Pentecost 2020; Acts 2; May 31, 2020
When is the last time something unexpected happened to you? When is the last time you experienced God’s unexpected movement in your life?
One of many themes running through scripture is: “Expect the unexpected.” Being human beings, we prefer having a sense of order, knowing ahead of time what’s coming so that we can place it within the rhythm of our daily life. As a young priest, I was taught by my superiors about the importance of communication—that “no one likes surprises” in order to prevent the unexpected. They continued their teaching with the saying, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.” But God and life do not always work that way. Another message throughout scripture is “things aren’t the way you thought they were.” Expect the unexpected.
Understanding the historical background of the first Pentecost is key to understanding the second Pentecost. The Feast of Pentecost originated in the five books of Moses (Old Testament) as an offering of first fruits, decreed for Israel on Mount Sinai.
One of seven overall Jewish feasts, Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage harvest feasts to Jerusalem, held 50 days after the Passover. Throughout Jewish history, it has been customary to engage in an all-night study of the Torah on the first evening of Shavuot where offerings of wheat would be brought to the temple.
During this feast of Pentecost, something new, very strange and unexpected was about to happen. The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem with the diverse numbers of people from far off lands. Galilee was part of the former northern kingdom of the ten tribes that had been conquered some three centuries earlier— forcing the northern Jews out of the country and bringing in Assyrians, Chaldeans and other races so that the population would be so diverse, lacking cohesiveness, that they would be easy for the conquering kingdom to control. Differing Semitic cultures are clannish and dominated by their religions, customs, language and other marks of their ethnicity. Isaiah called this conglomeration of cultures in the former Northern Kingdom, “Gentiles,” meaning, “foreigners.”
People only give up their culture when forced to by ethnic cleansing exercised by other oppressive cultures or governments which often involves war. Rome required their approval of leaders of the Jewish nation which included their religious leaders who understood the fine print, “don’t make waves.” The dominated country would be allowed to maintain much of their culture as they were taxed into poverty.
There could have been more than 12 different languages spoken in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost. Galilean farmers, fishermen and shepherds might learn two or three of these languages. Imagine, being in a crowd of thousands with at least 12 different languages and cultures with differing customs and norms of behavior. How would you manage without a tour guide? The present Palestinian and Israeli situation is less complex than the situation in which the disciples found themselves.
These were the circumstances in which the disciples found themselves—until the Wind came.
Wind, fire and speech—the traditional symbols of Divine Presence—were about to erupt.
Unexpectedly, the disciples found themselves in a mysterious way, full of ecstasy and speaking in the various languages of those present at the Jewish Pentecost Feast. And of course, the people around them, didn’t know how to take in this unexpected event, some saying that the disciples were drunk at that early hour of (;)) a.m. in the morning.
Then Peter gets up and tells the Greatest Story Ever Told, and the rest is history. Three thousand people “heard” and felt something that they had never had before—enough to seek Baptism and a new way of being—a new way of life.
Three thousand people, moved, transformed, and united by a Power that did not force them to relinquish their culture. It has been said that God is the only Power in the Universe that can make two people one without destroying the integrity of each. No games, no manipulation, no force, no trickery, no politics. Simply the Presence of the Creator now joining them as one.
This is why I have found it fun to go into Mexico and Guatemala without knowing much Spanish, and to celebrate the Eucharist with people I have never met nor understand.
God holds us together, differences and all, and neither group attempts to change the other, only offering what we know to the other when they desire it. Of course, missionary work through history hasn’t always been spiritually sound, often attempting to change others instead of joining with them, causing more harm than good in some cases
Since most of us haven’t been out of the country on a mission trip what does this story from Acts have to say to us?
The immediate mission field for the disciples was in their own back yard, so to speak. Ours is also. There are at least three thousand people out there who are different than we are, who mostly speak English, who have yet to hear the clear message of what God the Creator will have the Holy Spirit place in their hearts. I am wondering where these three thousand people are.
The disciples first reached out to those three thousand people who were in their midst before moving on to far off lands. I am sure we pass three thousand people within a year’s time. I wonder who those three thousand people are among us.
Can we ask for the same Spirit that filled Peter and the others? Can we listen to the same Spirit to direct us to reach others so that we might offer a few of them the Presence of their Creator Spirit who longs to know them in a new and deeper way?
Will we accept this invitation? How can we receive the gift without also receiving the purpose of the gift? Can we find creative ways during this COVID mess to reach people to receive the same Spirit that we desire for ourselves?
We have it so much easier than the disciples did. Up to this point, we remain a culture that allows freedom for those to follow God in the way the Spirit leads us. We speak a common language or two. Our cultural differences are minimal in comparison.
Pentecost is the birth-day of the Church. The day we were given birth—new birth.
As Meister Eckhart experienced: “We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.”
Expect the unexpected. There are three thousand people out there waiting to be born.
Find one of them.