REMINDER: WEAR RED ON PENTECOST
When I saw “Reminder: Wear Red on Pentecost” I smiled at the sentiment. Show our unity. Feel the fire, or as the poet Browning would have it, “the indubitable bliss of fire.” I smiled as I knew that I would be wearing black on Pentecost. I wear black most days. I’m comfortable with black. Red and Black are important to me, e.g., I am trying to keep the congregation out of the Red and in the Black, financially. I’m probably wrong if I assume that my sermons will lead to inspired giving. Sermons are curious entities oftentimes as useless as an appendix, an anomaly of evolution, but of sacred liturgy. A beleaguered parishioner often has to dig relentlessly to uncover the three theological gems that Lutheran pastors hide there as spiritual booby traps to elicit a sense of generous giving, of fidelity to quarterly statements and budgets. And Synod apportionment. Finding those gems is as difficult as showing enthusiasm for okra.
Sunday is not the best day for sermons. While I’m not sure of this, not having a complete understanding of ecclesiastical laws, it does seem as if the thinking demanded by sermons would violate Sabbath rest at about 11:20 a.m. I hasten to add that I violate the Sabbath every Sabbath by working while trying to keep the Sabbath holy. For this I am grievously repentant. I am convinced, however, that a proper sermon is proper stewardship! The evident purpose of a sermon is the financial health and well-being of the congregation, the art of generating income, which Lutherans are wont to deny. While it may seem insensitive to mention sermon and finance in the same sentence, I am palpably aware that Lutheran pastors are salaried servants, and that servanthood can go only so far without a fair amount of mammon.
A good sermon, probably any sermon, is an economic device. It may best be presented in a business context where the mention of money does not result in embarrassment, awkwardness, or at the extreme, apocalyptic judgment. It has always seemed to me that the best time and place for a sermon is Wednesday afternoon at a quarter to three, in the relaxed ambience of a board-room, while anticipating tea. In such a context the sermon would not be an intrusion upon the quietness of mind. It would offer an alternative to negotiations characteristic of economic interests. Since the amount of income hoped to be derived would indeed be a mere paltry sum compared to the accustomed expectation of return on investments (ROI), a sermon would be tolerated with equanimity and an appropriate level of empathy. In other words, it could keep us in the Black and out of the Red.
Red and Black are important in another way. They remind me of diversity. Pentecost is a story of diversity, the Holy Spirit calling diverse people into spiritual unity. That’s what we are: ekklesia, ek-klesia, the church, people called apart and called together. “Red and Yellow, Black and White, all are precious in his sight.” To be called is to be precious, and precious is priceless but still within budget. It’s that stewardship thing again. The Pentecost story quotes the prophet Joel that the sun shall be darkened and the moon turned to blood. Black and Red again! The sun, the greater light, becomes other than itself, now absorbed in darkness. The moon, the lesser light, becomes other than itself, now covered in blood. Otherness is diversity seeking embrace.
The gospel message is that Pentecost is a transforming event. It changes us, it makes us into something other than we are. The Holy Spirit, “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3) is the new light of Christ. When that light falls upon us it leaves no room for shadows. “The darkness could not comprehend it,” (John 1:5), and “Darkness is not dark to thee.” (Psalm 139:12). The Holy Spirit, “tongues as of fire,” is also an enlightening Word and a flaming sword, guarding us as it continues to guard Eden, the place of origin and destiny. The Holy Spirit on that first day of Pentecost made us into something that we were not, the new place of origin and destiny, the Church. We are now the flaming sword. We are now the Word aflame. We are now the guardians of Eden, the guardians of origin and destiny. This is Stewardship!