Festivals. Most of us love festivals. Imagine a festival that was celebrated exactly fifty days after Passover. The Festival of Weeks! Fifty days after Passover. From the Greek word for fifty, the festival eventually acquired the same name Pentecost in the Greek speaking world. Jerusalem was the place to be for that festival of weeks. They came from all over. As far as Phrygia and Pamphylia. As far as Eqypt and Libya. Parthians, Medes, Elamites. Residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia. Pontus and Asia. Oh, so many of them. Young, old, rich, poor, men and women. It was going to be one wonderful festival.
The Scriptures tell us how the Festival of Weeks was to be celebrated. Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16 tell us that this was the day each person was to bring to God a special gift in proportion to the blessing the Lord had given. Take stock of God's blessing and bring to God a special gift in proportion to the blessings. Can you see someone bringing a ton of wheat another five, six or even seven pieces of hand-woven linen. Another bringing 5 dollars and another $5,000.
All daily work was to be set aside. The people were to gather and worship and rejoice before the Lord. Each and everyone was invited. No one was to be excluded. The guest list was God's guest list and was clearly stipulated in the Scripture for all to read. Listen, the following are invited: You, your sons and daughters, your men servants and maid servants, the Levites in your towns, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.
What a guest list! Did you hear that you were invited? And everybody in your household too? Your relatives and those who work with you and for you. And did you hear that those who are or have a differing theological position are also invited? And the immigrants and non-citizens and foreigners too. And those who are orphaned and widowed. Those who live in the margins. The homeless. If invitations were sent out it was not for the purpose of excluding but simply to inform. None was to be excluded to God's party. Each one was invited regardless of religion, race, gender, status of age. All the barriers that divide us throughout the year were to come down on that day of celebration.
What a celebration this was going to be! The day was in commemoration of the day the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Oh, you can remember how it was back then when a raggedy band of escaped slaves had been called to the incredible relationship of being a covenant people of God. A holy nation. A people with an identity that began and ended with God. And God had given them the Law. The great gift of the law. A blessing. The Law was not just rules and regulations, do's and don't, but the Law was the revelation of how to do relationship. The Law was a gift of Love for God's People. What a time to be in Jerusalem! The city was buzzing with all kinds of culture and languages and excitement in the air. What a great time to celebrate being marked to God's holy nation!
But look! On such a day, in such an occasion, the believers were indoors. Outside was all the excitement and the believers were indoors behind closed doors. Those who were there tell us that they suddenly heard a sound. A sound like blowing. Wind blowing and gathering momentum until it became a mighty wind. A storm. And that stormy wind sound filled the very place where they were gathered. Then fire, they tell us. Tongues of fire falling and reaching and touching each and every person in the room. Each one became filled. Filled with the Holy Spirit.
Then they began to speak. They found the words to say. They found the courage to speak words. They no longer whispered only among themselves. They opened the doors. They walked out of their safe space room and took the risk of going into the crowd gathered outside. And they began to speak to those who had not seen the fire nor heard the wind. Speaking to strangers the good news of Jesus. And as the crowd listened, they were amazed and said, "Hey! We can understand what these people are saying. They are speaking our language. They are speaking our mother-tongue, the vernacular!"
What a sight! Spectacular? Yes! Amazing? Yes!
One writer has read about this Pentecost story and says that the disciples were trying to describe this presence which moved them from despair to hope; from fear to love. The disciplines were trying to describe what had happened to then in physical terms as a sound from heaven as a rushing of a mighty wind or tongues of flames. Another writer says "It was as though the heavens had burst and streams of heavenly influences were flooding down into their lives." What happened at Pentecost was that their hearts and lives were opened wide for the spirit of God in all its fullness to descend upon them and take them captive for the purposes of God.
The disciples tell us it was a matter of language! Oh, but how very much we know about language! You see language in our world has often been a matter of power. Who speaks what language and where and when is often an indication of who is allowed to be seen and who is to remain invisible. Colonialism has always worked to silence languages and force natives to speak the language of those in power. For many of us who come from post colonial backgrounds, our native languages have often been ridiculed and we have struggled to learn the languages of power. Often nation states have imagined that the way to unite people into one nation is to have one language and in the process to silence other languages. Considering such situations, imagine what amazing good News that each language has a place in God's world! The incredulous realization that each one could be allowed to hear and speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language! Amazing! This is amazing news! The good News is that you do not have to change cultures. You and I do not have to pretend to be someone we are not in order to hear the Good News! Guess what? God speaks every language.
Pentecost is breaking down the walls of the cocoon of despair and fear. Pentecost is the powerful entry of the Holy Spirit into our lives to rearrange our world in surprisingly new ways. Oh, languages and cultures are not erased, but languages that are foreign no longer intimidate us into xenophobia and prejudices. Suddenly the differences between peoples of the world, be they in accent, language, race or ethnicity are not something to fear but something to appreciate about God. Pentecost is the invasion of God's time, God's Kairos, God's point of view into our lives. Pentecost is like wearing new glasses and suddenly our sight is restored to see that, "Hey! We are more connected than we imagined. We who share the same planet are connected in more powerful ways.
I was once in a retreat where we were invited to consider how small the world was and how we were interrelated. The retreat leader told us to consider our clothes. The cotton your clothes are made of may have come from Nicaragua or India. Your watch may be made of metals that perhaps came from Chile or Zaire. The coffee, cocoa, and sugar that are part of your breakfast may have come from El Salvador, Columbia or Kenya. The medicines that some of us take may have ingredients that were taken out of a tropical forest. So each time we eat a hamburger, drink some coffee or look at the watch, we were challenged to think of the living things, human and nonhuman, that are part of our daily life.
When each one of us in our world hears the Good News in our own language, something wonderful happens. We are healed. We are empowered. Only when we hear and speak our own language can we be authentic in our discipleship. No longer imitating. No longer trying to be what we are not! Each one of us. God's amazingly diverse guests!