Sunday, June 12
Perplexing, Pentecostal God, you infuse us with your Spirit, urging us to vision and dream. May the gift of your presence find voice in our lives, that our babbling may be transformed into discernment and the flickering of many tongues light an unquenchable fire of compassion and justice. Amen.
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, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 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, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
'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.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"
All readings for the Week
Acts 2:1-21 or Num 11:24-30
Ps 104:24-34, 35b
1 Cor 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:34-39
1. What are the different kinds of "languages" spoken in church today?
2. What metaphors might you suggest for the Holy Spirit?
3. How do our differences enrich our experience of unity?
4. What is the greatest obstacle to good communication?
5. When have you experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of your church?
by Kate Huey
Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles directs our attention to the power of God, with "a sound like the rush of a violent wind," "divided tongues as of fire," and an amazing linguistic incident in which people of many different languages and lands--representing the entire known world at that time--were, in that moment, one in their hearing, if not in their sense of the deeper meaning of what they heard. Despite their differences, they could all understand what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.
This story has up-ended the Tower of Babel story, in which different languages effectively divided the peoples, one from another. There was, in fact, an ancient utopian ideal of one universal language, and this story provides an interesting twist on that aspiration. In this Pentecost experience, the Spirit of God rushed in to empower many different kinds of people to do something astounding: communicate with one another effectively (a miracle in any age!). Bridges were built and crossed in a moment, and the differences among them, instead of dividing, provided startling illustration of just how great the power of God is. Underneath the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity that was not only touched but enlivened and experienced, profoundly, by many who were there. Others scoffed and interpreted even the most amazing of events through the eyes and ears of cynicism, but those with hearts and minds that were open to the movement of the Spirit knew that a new day had come.
Births are rarely neat, tidy, or quiet, and the birth of the church is no exception. The feast of Pentecost--of harvest--is an interesting time to think about pregnancy and birth, and the great crowd of converts is its own kind of harvest, yet it leads to even greater possibilities of growth and new life. In addition, the disciples, cowering and confused, experience their own kind of rebirth or transformation by the power of this Spirit who blows into the scene on the rush of a mighty wind, with great noise and even with fire. In this case, flame and wind bring not destruction but new life. As with birth, it may not be quiet or peaceful, but it is exhilarating and good, and a great wonder, too.
The un-Babel story
The story of Pentecost echoes the Tower of Babel story, it is true, by remembering that language, among other things, can unite us or divide us. Across so many divides, we strive for unity and understanding. Another "up-ending" happens with the quotation from the prophet Joel, whose words originally warned of a terrible time of destruction and death. Used here by Peter, the words have a different kind of promise, the promise of new life and new hope, of lives transformed not only as individuals but as the church. We hear them differently than those who heard them for the first time, so long ago.
In the United Church of Christ, we often say that God is still speaking. As you reflect on this story of the birth of the church, how much does it relate to the life of the church today? What are the "languages" that may divide the folks in your community, or family, or church, or at least may make unity more difficult to achieve? What experiences of deep unity, across differences, has your community enjoyed? How do our differences actually enrich and enliven what we share? How can we reach across so many differences, not only in language and culture but also in religious upbringing, economic class, educational background, and basic personality types, to communicate effectively, to hear what God is still speaking today, bringing us a call that may astound us and gather us into something more effective and more amazing that we were before, or ever dreamed of becoming? (Think of those disciples gathered in that room; could they have imagined these events and what they would become?) What events and experiences have made us cower, have made us confused? What sort of power did--or does--it take to draw us out of our "all together in one place" and send us out with courage and energy to proclaim the good news of the Risen Christ? What loud noises and rushing wind do we require to go out from our safe places and share that good news?
What does it take to amaze you?
What sorts of things astonish us now? What does it take to astonish us today? We live in a time of technological wonders and have come to expect regular improvements in the "stuff" of our lives. Think of how people reacted the first time they saw electricity, or television, or airplanes in flight. Now we regularly expect such advances and rarely act amazed. But perhaps the more astonishing things happen quietly, in relationships. What surprises in the life of your community, and in your own life as well, have astonished and amazed you, and changed your life? What stories, long told and re-told, need to be up-ended (as Peter up-ended the words of Joel) and heard in a whole new light, even if we are all speaking the same language? Do you feel a basic unity that we share, in our families, communities, and the world? What deep spiritual bond brings us together across every kind of barrier and difference? How do we appreciate our differences and yet find that common ground, that unity in the Spirit?
A preaching version of this reflection can be found at www.ucc.org/worship/samuel.
For Further Reflection
Friedrich Nietzsche, 19th century
A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit. Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.
Leo Joseph Suenens, 20th century
I believe in the surprises of the Holy Spirit.
Billy Graham, 21st century
Many people have come to Christ as a result of my participation in presenting the Gospel to them. It's all the work of the Holy Spirit.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 19th century
It's faith in something and enthusiasm for something that makes a life worth living.
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Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Revised Common Lectionary is © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.