Pentecost Sunday is a day in which the Christian Church celebrates the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (Acts 2). An important question to ask ourselves this year, as we again celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit, is this: Who cares?
Seriously. Why should we care about the Holy Spirit?
As a high school theology teacher, this question is not meant to be flippant or even disrespectful. It’s a sincere question that students ask. It’s also a question that many adults consider – but are not be bold enough to actually voice.
What does the Holy Spirit have to do with me and my busy life?
To better understand why the Holy Spirit matters in the 21st century, it is helpful to go back in time to another Pentecost – one that took place in the Old Testament.
Pentecost means “50” (as in 50 days), and the Pentecost that Christians celebrate takes place 50 days after Easter. Interestingly, there is another significant event that took place on the 50th day – back in the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus.
What’s in a Name?
In Hebrew, the title of the book of Exodus is interesting. In Hebrew, the name for this book actually means “Book of Names” (Gray & Cavins, 2010).
It is fitting that the Book of Exodus is called the “Book of Names” because there are numerous names identified in this important text. Curiously, however, there is one major character in this book who is never named. That principal character who is noticeably not named is Pharaoh. It is a tremendous dishonor to not name Pharaoh in the “Book of Names”. Without a doubt, Moses intended for it to be a dishonor. Why?
Slavery and Escape
The answer to this question has to do with the fact that Pharaoh had been enslaving the Israelites and killing the first-born males (Exodus 1). It is fair to say that Pharaoh was not well-loved among the ancient Israelites.
God heard the cries of the Israelites who were suffering under Pharaoh. Initially, Moses and his brother Aaron requested permission of Pharaoh to lead the Israelites for three days into the desert to worship God. Pharaoh denied this request.
In fact, despite repeated requests and numerous plagues, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites abandon their slave labor. Finally, things escalated toward the critical moment of the Passover followed by the miraculous escape of the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.
Okay – so what does this have to do with Pentecost and the Holy Spirit – and more importantly, what does it have to do with me?
The Pentecost we celebrate today refers to 50 days after Easter.
The earlier Pentecost, however, refers to the Exodus. In fact, 50 days after their escape from Egypt, the Israelites were at the base of Mt. Sinai when they received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20). Jewish people today still celebrate this Pentecost – it is a celebration of the day when they received the Law – also called “the Way of Wisdom.”
Rules versus Relationships
21st century Americans might have a difficult time understanding why the ancient Israelites would have been happy to receive the Commandments. In truth, 21st century Americans tend to cringe at the thought of rules. After all, don’t rules actually work against our freedom?
On the contrary, the Ten Commandments actually work in favor of our happiness. The Law – “The Way of Wisdom” serves as a guide to living our relationships well. In fact, the commandments help us to love God and love our neighbor.
Interestingly, the first three commandments (or the first four for Protestants) focus on our relationship with God. The next seven commandments focus on our relationship with others.
Truthfully, the Christian faith is not about rules. Our faith is about walking in the “Way of Wisdom” so that we can live our relationships well.
You see, living our relationships well is what leads to happiness in life. Having a good relationship with God, a good relationship with one’s siblings and parents, a good relationship with one’s spouse, a good relationship with co-workers and neighbors – this makes for a happier life than when we have trouble in our relationships.God wants us to be happy. He gives us rules not because he has an authority complex. He gives us guidelines so that we can live our relationships well and find lasting joy.
Unfortunately, following these guidelines can be difficult.
Let’s face we. We have a tendency to sin – to break the rules. Therefore, in the first Pentecost, God gives us the Commandments. In the second Pentecost, He gives us the help we need to follow these guidelines. This help comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our help, our advocate, the very soul of the Church. And, the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts we need to live our relationship with God and our relationships with others – and to live those relationships well.
This is why the Holy Spirit matters in today’s polemic culture. We live in a self-centered society that is becoming increasingly divisive. Along with these divisions we see rising anxiety and depression among teens and young adults.
God wants better for us!
The commandments (given at the first Pentecost) present to us the guidelines for living our relationships well. The Holy Spirit (who we receive at the Second Pentecost) gives us the gifts we need so that we can follow these guidelines.
And, when we willingly open our hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), we tend to bear fruit in our lives.
This fruit is evident in our relationships – relationships which become filled with charity, generosity, peace, patience, joy, and gentleness. In addition, these relationships model faithfulness, kindness, chastity, goodness, modesty, and self-control. What a contrast to the superficial, self-focused, and divisive interactions so prevalent in our culture today!
So, what’s the point of all of this? The point is this: relationships matter!
God understands this – that’s why He gave us guidelines that help us live our relationships well. In addition, He gave us help to follow those guidelines. The Holy Spirit helps us follow the “Way of Wisdom” and stay on the path to happiness.
How do we tap into these gifts? One important way is through daily prayer! Pray daily, accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and watch your relationships begin to bear much fruit!
God bless you!
Want to learn more? Visit these websites:
Philomena Press https://www.philomenapress.com
Augustine Institute https://www.augustineinstitute.org
The Great Adventure https://ascensionpress.com
NT Wright Page http://ntwrightpage.com
Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Dr. Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins. Ascension Press.2010.