Thursday, June 10th, 2020
In the event of an emergency, preachers may deviate from a previously intended message. Sometimes they set aside whatever they had originally planned to say, and instead will speak to their audience about the event or occasion that preoccupies everyone. To make such an adjustment in subject is usually a prudent move, if done well. That is because an emergency can prove to be a gift in disguise. An emergency gives a preacher a unique opportunity to really, truly be heard. In such moments, the preacher can say something particularly poignant, forever memorable, and especially impactful. The preacher’s message might even challenge a listener’s perspective or long-held position. People are particularly open and unusually attentive during and immediately after an emergency. They are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope. Thus the preacher’s words pack more punch during an emergency.
At the very least, then, an emergency holds redemptive potential. Timely words can turn a seemingly-bleak situation into something transformative. Minds and lives can be dramatically altered, perhaps even permanently. Souls may even be saved. And that is probably the best possible outcome. We do well to pray that salvation emerges out of emergencies.
At their worst, emergencies merely wreck havoc. There is no upside, no silver lining. They bring destruction, devastation, death, and nothing else. Some emergencies are wholly destructive. If a what-might-have-been moment does come, it comes ever-so briefly, is overlooked or even scorned, and then slips into oblivion. Instead of any change for the better, the emergency just brings devastation. Towers topple. Things disintegrate into ash. Children are orphaned.
No, I am not merely thinking about our current national crisis. Of course, I do mean that; but I have other historical emergencies in mind, as well. I am also referring to a couple of biblical emergencies, one in Ancient Egypt, the other in first century Judea.
The last two weekends have given our preachers an opportunity. Since the arrest and slow, open-air strangling of George Floyd, the country has been on edge. Many people are angry, frustrated. Street protests are frequent. Cities brace for yet more disturbances, riots, and vandalism. Our preachers witness all the unrest and recognize the need for wise and timely words. Something needs to be said. People are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope.
But what exactly should the preacher say? What does the occasion call for? What does God want people to hear in the midst of the tumult today? The audience awaits. What will the message be? What is the Spirit saying to the churches?
What are you saying, Lord?
Like everyone else who aspires to preach and proclaim the word of the Lord, I have been asking that question. I hope to faithfully discern and convey what the Spirit is saying to us.
Coincidence always intrigues me. On the assumption that God is truly sovereign over historical events, including exactly when they occur, I will not immediately dismiss a clear coincidence as insignificant or irrelevant. Therefore, I wonder if and suggest that we should take a cue from the Church calendar. A clear calendar coincidence occurred. All the recent civil unrest first erupted on Pentecost eve. The pandemonium amidst a pandemic coincided with Pentecost. We might ask what that may portend or mean. Does the coincidence have any significance?
The original Pentecost Sunday morning sermon was also a fiery occasion. At least, it followed immediately on the heels of a fiery supernatural display. The Spirit descended and dispersed as fire. In Scripture, fire often symbolizes the fearsome holiness of God. God’s Spirit is holy.
Under the inspiration of the fiery Holy Spirit, Peter, the former coward, stood up in front of a potentially hostile crowd and preached an accusatory, “turn-or-burn” sermon. Weeks before Peter had cravenly denied any association with Jesus. But everything changed that morning. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit descended, entered, and emboldened Peter. Now the former coward fearlessly proclaimed the name of Jesus to the very people who had crucified Jesus only fifty two days earlier. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit came and changed everything.
“Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That is Acts 2:36, and the climatic conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. His message shook and scared the crowd. Many of them repented.
Here is my paraphrase of the conclusion to Peter’s sermon: Therefore, know exactly who it is whom you just crucified. Yes, you all messed up badly. Yes, you do find yourselves in a very precarious position. Yes, you better admit your personal guilt. It is indeed your only hope.
The point of Pentecost and a primary purpose of the Promised Spirit is proclamation. The Holy Spirit was given then and is given now to make ready preachers out of each and any of us. Like the disciples back then, we are supposed to seek the Spirit’s empowerment, guidance, and inspiration so that we can boldly proclaim the name of Jesus to those in need. And among the needy are those who have an urgent need to face the guilt of their sin and submit to Jesus as Lord. In fact, the greatest need anyone has is the need for salvation through Christ Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
So what is the Spirit saying to you today? To whom should you preach?
In our next episode of the Dekrakenator Daily, I will take you back to Egypt at the time of the Exodus, because somehow all this has something to do with the Book of Revelation. Please stay tuned.