Pentecost reminds us of our true identity as the children of God and brought us into a new community as the body of Christ.
By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Saskatchewan Homelessness Conference. For two days I listened to presenters talking about the causes of homelessness and what is being done to address the plague of homelessness.
I was again reminded that homelessness is the symptom of many issues. That any one of us could find ourselves in the same situation given our life circumstance. Or as one speaker said, “When life life’s us.” Many times, addictions cause homelessness. Yet, there is always something behind those addictions. People don’t just wake up some morning and say, “Hey, I want to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.” Their addictions are a way of coping with the times when “Life life’s us.”
But what are some of the solutions? Time, and time again, I heard the mantra of reclaiming one’s “identity” and the importance of “community.” In a first nation’s context, this means trying to keep people in their smaller isolated communities, instead of having them become lost in a larger urban centre, away from their family support systems.
During that conference I heard the terms of “identity” and “community” in relation to those who find themselves homeless, but these are things all humans deal with.
For those of us who are versed in God’s written word, the theme of identity and community fill the pages of the Old Testament, starting with the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Before “the fall,” Adam and Eve had a firm identity as the children of God, and community referred to humankind in relationship with the God who created them.
When they rejected that community or relationship, they also lost sight of their identity. Instead, they sought a different identity and community of their own making.
As God interacted with different individuals, such as Abraham and his descendants – ultimately the nation of Israel – we see time and time again that it was God’s desire to introduce them to a restored identity and community: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7 ESV).
As they say, the rest is history. Each time when “life life’d” these descendants of Abraham, they lost their bearings and connection with God. As a result, they fell out of the identity and community that God had intended for them (1 Kings 17).
Fast forward to the birth of that baby in the little town of Bethlehem, in the Roman occupied country of Judea. Although those living by then had reclaimed a semblance of their identity and community, there was still something lacking, ‘“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing’” (Matthew 23:37 NIV).
The religious leaders rejected Jesus’ message that a new kingdom had arrived and through his reconciling life, death and resurrection, a new identity and community was being offered. It was a fulfillment of prophecies such as those found in Jeremiah, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33 NSV).
While some thought the death of this troublemaking prophet or rabbi, who claimed to be God’s Son was the end—believing that “life life’d” even Jesus—something quite the opposite happened. Jesus conquered the grave and began to appear to his followers.
He then told them to gather in Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit which would give them power to tell people about him everywhere (Acts 1:8).
It was on that momentous day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit entered the lives of those believers in that upper room, that something miraculous happened. Those initial believers and those who followed afterward, became part of a new community—the Church, the ekklesia. Their identity now was in Jesus.
As Paul mentions, “So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NIV).
In other words, we are homeless no more.