This week I was back at Lakeside. If you’ve been watching/reading/ listening to any national news, then you’ve heard about Lakeside this week. Lakeside is on the western edge of the Wallow wildfire that’s currently incinerating eastern Arizona, and now moving into New Mexico. Lakeside is where the evacuees, around 10,000 people, are being sheltered. Pretty terrifying. I’ve gotten used to snowstorms, and am learning to deal with WIND instead of spring, but ongoing forest fires are still scary.
Besides being an object lesson in Why You Never Leave Campfires Unattended (aka, You Idiot, Did You Want to Burn Down Half the Southwest?!?), they could probably make a pretty awesome GOE question out of this one.
“On Pentecost, you are called to supply for a small rural parish on the edge of the second-largest ongoing forest fire in the history of the state. What do you say to them?”
Here’s what I said.
June 12, 2011
Pentecost, Year A
In the criminally under appreciated sitcom Sports Night, by the end of the first season, the producer Dana Whitaker, played by Felicity Huffman, is having a hard time. Her sports news show is failing in the ratings, her competition at work is sneaking up on her, her mentor and boss had a massive stroke, and the network is showing an inclination to replace her. To add to her stress, there was a bomb threat in the studio the week previously, and her fiancé has broken up with her, after revealing his infidelity. Dana decides to deal with all this by buying a camera.
She buys a camera, and pours all her panic and stress into this one thing she can control. Picture taking! She will take a picture of the people where she works, all together, all looking perfect. And when someone asks where her engagement ring went, she says it’s at the ring cleaners, laughs it off. Problem solved.
Only not so much. Because just as she’s succeeded at getting everyone and everything perfect for the picture, everything lined up and fixed up just as it should be….
The film pops out from the back of the camera, as the flash misfires.
Which would be a fixable thing, if not for someone else asking at that same moment, where Dana’s ring had gone again?
And Dana just implodes.
The actress plays it brilliantly, because you can see that for her, it was the culmination of everything that had gone wrong up until that moment. And she just melts into tears of frustration , and starts yelling about this being the latest in a long line of humiliations, which she can take! And be fine with! With the exception of the camera! Because that’s just too much, and now something good needs to happen, just one good thing, before the day is over, and is that too much to ask?!?!?
In that moment her mentor, who’d suffered the stroke, and hadn’t been seen since, walks into the office. Calls her name. And asks her to please, as nicely as possible, get the show on the air. Great moment.***
We get so excited about Pentecost, sometimes, that we forget that on Pentecost? The disciples were petrified. They were scared, they were frustrated, they were confused.
They had given up several years of their lives, all they owned, left family, friends, neighbors, livelihoods, security, social respectability. All to follow a young rabbi whom, they believed, would bring the reign of God to earth. All those prophecies made true.
But then, Jesus is arrested by the authorities, put on trial and killed. This was a shock for a couple of reasons. First off, when Rome started crucifying political criminals, they never stopped with just the head of the organization– they liked to finish the job. So not only were the disciples contemplating some career choices that looked pretty shaky in hindsight; they also were convinced they were going to be killed.
Secondly, their friend was gone. By this point in the story, Jesus has been killed, risen, and has ascended to heaven. So while the disciples have seen the risen Lord….they also realize that he’s not sticking around. He might not be dead, but their problems aren’t solved. In fact, it creates another problem. Because, now, not only is the Roman army is still after them, they think. They still don’t have jobs. We can take a guess and figure that their families are none too pleased with them, if they were to return home at this point, tails between their legs, but now–
What to do about Jesus?
He ascended to heaven, leaving them in charge. He gave them a job to do. They are to tell the story of Jesus, of everything they have seen and experienced of God’s love for the world.
But right now, the thought of going out and doing something just seems like one more thing that can’t be done, in a long line of things that are going wrong. It’s one more obstacle to overcome, and it just looks too daunting.
It’s into this environment that the Holy Spirit sweeps, and the church is born, and the disciples are enlivened. (and accused of being drunk), amusingly. They were terrified, confused and ready to give up and go home, and now, they are overcome with passion for their callings. They are renewed.
But what’s striking is what the Spirit is not, as much as what the Spirit is.
As frightened and as confused as the disciples are, the Spirit does not come as a magic fix-all. Nothing is suddenly righted, or made all better. Peter isn’t suddenly a genius, and Thomas isn’t suddenly rich. The church isn’t made safe from Roman persecution. Their problems don’t disappear. Their problems don’t change; the people do.
The Spirit empowers the disciples to get up, and remember that Jesus called them for a reason. The Spirit empowers the disciples to use gifts they didn’t even know they had, in the service of each other, and people they had never even met before. People as different as could be suddenly hear the good news told to them in words they can understand, all by the power of the Spirit.
There are times in our lives when we are pretty sure that we have run out of things to go wrong. When we have hit the bottom of the barrel, and we look around at the state of things and think, “Surely, someone else has to come and fix this, because I just don’t have anything left to give. I have no idea where to start with this problem. Surely God will send someone else.”
When we are tired, when we are frightened, and confused, when the reality of the brokenness of the world overwhelms us, then it becomes all we can see. And we fixate on the brokeness, til it paralyzes us. “God, you can’t want me to do this, I’ve been told I’m too old. I’ve been told I’m too young. I’ve been told I’m not useful because I’m a woman, or I haven’t read the right books, or have the wrong opinions. Really, God, you need to send someone else.”
But it is precisely into the broken rooms of our panic that the Spirit sweeps. Not to give us the answers, or to give us magical solutions, though I’ve often wished that were the case. But to reassure us, that we are precisely the people God wants to serve the world in this particular situation. And whether we can see it clearly or not, we have precisely the gifts God requires for this moment to heal a fractured world.
And with the Spirit’s help, we are given the strength and courage to use them.
***The television show I reference here is ‘Sports Night’, written by Aaron Sorkin, genius behind “A Few Good Men”, and “The West Wing”. The episode is ‘What Kind of Day Has it Been?’, the first season finale. It’s on Netflix streaming now. Go. Watch it. Now. Trust me.