This past Sunday, the Christian church observed Pentecost. It actually is a originally the Jewish celebration of Shavuot which commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai. For Christians, it commemorates the first obvious appearance of the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ ascension. It always comes 50 days after Easter.
I didn’t grow up observing Pentecost, or much of the liturgical year, for that matter. I grew up in a Baptist church, and in case you’re not aware, Evangelicals in general and Baptists in particular have a great fear of appearing either Catholic or Pentecostal, so all those pesky church traditions are thrown out. They also have a huge fear of being seen in public consuming alcohol, but that’s another post.
Since attending a Presbyterian church the last 5 years, I’ve been more involved in these types of observances. One year, I preached on Pentecost, which happened to also fall on Mother’s Day, and my sermon title was Your Mother is On Fire. Love when that kind of thing happens because in scripture, the Holy Spirit is always referred to in the feminine, so the tie-in w/ Mother’s Day is a no-brainer.
The great thing about the Pentecost story in Acts 2 (posted below) is that it is both a miracle of speaking and a miracle of hearing. The Christ Followers were holed up in a room and the Spirit busted in and caused them to speak in other languages. Any day that would have been cool, but about as relevant & necessary as any garden variety party trick. It was perfectly timed this day because there were people in town from all over the known world to celebrate Shavuot and they were able to hear about God’s revelation in a way that they understood.
Torah was about God revealing Godself to God’s people. Jesus was another way God revealed Godself, and the Spirit another. The message for me this time around is about hearing. God’s revelation of God’s self is sometimes quite obvious and sometimes not. In the case of the Pentecost story, that’s pretty much out there. Setting people on fire and causing them to speak another language is a little showy, if you ask me. But God was so radically changing how God related to humanity that it was probably necessary for God to make a big deal of it.
I think that God speaking to people in ways they understand is also a miracle of hospitality. Making people feel welcome in God’s reality is something the church isn’t super good at. The only way we can do that is to first be able to listen to God and then be open to God changing our language.
Questions for discussion:
1. Have you experienced a moment of God’s clear revelation of Godself or God’s message?
2. How do you best receive truth?
3. What would another “language” of spiritual practice look like to you?
4. What is your reaction to spiritual chaos?
5. Does your religious tradition emphasize or de-emphasize the less “dignified” side of God?
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”