Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.’
It feels like a lot of my lectionary musings are rooted in ‘othering’, or more so, how to move away from ‘othering’. It’s probably a confession of sorts. Dare I say it speaks of something Holy Spirit has been working on inside of me. Opening my heart to see the ways I separate myself from people. When I feel insecure or fearful the easiest thing to do is to use people to make myself feel better. To elevate myself above another to feel superior. These people who are made in the image of God just like I am. It pains me to think I would use people in such a way.
I used to see Pentecost as something to desire in terms of a manifestation of the Spirit. If we could just have a moment like that, then we’d see the change we think God wants. I do think there are movements of the Spirit that we can’t quantify but I think they happen much like how Lucy finds Narnia, when your heart is open but you’re not necessarily looking for it. There are many moments in history; Azusa in 1906 being one of them. A move which brought about racial integration years before the civil rights movement feels like a genuine move of the Spirit to me. Nowadays, though, instead of seeking out a ‘manifestation’ of the Spirit, I ask for eyes to see where Holy Spirit is already at work. We don’t ask for another Azusa. Instead of dictating how we think it should look, we surrender to it looking like however it looks. She moves in mysterious ways after all.
What is interesting about pentecost is that Holy Spirit has already been present throughout Scripture. From her brooding over the waters before the creation narrative to her being with the patriarchs & matriarchs, the prophets and the poets right through to the gospel stories. The Holy Spirit has always been brooding and creating, comforting and challenging. We cannot forget this.
In the mystery of Pentecost we see what feels like the quintessential moment of de-othering (if that’s a word!) Stanley Hauerwas, and Karl Barth before him, talk about how Pentecost is the undoing of Babel. The tower of Babel, a structure constructed out of a need for significance built with the tools of war. Terrible things happen when we feel insignificant. We build idol-like structures (be they real or metaphorical) to tower ourselves above people and to rule with one oppressive voice making sure people are in ‘agreement’ with us as we prop up our system with fear. God puts a stop to Babel by scattering them and confusing their speech.
Then, thousands of years later comes Pentecost. Hauerwas says:
“The divisions at Babel are healed and reconciled at Pentecost. The language divisions were still present, but within the gathered communal identity of the church was a common Lord in Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a new day of creation, not unlike those we read about at the beginning of Genesis.”
Instead of humans clambering to go up to Heaven, here we have the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven. Instead of agreement through fear, here we have unity in diversity. The redemption of Babel feels more beautiful that just a returning of humanity to a pre-Babel state of all with one language. Here on Pentecost we have a myriad of languages and when the Holy Spirit is present in verse 6 we hear ‘everyone heard them speak in their own language’.
Everyone heard them speak. I’m moved by this. It’s not like it was a whole load of languages and they heard it as the one language. Each listened to the other and each heard the other in their own language. Each heard the gospel through each other in a different language. Each heard truth about God through each other. This leads us to realise that there is no other. We each hear God through each human as each human is made in the image of God. When Peter quotes Amos and states “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”, he means it. All people.
It’s easy to see our differences and out of that to be afraid and misinterpret God’s heart and seek conformity instead of celebrate our diversity. Will we stop to hear people today? Will we notice their reflection of God’s image? Will we celebrate our differences and where we need healing, move towards our fellow image bearer. Come Holy Spirt.
Ferg Breen is married with two kids and is a counsellor, psychotherapist, lecturer and pastor in Dublin. He also performs motivational seminars inspired solely by the work of David Brent.