Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
In 1990, in an issue of Pulpit Resource, Glendon Harris introduced this theme with a marvelous illustration. Here it is:
“It’s hard to realize that there was a time not too long ago, and some of you can remember it, when parts of the United States did not yet have electrical power. It took a government program of rural electrification, called the REA, to get electricity to all of the rural areas. The REA started in 1935 and in a dozen years or so it succeeded in getting power into the most remote sections of the country.
“An uncle of mine was one of the REA leaders in North Dakota. He worked long and hard, made countless trips to Washington, to get electricity not only to his remote farm on the edge of the North Dakota badlands, but also for his whole state. He envisioned what electrical power would mean and encouraged workers to work speedily in putting up the poles, constructing the relay stations, and stringing the wire. He spread his enthusiasm across the state and encouraged people to get their homes wired for the day when the ‘juice’ would be turned on.
“One day a man who had wired his house in anticipation of that day, noticed that the light bulb he had installed some months before, began to glow. Suddenly, the light filled the room with a brilliance no kerosene lamp had ever made possible. He rushed outside, ran down the road and shouted the good news: ‘The power is on! The power is on!’ Something like that happened at Pentecost.”
The impact of electrical power on this nation can be seen from an event that occurred when Thomas Alva Edison died in 1931. A committee met and tried to plan a proper tribute to his creative genius and the unbelievable contributions he had made to the American scene. The most dramatic thing they could envision was to give everyone a tiny glimpse into what the country might have been like without him — they would ask President Hoover to order all the electric companies to turn off the power at the same time for just one minute. They quickly abandoned the idea, however, when they realized how deeply electricity was interwoven into every fabric of day-to-day life. Even one minute would have brought incalculable disruption, danger and economic loss. Mind you, that was four years before the REA even began its work!
God’s children need to realize the danger involved when they are separated from the power of God’s Spirit. It always begins with “just one Sunday” that we separate ourselves from the Word and Sacraments. People who live in God’s grace know that God does not require us to attend worship every Sunday. But we must also realize that any Sunday missed takes its toll. With spiritual resources only slightly depleted, any temptation not to go to our Power Source the next week is that much more difficult to overcome. Reasons quickly degenerate into excuses. Before long, there is no conscience, no spiritual reserve left to remind us that Sunday is anything more than the day after Saturday. Every delinquent member of every church began by deciding not to attend just this one Sunday.
Someone once asked me, “Why don’t people look for reasons to attend, instead of reasons not to attend?” This Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, gives us many reasons to attend. It’s the Church’s Birthday — come to the party and let’s celebrate! In my church, we are all encouraged to wear red. The result is a pretty dazzling display of color. Most of all, it is the day we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit — the day the power was turned on. It is a great day to avail ourselves of His gifts and His “juice.”
According to the Book of Acts, the events on Pentecost began with “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” People from tornado-ravaged areas of Oklahoma and Kansas would probably not like to hear that sound this Sunday! Then again, if it had the Pentecost results, I would love to hear it! The disciples of Jesus had gone through a very difficult time in their lives. Jesus’ Ascension marked their seminary graduation. It was a time of tremendous bewilderment, disappointment and grief, capped off by the exhilaration and amazement of the Lord’s resurrection.
My first year at the seminary was simultaneously confusing and exhilarating. I finally began to do what I was training to do, and that helped. The head pastor at my fieldwork assignment took a call right after school started, and I got my feet a whole lot wetter in the work of the church than many of my classmates. That continued through the second year. Then I took a summer vicarage where I was essentially the head pastor. A new pastor had accepted the call and would arrive at the end of the summer. Those were three of the best months of my life.
Then came vicarage under a supervising pastor. The adjustment was almost more than I could make. My fourth year at the Sem was a joy. Everything was finally coming together. The course work seemed easier; I had learned how to study and how to decipher professors’ expectations. I also started working at the mission where I would eventually be called. There, I was once again treated like the pastor and not just a lowly vicar.
Between Jesus’ Resurrection and Pentecost, everything started coming together for the disciples. They began to see what God had been doing and was still doing in their midst. Then came the “sound of a mighty wind” and all heaven broke loose! These men are a microcosm of the church in many ways. They experienced the breaking through of the Kingdom of God on earth. They knew intimately the fear of failure and the depression of personal guilt as they deserted the Lord of life. Then came their equally personal experience of the forgiveness Christ won on the cross, and His unbelievable acceptance and love even in the face of their sin.
All they lacked was the enabling force of the Spirit, empowering them to lead by example rather than dominate, to share rather than hoard, to be children of God — Christ-like — and to flow with the present rather than scheme for the future. When the power is turned on, the whole world is enlightened by the results.
Sometimes the Spirit’s influence is so subtle that we fail to come to grips with the impossible nature of the message of the Gospel — its straight-faced opposition to everything that sinful human reason can imagine. If I told you that some people spit on President Clinton and nothing happened to them, what would you think? What if I said that those people then decided to slap him with their hands and when, again, nothing happened, they also hit him with sticks? When still no resistance or retaliation was forthcoming, they used him as a pincushion, pushing needles into his scalp. Then, since no one lifted a finger to stop them, they got a noose and hung him to the closest tree. Even then, neither the President, nor any of his aides, not one armed service person or member of the Secret Service retaliated in any way. As the saying goes, if you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.
The most powerful person in this country is an insignificant weakling in comparison to God. The message of the Gospel is that people treated God in exactly that manner and He did not retaliate — He forgave. Sinful human reason should have more trouble with Jesus’ unretaliated suffering and death than with His Resurrection, but skeptics react to the Resurrection. I don’t know if people treat the Gospel like some fairytale — a nice story they don’t mind hearing — or if they take it with a large grain of salt, saying to themselves, “Yea, but we still know what God is really like!” I do know that no one believes it apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and I know that we who do believe have been called to proclaim it, to fulfill Christ’s mission and to perform His ministry.