A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Everyone, Everywhere, Always
June 5, 2014
Christian Pentecost builds on the tradition of the Jewish celebration of Shavuot (which translates as “Pentecost”), a festival celebrating the spring harvest fifty days after Passover. It is in the context of instructions for this festival that the Torah says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22) Pentecost celebrates the bounty of God’s supply for everyone’s need.
Pentecost is specifically about the boundlessness of God’s provision. Shavuot demonstrates that God provides for everyone – laborers and dependents, landowners and indigents, citizens and aliens, insiders and outsiders alike. Christian Pentecost highlights a new dimension of God’s pandemic provision – God provides not only for everyone, but also through everyone. When the Holy Spirit is outpoured in Acts 2, every woman and man in the upper room community becomes an agent of God’s message to the world – each speaks in one or another of the native languages of all those present, so that every person in earshot knows God is speaking directly and personally to them.
Paul later unpacks this wholesale Spirit-infusion of the church in terms of the church being a body in which each member is God’s agent to the rest. The Holy Spirit is God at work giving me all I need through other members of the body, and using me to give to others all that they need. There is full mutuality of both need and supply. It is unthinkable that I could be what God intends apart from you, and it is even more unthinkable that the whole Body of Christ can be what God intends without all of its members engaging fully in mutual giving and receiving.
A Presbyterian pastor I know was recently trying to make sense of his parishioner’s exclamation, “Pastor, you’re just so Pentecostal!” He put out the question on Facebook: “Friends, do you think I’m Pentecostal?” Most responded that he didn’t fit the bill, if by “Pentecostal” we meant the worship styles typically associated with self-identified Pentecostal churches. But if by “Pentecostal” we were signifying the affirmation that God’s Spirit is at work in and through all members for everyone’s benefit, then he was guilty as charged.
In the Pentecost-Church, God’s Spirit is poured out on everyone, soaks into everyone, and speaks through everyone – all for the sake of everyone. Wherever and whenever Jesus is proclaimed as Savior and Lord, Pentecost follows. The church of Jesus Christ cannot be anything but Pentecostal.
The distinctive mark of the Pentecost-Church is abundance. Just as with Shavuot, every need of every person is supplied. And in Christian Pentecost, every member is as much a supplier of God’s gifts to others as a receiver of God’s gifts from others. Every member is a gift (Greek: charism) exchanger, everyone is “charismatic.”
I am a child, in some respects, of the “charismatic movement” of the 1970s. I am grateful for the enthusiasm for knowing Jesus and doing his work that my encounters with that movement bestowed on me. But eventually I came to realize that, rather than creating a new church movement, God was reminding us of something that is true everywhere in the church: There is no Christian church that is not also a Pentecost-Church. Every church lives by virtue of God’s Spirit at work in and through each member. We may deny it or obscure it, but we cannot destroy it.
After his lengthiest single discourse on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Paul urges us to “strive for the greater gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) A Pentecost-Church strives to nurture the flow of Spirit-gifts between its members. Sometimes the focus of charismatic groups has been on developing “my” gifts so that I have more to offer others. Yet it is equally important for me to work on developing my receptivity to “your” gifts that are vital to my welfare. We strive for greater gifts not simply by growing our capacity to give, but also by stretching our capacity to receive.
In his great Pentecost-Day sermon Peter reminds us that the Hebrew prophets foretell the day when God’s Spirit is poured out on “all flesh” – young and old, male and female, slave and free. Moses yearned for that day, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29) How is it with us? Do we recognize where God is still pouring out more of the Spirit upon us, and acknowledge that even the most unlikely among us have something from God necessary for our well-being?
Happy Pentecost 2014!
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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