Pentecost: margins

There has been a clear message of who is to be placed first coming out of certain quarters. Of course there can be wisdom in such advice – the airline message always says put on your own oxygen mask first then help others, otherwise there will not be a lot of helping that will be done! That though is a little different to setting ourselves to be first so that we will always be first and in the controlling seat. In Pentecost we note the expected follow on from something that was set in motion at the Last Supper. In that meal Jesus indicated there would be a huge shift of the mode of his presence. No longer centred on him, for he decentralised his presence. With his ‘all of you take, eat and drink’ his presence was going with the disciples. There are centres where God can be found and people can be refreshed but we have to be careful not to relate in such a way that we never discover what he wants us to discover – that every time I fall out of bed I fall into his presence. He is where I am, I do not have to find him. Pentecost re-enforces this. There is no hierarchy – Peter first, then James and John, then… and finally the 120. No pecking order, no one there to claim a monopoly.

It would seem that the real gifting of the apostolic and prophetic is to make visible the non-hierarchical nature of the body, further marked by the foundational (unseen) nature of those gifts whose task is to equip the body. In the Acts 2 Scripture Peter looks to Joel 2 to explain what is happening and in doing so there is such an emphasis on the margins. The gift is to all, not for the elite, is a theme, but it goes further when the ‘all’ that is explicated there is the complete opposite of ‘all, especially the important ones’. He picks out who the all are represented by (Acts 2:17,18):

  • sons and daughters
  • young
  • old
  • slaves
  • women slaves

The sons and daughters are important as it indicates the ongoing, not one-off, nature of a pentecostal experience, and I will come again to this aspect in a future post. Then though we have the extremities of the ages with the reference to the young and the old. The young who are not yet mature nor ready, the old who have missed their time. The young will see visions – relating to the future and pulling it in, while the old will dream dreams – those whose mouths were filled with laughter as they realised there is still life and fulfilments.

Slaves – the bottom of the class structure, and to double underline this he adds that this includes the women slaves.

It seems we are left with all doubts cast aside that the emphasis of the outpouring of the Spirit is focused on those occupying the margins in society. There is an inclusiveness in what God does, but we could even suggest there is a bias in where the Spirit will be found. Like water finding the low point. Trickle down is a hugely dubious perspective in the realm of economics (maybe trickle down as far as is beneficial until the power position is threatened?) but in Spirit presence terms this is not something that is backed up by Pentecost. There is a huge disturbance to the hierarchical ‘norms’ of society. Many years ago I read an article by Jurgen Moltmann challenging Pentecostal churches that if they did not advocate for an egalitarian approach for men and women then in what sense were they pentecostal? I appreciate for some there are difficult Scriptures to consider but his overall point remains. Pentecost was marked by a radical equalisation (and Azusa Street of 1906 was marked in the same way).

Quoting the author of this post (!!) pentecost pushes us to the multiplicity of the small and richness of diversity. No one is devalued; people are met where they are; the small is elevated; God is found at the margins. This is so revolutionary and is a challenge to the visionaries who often seem to advocate that success is found in following a centralised vision. Pentecost certainly does not start with ‘let’s get the top x% and change things from there’, but the focus is on the ‘not many mighty, nor wise, nor..’ nor male, nor white, nor wealthy. Maybe in the light of those last categories we might be needing another pentecostal outpouring – or maybe better to re-align ourselves to Pentecost.

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