This weekend is Pentecost weekend.
Embrace the fire!
Everyone looks good in red!
As many of you know, I grew up in the Pentecostal Holiness Church and now serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA). While many folks find that journey to be curious, it has enabled me to make the following observations regarding both Presbyterians and Pentecostals.
1. I should begin by saying that my blended experience of the ecstatic ‘speaking in tongues’ quality of the Pentecostal Holiness Church and the erudite inquisitive nature of the Presbyterian Church has left me expertly capable of
speaking in tongue-in-cheek
. I’m sure it drives people mad when I do it, but it’s my gift, so you have to accept it. In fact, I’m writing in tongue-in-cheek right now! If you don’t have the gift of interpretation, it’s on you.
2. Very few non-Pentecostals can spell ‘pentecostal’ correctly and very few non-Presbyterians can spell ‘presbyterian’ correctly. My last trip to the Apple Store – which prides itself on its efficient system of entering your order into an iPad, connecting it automatically to your account, and sending the receipt directly to your email address – took a long time. Why? Because the guy waiting on me simply could not spell ‘presbyterian’ each time he had to enter it. I finally said – very sympathetically – “Dude, if you don’t figure this out and hurry up the manager’s going to come out and take away your goatee.” That really motivated him. The bottom line is that one thing Pentecostals and Presbyterians hold in common is that we belong to unspellable denominations that begin with P. Sadly, I must admit that most Pentecostals misspell ‘presbyterian’ and that most Presbyterians return the favor.
3. You can tell Pentecostals and Presbyterians apart by the way their Bibles open, or don’t open, to the second chapter of Acts. In college – I attended a Pentecostal Holiness college – we often joked that if a Pentecostal dropped their Bible, it would naturally open up to the second chapter of Acts, because that is where the spine on the Bible had worn out over the years. In seminary – I attended a Presbyterian seminary – we often joked that in a Presbyterian’s Bible the gilded pages were still stuck together at Acts 2, because it has never been opened to that page before. One of the pitfalls of the digital age is that we are losing this ability to tell Presbyterians and Pentecostals apart.
4. There is a great irony about Pentecostals and Presbyterians, when it comes to the story of the Day of Pentecost: The thing that attracts Pentecostals to it is the very thing that drives Presbyterians away from it. Pentecostals tend to see the ecstatic experience of speaking in tongues as a validating sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life that connects a modern-day believer directly to the early church. Presbyterians tend to see that same phenomenon as a vestige of the past, like when the Gospels attribute what seems clearly to be epilepsy to being possessed by demons. And each group thinks the other is misguided, to put it kindly.
5. The sad thing that some Pentecostals and some Presbyterians hold in common is that we can be so attentive to the ecstatic phenomena of the Pentecost story that we miss the point. You can go to my translation blog
and scroll down to the blue print to read more about it, but in short let me say that the Day of Pentecost was originally a harvest celebration established in Leviticus 23:15-22, which ends with the command that someone harvesting their field needs to leave the edges untouched, so that the landless gleaners behind them can have grain. It’s an ancient entitlement program of ensuring that even the poorest have access to food. My argument is that the fire of Pentecost is less about an ecstatic personal experience (whether Pentecostals find that compelling or Presbyterians find it repelling) and more about
energizing the church to revive justice
. That’s what I think both Presbyterians and Pentecostals tend to overlook in this marvelous story. And that is the one observation that I am making here without speaking in tongue-in-cheek.
6. Finally and joyfully, one thing Pentecostals and Presbyterians hold in common is that
we all look great in red!
So, this weekend, whether you are celebrating the Day of Pentecost on Saturday or Sunday, wear
Embrace the fire! Come to St. Mark and bring a Presbyterian with you. Or a Pentecostal. Either way, embrace the fire!
Mark of St. Mark