Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Feast of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost meaning the '50th day' is originally a feast of the Jewish faith celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai by God.  It is also now, by adoption, a Christian Feast commemorating what is often referred as the 'birthday of the Church.' The letter of the law, which no man can fulfill, was given in Hebrew tradition and so the Christian Church in time adopted this feast to remember the day the Spirit of grace and mercy was given. The Scriptural passage of Pentecost, although unlikely to be fully accurate historically written some 30+ years after the events, can be found in Acts 2. We are told the followers of Jesus were joined together in a room with Blessed Mary present when suddenly God's Presence, God's Power, the Holy Spirit, came in a mighty way and filled the followers with boldness and the ability speak in languages they had not previously studied. These followers then having experienced love as never before and a Divine sense of boldness made their way into the streets where they preached the good news Jesus had once shared with everyone present.

Peter boldly stated: that the last days were upon them and miracles would be abundant, that they were witnesses to Jesus, a man approved of God, declaring true his death and rising by God's hand. It is an extremely poetic narrative: full of bold promises, apocalyptic images (which were extremely in vogue and common during this era), a sense of urgency, & a calling to enter into a faith still rooted in Judaism but now aligning itself with the one called Jesus. Peter promises that those who accept this teaching will see their enemies become their footstools and that all these promises will be for their children and the many generations to come. In Acts it is claimed some 3,000 people joined the other followers that day breaking bread with them, mind you there was no functioning 'Church system' quite as we know it today.  However, whether the Church (as we think of it) was in place officially or not, most Christian groups point to Pentecost as their beginning - it set the stage for the last 2,000 years. It was the day the followers of Jesus came out of the shadows and began to carry forth what they believed to be nothing less than a Divine Command to change the world and usher in redemption, forgiveness, grace, and salvation. How much grace was to be given would still be debated (should Gentiles be circumcised or are forbidden foods now clean - see Acts 15) and we still find it debated to this very day: should those who are born not fitting the norm of a world 2,000 years ago be allowed membership in Christ's Church, should we accept all who come to us or only those who fit into our version of God's children. Some worry about giving grace too freely, perhaps we should worry about not giving enough...after all we preach that God gave his very own son but we feel justified in withholding?

Moving on actually requires us to now move backwards in time! We must journey to an event the early Church Fathers also naturally thought of when considering what the events of Pentecost meant:

The story Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11 which is mostly, if not completely, allegorical. First we must realize that Genesis contains both history and poetic narrative, beauty and horror, factual truth and truth in imagery but not necessarily physical events. In Genesis 11 we find the Abrahamic religion doing its best to explain what science could not at the did people end up in so many places, with so many different looks, and so many different dialects?  The answer as with most primitive questions of science was given: God did it and a story was composed to explain how God did so. We are told that the people of the earth descending from Adam & Eve and the children of Noah (further ways of explaining life, sin, and the Divine) had not moved around much, actually not at all...they just set up tents and lived in one similar area after the flood. Of course even today we realize groups of people never apart from each other can turn out to be a good or bad thing, in this case bad. Genesis tells us the people decided they could become stronger than God and so they built a tower to reach to the heavens (once again showing the lack of scientific realization that space was the furthest that could be reached). God was none to happy we are told and so he divided their languages, forcing them into groups, which then wandered away from others not like them. If you ever wanted to support the idea of cliques this might be your passage. Regardless, a primitive people had found a way to explain diversity, evolutionary happenings, and why not everyone was the exact same - blame it on man's error & God's strong answer. (A side note: looking at this story for a moment literally might explain why some who follow Jesus seem to be afraid of science, critical thought, and knowledge beyond the Canon of Scripture. If we however realize it is simply conveying a spiritual truth: we can never fully know the mind of God, nor can our ways ever be greater than God's; we find ourselves no longer fearful of science but thankful for the many gifts it brings to us.)

So now that we know about Babel and the fact that at the time Acts was written humankind had still not developed greatly in this area of science or understanding of mankind's origin...other than creating even new mythological concepts (ever heard of the Greek & Roman gods) we can come back to Pentecost:

When writing about the day of Pentecost, Luke, the commonly held author of Acts, no doubt saw a fulfillment and conclusion to Babel performed by God- God know brings clarity to language, the opposite of what he had once done. What was once a dividing factor is now used to bring the news of Jesus to those in Jerusalem. So perhaps we ask ourselves, do we truly believe in this event as a historical reality or perhaps simply Luke's way of continuing to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures and 'make all things new' in the eyes of those who now came to follow Jesus and his teaching. One can not doubt something happened that day, a mass conversion, a day when many chose to be baptized and follow one whom they believed brought a more true and applicable message of love and salvation. However, let me ask you to not worry if it was historical or how much is accurate and how much is not - rather look at it through a different perspective: one which will require us to grow in grace and love toward others...

Let's primarily look at something God did not do on this powerful day...he did not return all the languages to one dialect as Genesis claims it to once have been. No, he goes beyond this simple concept and rather, he brings understanding in the midst of diversity. He brings clarity in the midst of great difference. He unites people of all different lands, religions, heritages, languages, & ways of life by allowing each to hear in their own way the new message of: Love your neighbor as yourself and God is love - the primary teachings of Jesus and what should be the primary teachings of the Church, even if they are not always. Perhaps the Christian Church today in 2012 should step back and ask have we done the same? Do we present the news of God's love and mercy to all regardless of where they come from, do we speak to all with love and charity or with judgement, ridicule, and a demand for alliance with a supposed 'family structure' that in barley found in the Bible itself? Do we embrace everyone or only those who live as we live and preach exactly what we preach? Perhaps today Christians or those who strive to follow Jesus' way should stand back and ask are we a church, a community of diversity?

The tongues of fire came upon all in the Upper Room, both male and female. On the streets all present heard in their own tongue the message presented. They were not asked to first prove themselves, the women were not removed, the crowd was not searched for those who were gay...they were all simply invited to enter the waters of baptism (with their ENTIRE households) and receive the Spirit...which is endless love and grace. Have you and I done the same? Are we the Church we were called to be on Pentecost, the Church of Diversity, or have we become the church of ourselves only? Are we a community of true unity where many are represented or have we wandered off in groups to get away from others we do not fully understand?

We are no doubt all called to repent, we all fall short each and everyday of our lives missing the mark of living a 100% excellent life and being Jesus to all. How often do we miss the opportunity to give a drink to one in need or to entertain 'angels' unaware. We each are called to continually grow in our understanding of what a life of holiness means and it is far removed from simply a few external issues that many know place their entire theology upon. I personally am well aware of the many times I loose patience with my beloved partner and judge him while forgetting my own weaknesses and all that he does for me, the times I lash out at my son and speak not in kindness but from a place of selfishness, or I think of the homeless lady I see downtown and still do not offer a cup of coffee too. I know I have far to go to become Jesus to all, how limited my own scope of diversity often is and how quickly I judge my brothers and sisters who are united to me by being children of God and members of human race. I too need to grow in acceptance and grace, I too need to be a vessel of understanding in the midst of diversity. Will you also accept this challenge? Will the Christian Church accept the challenge to walk in its original birthday given mission by God? We are called to be a vessel of God's endless love...a place of sanctuary for the broken and ridiculed.  

May we allow God's grace and power to fill us with boldness in order to be this vessel!

1 comment:

  1. I had never thought of comparing Babel with Pentecost--I don't know why not, now that you've done it, it seems obvious. The message of God's love for ALL came through loud and clear, and unfortunately it's a message that many people believe is not for them because of the way some Christians interpret the Bible. Perhaps God has found in you another spokesperson to help tell the downtrodden that He loves them so very much! His love is for ALL!