Thursday, May 16, 2013

A step closer to Pentecost Sunday

Following up on the first post (see below) about the difference between the gift of the Spirit as narrated in Acts 2 and the Spirit-led life as discussed in the Letters to the Corinthians and the Ephesians ...

Acts 2 is a story of the Christian community's first explosive entrance onto the public stage in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  Pentecost was a minor feast-day for the Jews -- a harvest festival at which the first-fruits of the year's new harvest are offered to God, in gratitude for what God has brought to fruition. 

As the Christians celebrate the day, though, for them it takes on larger significance.  Reflecting on the gift of Christ and their own life in Christ, they come to see that all of God's work in the life of the world is now coming to fruition -- that in Christ and his followers the age-old promises of new life, of freedom from sin, of the redemption of humanity, and of a mature humanity living in the image of God are all coming to be.  Seeds sown all through human history are now coming to fruit, and the crop of a new humanity is beginning to appear in the world.

The initial sign of the fruition of all God's work through the ages is the disciples' ability to speak to people in the city about God in their own languages.  They are able to speak in ways that others can understand, and to bring people of all nationalities and languages together in understanding the work and good will of God. 

And this must still be what the Christian church and Christian mission are about -- to be un-doing the confusion and tribal division that has blighted human life and endeavour through all its history (see Gen 10 and the Tower of Babel), and helping all the world to come together in understanding God's love and good will.

But how is it accomplished?  What is the means?

When the Christian community first burst on the scene, it was with an irresistible, ecstatic, irrational gift of being able to speak in any foreign language that was needed.  But as amazing and earth-shaking as that gift was, its effect was not great.  The world was not all converted.  After the first flash, The Christian movement became just one among other religious movements, each with its own wonders, miracles and moments of glory.

So what can have lasting effect?

The Letters to the Corinthians and the Ephesians show how the church wrestled with this question, and that the answer they discerned was the importance of the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit in the day-in, day-out lives of the church and its members.  Putting aside the ecstatic and exceptional gift of their first great burst onto the scene, the church saw the importance of the day-in, day-out actions of God's good will that church members would perform in the community, and the day-in, day-out growth of godliness in their character.

This, the church realizes, is the first-fruit of the harvest -- the beginning of the new humanity, and that our godly actions and character (the signs of God's Spirit at work within us) are what will speak to all the world in the way they are able to hear.

So, the question:  what godly actions and character do we reveal?  What of the love and good will of God for all life, does the world hear in our actions and character?

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