Today’s Message, 5/31/2020 (Pentecost Sunday)

Acts 2:1-21

From Death to Life

            For many of us who have gardens, harvest is fun. Our gardens provide fresh flavors and variety for our meals, and if we can the vegetables, they’ll grace our tables when temperatures get colder. However, that harvest is not a matter of life or death. After a summer in which the tomatoes disappoint us, we’re still able to find tomatoes in the store.

            As for our farmers, a bad harvest is a tough blow, but some have crop insurance. In any event, at least for farmers in the developed nations, it won’t mean starvation for them. 

            But for many people in previous generations, harvesting was a matter of life or death. The Feast of Weeks, one of the three holy days that Moses commanded everyone to attend, signified that the barren earth had once more — through hard work and God’s blessing — given life and hope.

            The word “Pentecost” refers to the fifty days after Passover, which was the time when the first fruits of spring planting were harvested. Part of Pentecost was the confession of faith mandated by Moses, which began, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor….”This confession gave God the credit for making them a people and leading them to freedom. 

            Isn’t this an important confession for us as Christians today as well? We all come from somewhere else, whether recently or hundreds or even thousands of years ago. 

Hope and life

            The Passover celebration includes the reading of the book of Ruth in its entirety. Why Ruth? Maybe because in this book, a harvest of death becomes a harvest of life. The desperate threat of starvation caused an Israelite couple, Elimelech and Naomi, to do the unthinkable — travel to the hated land of Moab, where their sons married women from among the people that the Israelites in general had learned to hate. Death eventually claimed Elimelech and his sons, forcing Naomi to travel home to Israel with her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, in tow. Though Naomi was filled with bitterness, the outsider Ruth learned that even an alien like herself was entitled by Israel’s Mosaic law to glean the fields after the harvest. The steadfast love she showed her mother-in-law led to a marriage between Ruth and Boaz, and so this foreigner ultimately became part of the family tree that led to the birth of King David. 

            Though God is not overtly seen in Ruth’s story, God’s Spirit seems to have made it possible for life to spring out of death.

            The book of Ruth is found between Judges and the books of Samuel and Kings. Judges ends with a horrifying spiral of violence that led to death and hopelessness. In the books that follow Ruth, the Israelites demanded to have a king, which led to even more violence, along with, eventually, the destruction of both the kingdom and the temple.

            The book of Ruth, however, demonstrates that there’s an alternative to violence. It is possible to live righteously through the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and God’s law.

Death to life

            The Acts of the Apostles also provides an alternative to the violence of the Roman Empire and its emperors, demonstrating that through Christ Jesus, healing, peaceful intervention, the sharing of possessions and reconciliation between enemies is not only possible but vital. To quote the apostle Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”2 And that same Spirit of Pentecost, seen and unseen, is still active among us today.

            Every year the harvest is different. In the same way, the action of the Holy Spirit is different, too. Sometimes our tomatoes are more bountiful. Other years our spaghetti squash is most memorable. So too the harvest in our churches may be measured by the attendance, but the Spirit may also enrich the life force of a very small church to serve more richly and bountifully than they or their neighbors imagined. 

            Nor are the Holy Spirit’s blessings something to be hoarded. At harvest time, bags of zucchini are left anonymously on doorsteps because the harvest is so bountiful. The fruits of God’s Spirit should also be shared with joy.

            When it comes to the harvest, let’s remember that we don’t control the Holy Spirit any more than we control things like the weather. We don’t control the Holy Spirit despite the efforts of some to rigidly define what God can or cannot do.

            Giving God the credit doesn’t mean we should do nothing and simply wait for God to act. Farmers know that when rain prevents them from getting out in the field, there’s still plenty to be done preparing for that harvest. In God’s harvest we must do our part as well. We can fast and pray. We can study the Bible. We can testify. We can lovingly relate to one another. We can be faithful in attendance. We can be open to outsiders like Ruth who will demonstrate that the Bible really works! And we can find things to do. Let us so live that our actions contribute to a harvest of life.

1 Deuteronomy 26:5.

2 Galatians 3:28.

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