people of St. Paul’s in my absence. At its best, a sabbatical isn’t just for the cleric taking time off to study, fish, travel, or whatever. The goal of a sabbatical should be for clergy AND congregation to spend some time thinking about their ministry together. Now this is different, of course, in a congregation with more than one priest. At Saint Paul’s, TKT will be here all summer, and he is the Rector, after all, so that vision and goals go through his desk, and yet, TKT and I have the sort of relationship where we share that work of vision and goal setting, and my sabbatical will be a time for me and the congregation to reflect on our work together, but certain for him to be thinking about it as well. So I wonder, how pointy a stick should I use on Sunday? And you, dear friend, what kind of sermon will you preach?
The lessons appointed for Pentecost, Year B are ripe with opportunity to challenge the status quo. The Acts lesson is all about the Spirit pulling the disciples further and further out of their comfort zones. The text from Romans reminds us that things are still not what God wants them to be, and we know it, and we are called to join with all of creation in struggling and striving for the Kingdom of God. Even the Gospel lesson asks us to re-think about what the work of the Holy Spirit really is in our lives. There are real opportunities to push the envelope on Sunday and leave our congregations feeling not unlike the crowd gathered outside the disciples condo on the Day of Pentecost: bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed.
Yet even those aren’t strong enough words to convey what the crowd was feeling that morning. In his commentary on Working Preacher his week, Frank Crouch, Dean and President of Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem (PA, not that other one) notes that our popular English translations have watered down what people felt when the Spirit arrived on the scene. “The Greek terms describing their reactions could be appropriately rendered… as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, [and] completely uncomprehending.” Are we willing to risk, just as things are supposed to be settling down for the summer, whipping our congregations into an uproar? Is it possible, through a story we think we know so well, to help our people feel thoroughly disoriented? Isn’t Pentecost the ideal day to trust God enough to invite the Spirit to come with power and might, understanding that it might mean changing everything we think we know about the Kingdom of God?
I’d like to have a job to come back to on August 30th. I’m just not sure how much risk I’m willing to take? What about you? What kind of sermon will you preach? Will it be safe or will your people find themselves blown away?