Today is the Feast of Pentecost. A day particularly devoted to the Holy Spirit, a powerful force that, like the wind, we cannot see or touch, but can only feel and observe the effect that it has. We remember on this day how after Jesus had resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, that it was the Holy Spirit that came and led the disciples, filled them with power and gave them the courage, the conviction and the skill to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Every year we observe this festival, because it is from this point that the church is actually born, an institution that we hope and we pray continues to be led by the spirit. But whenever the Day of Pentecost comes up, people don’t usually ask me about that Pentecost Day 2,000 years ago; invariably I am asked about what I think of Pentecostals.
Are they really feeling the Holy Spirit, or is this show, delusion, suggestion?
When people ask me if some of these people are phonies, then my answer has to be yes, we know that there are religious phonies in every group; we know that there are people that are drawn to make spectacles of themselves in every group, we know that there are hucksters, false prophets, people pandering for money, evangelists trying to control people in every denomination.
I am the biggest cynic when it comes to religious frauds, and yet…
I have experienced miraculous healing
I have felt the weight of the Holy Spirit at my ordination
I feel the Holy Spirit every time I say the mass
It is as if the Holy Spirit has tried to say to me that yes, my people may sometimes be phony, but I am not. I am still here, I am real and I have genuine power to transform your life.
Part of the result of living in a modern society is that we live in a world of fake things: artificial lighting, coloring, flavoring, synthetic fibers, fake food. We know that fake things aren’t good for us: over time they damage our bodies, but when we encounter things like fake food, we don’t just stop eating. We just look harder for the stuff that is real.
We should do the same with religion: when we encounter fake people, we cannot just abandon faith altogether, we have to look harder, dig deeper, and grasp onto those experiences of faith which are authentic. As followers of Christ we are called to be authentic in our worship of him and in our witness to the power of the spirit, because in a world full of fakes, we are learning that the things that are genuine and true have the greatest value.
The Pentecost story is not about speaking another language, nor is it about miraculous visions or excessive enthusiasm in worship: if I witnessed a member of this church, stumbling, crying and speaking incoherently, I would probably be more inclined to call them a cab than to call them a prophet.
What the Pentecost story is about is God giving his disciples power to overcome barriers.
The greatest barrier the world has right now is often the belief that Christians are phony, hypocritical or deluded. Our challenge as a church is not learning to speak Spanish, or French or even modern English, our challenge is learning to speak to the modern world about an ancient faith, and to be authentic to both. The Holy Spirit gave the first disciples the power to preach the Gospel to the world they lived in, I have every confidence that it can give that same power to us as well.