Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PENTECOST: END & BEGINNING

The 3rd great holy day of the Christian calendar signals a transition in modus operandi for followers of Jesus

THIRD TURNING POINT. In Christian perspective, Pentecost (observed this year on May 31) is the third significant turning point in God’s human- and world-changing mission related to Jesus of Nazareth. Christmas celebrates God’s incarnation in Jesus—the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. Easter celebrates Jesus’ third-day resurrection—the primary signal of a completed act of redemption and of death’s ultimate defeat. Pentecost celebrates God coming as Holy Spirit to dwell in believers and enliven the church to live the life and kingdom Jesus initiated. If the Incarnation initiates the mission and the Resurrection completes it, Pentecost brings its meaning and promise to life for a waiting world. Reflecting on the account of Pentecost in Acts 2, I lift up four turning points this event offers each believer and the church as a whole:

1. Pentecost is often called the BIRTHDAY of the Church because it is when the church first CAME TO LIFE. Before Pentecost, Jesus’ closest followers were well-intentioned but unable to grasp what was really going on. They were living as best they could within their own understanding, power, and perspective. But with the events described in Acts 2, they literally came to life with power, insight, understanding, and outreaching witness they had never known before. Pentecost is the decisive moment from which we mark the growth and development of the church as a transformative spiritual movement in the world.

2. Pentecost marks the end of LAW-LESS and LAW-ISH living in relationship to God. Living according to one’s own sense of rightness, self-satisfaction, and self-chosen priorities (however well-intended) is lawless living and is idolatry. Living slavishly and judgmentally to the letter of God’s laws is law-ish living, or legalism. It is deadly. Both antinomianism and legalism are eclipsed with Pentecost. The living Word of God penetrates the most simplistic patterns of self-survival, along with sophisticated philosophies that ultimately obscure and displace God. The Spirit brings light to the written law, revealing its saving, guiding, life-giving intent. Pentecost is the end of self-justification and works righteousness.

3. Pentecost signals the beginning of GRACE-BASED living. Acts 2 indicates that Jesus’ followers are given purpose and power to live and share the love God lavishly gives us—no longer living unto ourselves or by the mere letter of the law. We now have the Spirit to guide us. We are saved by grace through faith. And we live each day by grace through faith. If we ask God to show us how to live in relationship to others, in the face of decisions, in the midst of the world, God’s very Spirit dwelling in us will guide us IF WE WILL LISTEN. Whatever else can be made of what occurred at Pentecost or might be expected since, here is the most reliable thing for everyone: God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. God is forever after universally accessible to all who will sincerely seek, listen, and heed the persistent “still, small voice.”

4. Pentecost triggers an OUTBREAK of self-giving service and PASSION to bear grace across every cultural border. You have only to read Acts 2 to see the outbreak that moves people to serve and live selflessly. Reading, one cannot help but begin to grasp the passion for God that inflames hearts and changes lives. It is clear from Acts 2 that to be Christian is to be radical—not for the sake of being radical, but because the Holy Spirit reveals truth and inflames hearts that cannot help but connect in challenging ways with a diverse world gone awry and lives distorted by death’s seduction. Love that overcomes every distortion and overwhelms every barrier is unleashed. There’s nothing tame or sedate about it. Acts 2 Christianity is an acute fever; Acts 2 Christians are aflame with love. For this I pray earnestly for all who follow Jesus.


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