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Fires at Pentecost

May 30, 2020 by

By any measure, this has been a difficult week for our country. We have watched in horror as footage of the tragic death of George Floyd played on our screens, searing his fear and pain into our hearts as he struggled to breathe. As the events of the past days have unfolded in Minneapolis and many cities beyond, we are asking ourselves, as individuals and as a nation, why this keeps happening. There is no doubt that we must confront the underlying thorny and persistent problems of racism, racial injustice, and inequality at a national, systemic level as well as in our own hearts.

We have seen peaceful protests devolve into chaotic scenes of burning police buildings, rubber bullets, and clouds of tear gas, and we have seen the hurt and frustration on the faces of our fellow citizens. It’s no coincidence that this is happening against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed over one hundred thousand American lives, disproportionately among the Black community and the working poor.

burning car

This weekend is Pentecost, when Christians remember the birth of their church and hope for God to pour out the fire of the Holy Spirit once again on this suffering world. Because we know that only Jesus has the power to transform the hearts of individuals and heal the divisions of our nation. Coincidentally, Muslims have just celebrated Eid, and Jews are celebrating Shavuot. So for all these major religions this is a time for gathering, turning to God, and pleading for his intervention.

This moment reminds me of the prophetic message of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice” (Stride toward Freedom). To seek this justice, we must think beyond the justice of human courts and laws to the justice of God’s coming kingdom.

This forces us to consider whether we dare to face ourselves as those in Jerusalem did at Pentecost. For at the heart of Pentecost is a radical personal confrontation that demands change:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)

Pentecost 2020 articleArtwork by Jason Landsel

At Pentecost, the perfect love of Christ gripped the first Christians and worked powerfully though them. As Eberhard Arnold writes:

Open doors and open hearts were significant characteristics of the early Christians. Therefore they had access to everyone and gained the love of whole peoples.…The fiery spirit that filled them wanted to pour itself out over all flesh as God’s will for his empire: the spirit of God’s kingdom wants to be victorious over all peoples to draw them together as one. (Inner Land)

This love that draws people together is not a passive, emotional love but rather a two-edged sword that calls for both compassion and action. It demands an end to injustice and inequality and tolerates no violence or hatred against anyone. This love broke in powerfully at Pentecost, bringing true peace and overcoming barriers of language, culture, race, and nationality. The answers to racism, fear, and poverty are found in the peace which comes from changed lives. We pray that God may grant this same peace now. 

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About the author

Paul Winter

Paul Winter

Paul Winter serves as the Elder of the Bruderhof. He lives with his wife, Betty, at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof.

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