Enactors …. or Re-Enactors

Enactors …. or Re-Enactors

Pentecost Day – NL4 John B. Valentine
Acts 2:1-21 June 5, 2022


Today’s Pentecost trivia test features this question:

What was the fastest-growing hobby among adult Americans since the start of the 21st century?

Want to take a guess? Seriously .... the fastest-growing-hobby among adult Americans???

• Computer gaming? No.
• Scrap booking? No.
• Genealogizing? No.
• Bird-watching? No.

It was “re-enacting”. Yes ... you heard me right ... “re-enacting.” “Historical re-enacting.”

You know what historical re-enacting is?

• It’s where people recreate ... re-enact ... some aspect or aspects of a historical period or event.

• It’s where people try to fully immerse themselves in the culture and experience of a previous age ... be it the Revolutionary War or the Civil War ... or Middle Ages or even ancient Greece.

If we ... for instance ... were to “historically re-enact” the Pentecost story which we read this morning from Acts ... chapter two ...

• We’d all leave behind our cell phones and hearing aids and glasses ...

• And we’d ditch the sound system and the electric lights ...

• And dress up in linen and/or cotton and/or wool ...

• And role-play our way through an extraordinary event in first-century Jerusalem.

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Now ... truth be told ... most of the re-enactors in this country have devoted themselves to the period of time we call “the American Civil War” ...

Men and women alike ... dressing in authentic Civil War period clothing ... camping in authentic Civil War style tents ... eating authentic Civil War recipe foods ... et cetera ... et cetera ... et cetera.

• They form up in proper companies and regiments ...

• They fire authentic muskets and cannon ...

• They carry out the same battlefield maneuvers that were executed nearly a hundred and fifty years ago ... in some place like Gettysburg or Antietam.

Now ... there’s a certain sense in which we ought to see something of the value of what these reenactors bring to the table.

• They carry on a tradition.

• They preserve a memory.

• They teach the lessons of history to a future generation.

Kind of like ... in a certain way ... what we do here on Sunday mornings in the context of worship ... when we “re-enact” Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.

But there’s a problem ... a BIG problem ... with this whole re-enactment thing.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s that it is so perfectly predictable. It’s utterly tied to the past. It’s that the outcome of every battle is already known to everyone from the get go.

• The victor must be victorious.
• The vanquished must lose.
• The historical record must prevail.
• Pickett has to charge at Gettysburg.
• At the end of the day ... Lee has to surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse.

Re-enactors are enslaved to the past. It’s just the way it is.

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Today we come up against Pentecost ... this “dress the worship-space in red” day ... this “birthday of the church” day.

Today is the day that we celebrate God’s pouring out the Holy Spirit ... as described so amazingly in Acts ... chapter two.

But it seems to me that ... come Pentecost ... WE AS A CHURCH HAVE A DECISION TO MAKE ... and the decision we have to make is this:

Are we who claim to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ in this day and age re-enactors of the events of Pentecost ... or are we enactors?

• Are we simply about the business of re-enacting what happened “way back when”??

• Or are we about the business of enacting the Spirit’s business in the here and now??

You see ... there’s a great temptation for the church ... especially in the face of so many outside pressures ... to simply see itself as being about the tasks of re-enacting:

• Carrying on a tradition.

• Preserving a memory.

• Teaching the lessons of history.

But if we read the lessons of Pentecost rightly ... that’s really NOT our job.

• Pentecost says that our job isn’t to “carry on a tradition” ...

But that it IS to carry the Gospel!

• Pentecost says that our job isn’t to preserve a memory ...

But that it IS to proclaim a message.

• Pentecost says that our job isn’t to just teach the lessons of history ...

But rather to preach what God has done in the person of Jesus Christ.

For we aren’t celebrating today that those people way back then received the gift of the Holy Spirit as we are celebrating that we have received that Spirit.

We aren’t re-enactors who recreate scenes from days gone by.

We’re people that very same Pentecost Spirit has acted upon ... and is acting upon ... and whom are called to enact the Spirit’s work and the Spirit’s presence in the world today!

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It was five years ago now that I got to experience a living history lesson about the history of the Lutheran church in Russia over the past one hundred years.

You probably didn’t realize it ... but in the year 1925 ... there were some 1.3 million Lutherans in the Soviet Union ... most of them of expatriated Germans and their descendants living in the region of the Volga River or the territory that is now the country of Georgia.

By the year 1935 ... under mounting pressure from the Soviet government ... that number had dwindled to about 900,000 Lutherans and 98 pastors in 200 congregations.

Then ... in 1936 ... persecution began in earnest against those folks ... and eighteen months later ... in the fall of 1937 ... the last two Lutheran pastors were finally arrested ... and their final few pieces of property were seized.

And the church officially ... organizationally ... on the surface ... disappeared.

But underneath ... underground ... it continued. In member homes ... quietly ... unofficially ... it survived.

Amazing enough ... nearly half-a-century later ... when officials from Lutheran World Federation were finally given permission to reorganize Lutheran members ...

They found hundreds of existing underground congregations ... made up almost entirely of little old ladies who refused to stop singing the refrain ... “This little light of mine ... I’m gonna let it shine” ... in spite of the horrifying consequences of their commitment.

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But ... to me ... the most intriguing aspect of the underground survival of the church in the Soviet Union was what happened after they were free to travel ... free to return home ... and free to worship again.

You see ... there were these gals who had grown up in Georgia as Russian-speaking ethnic German Lutherans ... how had ben exiled to Siberia and other parts east who were told that they were free to go home.

But where was home?

Not Germany ... no ... most of them had never been to Germany and hadn’t spoken any German for the past five or six decades.

No ... home to these gals was the Republic of Georgia ... the land of their parents and their grandparents and their great-grandparents.

And so it came to pass that some twenty thousand of these gals in their sixties and seventies and eighties ... these babushkas ... returned to the place that they’d grown up.

And the first thing that they did was establish churches ... and return to worship ... for the first time in half-a-century.

And they appealed to the German Lutheran Church ... who sent them two Russian-speaking Lutheran pastors to provide pastoral care for these gals.

And so ... for about a decade or so ... these gals were happy as could be ... back in the places of their childhood ... back in worship ... back among people who shared their faith.

But around about the year 2000 ... something began to change. These women realized:

• That they were starting to die off ...

• That there were no more of their displaced family members who were returning back home to join them ...

• That theirs was a dead-end movement ... unless something changed.

And so they had a meeting ... all fourteen of these little worshiping communities got together and they had their own little synod meeting ... kind of like we had in Reno for the past three days ...

But that their meeting ... they faced down a hard question.

“Do we” ... they asked themselves ... “want to be a chaplaincy church and just take care of one another until we all die off ..... or do we want to be a missional church and share the love of Jesus with people who are one and two and three and four generations younger than we are?”

“Is it more important to us to take care of these who are currently in our midst to take care of those who are not yet in our midst??”

And so in came to pass the those babushkas voted that day to live into the name that they had been given some ten or twelve years before ... the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Georgia ...

A community of faith that is now comprised of Germans and Russians and Georgians ... of women and men ... of grandparents and parents ... and teenagers and kids.

For they decided that day to sing ... in their own way and with the whole of their being ... “This little light of mine ... I’m gonna to let it shine!”

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We are NOT re-enactors ... folks ...

We are enactors.

Filled with the Spirit of God ... so that all the world might know of the love and the grace and the hope ... and the forgiveness and the community and the promise ... that is ours ... ours to share ... in Christ our Lord.

Happy birthday ... dear church ... happy birthday!

“Enactors or Re-Enactors” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship service on the Day of Pentecost 2022 (June 5 this year!)  The text upon which it was/is based is Acts 2:1-21.  To access a copy of the worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order.20220605.fold