thinking theology

Pentecost 2019

Pentecost: the denouement of the Easter season, the answer to all our questions about the resurrection, the church, the mission. Do you think?

The background to this story has Jewish roots in a harvest festival, Shavuot, later to be associated with the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The reading of the Law would have been accompanied by the sober reminder that at the harvest festival, those who had been landless, homeless, and hungry, would be grateful for their unearned blessings and restoration. And that those still in the chains of hunger or poverty would receive generosity and restoration in terms of land, a sense of belonging, and hope. So at this festival, these Jewish disciples would identify the mission of Jesus with the expectations of a holy society. It is interesting that this story of the reception of the Holy Spirit would be grounded in the very concerns of both the Law and of Jesus around justice, hospitality, and generosity.

At the beginning of the narrative we hear that the disciples are again sequestered in one place. We might remember that whenever they gathered in this way, Jesus has surprised them. This time, the Spirit bursts into their inward looking conversation and throws open the doors of the room. Fire and wind, images of exodus and Elijah, liberation and challenge. Suddenly they remember why they even came to know each other. From their incarceration by fear and lack of focus, they are pulled outside themselves, drunk with the presence of the Christ who has reached out to the whole world from the restriction of the cross to the freedom of the resurrection: Jesus, remembered as the Beloved teacher, transformed into the wild Spirit that severs the chains of oppression and alienation.

Peter, the spokesperson, finds he is no longer afraid of otherness, but welcomes interaction with those not of his language, not of his culture, not of his religion. In finally understanding the freedom offered by Jesus and fulfilled by this event of the Spirit, the blindfold falls from his eyes. He now sees that all people are worthy of freedom, of peace. All people are worthy of love, of a seat at the banquet of creation, this blue and green palace made by God.

I imagine that the disciples now understood that Jesus’ death and resurrection were release from limitation. I imagine they were surprised increasingly by how this explosive experience would bend the fortresses of prejudice in their minds and would cause them to dream of a world only prophesied about. I picture them as dizzy with insight and so full of the power of the Spirit that they were compelled to share this gift of freedom from the shuttered mind, the social barriers. As David danced with the return of the Ark of the Covenant, I imagine them dancing and singing as they discovered the power of Jesus’ spirit with them still, his compassion. But most of all, they would understand his revelation of the desire of God for all people to awaken to the holiness within creation, the holiness that would open us to become communities where the poor don’t simply get remainders — scraps from the table — but where poverty is always being healed.

I think the questions brought to Pentecost then, in that isolated room, are still with us. What do we want from resurrection? What are the messages we see every day about how we are to live? How are we are being freed to rethink our convictions, our opinions? How is the Spirit freeing us to be generous and welcoming, not tolerant of difference, but energized by it?

These are not rhetorical questions. These questions will define which Christian communities thrive and which become holy relics. Jesus is with us when we are the community in motion, the community that can speak the gospel of justice and liberation in many languages, with many cultures. Jesus sits at tables of strangers and engages in story telling and community activism with many partners. Salvation belongs to those who bring hope, who share lives, who act and speak with courage. Peace comes with the awareness that we are each a tiny but important life, living for the community of God, a peaceful, abundant earth, one family throughout the world.

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