Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Pentecost Blues

It is a rainy Sunday here in Upper South Carolina and I'm feeling a little blue.

In the typical Episcopal church, Pentecost marks the beginning of the low attendance season as families head out of town on summer vacations once the school year ends and the kids are freed from the bondage of their studies.

You would think Pentecost would have the opposite effect and would see people filling the pews wanting to hear the good news of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

On this the Sunday of Pentecost, Luke recounts the events of the day in Acts 2:1-21,

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Maybe our congregants are seeing portents of doom and are heading for the hills, the beaches, or their grandma's as they begin their summer vacation from Sunday churchgoing.

Or maybe the Pentecostal fire has died.

Back when I was studying foreign languages, I always wanted a little bit of that Holy Spirit the apostles were filled with back on the first Pentecost, especially when I was struggling through Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours par Jules Verne (en Français). Needless to say, the Holy Spirit never gave me the fluency in French I desired, but I think the Spirit did come to me one night and said something like, "I am not going to do this for you. I gave you a brain, now exercise it!"

Thank you Holy Spirit for the Award in French that year!

It is not unusual to hear people attribute various occurrences, ideas, movements, or social and cultural trends to the action of the Holy Spirit. In fact, a few years ago one Episcopal Convention election saw an orchestrated "mighty move of the Holy Spirit" to help further a certain candidate's cause.

Short of hearing our friends and family suddenly speaking fluent Mandarin Chinese, how can we tell when the Holy Spirit is at work?

  • Is what I am seeing just a reflection of personal desire?
  • Is it is accordance with Scripture?
  • Will I still feel the same way about this tomorrow?
  • When looking back after a period of time, what have been the long term results of this "work".

For Luke, the answers might be, "No, Yes, Yes, and Truly amazing."

For those of us following the mighty moves of the Holy Spirit in the Episcopal church over the last half century, the answers might be, "Yes, No, No, and Truly horrific."

The underlying cause of the innumerable wrong moves made by the Episcopal church is the mistaken feeling that the church is being moved by the Holy Spirit time and time again to do a new thing, to fulfill a small group's personal desires, to bless what is not blessed, to ordain the unordainable, to preach the unpreachable, or (shudder) to sing the unsingable.

You will never convince someone who feels they (or the church) are being led by the Holy Spirit to change their mind. They will always "feel the same way about this tomorrow," and that any negative long term results will be rationalized away.

Does the Holy Spirit put blinders on some people's eyes?

You have to wonder.

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