A few weeks ago churches that follow the lectionary celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost means “50th.” In the Christian tradition, it marks the occasion in the book of Acts when, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to the entire gathering.
The Bible tells us that while everyone there was from different countries and all spoke their own languages, there was a common understanding, as if everyone else was speaking the language of the listener. Everyone had the spirit.
The biggest miracle here is the miracle of understanding, which really is a miracle when you stop to think about it. The barriers between those gathered were like walls that seemed to be insurmountable — tall with barbed wire at the top. In those days, women were treated like property. Children were not taken seriously. Those in slavery were not considered worthy bearers of God’s word.
How amazing it is then, that at this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out to everyone. Regardless of age, race, class and any of our human-made divisions, everyone is blessed with the gift of common understanding and everyone has their roles to play in the work of God.
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Read the story in Acts 2 and then look at the great reversals that take place here: The old aren’t usually the ones to dream dreams — they have lived out their dreams. Young people are supposed to dream dreams! The old are supposed to be the ones who have vision that comes from years of experience and wisdom, yet here the young men have the vision. Typically, servants were expected to be seen but not heard, so why has the Spirit chosen to work in this surprising way — where even the servants have a voice?
In a sense, Peter is saying that the Holy Spirit will enable the entire nation to be a community of inspired prophets. The Holy Spirit has, in a way, given birth to the church, inspiring the people of God to dream big dreams and envision a future together. Inspired is a funny word to use here. The word in-spire means to breathe into, just like that first breath of God that animated the first human.
These prophets he talks about are given the gift to see things as they are, and to help the community live a way of life that God wants for all of us. In order for that to happen, we had to be able to understand one another. Through the Holy Spirit, barriers break down. In a world where some are tempted to build higher walls to keep others out, the Holy Spirit says no — the barriers have to come down. Common understanding has to be achieved. And all of this is done in unexpected ways by unexpected people, with human distinctions and divisions rendered void by the coming of the Spirit.
In my last column, I wrote about what it meant to live in a reality of resurrection. This week let’s live in a reality of a perpetual Pentecost — this spirit says that we are still recipients of the Holy Spirit even today. Let’s live in a reality where God could speak through anyone. Let’s live expecting to have dreams, to see visions and to become speakers of the truth about the way things God would want them to be.
If we lived as if Pentecost was real, we would work toward tuning in to the way the Spirit works that leads to understanding. It would mean tearing down the divisions between us. May we be ever more aware of the working of God in the world through the Holy Spirit so that we live in a perpetual Pentecost!
The Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye is minister of community building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon.