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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Those words from the 1776 American Declaration of Independence were written by Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. Jefferson was steeped in the Enlightenment values of political and religious freedom. He was also a slave owner, something he had in common with many others who subscribed to the text of the Declaration. It would take almost a hundred years and a bloody civil war before slavery in the USA was abolished, and another hundred years before civil rights became fully enshrined in US law. We might choose to condemn Jefferson as a hypocrite, but it would be more constructive to make the general observation that human behaviour is not always consonant with the ideals we claim to espouse.
On Sunday we celebrate the great festival of Pentecost, Whitsunday. Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit that had been promised by Jesus filled the first believers, enabling them to communicate with all those who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of First Fruits from all over the Mediterranean. This outpouring of the Spirit was followed by a challenging sermon from Peter which, St Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, yielded three thousand believers in a single day. These believers, we are told, ‘sold their property and possessions, and distributed the money among all, according to what each one needed’. Life lived in the Spirit, it seems, meant a life lived truly in common.
Is our behaviour as Christians consonant with this scriptural ideal? If not, do we deserve to be called hypocrites for falling short of the ideals we espouse? Perhaps not. But we might use Pentecost as the opportunity to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew our lives and strengthen us to proclaim the Good News that the early Christians sought to live out and which made them so attractive to others.
With love and prayers,
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