When I was attending a university in Germany, I lived alone and did research in the university library. Occasionally, I was aware of that peculiar kind of loneliness called homesickness. On those days, I found solace listening to a street performer named Terry. Terry was homeless, and he spent his afternoons on an old stone bridge near the university.
On the first day of my vacation, I went fly fishing on the Yellowstone River in Montana and caught nothing but a couple of branches. That might have been because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I didn’t know whether to use flies that float (dry flies) or flies that sink (wet flies). I didn’t now how I should work them in the water. Should I just let them drift with the current, or use a fast or slow retrieve? I didn’t know which areas of the river would be most productive in terms of holding actively feeding fish. Did I mention that it had been 20 years since the last time I was fly fishing? The next day, that all changed when a good friend took me fishing.
Our reformer ancestors would be appalled by some of the small traditions of joy and triumph that have crept into the Christian celebration of Pentecost. We’ve added trumpet blasts to mimic the great sound of the wind of the spirit, we wave red streamers on bamboo rods, raise clouds of red and white balloons, and even nibble on birthday cakes for the church. We want to signal “Tada!” We made it!
Inevitably, in the course of a pastoral career, one encounters that person—the spouse of an active member, or an avid golfer—who claims not to need to attend weekly services because “I can worship God in nature.” Possible comebacks range from mild to sarcastic, but they rarely make any impression. A better question is whether the assertion is correct.
George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, said that in order to form community, people must be engaged in a “demanding common task.” In his case the task was to rebuild the accommodation areas of Iona Abbey. The group that he led included people with considerable formal education, as well as people with little education. These men and women formed community out of purpose and in difficult conditions; they shared what they had and learned from each other. They built with stone and with their lives, even though they could not know what the results of their work would be.
"When the Counselor comes!" What was Jesus trying to tell us? His words came after an embarrassing incident. When none of us disciples was willing to wash someone else's feet, Jesus did it. Our rabbi and leader. Not until much later would we understand what he was doing; on that night we could only listen and try to make sense of his words.
Never in my life has the violence in the Gospel of John seemed so recognizable. Now it corresponds to the daily news: a man fears going out in public in Jerusalem, as Jesus did on that festival of booths. This simple act can result in either glory or destruction, depending on whether “the street” murmurs disapproval or approbation.