“When the day of Pentecost came, “all the believers were gathered together in one place. “Suddenly there was a noise from the sky “which sounded like a strong wind blowing, “and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. “Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire “which spread out and touched each person there. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit “and began to talk in other languages, “as the Spirit enabled them to speak.” Acts 2:1-4
Pentecost in the new testament is a story that is the complete opposite to another story in the bible from the old testament you may have heard. The Tower of Babel narrative in Genesis 11:1–9 is an origin myth meant to explain why the world’s peoples speak different languages. According to the story, a united human race in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating westward, came to the land of Shinar. There they agreed to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, observing their city and tower, mixed their speech so that they could no longer understand each other, and scattered them around the world. When preaching on this last year, I reflected on how this story tells of people getting too comfortable with the familiar landscape they lived in and instead of going out to discover new lands, they stayed where they were to build a proud tower. God deliberately makes them “babble”, to be unable to understand each other, so that they have to learn how to value difference and diversity; so that they move out of their comfort zone.
Fast forward to the new testament….the day of Pentecost is about all the believers gathered together in one place and there is unity. They come from many lands and diverse cultures and yet the Spirit enables them to understand each other. The Spirit does not move them out of their comfort zone but brings them comfort and this, this is what empowers them not to build a tower to reach to heaven but to become the church that will bring about heaven on earth.
As we watch the awful injustice and horrific scenes in America at the moment, we know the damage that comes from a lack of respect for people who are different from us. Our world is full of tensions caused by a lack of understanding towards people from different classes, religions, races, sexual orientations, cultures and viewpoints. The fight for equal respect for all humanity is one that was being fought long before our battle with Covid-19 and yet, the virus has shown us that we are all in this together and that together we are stronger.
In this season of Pentecost what is the Spirit teaching us about the balance between unity and diversity in our time? What language do we need to learn to speak and understand to be able to nurture better relationships in our communities, in our society and in our world?
Today’s prayer (the prayer of Pope Francis)
Do we want to be heard? Let us first listen.
Do we need encouragement? Let us give encouragement.
Do we want someone to care for us? Let us care for those who are alone and abandoned.
Do we need hope for tomorrow? Let us give hope for today.
Let us become messengers of the comfort bestowed by the Spirit. Amen