Today is Pentecost. For 50 days, a group of 120 followers of Jesus waited. Their teacher, for whom they had left all they had, was now gone. Judas, one of their own, betrayed their master and then killed himself. The comforter they had been promised had not yet come. They picked Mathias as a replacement for Judas. And then they waited.
I have to speculate sometimes at the conversations that occurred during those 50 days from Easter until Pentecost. There were, I am sure, some nervous exchanges. Jesus had appeared to them: he had offered Thomas an opportunity to place his hands into his wounds; he had eaten fish with his disciples by the shore. But where was this promised comforter who would be with them always?
Pentecost is a part of the Christian calendar today, but for the disciples, it was the Feast of Shavuot, or the “Feast of Oaths.” It was a festival remembering the covenants God made with Noah after the flood, Abraham and the Israelites about a new homeland, and Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was a time to remember God’s faithfulness.
When I read Acts 2 and imagine the room filled with the small band of believers, a sound “like the rush of a violent wind” and tongues “as of fire” resting above each of their heads, my faith is encouraged. I am reminded that there are greater things at work in this world than what is at first visible. There is power and strength in the Spirit that God sent to the church. While there had only been 120 gathered in that room, 3, 000 were added to their number that day.
While much of my work revolves around challenging unjust systems and structures, I do not doubt that the world we see around us of broken people and institutions is only a small portion of what is real. The Spirit of God extends wider and deeper and is at work in my life, the lives of others, and in the communities and institutions of this world. While I work for societal transformation, I try to stay rooted in the transforming work that the Spirit is constantly doing in me.
Too often, it feels like we need to make a choice between the work of this world, and the work of the Spirit, or between a personal focus, or a social focus of the gospel. “Either/or” marks how some churches present the Christian faith. Often, however, this is a false dichotomy. Early in the days of the Sojourners community I remember that one of our favorite words was “and.” We would talk about personal salvation and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, faith and action, belief and obedience, salvation and discipleship, worship and politics, spiritual transformation and social transformation. These were things that complemented one another and deepened each other instead of being in opposition.
In two weeks, my family and I will be headed down to Shakori Hills, North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival. In the Celtic Church, the symbol for the Holy Spirit is a wild goose — wild, free, and untamed. The festival will be a weekend of justice, spirituality, music, and the arts. It is an “and” kind of space, more than an “either/or.” It will, no doubt, be a busy weekend. But I am looking forward to it, not just for the activities, but for the reminder that it is by chasing after the wild goose, the Holy Spirit’s movement, that we see ourselves, and our world, transformed.
Take a minute to watch this video below. It’s not too late to join us.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.