“…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Today is Pentecost Sunday. In Judaism, Pentecost (referring to the 50th) was a harvest celebration held seven weeks and one day following the Passover. In Christianity, Pentecost marks the birth of the Church when, 50 days after the resurrection of the Christ, His promised Holy Spirit fell on the 120 Jewish believers huddled together, praying in a room. From that small beginning, the harvest of souls worldwide began. It continues even now in the midst of deep unsettledness.
Pentecost is personally significant to me as it was the day 41 years ago when I offered myself to Jesus Christ, in faith, as a believer and became an adopted son of GOD. In time, that believer status transitioned to servant. I am an adopted son of GOD by the work of Jesus Christ, possessed by His Holy Spirit, and I choose to serve Him because He is worthy. To borrow from a friend, “I believe Jesus is exactly who He says He is,” and on that my life is based…not that it hasn’t been a difficult struggle at times.
Today, in a pandemic filled world, pastors and priests have or will be proclaiming the Pentecost from their pulpits, home offices, and dining rooms to listeners near and far, in small, masked huddles in church sanctuaries and over various technology platforms. They will be talking about the historical act of that initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the current relevance and need to experience both a personal and corporate outpouring because it is the will of GOD for all to be saved and baptized with and filled with the Holy Spirit, enlivening the image of GOD within us, the perfect model of whom is Jesus Christ. Scriptures were or will be referenced and impassioned arguments made. And as truth is earnestly proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will search the hearts of every listening person, preveniently leading them to make a decision. At its core, that decision has to do with our own spiritual status quo and whether we will cling to it or relinquish it to GOD.
Our world is very troubled. That trouble is within our borders and beyond it. We euphemistically choose words like “pandemic” over “plague” because “pandemic” doesn’t sound quite as threatening. Nevertheless, people are dying in large numbers even as some clamor and even insist on a return to “normal,” sometimes denying the utter seriousness of our collective situation or choosing to take the risk in what they believe to be a Catch-22 reality.
Beyond this, we find ourselves witnessing scenes reminiscent of those of the late 1960s and early 1970s when frustration, pain, and anger at systemic and isolated injustice spilled over into the streets, often in acts of violence. I remember what happened in Detroit, in Newark and elsewhere. As a college sophomore in 1970, I stood with a few others at the head of Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park as buildings I had walked past countless times in my youth burned. I remember the sounds of gunfire and seeing a WABC news reporter from NY beaten and arrested within 50 yards of where I stood. I recall the tanks and other military vehicles stationed in the parking lot of the Asbury Park train station. I witnessed and experienced other things as did virtually all of my contemporaries. It was hard then and it is hard now. The Teacher was right, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)…and here we are.
Beyond our borders we find other tumult. It’s not exactly what we’re experiencing, but it is disturbing, nonetheless. We don’t have to look hard to find it if we are interested in knowing. What is going on in Hong Kong is just one example, but there are many others. It is as the chorus of a famous song of my youth, says, “That’s the way of the world.”1
Much of what we see, expressed in anger and protest, is a reaction to and rejection of the social political and economic status quo. It is a rocking of very large boats that strongly resist being rocked. It is a challenge to those who want to think that all is well or would be if those who are so vocal would stop being so vocal. Theologian Walter Brueggemann commented on this, “Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of…social control are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms [status quo]. Otherwise the norms would collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the numbness of his social context.”2
Just by being who He was, Jesus critiqued the “numbness” (i.e., not feeling or caring) of the society blind and unconcerned about the legitimate needs and complaints of those among them. He offended those who were committed to maintaining the status quo, including the religious establishment. He is still offending today. He was concerned with righteousness and justice. When we listen to what He said, we find both, not just one to the exclusion of the other. He is still making people uncomfortable. He said that this would be one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit in order to produce transformation in the spirits of those He seeks. Conformity to the ways of the world [including its dependence on power-based systems of control] is a rejection of His Spirit-led transformation (Romans 12:1).
When people throw up their hands because they are frustrated, maybe they need to be listened to rather than dismissed or be told, “If you don’t like it, leave!” Leave? To go where? For one out of every eight people in this country, nearly everything once possessed by ancestors was stolen: family names, ancestry, countries of origin, language, culture, dignity, and freedom. These were continuous, large-scale, systematic, grossly violent acts against human beings who were stolen people, not immigrants. We live in that legacy today and it is manifest in multiple ways, both subtle and not so subtle.
When folks decline to salute the flag because they, like James Baldwin have concluded, “…the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has no allegiance to you,”3 consider them worthy of pursuit rather than indignation and condemnation. When people say they’ve had enough, maybe their views should be explored rather than being explained away and ultimately ignored. When people say, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,”4 maybe it’s time (or past time) to honestly examine what is behind such deep emotion particularly when, apart from that emotion, we call them “brother” or “sister.”
But there’s this other side, too. As I process my own feelings and listen to how others have expressed theirs, I recognize that I cannot be a part-time Christian, a part-time servant. As a bond servant of Jesus Christ, I have made a choice to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh because I have been enabled to do so and I am convinced that is the choice to make. Quite frankly, right now, it would be so much easier to walk in my flesh and allow the anger, hurt and frustration that has accompanied a life bumping up against 70 years to bubble over in rage…and there is a voice that seeks to convince me that I have every right to do that.
But I have relinquished my rights. I choose to have no life but Christ’s. He is in me and I am in Him and He is in the Father. This doesn’t mean that I am not feeling, I am and more deeply than I might show. It doesn’t mean I can’t be constructive; I just won’t be destructive. I won’t return evil for evil. What I will do is go as He leads me and I’ll say and do what I believe He wants me to say and do. Both now and in the end, I choose to follow Jesus and let Him be my consequence. That is my Pentecost choice. I own it.
What is yours? Own it!.
- Verdine White, Maurice White, Charles Stepney. “That’s the Way of the World.” Recorded by Earth, Wind and Fire. Released in 1975 by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
- Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination, excerpted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Church Leaders, 1983.
- James Baldwin. “The American Dream and the American Negro.” The New York Times on the Web, March 7, 1965.
- A paraphrase of a statement made by the Howard Beale character in the movie Network, directed by Sidney Lumet. Released in 1976.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2020. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.