by Ken Sehested
Easter is God’s resurrection moment; Pentecost is God’s resurrection movement, the birthday of the church, the shock troops of the Kingdom. On Easter God declares divine intention; on Pentecost God deploys divine insurgents. On Easter God announces the invasion; Pentecost is when God establishes a beachhead. At Easter God announces, “I Have a Dream.” On Pentecost Sunday, the marchers line up, the police close in, the first tear gas canisters fly, the first arrests are made. But the people of God keep on marching, heading for the courthouse, headed for the White House, headed for the jail house, headed for the school house, headed for the big house. Headed for every house that’s not built on the solid rock of God’s righteousness, God’s justice; headed for every house that’s been stolen from the hands that built it; headed for every house in every segregated neighborhood; headed for every house that shelters oppression, every house that welcomes bigotry, every house that schemes violence.
“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,” said Isaiah, “and the Lord looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry! Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land” (5:7-8).
“Therefore,” says Amos, “because you trample upon the poor and take from them exactions of wheat, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them” (5:11)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus warned, “for you devour widows houses and for a pretense you make long prayers” (Matt. 23:14).
But at Pentecost, the stolen house, the segregated housed, the house of oppression, even the big house is slated for redemption. Recall this description of the houses of the first Pentecostal powered community: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34).
Pentecostal power is an assault on segregation; Pentecostal power is antagonistic to apartheid; Pentecostal power extinguishes ethnic cleansing; Pentecostal power negates nationalism; Pentecostal power wreaks havoc on racism; Pentecostal power triumphs over tribalisms of every kind.
Now, notice here—and this is very important—the Pentecost story in Acts doesn’t say everyone suddenly started speaking the same language. Pentecost does not destroy the various distinctives between and among people. But the story does affirm that these differences are brought under the binding power of the Holy Spirit. They can no longer claim autonomy. They are no longer barriers to community. They are now in the service of God—the very God who repeatedly, time after time after time, has acted to nudge creation back to its purpose in Genesis.
Pentecostal power is the power to overcome ancient hostility, to gather the excluded, to scale the walls of social, racial, even class divisions. Between gay and straight.
I’m convinced that Pentecost is now the most important season for us as Christians. The true energy of Easter is more than, is fundamentally different from the “sugar high” you get from eating chocolate Easter bunnies. That kind of energy burns off within hours, leaving us weary, exhausted. That kind of energy is quickly dissipated. Within a week the Body of Christ is dragging its sparse remnants to a half-hearted post-Easter Sunday service. The resurrection moment is producing very little movement.
A cynical journalist once wrote that a conservative is someone who worships a dead radical. Dead radicals can’t bother us anymore. We quickly domesticate their memories, kind of like the way we do with Dr. King. Of course, we don’t think of Jesus as dead; but he does seem to be safely tucked away in heaven. And from a lot of the preaching I hear, you’d think our job is simply to convince people they need to start making payments on a ticket to join him there when they die. No threatening movement seems to occur when Pentecostal power is preached from our pulpits.
By and large the believing community has become strangers to the power Jesus promised. The subversive character of his life has been entombed in memorial societies we call churches. We revere his memory but we renege on his mission. The proclamation of the Gospel no longer threatens the new world order our leaders envision for us. The erupting, disrupting flow of Pentecostal power has been pacified, rendered harmless, packaged for television broadcast.
There was a time when the redemptive power activated at Pentecost was the power to mend the rips within our social fabric, to restore splintered relationships, to repair broken communities. Pentecostal power once indicated the power to stand in the cracks, to face the hostilities without fear, to confess, repent and repair.
Among the names for God in Scripture is one that means “Advocate.” Or, you could say, “Counsel for the Defense.” In other words, someone who is For Us, a Divine Protagonist—not to get us or trap us or force us into embrace. But One who is in the process of turning us all toward each other, even to our enemies. A Protagonist who lets us in on the divine secret: the world is headed for a party, not a purge. A Protagonist who assures us that we can risk much because we are safe, that nothing—not even death—can forestall the divine purpose of redemption.
This Protagonist, the Holy Spirit, this wind and fire, is taking us into the very heart of God’s and God’s purposes, aligning us with divine intention for creation. In the Pentecostal movement, God is pitching a tent in our midst.
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