Jerusalem was packed with Jewish pilgrims from all over the world. It was the Festival of Weeks, a festival celebrating the spring harvest, anticipated since Passover. It was a time of covenant renewal with their faithful God. The wind of God blew through the room where the disciples are gathered, transforming them into apostles-- teachers, not students. The Holy Spirit alighted on each of them, as it had done at Jesus’ baptism in the form of a dove. They begin speaking in languages they had never spoken before. The crowds gather outside of the house, and they hear the apostles’ message in their own native language; it’s not that the crowds hear in Hebrew. The Egyptians hear in Egyptian; the Romans in Latin; the Arabs in Arabic. The Day of Pentecost, celebrated in congregations last Sunday, May 31.
Everyone is unified, hearing the inclusive gospel in their own tongues. Every single pilgrim. They are dumbfounded: “How is it then that each of us can hear in our own language?” This unity is also foreshadowed in John’s vision in the Book of Revelation:
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (7:9-10).
People from every corner of the earth join together to worship God, every person celebrating in their own native language. A vision of an eternally unified humanity.
After the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police officers in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the world; even as far as Iran and Germany. Years of frustration, compounded by the virus and crash of the economy, led people to take to the streets, demanding justice. In Hebrew, the word for Spirit can also be translated as wind and breath. Psalm 104 is a good example:
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath , they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit , they are created; and you renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104:29-30).
Breath and spirit are the same word. When people experience God’s absence, we die and return to our pre-creation state, the dust of the ground. But when we experience God’s presence, creation and renewal occur. This year at Pentecost, we are stuck somewhere in the middle of those realities. Maybe we are seeing signs of a new in-breaking of God’s Wind/Breath/Spirit.
Beyond the burning cars and cries of anguish, there have been signs of renewal and possibilities for justice. Some police leaders and rank and file officers marched peacefully alongside protesters, joining their voices for a more just society and fairness in policing. I saw captains of police in large cities walking amongst people, listening, nodding, smiling. I saw white people in at least two cities standing together, forming barriers between Black protestors and the police-- using their privilege as a shield rather than a weapon. I saw Black protestors form a protective barrier around a white police officer separated from his unit. Citizens of Grayson County peacefully marched through Sherman Sunday night.
At another harvest festival, the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive...” (John 7:37-39). We are thirsting for justice and peace; not peace only. We are thirsting for a renewal of community; not a return to the way things were. We are thirsting for healing of brokenness and mistrust. The living water Jesus promises is another mark or sign or portent of the Holy Spirit. It is housed within the hearts of believers-- yours and mine-- waiting to burst out in a flood of mercy and love.
Pentecost 2020. We’re still waiting for the Holy Spirit to show up and share the Good News in words every single person can hear and understand. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we will know it: new life will come to a defeated society. Until it comes, we wait expectantly.
Spirit of God, Wind of God, Fire of God, make known your presence, your work, your justice, and your love real to the world through us. Here we are, your church on mission, your hands and feet in the world. Set our hearts on fire.
Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at http://www.pastorfrankdrenner.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.