Pentecost

Pentecost and the Sin of Racism

Pentecost symbol, Waiting For The Word / Flickr.com
Pentecost symbol, Waiting For The Word / Flickr.com

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Acts 2.12 (NRSV)

Charles Ramsey, the African American male dishwasher who rescued Amanda Berry from captivity preached a transforming sermon when he shared his story about how he helped a Euro American woman in distress escape from 10-years of captivity. Ramsey boldly told the local television news reporter in Cleveland, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” And later when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Ramsey, how he felt about being a hero, Ramsey said, “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I am just like you. We bleed the same blood …”

Ramsey’s blunt honesty which spoke to the existence of racism and his sincere compassion for humanity was a 21st century mystification; a “radical real lived” theological symbol for the reason, why Christians celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Holy Spirit and the historic beginning of the Christian Church. Biblical scholars teach us on the Day of Pentecost that a strong wind swept through a house where Jesus’ followers gathered days after he was resurrected from the dead. It was in the city of Jerusalem, where Jewish pilgrims gathered to celebrate Shavuot and people from other cultures who spoke diverse languages — believers and non believers of Jesus, heard about God’s powerful works in their native tongues and felt God’s holy presence.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Sprit gave them ability.

Women, Voice, and Pentecost

Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com
Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

Consider in the past year alone, America has wrestled over the injustice of forced vaginal probe ultrasounds. We have had our own deep cultural apathy revealed as the media tipped their sympathies toward the jocks that ripped a 16 year-old girl’s life and body through gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio – even as our nation gasped in horror at multiple reports of gang rapes of women in India. And over the past few weeks we have witnessed the unmasking of several U.S. military leaders, who were charged with duties to protect the women in their ranks, as they were revealed to be the very perpetrators themselves.

In Jim Wallis’ latest column, he writes, “It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged” and adds, “And it's time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.”

Will we do it? Will we take the step? Will we allow this holy wind that has blown the cover off of evil deeds done in the dark to rush through? Will we allow the cleansing waters of God to wash our society clean of practices — both private and public — that twist, maim and crush the image of God in more than half its population? Will we exercise the same courage that it took for those women at the first Pentecost to allow the spirit to move them into the public square and speak — testify, tell the truth, and prophesy? Will we repent from our silence?

Repentance begins in the heart. So, I must ask: “Will I repent of my silence — my safe silence?” Yes.

'Greater Works Than Mine'

THE SAGA OF Elijah that we are following in 1 and 2 Kings culminates in a poignant parting as the prophet prepares to be taken up into heaven. His disciple, Elisha, makes a final all-or-nothing request: “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah states a condition for the fulfillment of Elisha’s prayer: “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not” (2:10). It is as if Elisha has to look unblinkingly into the reality of their separation. If he is to inherit the prophetic mantle and spirit of his teacher, he must claim the vocation in its entirety. He is now to be the prophet.

The story is an uncanny pointer to the truth that John the Evangelist highlights in Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you ...” (16:7). John even echoes the “double spirit” theme in 14:12, when he has Jesus assure us that our prophetic endeavors will be more abundant and powerful than Jesus’ own!

The season following Pentecost helps us realize that we are the prophets now, vested with the mandate and endowed with the gifts for enacting the good news of liberation.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ JUNE 2 ]
A Climate of Relativism
1 Kings 18:20-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

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Everyday Moments of Resurrection

Pentecost illustration, Molodec / Shutterstock.com
Pentecost illustration, Molodec / Shutterstock.com

We tend to consider the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost in two ways primarily. We see them as history, stories about things that happened a long time ago. Or we consider them through theologies about what they mean for us after we die.

Yet, there is a deeper reality to all of them. The cross, the empty tomb, the moment of divine inspiration are repeated every day and everywhere. They’re ongoing and participatory.

Many experience those moments of inspiration each day. They’re moved to help someone who is hurting, inspired to care for those who are struggling, emboldened to try to change their world in some way. They sense something divine in the small moments of life. They stand up for anyone who is being treated as less than an equal child of God. They see love at work all around them.

Spirit-filled moments happen every day.

Growing Up Trinitarian

I WAS BROUGHT UP up on stories of my family's emigration to Russia from England in the 1850s and of the three generations we lived there and intermarried. My grandparents fled the upheavals of revolution in 1917, returning to England. Having drunk deeply from the springs of Russian spirituality, it is second nature to me to hear the scriptures with Russian ears. As Eastertide culminates at Pentecost (rounded out in the wonderful coda of Trinity Sunday), I find myself murmuring as a mantra the great injunction of St. Sergius of Radonezh, "Beholding the unity of Holy Trinity, to overcome the hateful disunity of this world!" The doctrine of the Trinity is no mere antiquity, but a beacon pointing to the future that God desires for the world. In the Trinity, "hateful disunity" can be transformed into life-in-communion; our life together as human beings incarnating our identity as ones made into the image and likeness of God. I will find myself doodling on my notepad the provocative claim of the Russian lay theologian Nikolai Fedorov: "Our social program is the dogma of the Trinity."

Taking in again the Trinitarian grammar of our prayer and faith, I will find myself reinvigorated for the task of forging a spirituality that, as a great Anglican priest Alan Ecclestone wrote, "takes its Trinitarian imagery more seriously than ever before, relating the creativity, the humanizing, and the unification of [humankind] in one growing experience of mutual love." This from a man who was a passionate political activist writing from the thick of gritty urban politics, not from an ivory tower.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ May 5 ]
What We Carry Into Zion
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5:1-9

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Some Thoughts on the Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity painting, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com
Holy Trinity painting, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

Holy Trinity is not the most popular festival among preachers who, for all the other seasons and special days of the church year, normally get to dig into interesting gospel narratives. 

Most other festivals of the church celebrate an event. We commemorate happenings in the life of Christ: Mary’s visit from Gabriel announcing the miraculous child she was to bear into the world, God’s own word made flesh. We celebrate also the light bearing nature of your own patronal season of Epiphany, we celebrate the messy Baptism of our Lord, the confusing Transfiguration, and Jesus riding triumphant into Jerusalem amidst palms and cheers. We celebrate the empty tomb of Easter, the glorious Ascension, the chaotic coming of God’s spirit to the church at Pentecost all leading up to today, when we celebrate … a church doctrine. 

Preachers dread this day because we see it as kind of a dry dusty theological topic after such the exciting and earthy part of the liturgical year that came before it. It’s like there’s this raucous party of Easter and Pentecost that comes to a screeching halt while an old crotchety man shuffles up to the pulpit, blows the dust off an enormous leather-bound book, clears his throat saying And now a celebration of church doctrine causing the music to fade, the last of the Pentecost streamers still floating to the ground. Church doctrine Sunday.

Community of the Heart

Stained glass window representing the Trinity, Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com
Stained glass window representing the Trinity, Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

A dear friend recently reminded me of David Ford’s gem of a book, The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday LifeOn the back cover, Nicholas Wolterstorff describes it beautifully: “[This book's] spirituality is profound and reflective, yet always concrete, and never dishonest or evasive; it uses not only Scripture but literature with creative facility. Simple, yet rich. A jewel of the spiritual life in its everyday manifestations. I want to savor it with repeated readings.”

Ford traces the “multiple overwhelmings” in our lives — the forces that shake us and shape us, those with the power to wound or crush and those that are life-giving and transformative. At stake in reckoning with such tumult is the whole of our lives and our living. “How,” he asks, ”in the midst of all our overwhelmings, are our lives shaped?”

#Occupy: The New Pentecost?

Pentecost depiction by Duccio di Buoninsegna via http://bit.ly/w3Q6IA
Pentecost depiction by Duccio di Buoninsegna via http://bit.ly/w3Q6IA

For those who re-discover their faith by taking seriously the vision offered in the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Occupy movement may appear to them as the New Pentecost. Note the similarities between the ancient story and the contemporary movement:

  • In Acts, the emergence of new power occurred when the “gossip” about the Resurrection became a life-empowering message that transcended all lingual differences: “each heard in his own language.” Likewise in Occupy Wall Street: in the development of a new means of communication, people of diverse backgrounds both spoke and heard in a common language. It was, indeed, a New Pentecost.

‘Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes’ – Charismatic Christianity 2.0?

Unlike the earlier turn-of-the-20th-century Pentecostal movement, which created a plethora of new denominations, the Charismatic Movement  — with its emphasis on the felt-presence of the Holy Spirit, intimate worship, healings, and spiritual gifts as written about in the New Testament — united Lutherans and Catholics, East Orthodox and Episcopalians, promising in its early years to utterly remake ecumenical dialogues into a fully-felt move of the Spirit.

These heady early days inspired everyone from the Jesus Movement to Richard Rohr and many believed that a new fullness of Christian faith was being formed.

Then, as often happens as new movements grow and spread, things got messy. Denominational officials became suspicious; new denominations like the Vineyard were born, attracting new Christians such as Bob Dylan.

Join a Circle of Protection on Nov. 16: Standing For and With the Poor

The New York City Human Circle will be replicated throughout across the nation, when faith leaders host Human Circles as members of the Sojourners National Mobilizing Circle, which is bringing together faith and community leaders to organize faith-rooted actions in their communities.

The purpose of these circles is not only to lobby for the poor but also with them.

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