As the fledgling Christian church set about preparing itself for its role and mission, the power of Pentecost burst into the lives of those early believers, with a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire…
It happened that before the church even knew itself to be a church, the members had received specific instructions from the risen Lord. That motley band of believers, comprised of “the eleven” and other believers—possibly their friends and relatives, and friends and relatives of Jesus, including his mother, Mary—had received, and were awaiting, further instructions given by Jesus, prior to his Ascension. All four gospel accounts record these instructions in differing levels of detail: Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16:15-20, Luke 24:47-53, and John 21: 15-22. Verses 2 to 10 of Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles also corroborate these accounts.
If we categorize the events that mark the genesis of the Christian faith, we discover that these unequivocal instructions, together with the actual experience of witnessing the ascension, with the further instructions of the “two men in white” (Acts 1:10) played an important role. These experiences prepared the individual men and women, as well as the group as a whole, the frontline leaders of this new movement, that would itself become the Christian church. In Acts Chapter 1 we find a summary of these instructions:
“(Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which said He, you have heard of Me./..you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.../...you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” —Acts 1: 4,5,7,8 (KJV)
The response of the followers to these instructions, grounded as it was in their experience of having witnessed the glory of God in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was a key contributing factor to their preparedness for the glory of God as it came to be revealed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: They followed the instructions they had received. They returned to Jerusalem, and waited. They gathered in community, both men and women. They were unified. They surrendered themselves to prayer. They listened to the Word of God proclaimed amongst themselves, and they did what today we call “succession planning,” while acknowledging the leadership and guidance of one of their number, and acting upon that selfsame guidance to the benefit and strengthening of the unit (Acts 1:13-26). What an amazing example for the church of today to emulate!
And so it was that these original founders of our Christian church, were “all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1), when the power of the Holy Spirit came, as a mighty sound from heaven, filling the place where they had gathered, and cloven tongues, as of fire, the actual manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence and gift, rested upon them. Most glorious of all was that these visionary cloven tongues engendered what would be the first miracle of the church: the awesome unprecedented ability of the empowered ones to preach the word to all those in the multitude that had gathered to behold the event.
The stunning truth of that first Pentecost was that the Word proclaimed was received in the listeners' own languages...even without the speakers being intellectually able on their own to speak the dialects of the more than fifteen named groups (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men of Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia) that had assembled in that place! It was an event of literal miraculous proportions. It was, too, a foreshadowing of how the gospel message would come to penetrate “all the world/earth” (Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:8).
Further, in the harmony that reigns within all of Scripture, it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: 2:28. And further yet, in a blessed reversal of the dreadful event of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), human beings were no longer separated by language. Instead, as they placed reliance on God, He, himself, in His mercy, through the glory of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, presided over a newly-born, unified church, empowering God’s witnesses and His people to speak, to listen, and to receive His one true message of love and salvation.
In this we too can rejoice, for even now in these trying times, because of the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the Christian church continues to receive the promise, the presence, and the power of Pentecost.
Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago
Jesslyn is an elder and lay preacher of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the Clerk of Session of her pastoral region, the secretary of her local board, the president of the women’s group, a choir member, and a Sunday School Teacher.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” —Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
Burdens: there is scarcely a person on the planet who hasn’t born some kind of burden during the past year. Some have borne the burden of being an essential worker, caring for people sick with COVID-19 in hospitals and care facilities, or working in grocery stores. Others have carried the burden of loss: loved ones who have died or themselves carrying “long COVID” through continuing health concerns. Others have lost jobs because of an economy fraught with COVID-related issues. And still others have borne the burden of loneliness and despair as the pandemic has continued largely unabated in many regions. It has been a difficult time, and for many places in the world it is still worsening.
This is an appropriate time for us to internalize the words of Paul in Galatians 6, because he properly reminds us that burdens belong to all of us. The image Paul gives is of mutuality, that we recognize that others have difficulties and encumbrances even as we do ourselves. Some are more weighty than others, but it does not mean that they are not difficult to carry.
In some contexts, like the United States, there has been a tendency for people to want to be “done with” COVID, even though COVID clearly isn’t done with us. We want our old freedom of movement and lack of encumbrance back; we want to return to the days before the pandemic began.
But here is where Paul’s words come to us, inviting us to “carry” more concern with helping the other with their burden than to be freed from our own. Places in our world like India, where we have many friends in the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), are experiencing tremendous and heartbreaking loss. How may we carry their burdens through prayer and tangible concern? Many places in the world are lacking vaccines. How may we speak for justice in encouraging the “haves” to share with the “have nots”? How may we reach out to those who have lost loved ones, to help carry their burden of loss? How may we encourage those who are lonely and depressed?
As we have traveled through Lent, the Easter season, and beyond, we are reminded that Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. May we each mirror Christ, that in humility we may value and care for those around us in the same way that he has done this for us.
—Rev. Dr. Lisa Vander Wal
Reformed Church in America
WCRC Vice President
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." —Matthew 26:39 (NRSV)
I received my call to ministry when I was 18 years old. I had been kneeling at the side of my bed and in prayer saying to God I did not want to become any of the things I had desired to become in the past – doctor, lawyer, forensic detective – only what God wanted me to become. I recall having a vision of people needing to hear the gospel, and I deduced that God was calling me into ministry. However, at that time, because I was still a Roman Catholic, I felt that this calling meant that I would have to enter the priesthood. That was something I did not want to do because I desired to have a family. I acknowledged to God that I did not want to become a priest; however, in submission of my will to God’s, I said, “even though this is not what I want, I will become a priest because I know you will provide the enablement and fullfilment I desire.”
The time of my call was the first time I can remember God asking me to do/become something and despite not wanting to, I said yes. Since then, on numerous occasions, God’s call to me, from my perspective, was inconsistent with what I desired; nevertherless, at every turn, I responded, “if this is what you desire, even though it is not what I want, I will do it.”
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane was confronted with the choice of pursuing his life’s purpose or self-presevation (see also Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). However, He surrendered to God’s will rather than giving in to His desires. In His plea and response, we have an illustration of what it means to deny self: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus momentarily shrank from the thought of the “cup” of the Cross, but almost instictively, recoiled at the idea of not obeying the Father. No doubt, this momentary hesitation was due to the wiles of the Tempter who had tried to get him to forsake his ministry with the promise of prestige, power, and possessions (Matthew 4:1-11). He also attempted to derail Jesus’s date with the cross by having Peter insist that Jesus should not pursue the Via Dolorosa. In response, Jesus knowing full well who instigated Peter’s words said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from human nature" (Matthew 16:21-23).
Satan had successfully gotten Adam and Eve to sin by doubting whether God indeed had their best interest at heart and by insuating that God is not trust worthy. Every time God calls on us, we have to determine whether we believe God is trust worthy, loves us beyond measure, and will always have our best interest at heart (that is, as God, not we, knows our best interest to be). When we answer the call of God on our lives we may not accumulate wealth, garner prestige, or exercise power, but we can always expect to be fulfilled. Whenever we live within God’s will, we shall always find life fulfilling.
When I was in seminary in North Carolina, I always had difficulty with the persons often held up as successes in ministry. It was always the pastor with several thousand members on their church roll. I have always contended that the successful minister is not necessarily the one who has a thriving ministry but rather the one who is faithful in his/her calling and works at it daily to the glory of God whether or not others acknowledge the value of his/her work.
On receiving God’s call, expressing our reservations, our doubts, and our fears to God is okay and even recommended. God knows our innermost thoughts and God also knows our heart. It has been my experience that although I was at first reticent to go God’s way, once I surrender to his will, my life has always been rich and fulfilling. Once I am living within God’s will, at every turn, God has provided the resources that I have needed. Since that first call of God on my life, I have learned to live in the light of the truth of Jesus’ words: “…be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matthew 6: 33, GNB). Whenever God Calls and we are able to discern God’s will, our only response should be one of trust and obedience in which we say, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done!”
—Rev. Dr. R. Osbert James, OBE
Minister and Moderator
Presbyterian Church in Grenada
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” —Luke 12:16-21 9NRSV)
In Canada, those earning more than $25 an hour before the pandemic have actually done better financially than they would have otherwise, as a result of the pandemic. Those making less are doing worse. They are the ones who are losing their jobs, who don’t have sick pay, who can’t afford good child care, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. $25 per hour is a lot of money in many parts of the world, but one fact knows no borders: those most vulnerable in the pandemic are those with lower incomes. In Canada that includes indigenous peoples.
So isn’t it ironic that during this monumental crisis of the pandemic, Canadians have amassed record savings – especially those who were doing well to start with. The chief economist for one of our national banks said that by year end 2020, Canadians would have saved close to 200 billion dollars! Normally Canadians save at the rate of about 1.7% of income. Last year that was closer to 25% for much of the year. That money has not gone to help the most vulnerable, it has gone to personal bank accounts and Tax Free Savings Accounts and Mutual funds. Financial advisors think it’s great - build a bigger barn and put it in there while you can.
I think Jesus is speaking to us through the parable of the rich fool. I know he’s speaking to me, and it’s not all that comfortable. What are we doing with our barns? Building bigger ones?
As the pandemic ends, one of the questions being asked is how the health and wellbeing, especially of the vulnerable, and those who have been most at financial risk, will be ensured. Churches and others in society describe this as A Just Recovery for All.
These are the principles for A Just Recovery for All:
Christians, especially in Canada are at a moment when their faith in action will be tested. We have an opportunity to mobilize our own resources for good and to advocate for A Just Recovery for All people in the months ahead. Now is the time to consider this. This is one parable where Jesus’ words are starkly clear to us when he says: So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Pray for A Just Recovery for All. Work for a Just Recovery for All.
—Rev. Stephen Kendall
Principal Clerk, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada