Originally posted on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021
Today is the feast of Pentecost.
While it does not get anywhere near the secular attention that Christmas or Easter garner, Pentecost is still a “biggie“ in the Christian tradition. That’s because it’s the big celebration of “The Holy Spirit” — that most mysterious portion of our mysterious and unfathomable triune God.
It is often called the “birthday of the Church,” and commemorates the very strange appearance of the HS coming upon the disciples of first century Palestine, very soon after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Nobody knows exactly what happened on that particular morning, but the writer of Acts says it was “like the rush of a violent wind” with something like “tongues of fire that separated and rested on each one of them.” (Acts 2:1-4). Because of the day’s significance, a reciting of the “Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant” is often part of the Pentecost worship service.
As I’ve written before in this blog, this fairly modern liturgy of Baptismal renewal goes through a series of eight questions, the first three being corporate “we” affirmations of doctrinal beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed. The last five though are individual and specific, compelling the personal commitment of each believer and the promise of “I will, with God’s help.”
Four of those five specific questions have been covered in previous posts:
Will you continue in the Apostle’s teaching and the prayers…?
Will you persevere in resisting evil…?
Will you proclaim… the Good News…?
Will you…respect the dignity of every human being?
This last one, for my money at least, is the sine qua non of them all:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
It seems to me that this one personal commitment is the one that matters most, the one without which the other four really wouldn’t matter all that much. The depth of this question, if taken seriously, both expands the world view￼ of a “Jesus follower” and compels a believer to bring it down to the most intimate and microcosmic view.
I believe that it is no accident that the writers of this liturgy purposely chose the term “Christ” as opposed to “Jesus.” Of course, the central tenet of the Christian faith is to believe that “Jesus is the Christ”inextricably intertwined.
But they are not synonymous.
Jesus is the human, the carpenter’s son turned itinerant preacher￼￼￼￼￼￼. Christ is the title, the fulfillment, the hope of humankind — as old as humankind itself — that God the Creator would be made manifest in humanity, thereby drawing all creation to its Self in unity with the Divine.
The first seven words of this question presume an astounding truth. That is, the assurance Christ is￼ woven within every human being, without exception, and￼ without regard to race or age or gender or nationality or status or for that matter one’s personal religion or faith. Paul spoke this Truth to the early church in Galatia that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) Likewise, John writes the nascent churches in Asia that￼, far from being some stern celestial grandfather or vengeful prison warden, “God is love and whoever abides in love abides in god, and God abides in them. God is love and all who live in love live in God and God abides in them.” (1 Jn. 4:16)
Maybe the simple, sweet words of that old hymn say it best and make this truth plain:
In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north; but one great fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide earth.
Such a truth, seems to me, leads then inevitably to the commitment encapsulated in the last five words of this quintessential question in the Baptismal Covenant, about ￼”loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus told a profound story once about being a “neighbor” that may be the best known of all his parables. I confess to taking some misguided and ill-advised pride that it was a lawyer that led to Jesus sharing his story of the “Good Samaritan.” (Lk. 10:25-37) After correctly reciting the letter of the law to “love your neighbor as yourself,” this smart-ass barrister proves to Jesus he really doesn’t understand it. He attempts to slice and dice and parse the commandment, and asks Jesus a smart-ass technical question about the definition of “neighbor.”
“Yeah, but Teacher Jesus, really now…just who exactly qualifies as my ‘neighbor’?”
Of course, like the most evasive of witnesses, Jesus never really answers the lawyer’s question but rather tells the timeless story of a Jew being helped by a lowly Samaritan. There are hundreds of modern-day equivalents, whether someone in a BLM t-shirt being rescued by someone in a MAGA hat, to a Tar Heel picked up from a broken down car on 15-501 by a Duke fan.
Jesus is never interested in legal technicalities or strict definitions. Rather, we are led to a broad all-inclusive embrace that my “neighbor” comes to me in the form of whoever darkens my doorstep or crosses my path.
One last point about this most essential part of Baptismal Covenant. I often overlook the fact that Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” pretty much requires that I have to find a way to love myself, too — not at all an easy thing for me to do sometimes. ￼There are things that I say to myself, with such vitriol and venom, that I would never say to any other human. Ever. Thus, this question in the Baptismal Covenant reminds me to ease up on myself, to cut myself as much slack as I would readily give to the guy in the apartment upstairs making a little noise, or a colleague or client missing a deadline, or a fellow parishioner for taking up that last space in the parking lot.
That’s why THIS part of the Baptismal Covenant, more than any other I think, merits the most earnest and hearty response: “I will, with God’s help.”