Deans' Note May 23, 2021
The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? (Acts 2:4-8)
What was the miracle of Pentecost? We might initially be drawn to the way people from various cultures and languages all understood the disciples' words, and the coming of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire is pretty dramatic.
Yet the real and abiding miracle of Pentecost is less about these stunning manifestations, but about the new thing, God was doing. God's dream for humanity, a new creation was beginning to spread throughout the earth in the power of Jesus crucified and risen now let loose in the world through the Holy Spirit. That miracle shows us the way we live out Pentecost in our lives now.
What we may not notice in the Pentecost story is the lack of common understanding between the people who gathered in Jerusalem. Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis? Humankind engaged in a prideful collaboration to build a tower to the sky and to decide for themselves how to rule the world. God scatters them and separates them into tribes with disparate languages so they no longer could understand one another.
Pentecost turns that story on its head. God's dream is to unite all the disparate cultures and people of the world so that we can all hear one another and be one family. The problem with the world is that we still can't get over Babel. We can't listen to one another. We can't understand one another and we live in fear, sin, suspicion, and conflict.
The miracle of Pentecost is that God has birthed a new community of love to undermine the curse of Babel, where we each can hear our language spoken, our story told and understood.
It's a really powerful coincidence then that on Pentecost we are also celebrating Asian Pacific American heritage at St. John's. We will listen to languages spoken other than our own. Others will hear their language spoken. Yet beyond the mother tongues of some of our siblings in Christ, we will listen together to hear one another. St. John's is a place where we seek to be Pentecost people, by valuing the voices and the stories we each bring. This is truly prophetic work in our nation now.
We hear the stories of Asian Americans experiencing racist attacks verbally and in some cases physically. We as Pentecost people must confront the sin of fragmentation and tell a different story. We are a new creation in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We share the common water of Baptism. We share the same feast at our Father's table. The same breath of the Holy Spirit enlivens us. That identity makes a difference as we go out into the world.
May the miracle of Pentecost empower us to dream God's dream, to proclaim in word and deed this vision glorious. In the language of our Prayer Book we pray:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of the
people of this land, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.