Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

Make a mental playlist of your five favorite pieces of music?  How many musical genres are represented?  Is it all K-pop, metal, classical, rap, jazz, indie?  Do you have a mix?  What do your choices say about you?

Crossing Boundaries

Taylor Swift and The National have both been very influential musical artists.  But they have typically appealed to very different audiences.  Swift is the epitome of a pop star, mining her personal struggles for inspiration and pairing them with catchy tunes which have stadiums of adoring fans singing along.  

In contrast, The National has been the poster child for an indie-rock band, more at home in a grungy after hours club than an arena.  If Swift’s lyrics often sound like a teen’s diary, The National’s are brooding and obscure to the the point of incomprehensible.

So, according to a recent article The Atlantic, it is mildly surprising that Swift and The National have collaborated.  According to the review, both benefited from the interaction.  Swift’s new albums, Folklore and Evermore, feature moodier arrangements and show her “availing herself of the freedoms and imperatives, that men in rock and roll have long enjoyed—and projecting more ambiguity rather than wholesomeness and virtue.”

From Swift, The National seems to have learned to be less morose and abstract.  “In First Two Pages of Frankenstein the songwriting is tighter and often brighter, and Beringer’s [The National’s lead singer] meanings are remarkably direct.”  

Music fans are the big winners when stars push their comfort zones and learn from one another.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you react when your favorite musical artist tries something new?
  • In previous generations radio stations would play a “Top 40” format, which included many different styles of music.  You might hear country, rock, soul, and a show tune in the same half hour.  Today most people create a play list of their favorites or listen to a curated list on a streaming service.  What are the benefits and costs of each experience?
  • Think about a time you have collaborated with someone else?  How were you changed?  How was the product on which you collaborated better or worse?

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

It’s hard to say exactly what happened that first Pentecost.  A sound from heaven like a rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on the disciples—this is clearly figurative language which Luke uses to communicate an experience he can not really explain.  Yet, somehow God comes to the disciples in a way they can not deny, transforming them from a scared cadre of confused believers into people compelled to tell what Jesus taught and did.

Nor is it clear how Galileans are suddenly able to speak languages they have never studied.  Some scholars suggest that Luke (the writer of Acts) misunderstood what happened, that this is an example of glossolalia, the “speaking in tongues” we usually associate with Pentecostal worship.  But that is not what the text describes.  This is not people speaking gibberish, which others interpret.  Rather, people from across the empire hear their own languages spoken.  It is like a person born and bred in rural Iowa or Virginia suddenly preaching in flawless Mandarin or Kiswahili. 

Through we can not say exactly what happened, it is easier to see what it means.  There was no way the gospel message was going to stay confined within a tightly cloistered community around Jerusalem.  The rest of Acts shows the expansion of the Church’s ministry.  Peter goes to a Gentile centurion, Cornelius.  Paul travels through Greece, Asia Minor, and ultimately to Rome.  Pentecost serves notices that God intends for the way of Jesus to transcend the boundaries of culture, language, and religion.  This is a message for all people.

During the Church’s history that intention has often been frustrated.  Unfortunately, Christians easily misidentify their own culture as the one true expression of the gospel.  When that happens the Church’s confession is neither good nor news; it becomes just another defense of the status quo.

The Church is most faithful when it reaches beyond its comfort zone and hears and welcomes challenging voices.  It is most effective when it finds new ways to address the hurts and struggles which we all share.  Just as a lake needs a regular infusion of fresh water, so the church needs new voices.  Both grow stagnant without a renewing flow.  Unfamiliar, even disconcerting, voices are the lifeblood of the Church, keeping it in touch with the world for which Christ died.  They are God’s gift, pushing us to see how Pentecost was not a one-and-done phenomenon, but the template for how a Spirit led community looks when Christ is alive in it.

Discussion Questions

  • What new voice has challenged you in the last week to think or act in a different way?
  • What are your favorite hymns; do any of them come out of a culture different from your own?
  • The Church is often accused of being out of touch with the world.  Do you think that is true?  What could it do to more effectively speak to your questions and concerns?
  • A hallmark of the Pentecost narrative is that “each heard in his own native language.”  What new “languages” does the church need to master in order to proclaim Christ more effectively?  For example, how well do we speak “science?”

Activity Suggestions

Evangelical Lutheran Worship and many other hymnals  contain music from a variety of  nations and cultures.  Still, most of the hymns in ELW come out of Europe or North American.  Get an ELW or other hymnal and seek out hymns from Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  

  • How are they different, both musically and in their theological emphasis, from those written in Europe or the United States?  How are they similar?
  • How do they enrich the worship life of congregations which use them?  What would be lost if they were not part of the worship resource Lutherans share?

Closing Prayer

Surprising God, just as you came to the disciples in an unexpected way at Pentecost, come also to us.  Shake us out of complacency.  Makes us alive to the gifts which those who seem very different from us may offer to enrich our lives.  Give us wisdom to hold on to what is timeless, your unfailing love.  But also make us eager to embrace bold, creative ways to speak and live that love in our hurting world.