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Today is Pentecost Sunday… read all about it in Acts chapter 2

A few days ago Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes posted The story of Pentecost in Two Contrasting Versions. I’m pretty sure he won’t mind me re-posting on Pentecost Sunday…

Why Stories from Different Cultures Are So Similar
I grew up listening to Dutch folktales, read voraciously in English during my early years in Canada, enjoyed Brazilian stories in Portuguese, studied Canela legends, and know all the Middle Eastern Bible stories by heart. I wondered why stories from these five different cultures seem to have similar plots and structure.

An anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, taught me that these timeless stories hang together because they all follow certain rules. Elements in each major tale relate to each other, both in the way they are similar and in the way they contrast. What’s more, one element in each pair is often positive, while the other may be negative, just as health contrasts with disease, and clean contrasts with dirty.

The Moses and Joshua Example
Here, for instance are how the stories of Moses and Joshua are similar: Both were chosen by God. Both led Israel. Both performed miracles. Both accomplished their tasks.

Here are the contrasts: One was old: one was young. One was a shepherd: the other a trained warrior. One led them out of bondage: the other led them into freedom. One was highly educated in Egypt’s royal court: the other was an ignorant slave.

Around the world, all enduring stories are structured similarly because they all reflect the greatest story of them all; the timeless tale of God, His creation, human sin and God’s redemption.

Now The Two Stories of Pentecost
Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, in Old Testament times was simply a harvest festival. Eventually, this turned into more of a remembrance of the time Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. And of course, for the Christian Church, we remember that it was on the first Pentecost after Christ rose from the dead, that God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

So, doing a quick study of these two major stories, here, in list form, are some similarities and contrasts:
Jewish Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Law.

  1. God’s servant Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law
  2. This happened 50 days after their escape from Egypt (10 days of travel plus 40 days on Mount Sinai)
  3. Moses found the people feasting and playing before the golden calf
  4. Moses ordered the Levites to draw their swords and execute the idolaters
  5. As a result, 3,000 people lost their lives

Christian Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Holy Spirit

  1. God’s Holy Spirit came down from heaven with Power.
  2. This happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (40 days of seeing Jesus alive plus 10 days of waiting in Jerusalem)
  3. The Holy Spirit found the disciples fasting and praying before God
  4. God ordered Peter to use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and preach to the crowds
  5. As a result, 3,000 people received eternal life.

The apostle Paul may well have had this contrast in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Try This Yourself
Pick a pair of characters like king Saul and king David. Or the prophet Jonah and the apostle Paul. Check out the amazing similarities and contrasts in their stories.

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes is a prolific story teller. One of his stories inspired me to research which resulted The Irishman’s Prayer and The Irishman Who Prayed

Keep writing the stories, Jack!

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Alf

… and we prick our ears in the expectation of a good story! Whether it’s a comedian’s one-liner, a juicy bit of gossip, a fairy tale, the wicked humour of Roald Dahl or one of Jesus’ New Testament parables – stories have a unique power.

My good friend Alfred Thompson recently published a good story about stories and in particular the power of stories. It was an article in the April edition of The Presbyterian Herald, the main magazine of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Alf hooks us with his opening story…

A famous pianist was giving a concert. In the front row a six or seven-year-old boy was sitting with his parents. And he was bored. So at the interval when his parents were distracted, the boy climbed onto the stage, sat at the piano and started banging on the keys, which made a terrible noise. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look at him, but the boy didn’t notice as he was having a great time just banging away.

The pianist heard the noise and came out from the wings and walked over behind the boy. When the boy became aware of the pianist standing behind him he stopped his banging and froze. But instead of giving off, the pianist leant over the boy’s shoulder and whispered ‘keep playing, keep playing.’ The boy hesitated. So the pianist whispered again ‘keep playing.’

So the boy shrugged his shoulders and started having fun banging away again. But this time the pianist stretched his arms around the boy and began to play on the keys that were out of the boy’s reach. After a moment the audience began to hear what was happening… somehow the pianist was weaving a melody in and around the noise of the boy’s banging.

Alf tells us that he heard the story as a teenager, and comments…

… this story about the boy and the pianist has always stayed with me and it has helped me to “keep playing” and to keep believing that God is at work in my life, playing the keys that are out of my reach.

What a super image of the mystery that God wants us to be part of his mission to his world. The omnipotent God wants to use us, his flawed but redeemed creation, in his big story.

You can access Alf’s article and the rest of the April Herald here

I think I might come back to Alf’s article for further inspiration quite soon…

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