Discover more from Faithfully Radical Christian
Pentecost and the Shattering of Barriers
If you enjoy my writing please consider sharing with your networks!
When I attended a Pentecostal church, Pentecost mattered because it was the day in which the followers of Jesus were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and that was an experience we sought to replicate every single time we had a service.
For us, being baptized in the Holy Spirit looked like speaking in tongues (usually not in a different language, but in what sounded like gibberish. Though we called that angelic tongues) or we would fall to the ground as if we were fainting (this was called being slain in the Spirit), or we cried, and sometimes we ran around the church.
Now, I am not here to mock those experiences or to denigrate them. I know for some who come from less charismatic backgrounds, all this noise and movement can appear to be a bit much. I know that there are some people who describe what happens during such church services as evidence of mass hysteria.
Perhaps there is some truth in that. I don’t know. I do know that while I never personally spoke in tongues I did cry and fall to the ground that felt very real to me. But what matters for this sermon is the numerous reasons why we believed getting “baptized in the Holy Spirit” was very important and most of the reasons were very individualistic and a bit self-serving.
Unlike some other Pentecostal groups we did not view being baptized in the Holy Spirit as necessary for salvation and not everyone who was baptized in the Holy Spirit was saved, yet more often than not being baptized in the Holy Spirit was viewed as evidence of God’s anointing and favor in a person’s life. In combination with the various physical actions associated with being “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” there were often prophesies directed at individuals where Evangelists or pastors would go up to a person and give them a purported message from God.
(Storytime: an evangelist who I didn't know once told me that God would use my intelligence to bring many people to God. Now, that could still happen, I guess but unfortunately, I don’t think that has happened. To be fair, when I heard that “prophesy” I had wanted to be a world-famous evangelist like Billy Graham, so perhaps my expectations are a bit high)
Being baptized in the Holy Spirit was also a sign of our ability to be humble before God. We didn’t expect everyone to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for every service nor did we think we had to be baptized in the Holy Spirit every service, but there were moments where if you weren’t acting in a certain way, that you were viewed as “rebelling” against God or having a hard heart.
There was an evangelistic purpose for being baptized in the Holy Spirit-we believed that God could inspire nonchristians to repent or wayward Christians to return-but again even that reason had an individualistic bent. The purpose of being “saved’ or returning to the fold was to ensure an eternity in heaven and not hell. What was missing was an emphasis on community. Pentecost, and being baptized in the Holy Spirit in general was often about what benefits it bought to the individual, how it made the individual feel, and how it demonstrated (or not) an individual’s salvation.
Again, I’m not trying to make a moral judgment for or against my former congregation’s understanding of Pentecost and being baptized in the Holy Spirit but this narrow interpretation of Scripture and of the Christian faith through an individualistic lens neglects the full scope of liberation and hope God offers us. To be sure, God liberates us individually from painful and harmful circumstances and the Holy Spirit empowers us each to live out the gospel in our spheres-but God offers us so much more than that.
Pentecost was not simply about the individual disciples getting to experience God’s presence and power. If it were, it could certainly have occurred in private with each individual recounting the story publicly. Instead, the Holy Spirit fills Jesus’ followers in public and the disciples weren’t speaking angelic tongues known only to God and the individual (and possibly a human interpreter) but they were speaking in the various languages of the crowd.
To be sure, the people weren’t quite sure what was happening and thought perhaps the disciples were drunk (honestly, if I could drink something that would enable me to speak multiple languages, I would!) but they were witnesses to God’s work.
Peter, when explaining to the crowd what is occurring makes it clear that what is occurring isn’t a singular event, solely for the individual disciples but that it was a promise God made to all:'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
The purpose of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples and in a public manner, wasn’t so that individual disciples could feel holy, or be assured of their individual salvation. But it was a fulfillment of what Jesus had promised: that those who seek the Kingdom of God would never be alone but would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. And this promise isn’t limited to a specific group of people: to those of a specific nation, race/ethnicity, or only for the rich and powerful: but that God empowers all-including and especially the marginalized and those viewed by society as lowly.
Pentecost represents the shattering of the very barriers that we humans put in place to try and contain God. We, humans, say that God only works through certain people: the beautiful or the wealthy. White, cisgender, straight men. We, as in those who have any measure of power, claim that God’s blessing is only for our people and our nation.
We claim God wants to “make America Great Again” at the expense of other nations, queer people, People of Color, and the poor. We assume God only cares about the small segment of the human population that we deem worthy of grace and liberation. We assume that only those within our inner circle are worthy to be used by God.
We are the ones who claim that only people of a particular religion, branch of Christianity, or even specific congregation can be used by God while everyone else is at best lost and separated from God. But Pentecost demonstrates that the barriers we put in place to try and separate God from the people we view as unworthy have been shattered.
The Holy Spirit empowers the drag queen to keep challenging oppressive gender norms even in the face of bans and threats. The Holy Spirit is with trans people seeking to live into the fullness of who they are. The Holy Spirit is with those deemed to be worthless because of their race, their economic status, their gender identity, and their sexual orientation. The Holy Spirit brings liberation to all, not just those deemed to be worthy by those in power.
Pentecost is not just something that happened one-day thousands of years ago. But Pentecost continues today as God destroys the barriers we try to put in place to silence the marginalized. Pentecost continues today as God calls and equips those who don’t look, act, or believe like our small inner circle.
Image stained glass window and black background. Text: Pentecost represents the shattering of the very barriers that we humans put in place to try and contain God.