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Pentecost Spirit

Preached:  May 19, 2013

 

I remember being on a trolley in San Francisco when I was 4 years old.  Up to that point in my life it was the most diversity
I had experienced in my vast 4 years of life

People speaking different languages – different skin colors, looking different.

I was afraid, I remember crying – not my finest moment.

 I wonder now what it might have been like that first Pentecost – being surrounded by so many languages and people.  Perhaps a bit like the United Nations.

There are so many ways to look at Pentecost – Today I want to focus on the Power of God  coming to the people in a linguistic miracle.  120 disciples gather together in the Upper Room.  Soon after they meet, “a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” starts wreaking havoc.  And then fire flashes down from out of the heavens in the form of tongues.

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.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

 Faithful Jews had journeyed from across the known world at that time for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. It was an agricultural festival called Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks (fifty days) – Each year, the Jewish people planted their crops at the time of Passover – remembering how God had brought them out of Egypt and planted them as a people in the Promised Land.   Shavuot was originally a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest.

 

After the destruction of their Temple centuries before, the Jewish people had scattered across the known world in exile.  Even though they had the same religion, because of this Diaspora, they spoke many different languages.  One of the miracles that happened on that Pentecost – the first Christian Pentecost, where the celebration took on an entirely different meaning than the Jewish Pentecost, was the miracle of understanding.

6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered,

because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

 They could understand what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.  Everyone hears in their own language.  The Parthian. The Judean. The Mesopotamian. They all ask: “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

What happened at Pentecost must be similar to being at the Olympics or  the United Nations building.  One person is speaking, but everyone is equipped with earpieces so they can hear in their own language, thanks to all the translators brought in.  Except in this story, it’s the Spirit that’s doing the translating.

This story reverses the story from Genesis about the Tower of Babel.  A long time ago, human beings had gotten a little full of themselves. They thought they could match the gods in power, so they built a tower that would reach all the way to heaven.  Ultimately, they were given different languages and scattered across the earth.  This story of Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel, and brings the people back together.

In this Pentecost experience, the Spirit rushed in to empower the communication and understanding with one another.  Bridges were built and crossed in a moment. Underneath the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity.  Unity of Spirit, of the Kingdom of God.

These stories, separated by thousands of years, and written long ago, frame a continuing predicament in our contemporary, world.  This Pentecost faith has implications beyond the walls of the church.  Although we have been brought into closer contact with our neighbors across the world through technology, we continue to live in the age of many languages, cultures, beliefs.  Signs pointing toward Babel abound all around us.  Barbed wire & walls separate Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.  America is divided into red and blue.  It is rare to witness civil political dialogue anymore, at least among our elected politicians. Have you noticed how easily “Enemy” language sneaks into our vocabulary?  Life isn’t so different in church culture either.  Churches across the globe  in many different denominations face schism.  Christians are quick to label one another as conservative or progressive, as traditional or contemporary.

Pentecost echoes the Tower of Babel by reminding us that the language we use, among other things, can unite us or divide us.  Across so many divides, we strive for unity and understanding.   The question becomes whether we will find a way to understand one another, respecting the different ways we  come to faith, and experience the holy.

At SPCUMC, we speak about our faith in God in diverse ways.  We aren’t too far removed from those first folks at Pentecost.  What are the “languages” that divide our community, or make unity more difficult to achieve?   How can we reach across so many differences – in language, culture, religious upbringing, economic class, education, and basic personality types, to communicate effectively?  We are a quirky mix of people, jabbering away in our own unique tongues, trying to make sense of life & faith aren’t we.

Yet we come together with a Pentecost faith that though we may express different ideologies, theologies, politics, the hope is still the same, isn’t it – to know God and love God, to understand and to be understood.  I believe we are on the right path when we come together as a diverse community of faith, and love one another and to take each other’s hand to do the work of God together.  We may get anxious that we can’t hold all the diversity in the church.  But as United Methodists, we come together with the faith that spiritual diversity is not a hindrance to our spiritual growth, but rather an asset.  Through our experiences, we discover a fuller, richer sense of the Spirit.  Today, I want to affirm the spiritual diversity we have here at the church.

We must live into the Pentecost miracle by committing ourselves to practices that foster listening and understanding across difference.  By seeking out diverse opinions and foster them into places of reconciliation and justice; by cultivating practices of dialogue across difference; by learning the art of listening and sharing of ourselves.

When we listen deeply, we begin to let go of any pre-conceived beliefs and prejudices we have about the other person.  Deep listening & understanding can occur if you are not distracted by planning what to say or how to respond, to analyze, judge, or try to fix another’s experience.  You do not have to agree with or believe anything that is said. Your job is simply to listen for understanding.  Slowing Down to the Speed of Love.  It is not about trying to analyze or interpret. It is a purely receptive presence. The goal of deep listening is to be touched by the other person and to hear the essence of what he or she is saying.   It slows you down to the speed of love.

I want us to love one another the way God loves us.  I want every person who comes to this church to feel welcome and safe.  I want each one of us to feel that we are in Christ’s inner circle.  I want the fire of God’s Spirit to burn within each one of us.  That’s what I hope for.  Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  That’s what I desire this Pentecost.