We are now in the season of Pentecost. Too often we mistakenly think that it is simply a single day on the annual church calendar. It's a day we know when we will celebrate Communion. It's the day when we will receive a new year’s Confirmation Class. It's a day when we can be pretty sure that the preacher will talk about "the Birthday of The Church" (even though "church" was actually birthed much earlier than Pentecost when Jesus established it at Caesarea Philippi). Too much of the time when we think of Pentecost, we think of a single day.
The truth is that Pentecost is a season. Pentecost Sunday simply sets the season in motion. It's a time when we reflect on what it means to live in God's ongoing presence and also to be empowered by God to live meaningful lives in the world. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you," said Jesus. "And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth." Those were the words Jesus spoke to his disciples immediately prior to ascending into heaven. For the first 400 years of the Christian Church, Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday were one-and-the-same. The intent was to assure people that we are never alone, that the very moment Jesus ascended into heaven his Holy Spirit descended to remain with us. Over the course of time, however, Christians decided that each of those events was so important that it deserved its own Sunday for consideration. That's why we observe Ascension Sunday one week and Pentecost Sunday the next. But, Pentecost doesn't end there. The Pentecost day is simply the launching pad into a season that lasts until autumn.
The key takeaway from the season is the very idea that originally drove Christians to celebrate both of those key Sundays on the same day. It is the good news that we are never alone. Yes, Jesus ascended into heaven. But at that very moment, his Spirit descended to be with us, to walk with us, to stay with us, and to empower us to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth." So, what does it mean to us in the season (and all seasons) to be empowered and to be his witnesses?
To be empowered ("You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you...”) means to be reminded that we do not face life reliant solely upon our own strengths. There is One who journeys with us and grant us a strength greater than our own. It is that strength that enables us to withstand the challenges and pains of earthly living. When we are cowering in some dark corner of life and cry out, "I can't take this!,” or, “I can't do this!,” Christ’s Spirit gathers us in unseen arms and empowers us to do what we could not do alone.
To represent Jesus (“You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth”) means that we are empowered not merely to overcome our own hardships but also to help others overcome theirs. We see a world of war, anger, poverty, disease, misogyny, prejudice, and all sorts of abuses, and we ask the question, "What would Jesus think of this, and what would he do about it?" And then, whatever we understand that he would do, we try to do because we are his witnesses. We feed the hungry by supporting agencies that address that issue, we house the homeless by working with and for Habitat for Humanity, we close the naked by contributing to such initiatives as our annual Drive for Dignity, we intervene for the abused by throwing our weight behind agencies like Thistle Farms, and we assist children (of whom Jesus said, "To such as these belongs the Kingdom of God”) by tutoring at P.S. 30 or even by contacting our legislators when we see budget proposals that jeopardize the well-being of vulnerable or hungry children.
There's one other thing about being Christ’s witnesses in the world: We tell the story. We tell His Story. We do it often, even usually, by our actions that help others. But we also do it by verbally speaking our faith. A powerful way of doing that is through the ministry of invitation – through simply (gently and hospitably) inviting people to visit our church and find what we found. "As I have loved you," said Jesus, "so should you also love others." As the great Christian preacher, D.T. Niles, put it, “Faith-sharing is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." If there is something in Marble that feeds our deepest hungers, it is an act of love to let someone else who may be hungry know where we found our bread.
Pentecost, you see, is more than just a day on the annual church calendar. It is, instead, an awareness that we are accompanied on this life's journey and that we are empowered to make a difference in the lives of others. Throughout summer, as we make our Pentecost pilgrimage, may those two realities remain uppermost in our thoughts and in our deeds.