This is the weekend of Pentecost in the church calendar year, which means it’s the weekend we celebrate the church’s receptivity of the Holy Spirit. Just a few short weeks ago, the entire journalistic world was cooing over the May 21 predictions of the world’s end, a subject to which Jesus spoke just before his physical departure so many years ago. He made three things clear on that day:
1. Nobody would be able to predict the date of Christ’s establishment of the fulness of His kingdom.
2. Jesus’ departure would pave the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit, which would be the source of the power for the church.
3. The church would be “witnesses,” spinning outward from Jerusalem to far flung places. This means they’d make Jesus’ character visible.
Well, it’s been two thousand years, and I’m thinking it’s time for a check-up. I don’t think the power/witness thing is going so well. Who can forget Annie Rice’s words last summer:
“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
I understand that Christ followers won’t be wildly popular or have universal appeal, and I also understand that there are boatloads of people who self identify as ‘spiritual’ but not religious, which means they’ve rejected the institution, but not Jesus. Still, the multitudes walk because they see a dissonance between the character of Jesus and the character of Jesus’ people when we try to do anything together. She later said,
“I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or being a part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”
I wonder: were the adjectives “quarrelsome, hostile, and disputatious” the kinds of ways Jesus anticipated we’d be described? Is Jesus happy that Calvinists can’t get over themselves long enough to admit that Rob Bell might be a Christian, or that Eugene Peterson of The Message fame, might not be an instrument of Satan?
Hate us for refusing to serve Rome’s power structures. Hate us for proclaiming unswerving loyalty to a different King. Hate us for loving our enemies. Hate us for building our lives on the conviction that God is real. That would be fine.
Instead, though, we’re not hated. We’re mocked. Our in-house squabbles about Bible versions and the age of the earth mark us as thoroughly anti-thought. The confidence with which we proclaim our unproven views on these nuanced and esoteric subjects cause people, not to hate us, but to shake their heads and say, ironically: ”There but for the grace of God go I.”
Pentecost is a time to be reminded that the power of the Holy Spirit came so that we could look like Jesus. That would mean serving people on the margins, advocating for justice, loving unconditionally, celebrating, healing, looking at the world through eyes of compassion, and yes: confronting religion done in Jesus name, exposing it for the sham that it is.
Paul says at the end of I Corinthians 4 that the kingdom of God isn’t about words, which is pretty humbling for this writer and preacher. It’s about power – the power that came at Pentecost. That power reconciles enemies, and brings water to thirsty and food to the hungry. We’ll celebrate that power at my church tomorrow through our Spilling Hope campaign, which ends tomorrow with an offering that we’ll use to make Jesus power visible – even though we don’t all agree on the fate of Rob Bell or the value of the Message.
Come Holy Spirit – in spite of us. Fill us. Use us. But first of all… forgive us.