Today is Pentecost, and it brings a flood of memories—a really big flood because I'm getting on in years.
During my college days, a lot of us had gotten tired of the Christian traditions we had inherited: long, sleepy church services with long, sleepy sermons and long, sleepy hymns. We seemed to spend a lot of time talking about God as if he were some sort of figure in an ancient history book, not someone who is alive and well, actually doing things in the church at the moment. The charismatic movement spoke very strongly to us with the message that God's involvement in the church and our personal lives was indeed very present and immediate.
Unfortunately, the weakness of the charismatic movement—at least as it worked out among several of my friends—was that it tended to move toward a very anti-intellectual subjectivism. I have sat through church services where song after song had the same simplistic message: "Thank you Jesus that I feel so good."
There should be a whole lot more to Pentecost than glorifying my personal emotions.
Going back, all the way back before Jesus began his preaching ministry, Pentecost was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. (One of my rabbi friends couldn't understand why we Christians get excited about a Jewish festival.) It is a first taste of the good things to come.
And when Peter and the others experienced the tongues of fire in the Upper Room, that was a first taste too. No matter what you think of charismatic gifts, the message of that first day is plain: People from all over the world were hearing the message of salvation in their own languages. The result was immediate and predictable. Many people received the message with joy and the civic leaders didn't like it. The account in Acts doesn't say that the leaders threatened the Apostles with death, but it seems likely—after all they had just killed Jesus.
The whole point of that first Christian Pentecost was taking risks and spreading the message of Jesus as far as possible.
These thoughts are sitting in the back of my head while I consider what a friend went through yesterday. There was a peaceful "Black Lives Matter" demonstration in downtown Mansfield, and my friend, being a devout Christian, showed up. In addition to a large crowd of demonstrators, some other locals showed up:
We have recently made a cultural transition. Putting your Christian faith into action is no longer safe, comfortable and cost-free.