Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA
Suppose that you were living in shelter after fleeing from a terrible war. You meet a person your own age from the enemy country. What would you say? How would you act?
Blowing Down Barriers
They come from around the world to share their sorrow and fear from a dreadful experience: a loved one has been killed in a terror attack. They are the children and siblings of those who died on 9/11, in the Middle East conflict, in the train bombing in Madrid, from attacks in Norway, Indonesia, Northern Ireland. There are 55 of them.
Their destination is a summer camp held at Brynn Mawr College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its purpose is to foster understanding and, by sharing their common experience, keep fear and hatred from crippling the next generation. Here Jews play basketball with Palestinians; Muslims and Christians hike together; a teen from Northern Ireland learns to make a bracelet, taught by a teen from the South. Though their countries are enemies, they share the same devastating loss, a loss only they truly understand. Here is a place where they can belong.
Groups of campers participate in “Dignity Sessions.” Here individuals may talk respectfully about differences and share their fears. An Arab girl asks an American boy if he thinks all Muslims are terrorists and is surprised when he answers, “No.” Someone shares how disturbed he gets when he sees terror attacks on the news and everyone understands.
The cooperation and sympathy among these young people results in greater empathy for each and other and, most important, a determination to fight the hatred that inspires acts of terrorism.
Counselor Monica Meehan McNamara sums up the encounters this way: “Getting to know one another breaks down the cycle of hatred and violence. [These experiences] are powerful antidotes.”
- Why do you think people commit acts of terrorism?
- In what way might campers be changed by the camp experience? How might they behave differently when they get home?
- What can young people do to fight fear and hatred in the world?
Day of Pentecost
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
If you are selected to read the scripture for Pentecost Sunday, you should probably practice beforehand. Verses 9-11 name the countries from which many of the people in Jerusalem had come and they are hard to pronounce. Why are the names of these countries included? What do they have to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit?
The people gathered were Jews who truly loved God. They had been scattered all over the world and had now come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, a harvest celebration, also known as Pentecost. With so many nationalities and languages there were certainly rivalries and distrust among them. But here they were, drawn by the noise of the wind and the sudden burst of speech from Jesus’ followers in the middle of the city.
Each disciple spoke in a different language, even though they were all Galileans. All the people gathered there heard the mighty works of God told in their own tongues. Many call this a reversal of the Tower of Babel. There the languages were confused and the people were driven apart. Here the languages are united, as are the people who speak them. The Holy Spirit, symbolized by wind and fire, had worked a miracle! Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his chosen ones (see John 17:21) was answered. Here is the spiritual place where all those who love God belong.
Like the young people who were united by their suffering, Christians are united by their joy – our salvation through Christ and our unity in the Spirit.
So, the Holy Spirit came and everybody lived happily ever after? Well – no. There are divisions in the church, sometimes sharp ones. Christians are still flawed human beings. Perfect unity will not be ours until Christ returns.
Meanwhile, we can take a lesson from the campers in Philadelphia. We can talk to each other, share our experiences, and correct each other’s misconceptions. And when we do that, we are setting an example to the world: this is the way to fight fear and hatred.
- The places named in Acts are chosen to reflect how the Spirit transcends social, ethnic, and political boundaries. If you were given the the task of updating that list to reflect the same truth, what countries or groups would you put on the list?
- Think about how we usually communicate the gospel message to those outside the church. What about the message has the potential to break down barriers? What about the way we speak of our faith has the potential to create barriers between people?
- If students know the song “We Are One in the Spirit,” sing it as a class. If not, read the words aloud: We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. How does the song say we express our unity? (by our love)
- What are some examples of loving actions that would set us apart from the world? Use real-life illustrations.
- What does the fire of the Holy Spirit mean for us? Think of the expression “on fire for the Lord.” How can we inspire each other to be “on fire for the Lord”? How can your “fire” help older people, who may have lost their passion for the Lord’s work? Encourage students to carry out what they have talked about.
- Individually, ask students to make a list of ways in which they can better show love for others. Ask them to share one item with the class. Turn the items into a prayer list and lead the students in prayer for these things.
Close by singing “We Are One in the Spirit” or a song of the students’ choice.
Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your glorious Holy Spirit. Set our hearts on fire, so that we can do loving deeds and speak inspiring words. Make us one with your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen