Remember Pentecost? It’s that Holy Day fifty days after Easter Day. Yeah, that one. It coincides with the Jewish celebration Shavuot – the festival of the first fruits of the harvest. Christians celebrate this day as when the “first fruits” of the Kingdom are brought to God. Pentecost is also the beginning of best intentions of Christians. Sure, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostolic witnesses and the Church truly began in earnest. Three thousand souls were saved. It was, though, only a beginning. The real test for Pentecost is now.
St. Peter gives two promises regarding the Gospel.
- “Your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
- “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
“Gospel preaching” is about the first. Rarely, is it about the second.
The eleven original apostles along with Matthias know they are to keep the way of Jesus. When they receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they are emboldened to preach and keep that Way. Those early three thousand new disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Revivalist sermons get this to some extent. The promise of salvation is fulfilled for those persons who hear them. The newly saved return home with the feeling they have made a new resolution to change their lives. They have most of the time. But failures occur. Why?
Good Intentions And Life
The people present at Pentecost here are Jews from all over the world. Acts 2:8-11 offers a list of languages spoken by these Jews. It is amazing. A great miracle has occurred and gotten everyone’s attention. Yet, something is being overlooked.
The languages listed are not Jewish languages. They do not hear the formal Hebrew of the Temple or the familiar Aramaic of the Judeans. The languages are the languages of the “gentiles.” The narrative says no more about until Peter preaches to the gentile Cornelius (Acts 10) that the promise to those who are “very far away” is fulfilled. It’s Pentecost all over again.
The next chapter in Acts shows us that life gets in the way. “You went to the home of a gentile and ate with them?” The news appalled the first baptized believers in Jesus. In their minds, Peter behaved in an unholy way. In his own defense, he explains God was behind what he did. They rejoice that repentance and salvation are given to the gentiles. But no one offers to go celebrate with the gentiles.
A Subtle Problem
The early followers of Jesus saw the world as divided between Jews and Gentiles. Ss. Peter and Paul devote their work to overcoming this divide. The early believers held onto separation as a fact of life. Their ancestors decided that separation was the best way of surviving as Jewish people. As a result, that decision put pressure on later generations including that of the first believers.
The earliest Christians did not recognize this pressure. Modern American Christians run into the same problem. We refuse to understand the conclusions reached by historical and sociological analysis.
White American Christians fail to understand how the pressures our racial divisions in the past work on us. By this I mean the Christians of European descent. Our culture teaches us two very bad ideas. There is a hierarchy of races. And that white people have developed and used the best tools to become wealthy and powerful. These are the lies the serpent whispers in our ears.
Best Intentions Are Not Loving Actions
Many white Christians in America recognize the problem. There are progressives, traditionalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and fundamentalists who understand there is a problem and want to see something done maybe in our lifetimes. However, the best intentions are not loving actions.
The issue is white privilege. Unfortunately, white Christians prefer to hear that they are persecuted rather than privileged. In fact, many argue the point. Why? Because they associate being Christian with being American and with being white. These mistakes make them feel threatened. A recent meme on social media captures this view. It depicts a very white, long haired, bearded, and robed man carrying some luggage. The captions reads: “Obama threw me out of the Whitehouse. Trump invited me back.” I leave it to you to guess who that person is supposed to be. Depicting Jesus in such a way implies nothing good.
Where We Find Ourselves
Recent events in America have caught the churches off guard. We see police brutality continue against black men. A woman with impeccable liberal credentials calls the police on an “African American” man who asked her to follow rules. And we see the coverup of a lynching in Georgia happen. The churches, on the other hand, have worried about losing members. We have not stood for what is right. Trying to survive on the best of intentions is killing the faith.
What should we do? The three thousand asked Peter this very question on Pentecost. Are our hearts and minds open enough to listen?