13 May 2008

red light

Acts 2:1-21, "They were amazed and perplexed saying, 'What does it all mean?'"

Does anybody remember playing the game Red Light Green Light?

Maybe you remember, but I cannot recall exactly what the point of the game was. You would have one person who was in control of “traffic” so to speak. And a few kids on the other end of the room or whatever space it was you would be playing in. And you would say, “Green light” and the kids who were trying to get to “base” or whatever that other end was called would run as hard as they could until the one who was leading the traffic would say “Red light”.

It was sort of like playing “Mother May I” in that whoever messed up, went too far, ran right through the red light, well, they had to go back to the beginning and start again. So you end up with the kid in charge saying things like “green light, red light” one right after the other trying to get someone to mess up, go too far, run the red light . . . and have to go back to the beginning. Does anybody remember this game, or is it just me? Or just this little crew of us kids at church on Wednesday nights who played Red Light Green Light while our parents were in choir practice?

Anyhow, it wasn’t the rules necessarily that I was trying to remember. It was but it wasn’t.

What struck me about this childhood game now is not that it prepared us to stop at red lights, but that you learned that there were times to stop . . . and there were time to go. And if you are running too fast, you may have a hard time stopping, but you need to. And in this childhood game we used the same thing that all of us think about when we think about stopping: a red light, or a bright red stop sign.

Red means stop.

But you may not like that a whole lot. Because I know that I can get frustrated when I am trying to get home and it seems like you get stopped at every single red light?!? Sometimes we just don’t want to stop . . . when the momentum is so great. Just like playing Red Light Green Light and you get to running so fast that you can’t slow down even if you wanted too. The only way you stop is to fall down.

This past Sunday, many people in our churches saw red.

There may have been red cloth hung on crosses; red in the paraments on the Lord's Table. Red is the color for this day of Pentecost. And we remember red because we remember those tongues of fire, those flames that seemed to light on everyone’s head that day. We think of the way that the Holy Spirit is like wind, is like fire in the way it sweeps through us, burning inside of us!

But I have to tell you that I haven’t been thinking about fire . . . even with all of the red. This year, for some reason, the red has looked more like a stop sign, a red light, something that reminds me to stop, to celebrate, to pause and to see where you are . . . before rushing on to whatever is next.

You see, we have a tendency to do that. We all do. Yeah, this has been fun, but what’s next. We think we have to get to the next thing now, make everything bigger and better . . . we don’t want to stop at that stop sign, or that red light . . . and sometimes we need to stop. Sometimes we need to be where we are; sometimes we just need to bask in the glow of what is happening all around us.

There is a wonderful series of books that follows the liturgical year called Imaging the Word. It follows the scriptures for the year and has various quotes about them, but true to its name, it also has pictures, paintings, all kinds of art that goes along with something like Pentecost.

One of the featured pictures of Pentecost is a mosaic, one of those old art forms where people took small pieces of glass or pottery and placed them together, making a large picture out of the small pieces. Well this mosaic, like many of the old pictures of the Day of Pentecost, has those little bits of fire sitting over the heads of the disciples. But the writer points out that the ecstasy, that wonderful, spirit-filled moment is only a part of the story.

They write, “The eyes of the disciples draw us in quietly, hold our attention and point the way to a depth of commitment that is at the heart of the Gospel life. We savor the Pentecost moments . . . but we live in the steady gaze of the first disciples, encouraging us to grow slowly, steadily deeper into an equally passionate commitment in the Spirit.”

It is no wonder that we like those Pentecost moments though. It’s a celebration. And Pentecost was a holiday, was a celebration long before we Christians celebrate it the way that we do now; Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday.

And the folks that were gathered there that day that we read about in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, they were gathered there for a Jewish Pentecost holiday. It was a holiday that celebrated the harvest, that celebrated the bringing in of the winter wheat, that wheat which would make bread, that bread which sustains us all through the year.

Squash is for summer. Strawberries are for right now, but it is bread that sustains us day in and day out. So they celebrated the gathering in of that winter wheat. It was a celebration of harvest, sort of like us having Thanksgiving. The field had been planted and now the harvest had come. We will plant again tomorrow, but as for today, we celebrate!

And that’s part of why we celebrate this holiday when we do as well. We’ve celebrated fifty days of Easter! You can’t honor resurrection in one day; new hope and new life can’t just happen on one day. So there are fifty days! And then you get to the end, Jesus has ascended, the Spirit of God has come and we celebrate! Not because there is not more work to do, but because it is time to stop . . . to breathe a little . . . to look at what all has happened.

It’s just like playing Red Light, Green Light, a children’s game that teaches us about stopping. But then, like so much of what I’ve learned about God in the last few years, it’s come through the eyes of children, the experience of the gift of our children. And I remember especially how my daughter would teach me about stopping to celebrate, to celebrate the harvest.

You see, we had this video. And it was all about the farm. We would put it in the VCR, and we would sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm E-I-E-I-O.” And the cow goes moo; and the pig goes oink. And “the chickens give us eggs, the chickens give us eggs, high ho the dairy-o, the chicken gives us eggs!”

And there’s all kids of beautiful fields, of flowers in what must be Holland. And rice fields just like I saw in China. And great fields of grain, which must be the Midwest of this country, with a row of three huge combines, staggered a bit and gathering in that wheat. And toward the end of the video, there comes a point where this puppet-cow rings a bell, the words “celebrate the harvest” flash onto the screen and all of a sudden there is the best fiddle music you’ve ever heard. And there are children and puppets dancing all over the place.

And for whatever reason, I guess just because it was fun, when we first got to this part of the video, all of us watching it together, we all started dancing too. And we dosey-doed and tried to do our best imitation of a squaredance, with just my wife and me and our two kids. It was a lot of fun.

But here’s where our children teach us something. You see, I know that I tend to get too busy. I tend to run around with lots of things to do, phone calls to make, letters to write, people to see, and things to do. I am the one who tends to get frustrated by red lights. I don’t have time to stop.

So when I’m in one of those moods, which if I’m keeping the kids in that moment, I am very tempted to put in the Old McDonald video so that I’ll have just about 20 minutes to answer an email, make a phone call, or whatever it is. So I get lost in whatever “important” thing I’m doing.

And the next thing I know, here comes my daughter . . . pulling on me towards the television.

And I know what is happening. It’s time to celebrate the harvest.

And the cow rings the bell. And the words flash up on the screen, “celebrate the harvest.” And sure enough, there are the kids dancing, there are our two beautiful children dancing, so then without too much though . . . we all dance.

And we dance because of the corn and the wheat. We dance because of the bananas and the apples and the pears. We dance because it is just the right thing to do when you realize how blessed you are. You stop your work; you stop whatever “important” thing you were doing . . . and you dance.

And that is really what all this is. Yes the red on the Lord’s Table is for the fire of the Holy Spirit. But then too, it reminds me, and I think it should remind all of us, to just stop for a minute. Just breathe in that breath of life, the Spirit of God, to let God’s Spirit dance within us, and maybe even cause us to dance, . . . but most of all, to know that we have been blessed.

You see, the next liturgical color will be green. Because it will be time to work again, to plant, to grow, to do that work that those disciples staring at us across the centuries ask us to do, “to that depth of commitment that is at the heart of the gospel life.”

Thanks be to God for all that we have been given, for the gift of God’s Spirit with us!
May we be people who stop long enough to celebrate the blessings we have received!
And having stopped, then may we be people who go forward into the growth and life that God has in store for us!

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