When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me, men and women both. And whoever calls out for help to me, will be saved. (Acts 2:1-4, 7, 17-18, 21)
Imagine what it must have been like – you are standing in a crowd of people in Jerusalem, maybe at a festival or community meeting. People jostling each other, everyone in a festive mood. Can you hear the din of everyone speaking at the same time? Friends talking about people they know, strangers getting to know each other, vendors hawking their wares. Imagine the noise – and that everyone could understand what everyone else was saying.
Suddenly there is a rush of wind – – like a train rolling by, with dust swirling and people shielding their eyes and running for cover. And then – what appears over the top of their heads, but a tongue of flames! If they weren’t already scared, this certainly did it! Can you imagine the look of their faces when they saw flames sitting on the top of their friends heads?
Those flames over their heads were the Holy Spirit descending upon them. . . filling them with the love and protection of God. The same Holy Spirit that fills each one of us as we try daily to live according to God’s commandments.
And if that wasn’t enough, suddenly everyone started talking in different languages! People who were uneducated and never exposed to another language were suddenly talking fluently in a language they didn’t even know! But it was a language that someone else in the crowd understood.
Language is an interesting thing. It can bring us together or it can divide us.
When I first moved to the South, I heard a word I didn’t recognize. The word was “ratcheer.” I heard it many times before I finally figured out what it meant.
- For example, when Juliet calls down, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Romeo responds, “Why I’m ratcheer in the bushes.”
If we could all speak the same language with the same accent perhaps there would be no hatred and wars. I don’t know.
All I know is that the miracle of Pentecost sends us a message we need to hear: concentrate on the language that unites us despite all worldly differences . . .
- the language of the Spirit of God.
We all want to have God in our hearts. We all live with the Holy Spirit within us and among us. We all are in community and God wants us to know it and to live it. God wants us to be in community with all its nurturing gifts and its call for us to minister to one another.
The miracle I referred to a moment ago took place on the day known as Pentecost—which literally means “fiftieth”. It was the ancient “Feast of Harvest,” “the day of the first fruits”, held on the fiftieth day after Passover. The purpose of this feast was to commemorate the completion of the grain harvest. It was on this high holy Jewish holiday in the City of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, when peoples of all nations gathered to worship and celebrate. People from many countries, cities and towns were doing that when suddenly they all started speaking in various tongues. Yet everyone present was able to understand what was said all around them. They understood it in their own native language.
This miracle occurred as the Gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the Church, and the community that is made possible by This Holy Spirit. This agape or love-based community lives and empowers us to care about others and to minister and to empower each other, from that day to this very minute.
The Holy Spirit is in us and in the world, linking us one to another. We are in community with everyone in the world who worships God, who seeks faith, who believes that good is better than evil. The word community comes from the same root that gives us the word communication, and the word Communion. We are all part of one another.
This one-ness applies to the whole world and to the small piece of the world such as the community of In The Garden. What one of us does or does not do has its impact on the whole. What one of us receives or does not receive has its impact on the whole. When one is forgiven the entire community is healthier in spirit. When we as a community forgive, each of us is freer.
So we live in community, even when we go off by ourselves. To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with every person who is also in relationship with God. We do not need to speak the same language or have the same accent to be in true community; we have only to realize that we are all part of God, and remember that as we live and relate to each other.
Because we have the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can call upon it when we are in trouble or distressed. The Holy Spirit is always with us. And as we heard in the last line of the reading, because we call out to the Holy Spirit, we will be saved!
Let us pray:
Almighty God, thank you for the coming of your Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Thank you for sending your Spirit to me. Thank you for your abiding presence within me and assurance for me through your indwelling Spirit. Help me to see the Holy Spirit in everyone I meet. In Jesus’ name I praise you! Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 12 June 2011