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Pentecost, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Cyclone Nargis (sermon for May 11, 2008)

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Day of Pentecost
May 11, 2008

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

Meet With Me; You Are the One; Light the Fire; Meet Us

Acts 2 [sermon follows]

A Sound Like a Strong Wind

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force-no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

Peter Speaks Up

14-21That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk-it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What’s on my mind is how much God cares for the whole world, and how much I want my own heart to be that way. His story is always so “go-ey.” Here, the guests in the city understand – in their own language. See? God causes people to go communicate with other people.

This kept coming up this week. Human culture isn’t often that way.

A friend blogged about a Muslim boy who fell under the spell of some extremists, was going to be a suicide bomber, got caught, probably went to prison. My much-valued friend is an agnostic, and she saw the fault of religion in it—especially given the fact the the books of our faiths (my own included) seem to advocate violence sometimes. She ends:

Reality-based morality is the only way humanity is going to make it to a peaceful future. To see the oneness of our species shows the violence for what it is: brother killing brother, an abomination.

[At that sentence I saw a glimmer of familiarity in the eyes of my friends in church. They liked it!]

I found that moving. So I wrote back: Read the rest of this entry »

Why “Islamic terrorism” is more insulting that we realize

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Body by FisherCross-cultural communication is tough. I’m told that when GM first began selling cars in Europe, the then-omnipresent “Body by Fisher” seal in the door sill was mistranslated to read “Corpse by Fisher.” I doubt it helped GM get what it was after.

Juan Cole, U of Michigan’s brilliant Middle East scholar, wrote a valuable Salon article offering cross-cultural insight into the difference between Islamic and Muslim.

clipped from www.commondreams.org
Juan Cole“Islamic” has to do with the religion founded by the prophet Mohammed. We speak of Islamic ethics … or Islamic art, as things that derive from the religion. “Muslim,” on the contrary, describes the believer. It would be perfectly all right to talk about Muslim terrorists, but calling them Islamic terrorists or Islamic fascists implies that the religion of Islam is somehow essentially connected to those extremist movements.
Giuliani complained that during their debates, Democratic rivals “never mentioned the word ‘Islamic terrorist,’
But people are not “Islamic,” they are Muslim. And one most certainly does insult Muslims by tying their religion to movements such as terrorism or fascism. Muslims perceive a double standard in this regard: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols would never be called “Christian terrorists” even though they were in close contact with the Christian Identity Movement.
Muslims point out that persons of Christian heritage invented fascism, not Muslims
  blog it

Get it? Islamic means from the religion. Muslim describes a person.

I’m not too bothered by calling Timothy McVeigh a “Christian terrorist,” given that Christian can describe either the faith or a person. But I would be troubled if McVeigh were labeled a “Biblical terrorist;” that would suggest that terrorism would derive from following Jesus. And I’d want to oppose that idea everywhere it arose.

So it may be, a bit, with Islamic and Muslim.

Now, the argument could be made that it’s a free country and people can say whatever they want. AhmadinejadThat’s true, but it isn’t the point. If we want to seriously communicate with people of languages or faiths other than our own, we have some homework to do. Or we’ll find ourselves saying things we didn’t intend. Our communication won’t work very well. We won’t get what we’re after (indeed, this is part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s problem: he has not understood what his words mean in western culture; journalists and politicians have failed to work hard at accurately translating the intent behind his words, opting for the simpler route of calling him crazy. Corpse by Fisher).

What do we want, then, from interaction with others? Those of us who see a part of our faith as becoming peace-makers, what do we want from communication?

Can we afford the shallowness of understanding only our own views, or talking in only our own way?  Will it get us what we’re after?


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Written by Monte

February 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Unrespectable Jesus (sermon of Sep 2, 2007)

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Preaching this sermon was a wondrous experience for me; I learned so much, and people responded so sincerely. I hope it is similarly delightful—and equally troubling— for you!

Proper 17 (22), September 2, 2007
Luke 14:1,7-14; Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1,10-16

Luke 14:

One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move. …He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

What chair to sit in? Who cares? Be humble, I guess; OK, we can do that. But something’s awfully bland about that lesson, as we read it. That buzzer goes off in my mind that says, “There’s something here that you’re missing, Monte.” I think I hear that buzzer every time it seems like a lesson of Jesus is more for them than for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Muslims champion human rights

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My blogging friend Honestpoet at Enough is Enough found the stirring words of The St. Petersburg Declaration at Secular Islam Summit. Secular Islam SummitI admire them greatly.

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance … in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

March 29, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Lou Ann in China today

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Lou AnnOur friend Lou Ann Miller arrived in Zhalantun, Inner Mongolia, China today (Monday). She left Iowa on Friday, flew to Detroit, then Tokyo, then Beijing, and should be just finished with the 23-hour train trip from Beijing north to Zhalantun.

Lou Ann is a nurse, and travels with a group who bring a week-long medical and dental clinic to the people of that city.

I paraphrase the requests for today that she left with me last week:

1. For close relationships to develop quickly among team members.

2. That their orientation would be helpful and encouraging.

3. That team members would have servant hearts.

4. That they would be able to communicate cross-culturally.

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Written by Monte

October 9, 2006 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Religion