MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: The spirit of Pentecost
We know about wind blowing in North Texas. In the summer when it’s hot and dry, there may not be a whisper of air moving. But springtime in this part of the world there’s going to be wind. Sometimes it can be soothing like a gentle breeze. Other times you might need to hang on to your hat. Still others may be so violent that you have to try to find a safe place for shelter. We know about wind here.
When the disciples gathered in a room, maybe to worship at the festival of weeks, they felt the air begin to stir. It was suddenly more powerful, filling the house with what might’ve felt like a small twister. Instead of getting tongue tied over it, the disciples seemed to have gotten un-twisted.
When they spoke, the words that came out were in the languages of all the people who had gathered there for the festival, and then some. They uttered words not in glossolalia, the ecstatic form of speech that requires someone to interpret it, but in the words, the pronunciations, the accents of the people from back home. They understood it themselves in their own languages.
It must’ve been impressive to hear messages spoken like those people were already home. And, maybe that’s part of it; hearing a message from these back-country Galileans that had the familiarity and eloquence of home; a way of saying you are at home here. You belong. It was a sense of welcome like they probably had never received before.
I have a nephew who has taken up Mandarin Chinese. He has fallen in love with the language, traveled to China several times, and continues to refine his skills. He is thrilled whenever he runs into a Mandarin speaker, especially if they happen to be older. He enjoys the surprised look he gets when he begins speaking with them. It’s as though all the barriers drop, and there is excited chatter as they discover the ability of a tall, blonde headed Caucasian communicating with them. It’s like an experience of welcome into this country. And it opens doors into their culture.
When those Galileans began speaking in the native languages, maybe it communicated a sense of being at home as a people of God. And, if that were not enough, Luke gives us in his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, a list of practically all of the known world at the time, and then some. They were not only the neighboring countries of the Hebrews, the Parthians had died out a couple of centuries before Jesus was born. Medes hadn’t been around for five and a half centuries; and Elamites about the same time or a little longer.
What’s up with Luke that he would be telling us the apostles, after being blown around by the Spirit of God, were speaking the languages of peoples long dead, as well as the languages of visitors who were alive and well from foreign countries? Luke may have been giving us a vision of the kingdom, or the kin-dom, or the kinship of the people of God that stretches across time itself, including the people who have gone a long time before us.
There’s a sense of welcome across boundaries and borders, across differences in culture and appearance, across time itself that would otherwise separate us by life and death that brings us into the kinship of God.
In our own time of division, when some relationships become severed by differences, here is the Spirit of God blowing in through the windows, messing up our tidy stacks determining who belongs, who is acceptable, who is like or not like us, who is right or who is wrong to speak in the languages that bring us home. God’s Spirit calls all of us together to bring an end to enmity, to dream dreams together. Luke shows us what it’s like – people from across time and space, from everything that would divide us, into being the people of God. Lord knows we need it. Come, Holy Spirit, Come.
Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.