Greetings from the Moderator MAY 2020
Pentecost - A New Song in the Storm
We are halfway into the liturgical season of Easter and looking ahead to Pentecost on May 31. We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that God would send the Holy Spirit to live in us, teach us, guide us, and energize us to take the gospel to the world. The first Pentecost was almost as exciting as Easter, with sounds of rushing wind, tongues of fire, and a reverse Babel as Jewish pilgrims from all over the Middle East and Asia Minor heard the gospel in their own languages!
The disciples must have spent those 7 weeks after the first Easter somewhat “on hold”: excited that Jesus was alive, trying to digest what Jesus had told them about the Scriptures, amazed as they watched Jesus ascend to Heaven before their eyes, wondering what Jesus meant about the promised “power from on high” - including how long they’d need to wait and how they would recognize it. Everything had changed, but the way forward was not at all clear - they had to wait.
We are also “on hold” today, stuck in the midst of a storm called the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not localized, but rages across the entire world, already lasting longer and causing more disruption than any natural hurricane or thunderstorm. We don’t know when things will start returning to normal, or what the new normal will look like, and experts don’t agree on how to recognize the end date - or even if there will be one. Like the disciples, we are trying to figure out how to live during this uncertainty. For some of us, the disruption is mostly an annoyance; for others it has brought pain, grief, increased mental and financial stress, and a sense of hopelessness.
Can we find a new song in this storm? In Psalm 77, Asaph cries out to God “in the day of trouble”, disturbed, discouraged and unable to find comfort. He responds by turning away from what he sees around him to what he knows of God’s mighty deeds in the past. “I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart; And my spirit ponders.” (Verse 6) His thoughts turn to the Exodus, when the Israelites seemed trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. Verses 16-19 portray a vivid picture of a tumultuous storm:
The waters saw Thee, O God; (16)
The waters saw Thee, they were in anguish;
The deeps also trembled.
The clouds poured out water: (17)
The skies gave forth a sound;
Thy arrows flashed here and there.
The sound of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind; (18)
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
Thy way was in the sea, (19)
And Thy paths in the mighty waters,
And Thy footprints may not be known.
Look again at verse 19. The way forward was in the mighty waters (without any assurance of making it through them), and “Thy footprints may not be known.” Wow! Now that is a new song: God calls us to follow, even into raging waters and knowing we might not see God’s footsteps in front of us. Faith enables us to continue, to move forward even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path.” Whether we are still on the shore or already in the water, the way forward is certain - and it is “in the sea”. We don’t know when we’ll be able to worship together again, or take communion to our shut-ins, or share a pot-luck after worship. We do know that God has given us clear marching orders and they supersede the “reality” around us: love your neighbor; take care of the poor, the sick, the outcast, the vulnerable; share the Good News; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. God is not calling us to focus on our own fears and uncertainties, but to look outward and help others move through the waters.
It is easier to see God’s blessings and to praise God in the storm when I take my eyes off myself. I recently heard a new (to me) song), “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns. (Thank you, First Pres Vero Beach, for including the song in a recent worship service!) It follows the pattern of many psalms: a cry to God; honest expressions of confusion and feelings of abandonment; remembrances of God’s faithfulness in the past; acknowledgement that God is God (even when we don’t understand) and confident declaration of hope because God “never left my side.” Here’s how it starts:
I was sure by now, God,
You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I’ll say, Amen and it’s still raining.
It’s still raining, but if you listen through the thunder, you can hear God’s promise, “I am with you.” I hope this song encourages you.
And that brings us back to Pentecost. While the Resurrection gives us hope and assurance for this life and eternity, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit, first given at Pentecost, who gives us the power to follow Christ through the storms of today and tomorrow and the next day. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from hesitant followers of Jesus into confident, faithful men (and women) who spoke with authority, endured persecution, and joyfully took the Good News to the ends of their known world. God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us enables us to praise God even in the storm and to share God’s grace with those who only see the darkness of the storm.
Learning to praise God in the storm,