We have made it through Easter, encountered the risen Christ and are moving from there. The next two events are Ascension Thursday (or Ascension Sunday if the church doesn't have Thursday services) and the ten days later is Pentecost which then leads to the beginning of Ordinary Times, which lasts to the beginning of Advent on the last Sunday of November.
So what is the significance of these holidays, and what can we learn from them, both as individuals and as the family of God united together?
Pentecost, originally the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with life-changing power that resulted in the birth of the church, changed lives, which then enabled those who have experienced it to go out and change their world.
In these days of declining, in many cases, of church attendance and membership in many of the Christian churches, how can we stop this trend?Â How can we be a vibrant, living church, with a message that can change lives and our world, and make us into the real deal, the true arms and legs of Jesus to a lost and dying world?Â How can we experience Pentecost in our lives today?
There are a few things we need to look at.Â There is a work of preparation that needs to be done before we can be ready to receive our Pentecost.Â First we need to examine our view of Jesus.
1. Freeing Jesus (Acts 1:1-10)
The first thing the disciples had to do was let go of the Jesus they knew.Â The Jesus they knew had gone about preaching, teaching, healing the sick, delivering people under demonic attack and influence, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and who had just spent 40 days with them, sharing with them, and partaking of meals with them.Â I am sure they would have liked Jesus to hang around indefinitely and never leave them again.Â After all, the resurrection, in their eyes, could only mean one thing - the kingdom being restored to Israel.Â The hated Romans would be driven out and Israel made the new masters.
However Jesus says that it was expedient for Him to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come.Â I am not sure if the disciples understood who the Holy Spirit was, let alone had any idea of what was going to happen in the future.Â All they would have known was that Jesus was leaving them and going back to the Father.
Also He said it was a good thing for them that He went, so they gathered together one last time and watched as He ascended out of their sight into heaven, leaving them one last instruction - to go and wait for the promise of the father.
For us, the leaving of any preconceived notions of Jesus is a must.Â Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, as well as God, and divine.Â However it can't stop there.Â If our view of Jesus is based on what we were taught in Sunday School or what some pastor/priest told us, a college professor somewhere taught us, or Jesus is just a historical character who lived long ago, we will never experience Pentecost any more than the disciples would have, if they had held on to their ideas of Jesus and making Him conform to them, instead of letting Him ascend into heaven so a new thing could happen.
As long as we worship false Christ's and follow false teachings, see Jesus as blonde, blue-eyed, pro-American, and in favor of everyone being rich in material things, we will miss Pentecost.
Jesus was a Middle Easterner, with brown skin, black hair, a Jewish religious leader.Â Theologically he would have been a Pharisee agreeing with them doctrinally, but denouncing their religious practices as hypocritical.Â He was opposed to oppressing the poor and taught that the poor were blessed and the rich were the ones, who in many cases missed God.
In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man it is Lazarus the beggar who is in heaven, and the rich man who is in Hades suffering.Â The rich man's riches didn't earn him any favors from God, nor will they today earn anyone favors from God.Â God can use rich people.Â John and James were the sons of a businessman.Â Matthew was a tax collector, and if the Mary who is the sister of Lazarus was the one who anointed the feet of Jesus, she was very rich woman, bringing a box of perfume worth a years wages to anoint the feet of Jesus.Â It is our view of Jesus and how we see Him that makes the difference.
2. Finding a Place of Peace So We Can Receive From God (Acts 1:4)
The last words spoken by Jesus to his disciples prior to His ascent into heaven were to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the father.Â In the Hebrew the word Jerusalem means city of peace.Â As we shall see, for the disciples that was the Upper Room where they waited for 10 days, praying before the Holy Spirit fell on them.
It was a haven for them, that in spite of all the turmoil, hustle, bustle and persecution they faced in the city, especially in the Temple, they could earnestly seek God without any disturbance, until God spoke in the mighty wind of Pentecost.Â In the same way we too need to find a peaceful place where it is just God and us, and God can then speak to us.Â No distractions, phone ringing, TV blaring or radio, kids, people, pets or anything else, just for this moment, a time for just you and Jesus/God to be alone, and ready ourselves for whatever happens next.
3. In One Accord (Acts 2:1)
In Acts the 2nd chapter we read that they were gathered in one accord.Â In Greek the word accord means "to be of one mind unanimously".
Tradition says there were 120 gathered in the Upper Room that morning when the Holy Spirit fell.Â They were all praying in one accord, however it is my belief that is not what brought Pentecost.
Had they been praying for anything they themselves wanted, Pentecost would never have happened even if they tarried there for the next century.Â Pentecost came because people were praying and seeking God for His promise spoken of by Jesus just seconds before His ascension.Â It wasn't about what they wanted, but what God wanted and the new thing He was about to do among them.Â Because that was their focus and they were open to whatever was about to happen Pentecost could happen, and did.
Today it seems the church is totally divided and in agreement on nothing.Â One part wants to curse another part of the body of Christ because they don't believe like they do, act like they do, engage in practices which they approve of, and so on.Â Fortunately that's okay as it is according to Jesus, whatever two or more agree on, will be done by the father in heaven.Â The apostle John tells us if we ask according to the will of the father it will be done for us.
One thing we know is that God is love and Jesus commands us to love.Â So how is that manifested, and how can it help us to receive our own Pentecost?Â As a former Pentecostal preacher I might have answered, it's about speaking in tongues, performing miracles, getting slain in the spirit, receiving fresh revelations and visions from God, dancing, shaking and getting myself worked up into a state of mind of euphoria, or as we called it getting "Drunk in the Spirit". However is that what Pentecost is all about, or is there something else Pentecost is supposed to do for us?Â If so, what is the fruit of it, how will it manifest itself, and how will we recognize it and its operation in us, our churches and in our world?
4. In Love With People (Acts 2:1-13)
As I look further in Acts 2 I can see that the people were changed.Â No longer were they cowering behind locked doors in fear for their lives.Â Instead they had a new-found love for people, and a desire that they hear the truth about Jesus, what He came to do, and His death and resurrection. They no longer cared what might happen to them as long as the Gospel got proclaimed, and people had their chance to respond to the message, either positively, as 3,000 did, or negatively, as the rest did.
In the same way, if we have encountered the Holy Spirit we too will have a love for people and want them to know Jesus.Â We can also not ignore the needs of people, pretend their problems are of no concern to us, or they don't exist or are unworthy of our attention due to a lifestyle we don't approve of, the color of their skin, their past, not behaving or believing like we think they should; none of those are options anymore.Â There can be no hate or bigotry, as love conquers them.Â That leaves only room for love for all peoples, just as Jesus displayed when here, and through His death on the cross for all of human kind.
5. Forgiven and Growing in the Church (Acts 2:41-42)
As I continue on I see that those who responded to the message concerning Jesus were baptized and continued on in the church.Â The word for baptize in the Greek means "to overwhelm something, making it fully wet, to absolve and to wash".Â Essentially, the people had their sins washed away and were cleansed symbolically through the waters of baptism.Â After that they were taught the apostle's doctrine, continued in fellowship, breaking of bread and in prayers.
For us today we need to realize, whether laity or clergy or monastics, we are not perfect but are forgiven people.Â We blow it from time to time and have to confess, go to confession, and seek forgiveness.Â That is a normal part of living.Â Most churches are good on offering fellowship, breaking of bread with one another, and in praying to some extent. But what about continuing in the apostle's doctrine.Â What does that mean?
Most would say they are beliefs and practices handed down to us from the early Church Fathers.Â They are summarized in the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, and are used to define who is Orthodox, and therefore Christian, and who is not.
Many will follow their interpretations of the creeds legalistically allowing for no changes whatsoever.Â As it was done in 1,000 AD (for example), it will still be done that way today, with no deviation.Â However I have major problems with that.
As I have said before, I am a Catholic monk, and a firm believer in apostolic succession and apostolic tradition. However, we need to be open to God and new ways of presenting our beliefs and traditions to people in the 21st century if we are to remain relevant and a live church to our generation.Â Because it worked in the first century, or in the Middle Ages, or even a hundred years ago does not mean it will work for us today.Â There is much we can learn from our forefathers in the faith.Â However we are not them, times have changed, new issues have arisen that require new understanding, new solutions and ideas to solve them, and to meet people where they are now.
Most people, I suspect, could care less about our apostolic succession, our doctrines (at least when they first come through our door), or anything else except for one thing - can we help them?Â Do we have something to offer that will change their lives?Â Can they find love and the real deal manifested among us?Â Are we more concerned with keeping the carpets clean as well as the pews, making sure only the right people enter our churches so we don't sully our reputation in the neighborhood or drive some of our parishioners off?Â Are we the church of the frozen chosen or theÂ real deal, on fire with something to offer?Â How can we tell?Â Follow me as I look as the last thing I see as a manifestation of a true Pentecost.
6. A People of Compassion (Acts 2:44-45)
The last thing I see here is they were people of compassion.Â They went and sold their lands and possessions in order to make sure everyone's needs were met.Â No holding back for a rainy day, new house, new chariot or anything else. This was a voluntary act on their part as Peter makes plain in the case of Ananias and Sapphira when they lied and claimed they sold their land like everyone else and had given all the proceeds to the church and kept nothing for themselves.Â It was all a lie, which the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and he then confronted them over.Â He told them that the land was theirs to do with whatever they wanted.Â They could have kept it, sold it, and given a part of what they made from the sale to the church while keeping back a part for themselves.Â However they chose to lie and were struck dead.Â So then the apostles and the early Christians were so concerned about others, they willingly gave up what they had so no one had to suffer.
Obviously, unless you are a monastic living in a cloistered community which provides for all your needs, this would be impractical for most of us to do literally.Â So how can we apply this to our lives?Â May I ask how we see our possessions, belongings and monies?Â Are they for us alone, as we worked hard to get them and so we are entitled to use them however we see fit?Â Is our attitude that the homeless or the poor are just lazy and if they worked harder they could be as successful as us and not need a "handout"?Â Can we see with the eyes of Jesus and act as He did when here on earth as recorded in the Gospels?Â The apostle John tells us that if we see our brother or sister in need and we can help them but don't, then the love of God does not dwell in us. (I John 3:17)
Do we see things as things we are stewards over, and will be judged for on how we handled them?Â Do we see them as belonging to God and for His use, and to do with as He sees fit?
Again, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy and having nice things, but where do our priorities lie?Â Do we offer God leftovers, old clothes that don't fit us anymore or have gone out of fashion, a clunky old car that can barely make it around the block and is costing us an arm and a leg to maintain, so give it away and let someone else have the headaches, or maybe the leftovers from a meal you prepared that you don't want to waste so you take it over to your neighbor, or whatever the case may be where you are giving less than your best?
Does God get the leftovers after everything has been spent?Â In the Bible times both in the Old Testament as well as the New people tithed the first 10% of their income before anything else got done bills paid, food brought etc.Â If you showed up with an offering to God that was deemed second best or not the perfect sacrifice or offering required by God you'd be turned away and your offering would be rejected as unacceptable.Â For us today it is for us to consider whether God is getting our best or something less.Â If we are giving our best from a platform of compassion and love then we can receive, and have our own Pentecost both in ourselves, our churches and together as the united people of God wanting only what he wants and looking for the new thing he has for us or is looking to do, that we can bless others and show them the real deal - Jesus in the flesh.
7. Living in Ordinary Times
Some may ask, so what is all this leading to?Â Why do we need Pentecost or the Holy Spirit?Â Why can't we just live life" normally" and do what it takes to get through each day?
We need Pentecost and the Holy Spirit to help us live our lives successfully as witnesses for Jesus in ordinary times. Miracles are nice and they happen occasionally.Â However for most of us they are not a daily occurrence, nor were they in biblical times.Â The miracles of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, cover a period of 3 and Â½ years, and the miracles in the book of Acts, a period of approximately 40 years from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in about 30 AD to just before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
It is my belief that the reasons why the miracles we have were recorded is because they were extraordinary, just as they are now.Â I suspect there were many days especially in the early days of the church when nothing special was happening, and it was getting up and doing the routine things of life.Â Getting up in the morning, showering and taking care of the morning ablutions, dressing, having something eat, going to work, coming home, having dinner, feed the pets, watch TV or get on the computer, try to spend a bit of time with the kids or wife/husband/partner before going to bed, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again.
On top of that whatever free time we have has to be spent on paying the bills, rent, cable, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn or raking up leaves etc.Â Maybe if we get lucky we can watch our favorite sports team play on Saturday, and maybe even find the strength to go with the family to church on Sunday morning.Â In my opinion a major recipe for burnout and derailment, as well as giving up on the race and deciding it's just too hard to be a Christian, especially if the church wants to add a whole lot of rules and regulations to what we are already going through.
That is why we need the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.Â Left to ourselves we tend to be all over the place like a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.Â We tend to get bored and depressed easily and to lose hope.Â However with the Holy Spirit and Pentecost we have power through the Holy Spirit that changes us, can change our world, can make our churches alive and worth the drive for people to come to receive help and find Jesus.
It also keeps life interesting as we focus on God and what He is doing, and looking for the new things he has for us or wants to do, either for us, or in our midst, for His glory.Â This is God's plan for living in Ordinary Times as faithful witnesses of Jesus, and as his hands and feet to the rest of the world.
When we can be the real deal and others can see it, they will respond.Â As their needs are met in new and exciting ways they will come to Jesus, and our churches will once again be filled and growing.
When that happens our world will change and the visible kingdom of God come to reign over all the earth.Â Meanwhile, there is work to be done as I have already outlined, and many Pentecost's to happen to change and empower us.Â Let us, like the early disciples, believe and receive as they did at the original Pentecost.
Once having done that ,then in the power of the Holy Spirit, and as directed and led by Him, let us go forth and take our world for the cause of Christ.Â The early church took the message to all of the then-known world, and people said of them " See how they love one another".Â Let us go forth and do likewise, and give the world something to look at and see Christ in us whether they like it or not or believe in Him or not.Â Let us be known for the love we have for all of creation flowing out from the Christ within us.Â Then a new Pentecost will dawn just like in the Upper Room.
As always the thoughts expressed here are my own and are presented here for everyone's prayers, meditations on, considerations and then do with as God directs you.Â Any thoughts of comments welcomed.