Why we just don’t get Pentecost

It is just one of those things that we get wrong.  The celebration of Pentecost, the out pouring of the Holy Spirit as variously promised in sundry moments and places of scripture is really not all about us.  It is not about how worked up we can get in a frenzy of emotion. Though few of us know all that much about the Church in history, it was the Montanists who amply demonstrated how it is impossible to live every moment in the full ecstasy of the Spirit.

And who were they, these Montanists?  Following the inspiration of their leader, one Montanus who emphasized the importance of enthusiastic, ecstatic worship, this group came to the fore in the late 2nd century (Around 170 AD).  Trying at all times to live in the joy of the Spirit as an indication of faithfulness to the heritage of the Acts of the Apostles, they discovered the sad reality that true joy and true ecstasy in the Spirit are gifts of God that spring from within in; a thing we cannot manufacture how ever greatly we may desire it.  And I have seen the destructive wake left by those who would that we all were Montanists—for on the day that one cannot manufacture the emotional high, one is left with one pressing conclusion—to wit that the Spirit of God has departed from that person, that one has somehow become abandoned by God.

The celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is really a celebration of building up one another in the community of Jesus Christ which is His Church.  And there again, we do err. The work of the Holy Spirit is unitive—that is to say—binds together, creates community, makes one. The work of the Holy Spirit is the power of God that gets all the people talking: the Parthians and the Medes. They were those who like each other as much as the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, but suddenly with the power of the Holy Spirit they are brought to the place where they have to deal with one another, and listen to one another, and actually respect one another. The work of the Holy Spirit is not about ME ME ME. If there is anything about Pentecost that is about ME it is this: it is about what I do in community and my responsibility about building up the community. Of course, that we tend to think about it as ME ME ME highlights how far we are indeed from the truth of God’s plan for community.

We also celebrate Memorial Day this weekend.  Curiously, Memorial Day is also not about ME ME ME, or self-service. It is about those who saw the vision and gave their lives to the vision of building community.

If we can get it about Memorial Day, why is it so hard to get it about Pentecost?


Father Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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