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Pentecost: the Church’s Birthday

Yesterday was the Christian Church’s birthday.  Maybe “birthday” is not a good descriptor, but it gives you the idea.  Pentecost is a Greek word meaning “fifty.”  Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter.  Since Easter was so late this year in the calendar, Pentecost also has come late.

Pentecost commemorates the post-Easter gift of the Holy Spirit on the early Christian disciples.  Essentially, the New Testament texts for this major Christian day are Acts 2 and John 20.  The gift of the Spirit is about the only thing the two texts have in common.  The more well known of the two biblical texts is Acts.  In that account the disciples are gathered in an Upper Room and the Spirit comes upon the believers like a fire and they speak in a variety of tongues (languages).

The Holy Spirit is the key to their beginning ministry in the world, just as it was for Jesus.  In one sense, the presence of the Spirit on one’s life is a way of understanding God to be present in one’s life.  With this Divine Presence one is equipped, as it were, to go out in ministry.  I like to think of it as the Divine push and power.

The Pentecost story is also the story of the coming of this Spirit on all the disciples of Jesus.  Now God’s work in the world is extended to the entire community of believers.  They are now supposed to go into the world as teachers, healers, lovers, etc.  Their call is to do justice, to show compassion, and facilitate the coming of the kingdom of peace and joy.  What a job!

This would be quaint if it were simply a spiffy historical story…a kind of bible booster for kids.  In one sense it is funny to think about a bunch of the followers of Jesus upstairs in some ancient room babbling like drunks!  Read it, get a laugh, and then go about our business.

But that would completely miss the point.  Pentecost is misunderstood if it is seen merely as a historical story and not a present story.  Of course it is biblical; more importantly, it is contemporary…or it is meant to be.  But it is contemporary only if some of us take it to heart and live out the ministry to which it calls us.

The thing I like about Pentecost is the communal nature.  The Spirit may be personally given to me.  I believe it is, but it is pretty undramatic, compared to the Acts account.  I can speak other languages, but it is not due to the Spirit, but rather to the hard work of learning and practicing them.  Pentecost is not the gift of other tongues; it is the gift of a call into a life of ministry, service, and support.  Again, the signs are kingdom-making.

Am I doing acts of justice?  Do I offer compassion to those in need?  Is peace a fruit of my presence and work?  When the answer to any of these questions is “No,” then I am pathetic and not Pentecostal!

Actually, it is pretty funny for me to think about being Pentecostal.  For many of us, a Pentecostal is a Christian fundamentalist who does speak in tongues and is pretty extreme…a good laugh and leave it at that.

But if we get back to the Spirit of Pentecost, then ultimately it is the gift and call of God on the life of every person on this planet.  Do justice.  Be loving.  Be a peacemaker.  Bring joy…and enjoy!

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