The Festival of Pentecost

What is the message of that first Pentecost? What should we take away? From the many things to choose perhaps it is the conclusion of Peter’s sermon when asked by the crowds what they should do to be saved, he said, “Repent”. I’m reading ‘The Illumined Heart’ by Frederica Mathewes-Green and she has a chapter ‘Repentance, Both Door and Path’ (p. 3845).

Talk of repentance makes modern day Christians nervous. We are embarrassed by the stereotype of old fashioned preachers hammering on about sin and making people feel guilty. We rush to assert that Jesus isn’t like that, he came out of love, he wants to help us. He knows us deep inside and feels our very pain, and his healing love sets us free.

This is one of those truths that runs out of gas half way home. The question is, what do we need to be healed of? Subjectively, we think we need sympathy and comfort, because our felt experience is of loneliness and unease. Objectively, our hearts are eaten through with rottenness. A hug and a smile are not enough.

We don’t feel like we’re rotten; if anything, we feel like other people treat us badly. One of the most popular myths of our age is that if you can claim to be a victim, you’re automatically sinless.

A second popular myth is this: We’re nice. Being nice is all that counts in life, right? Isn’t it the highest virtue? Even granting that doubtful assertion, a more honest self assessment would reveal that we’re nice when we’re comfortable and everything is going our way. Anybody can be nice under those circumstances. … Finally there’s the ever-popular conviction that we’re still better than a lot of other people … we find it desperately hard to believe that we’re really, truly sinners because we see people so much worse than us every day in the newspaper. In comparison with them we’re just so gosh-darn nice. …

Repentance is the doorway to the spiritual life, the only way to begin. It is also the path itself, the only way to continue. Anything else is foolishness and self delusion. Only repentance is brute-honest enough and joyous enough to bring us all the way home.

The starting point of the early church was this awareness of the abyss of sin in each person, the murky depths of which only the top few inches are visible. God, who is all clarity and light, wants to make us perfect as he is perfect, shot through with his radiance. The first step in our healing, then, is not being comforted. It is taking a hard look at the cleansing that needs to be done. … What a relief it is to admit this. Like the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet, we have nothing more to conceal, no more self-justification, no more self-pity. We are fully know, even in the depths we ourselves cannot see, cannot bear to see. Instead of hoping that God will love us for our good parts and pass over the rest, we know that he died for the bad parts, and will not rest until they are made right. The depth of our sin proves the height of his love …

The Hebrew word ‘shub’ means to turn from the wrong path onto the right one. ‘Repent’ … in the Greek text … is rendered … rethink your life. This the beginning of healing. Repentance is not a sterile grubbing around in one’s soul, not some masochistic self humiliation, but a revaluation leading to action … the abscess must be lanced or there is no cure.

And that is the first task of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:711). GS