June 2014: Pentecost and Change

In Acts chapter 2, Pentecost was the occasion just after the risen Jesus had ascended to heaven, when the Holy Spirit came upon the remaining believers so that they began proclaiming the news of God’s deeds of power in many different languages. Today, we tend to get distracted by this, and miss the deeper significance - Pentecost was the festival when the people offered the first fruits of their harvest, praying for an abundant crop; it also marked the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, fifty days after the flight from Egypt (hence the name ‘Pentecost’ in ancient Greek). So here was another new way of relating to God, and a small ‘first crop’ on show, and hope for many more. The world was changing!

Today the world is changing rapidly, and not always for the better. Religion has a tendency to wish to preserve the old ways, but it need not always like this. In Acts, Pentecost was a time of great change, and the Christians did not look back but forwards. It is no use trying to bring things back how they used to be - we can only move on. With this in mind, it seems to me that the church as a whole has several basic tasks to perform now:

  1. The core story of Jesus needs to be presented in language that is understandable today as truly good news for all (see above regarding proclaiming the news in different languages), so challenging and helping individuals to be transformed in the way they relate both to each other and to God, who has acted for them in Jesus and waits for them to respond.

    Following Jesus should not be equated with preservation of the old systems, but rather with setting people free from attitudes, values and systems that hold them captive - including language that demeans. At the same time, concern for God and each other should moderate this freedom so that the needs of others are balanced against the needs of the self.

  2. Realising that each of us progresses differently and falteringly through this transformation, each church should accept all who come their way in genuine response to Jesus, regardless of their appearance, employment status, gender, wealth, education, sexual orientation, or anything else. Each church should try to help each person take their own next step, rather than forcing them to conform and suppressing questions.
    Recognising that circumstances may make this impossible, each church should help people who do not fit to find an alternate congregation in which they will be more at home, rather than making them feel guilty for being different.

  3. The churches together must speak out strongly about the human value and cost of our worldly systems, whether local, national or international, wherever and whenever these depend on exploitation of the poor (or others who have no voice in their own).

Such speaking out should focus on positive change that is meaningful to everyone - that is, on offering better solutions and outcomes, and not on loudly criticising those of whom some do not approve. The great commandments to love God, and love neighbour as self, trump everything else.

Parkdale Church of Christ is a small but varied congregation, and not everyone would agree with all that I have set out above; but everyone is accepted, loved, and included in our congregational life, even when they voice different opinions. We are not charismatic, not conservative, not liberal, not progressive, but a bit of all of these at once (‘moderately progressive’ is probably the best label for us, if we must have a label) - and this does not mean we are confused, because we are a Church of Christ, we look to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit brings unity. Babel is undone: the curse of different languages is resolved at Pentecost. May this continue to be the case, but with appropriate humility! - Steve

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.