Pentecost is a kind of weird holy day. Just think about how the story starts: the disciples are together in a house and suddenly there’s this indoor windstorm and flames of fire appear on each of their heads. I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little freaked out by that. I mean, can’t you just imagine Bartholomew turning to Simon the Zealot and shouting, “Dude! Your head’s on fire!” It certainly gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “hot head,” don’t you think?
Bad puns aside, I’d like to give a shout-out to those early hot heads. When we use that term, what do you think of? Usually someone who is angry and very easily provoked. It’s not exactly a compliment. But God bless the hot heads of this world. They get emotional because they have a passion for something.
Passion. Remember that? When was the last time you felt it? Is it just my perception, or do American Christians not get passionate about our Pentecost heritage? Have we reduced this festival to a day to recall a bizarre, one-time event which involved some guys speaking in different languages but which really has no relevance to our lives today? Is it just a nice day to see the kids make their Confirmation, throw them a party, and reward them by telling them they never have to come to church ever again? Is it an event culturally insignificant when compared to the three-day marathon of barbeques, beach outings, and department store sales occasioned by its coinciding with the Memorial Day Weekend?
I sure hope not.
I don’t want to celebrate an event on Pentecost. I want to celebrate the passion—the deep, burning, life-filled feeling of belonging to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the American secular holiday we observe this same weekend, Pentecost should be a type of Memorial Day. I guess it’s pretty easy for those who will spend this weekend lazing in their back yards or screaming on the rides at Morey’s Pier to forget that once upon a time, some people believed enough in the concept of self-determination, democracy, and egalitarianism that they were willing to fight a war for independence and die for those ideas. Ever since those hot heads took it into their brains that the world could be made a better place with religious liberty and human dignity, young Americans have donned uniforms and offered up their lives to give other human beings freedom from tyranny. We’d do well to remember that such sacrificial passion also characterizes our faith. And it’s not just the early Christians being fed to Roman lions. Oh no. As I write these words, millions of Christians throughout the world are risking their lives and liberties for the sake of the Gospel. Just think about this: According to the Christian organization Open Doors, there are actual reports of people in Syria—right in the midst of bloody civil war and the murderous encroachment of ISIS—actually converting to Christianity. Consider the passion they must have for the Word of God!
So what do we have? In the crucified Jesus we have the most profound expression of love—love that is willing to give up everything, endure rejection, humiliation, torture, and death. In this Jesus is the truth of who we are as selfish creatures, but also the truth of God’s power to forgive. In the resurrected Jesus we have the promise of eternity, the promise that we can be changed and reclaimed and made into new beings. Isn’t this enough to rouse our passion? Can we become hot-headed over this, and burn with the desire to nudge the world in the direction of compassion, healing, equality, and justice? Pentecost is not a one-time event, it is the sign of the living church of God through which blows a heroic spirit of love and change.
So let’s get off our butts, shall we? Let’s stop thinking of the church as the place where we go to meet friends and feel good. Let’s reclaim what the Bible declares is an amazing, astounding, and perplexing power to touch human lives.
God bless you, you hot head!
PS-If you’re interested in following how Christians are enduring persecution for their faith, you can click on www.opendoorsusa.org.