Today is Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit. In many ways this is a day to celebrate the surprising turns and astonishing connections that happen in the lives of men and women trying to live faithful Christian lives. God is seen today as unleashing the Good News to the world and giving specific power and authority that will enable the Christian community to build up a body of men and women who can make Christ known to all people. By considering the Scriptures appointed for today, perhaps each of us will be able to see and follow in the ways in which we are being called by God.
We have two compelling scriptural stories that tell how the disciples received the Holy Spirit. In the first story that we hear, from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are touched by flames of fire and empowered to speak in foreign languages. It was so strange that people were bewildered! Yet all those disparate pilgrims in Jerusalem heard the Gospel message in language they could understand. There is something oddly compelling about hearing familiar language in a foreign country. When I don't know a language I feel vulnerable, and sometimes feel I have lost my bearings. Overhearing English spoken near me I have turned and introduced myself to strangers, something it would almost never occur to me to do in New York. Perhaps that vulnerability of people away from home prepared the hearts of the people to hear the preaching of the disciples. They were telling a story that surprised some listeners, and shocked and excited others to learn more; they were drawn to a new message that transcended language barriers.
The second story is the Gospel account of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room with the door locked for fear of the Jews. "Peace be with you," Jesus says. Then he breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The gift of the Holy Spirit is something the disciples got in the midst of their fear. Jesus came to them in that locked room and spoke first of peace, then he gave them real power and authority: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This fearful band of disciples has been given what the Pharisees claimed to have--the power to judge among people for God. That gift of authority transformed a fearful group of people into evangelists, a broken people into a people of shalom and wholeness. It seems Jesus does some of his finest work coming into the dark, locked places of human life with words of reassurance and authorization, re-framing the situation.
Both of these stories can be seen in the world around us. For instance, Anglican Franciscan brothers had the experience of working in the Solomon Islands, translating the Scriptures from English into Solomon Pijin. They reported that it was truly exciting to see the difference in the way the people listened in church when they heard the Word in their own language. On hearing the first sermons preached in Pijin, the islanders reacted immediately. Heads snapped up and broad grins flashed around the room. The liturgy came alive to all those gathered. And certainly the Franciscan preachers began to experience what the disciples must have experienced when they began to preach in the various languages. This excitement is the encouragement that all translators and others in cross-cultural work must experience.
Elements of the story of the disciples in the upper room can be seen in various efforts for community organizing. The work of Cesar Chavez with the farm workers is a good example of the way a group of fearful, oppressed people can be given a sense of their power. The grape boycott was successful and made it possible for the voice and experience of this marginalized community to be heard.
Pentecost then is a day for listening to the voices from the edge of society, speaking with authority born of their experience, and for the church to try to bridge the barriers so that understanding can be brought about. Who in your life is speaking a message that you can understand, that perhaps provokes or encourages you to take risks in your personal life? In your home? Community? School? Church? Job? What new work or insight or relationship needs to be born? Where is the Holy Spirit moving in your life to extend the reach of the Good News?