Day of Pentecost, Year A
Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39
It is hard for us to be one with each other. We love competition. Some kids compete in school over grades. I have heard stories of law students who hide books or intentionally misfile them on the library shelf so that the other classmates have difficulty finding the information. This would allow one student or group of students to have an advantage over others. There are some in workplaces who compete over their boss’s attention. And even little kids like to compete. They want to race their friends or sometimes their parents. I’ll beat you to the house or to that tree. From the adult perspective, there seems little point in racing to the house but we play along, if for no other reason, hoping that the child will expend a bit more energy.
I remember when I was in the third or fourth grade. A group of my friends were having a heated argument as to whose parent’s car was faster. Looking back I don’t think any of us really had an idea because the benchmark that was being used was numbers on the speedometer. My mother’s Ford Fairlane’s speedometer only went to 120. One of my friends went to 140. Each kid gave some number. And some kids were all but in tears about how their parent's care was faster. We can see how ridiculous this argument was. We know that the numbers on the speedometer has nothing to do with the top speed of a vehicle, let alone any other performance characteristics. These are just a few examples of how we can be overly prideful about the things we have or our abilities. We can also be jealous of others who seem to have an enhanced ability or have better things in their lives.
Paul, speaking to the church in Corinth, is trying to break up similar petty jealousies. Who has the better gift; prophecy, speaking in tongues, working miracles? Paul says quit your bickering. Each of us has gifts but we don’t have the same gifts. Each of our gifts are important to the work we do in spreading the kingdom. No one gift is better than another. We need to recognize our gifts and use them for the common good. We need to recognize the gifts in others and see their contributions.
The kingdom of God is diverse with people of different languages, different heritages, and we even have different thoughts and ideas. In the Corinthians passage, we see the Spirit working through us, freeing us to be unique and different. The Pentecost experience that we read in the book of Acts isn’t much different. On this day the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples in a dramatic way. People from all around know something is happening. If we were in Sealy last week, most likely we would have experienced the sound of a wind such as we read of today. But today’s wind didn’t bring destruction, knocking down power poles and tearing off roofs. Today’s wind actually wasn’t a wind at all. It just sounded like a rushing violent wind. Today passage is very experiential, for what we see and hear is unexplainable. It sounded like wind. It looked like divided tongues of fire. The sound of the Holy Spirit was so loud that the people gather to see what was going on. They are confused not only by this loud sound but because they hear the disciples speaking in other languages; their own native languages.
The Holy Spirit brought a diversity of language to a relatively homogenous people, the disciples. How can these Galileans speak our native language, they ask. The Spirit brought this gift to increase the church. But this increase it not just the numbers of people; we see an increased diversity of people, people from all around the Roman Empire. These are non-Palestinian natives. Immigrant people speak in native tongues that are not the same as the city they live in. But even through the power of the Holy Spirit, this diversity is not unified. These are just the words of drunkards, some say. And to which Peter protests. The message that is being shared is not heard by all the people in the same way, even if it is in their native language.
Pentecost is typically thought of as the birth of the Christian Church. This proto-Church is a Church of immigrants who speak different languages from different countries. The Holy Spirit and the Church honors the diversity and individuality of the people. We are not all alike nor do we have to be alike. As we see today, God speaks to people in different ways. Some people will hear God’s words and other do not. Most people seem to need some sort of interpretation and Peter offers a passage from the book of Joel as an explanation to what just happened. Many of the people are still bewildered. When God speaks to us or through us, it isn’t always perfectly clear. Sometimes it needs explanation or interpretation to clarify its meaning. And as I mentioned last week this is where routine prayer can be helpful. Prayer can clarify the confusion of what God is trying to tell us.
If we distill what the gift of the Spirit did for the disciples on that day, we see that it allowed them to be evangelists. It allowed the disciples to go into the community in which they lived so that they can speak to people they did not know. They didn’t just speak to people like themselves. They spoke to people who were different from themselves. In this one day, the church went from being a few hundred people to a few thousand people.
Each of us has gifts and I am using the plural because each of us has more than one. We have been blessed to have certain gifts. Some of us may not know what all of our gifts are and some of us need to develop our gifts more. Just because it is a God given gift doesn’t mean that you know how to use it to the best of your ability. Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Let this gift of Christ, the Holy Spirit, into your hearts so that you may be filled with the living water that Christ offers us. Use these gifts, go into our community, letting others see this gift within you and tell them what this gift has done for you. For this is how we spread the good news of God kingdom. And this is how we see the power of the Spirit working in our lives.