Presbyterians and other Christians are sometimes called the “Frozen Chosen.” How do we honor God AND open ourselves up to the movement of the Spirit in life changing ways?
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning
One day during a Presbyterian Church service, a woman was feeling especially moved by the Spirit. She said, “Amen!” out loud. The people around her tried not to stare. A moment later the woman proclaimed, “Hallelujah!” Now more people noticed, and became annoyed with the disturbance. Finally, the situation really escalated when she dropped a J-bomb, shouting “Praise Jesus!”
At this point, an usher sprang into action, rushing to the pew and insisting that she settle down. The woman was having the most profound experience of her life and explained, “I can’t help it. I’ve got the Holy Spirit!””
The usher responded, “This is a Presbyterian Church and you didn’t get it here!”
We church people can tend to take ourselves too seriously and insist that things be handled a certain way. Because of this, Presbyterians are sometimes called the Frozen Chosen.
In fact, at one meeting of various church denominations, a fire broke out.
A Pentecostal yelled, “Fire!”
A Baptist shouted, “Water!”
The Presbyterian sternly proclaimed, “Order!”
There can be good things about order. If you’re new here, Presbyterian is derived from the Greek word presbyteros, meaning Elder. It refers to our governance, which involves shared decision making, with the majority of votes coming from members of the congregation. This emerged through the Protestant Reformation, reclaiming power from priests who were pardoning sins for money. Martin Luther and John Calvin and John Knox and many others demanded change and had the audacity to think that people should be able to read the Bible for themselves.
Now if you are Catholic or have some loved ones who are, I am not casting stones. I didn’t grow up consistently attending any church and believe that we are on the same team.
We are all working to find the sweet spot between openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the order to get things done.
How do we listen for God’s voice in a world with so much noise?
Today we celebrate Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the beginning of the Christian Church. Pentecost means fifty, and the first one came about fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. On that day, thousands gathered and something amazing happened—they could understand each other! A unity they had never known came over the crowd, but not everyone was on board with this.
Many assumed they had been doing some early morning drinking, maybe a few too many mimosas. Peter, one of the original disciples of Jesus, jumps to their defense: “Indeed, these are not drunk as you suppose for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Had Peter been around Bay to Breakers or many other events in our fair city, he probably wouldn’t have assumed people were sober merely because it was 9:00 am. Nonetheless, Peter wants to make it clear that something miraculous was happening.
In Acts 2, Peter delivers his first documented sermon, talking about how sons and daughters will share messages from God. He speaks longingly about how the young and old would see visions and dream dreams, all brought to them by God’s Holy Spirit.
And amazing things did happen.
In today’s second Scripture lesson, we hear what happens after the very first Pentecost in Acts 43-47:
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day-by-day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Despite what I do for a living, I am naturally skeptical about claims of Divine activity. We have all heard claims of religious leaders saying that God told them to do things that were sometimes downright evil.
How do can we be smart, without completely closing ourselves off from the movement of the Spirit?
Tom Long is a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. In his book, What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, he lifts up the Latin phrase, solvitur ambulando, which means, “it is solved by walking.” One of the things that attracted me to the Presbyterian Church as a young-adult, was the willingness to think about faith. I appreciated a tendency to keep a safe distance between our heads and our hearts. As I have experienced in encountering tragedies in my own family and in the world, many of our academic theories about suffering and God’s role go out the window when we’re in life’s tombs. If we can balance our intellectual understanding with openness to what we encounter on the walk, powerful things can happen.
Is God still speaking? Or are we too frozen to listen?
While I am fascinated by miracle stories of people being saved in supernatural ways, most people I know are seeking God’s comfort and purpose in the everyday.
An anonymous professor at a Christian university and self-described “skeptic about things supernatural,” who says that he was a public critic of “overly experiential forms of Christianity,” had an experience he is still processing.
The professor, let’s call him Daniel, said that he and his wife went to visit a former pastor of theirs as he was nearing the end of his life. During the visit, they met the pastor’s twin grandsons. Daniel said he heard an inner voice tell him that he would have a major role in one of the boys’ lives. He wrote it off as a “brain hiccup” and moved on.
Years after their grandfather’s death, the boys visited Daniel at his university. One of them described feeling a sense of call to music ministry and wanted to attend the school. He was convinced it was THE school for him. The trouble was that the family had little money, the school was very expensive, and the young man didn’t qualify for enough financial aid to cover the cost.
Professor Daniel started to pray for the young man, asking that God help open doors to the university if possible. Daniel pledged to do anything he could to help.
He wrote letters and lobbied as best he could, but there were road blocks.
The very next week, Professor Daniel was out walking and praying.
All of the sudden, a book title and entire book outline came to him.
Having written many previous books and made very little money, the Professor said he immediately knew something was different about this one:
“It was so clever I knew two things instantly: It wasn’t mine, and it would sell.”
Professor Daniel says that the words of a 200-page manuscript poured out over two weeks. He reached out to a publisher who typically had layers of filters to block pitches, but the publisher was immediately interested.
To top matters off, the publisher was willing to pay an advance that was ten times higher than anything the professor had ever received. He was astonished!
And something else had come up—the professor’s house had a leaky roof that really needed to be fixed and the advance was the exact amount as the new roof. As he and his wife prepared to replace their roof, Professor Daniel said he heard that pesky voice again.
This time the voice said, “It’s not your money.”
The professor said he became resentful and defensive, responding, “What do you mean it’s not my money?”
Professor Daniel, the skeptic, wrote that, “The voice inside my head was as real as if it were audible. I knew with terrifying certainty it wasn’t my imagination, because I didn’t want to hear it.”
“It’s not your money. It’s his,” said the voice.
“Whose?” I asked.
The voice named the young prospective student, saying, “It’s for him to go to the university and study for the ministry.”
“All of it?”
“That and the rest.”
Professor Daniel said he knew he was directed to give all proceeds and future royalties to help this young man get through school.
Between the book proceeds and scholarships from the school, he was able to attend and pursue his passion for music ministry.
And the professor says that he later ended up getting the new roof through seemingly providential circumstances.
I do not intend to preach the prosperity gospel and convince you that God wants all of us to be wealthy or get exactly what we want. There are hundreds of Calvary members and friends—who are praying or have prayed—for things that didn’t work out.
We want our loved one to survive or to get a basic place to live, or maybe just to find a parking spot so we could go to church.
I do pray that Pentecost reminds us that God is still speaking and calling us to encourage us to help each other listen . . . sometimes the answer is right there.
There was a man dealing with torrential rains, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that he was forced to climb onto the roof of his house. As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away.
The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away.
The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away.
The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.
Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Ladies and gentlemen, God is still calling . . . may we not allow the layers of ice and defenses from this challenging world prevent us from hearing the Divine voice . . .
 Anonymous, “My Conversation with God,” Christianity Today, Mar. 2, 2007. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/march/2.44.html