Make church strange again
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (Acts 2:1-3)
This is the time of year that many people in Prince George have been waiting for to celebrate, to gather with friends and family, and perhaps to focus on some fire in the midst of a group of people. I am speaking, of course, about Pentecost.
Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection
he promised his disciples right before he ascended into heaven that they would receive ‘power’ to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). And it was 10 days after that (Pente means “fifty”) that the power of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples and to all believers.
Last Sunday was the 50th day after Easter, which means that many churches specifically recognize the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, and celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit – the third person of the trinity. Pentecost has been a ‘feast day’ for many church traditions, and so it has a lot of significance for Christians. But it also carries a lot of significance for the many people who claim to be spiritual but not religious.
Religion, as it has been traditionally practiced, has been on the decline in North America and Europe for a while now. But despite polls showing how fewer people go to church or identify themselves with a particular religion, the percentage of people who call themselves atheists or agnostics has not risen very much. Where we are seeing a major rise is in the religiously non-affiliated, or those commonly called the spiritual nones.
In her article in Journal for Preachers in 2013, Cheryl Johns describes the nones in our culture as those who have responded and reacted to our modern world’s case of enchantment deficit disorder (EDD). The symptoms of EDD include a loss of a sense of wonder and a skepticism of anything that smacks of the supernatural or the miraculous. On the other hand, EDD has left many young people searching for the wonderful, the holy and the authentically spiritual.
It used to be that the religiously non-affiliated would show up at churches on Christmas and Easter. Even that trend has sharply declined. But perhaps Pentecost will be the new day for the nones to make their annual appearance at their former or local church.
Pentecost is the day when the church celebrates that the presence of God is very real, very authentic and very mysterious and strange. God inhabits people through Holy Spirit in such a way that crosses ethnic and gender boundaries. If a modern world and modern apologetics emphasized knowing that God was real, Pentecost emphasizes experiencing God is real. Pentecost is the day that is closest to what the nones in our culture are looking for, because the Holy Spirit is the one that is closest to what they desire.
Has Christmas and Easter lost its lure to go to church? Try Pentecost.
What happened on that first Pentecost was a strange event of disciples of Jesus being filled with the presence of God that moved people beyond boundaries with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And may the Holy Spirit do such a strange thing once again.