“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” [Keep Reading]
It’s cliffhanger season on TV right now. One of my favorite shows, “Grey’s Anatomy,” has their season finale tonight. I’m expecting something from Shonda Rhimes that will be both spectacular and frustrating. That’s the beauty of cliffhangers. When told well, they keep viewers expecting a great return next season.
I feel like the Ascension is one of those cliffhangers. After an incredible “season” of miracles, stories, lessons, healing, drama, death and resurrection, Jesus leaves, but not without this incredible message to his disciples…“It’s not over. Wait here. Someone else is coming and it’s going to blow your minds.”
God did not disappoint.
Pentecost is it. In pop culture vernacular, “It. Is. Everything.” Game changer. It is where we, previously spectators, bystanders and witnesses, become participants and forever partners in God’s story. Pentecost baptizes us into the Grand Narrative.
After the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem as instructed. They joined together in constant prayer, waiting for the power and authority Jesus told them they would receive.
They had no idea what was coming next or where the story was going from there. God could’ve ended the narrative with the Resurrection, Ascension and the promise of eternal life. That would’ve been amazing enough. But God was not finished. In fact, I might argue that God was just getting started.
We know what happens next.
“A sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples were waiting. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.”
God created—or maybe re-created—again in that moment. And it looked and felt crazy.
“How is it that each of us hears them (apostles) in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs.”
This diverse group of people, speaking distinct languages and coming from disparate cultures, “hear the mighty works of God declared in their own language.”
Something extraordinary happened that day.
The Holy Spirit “fell” on humanity in a way that is deeply personal and intimate—through the lived context of a people. Through their native languages.
Language is a pathway to understanding people. And it goes deeper than just the words they are using. It speaks to their unique history and culture. It communicates their ways of being, loving, playing, laughing and singing. It conveys how they understand family and community. So, Pentecost was WAY more than just a glorified gathering of translators.
In fact, it was a front row seat to the method, mission, and manner of the divine. And it taught us a couple valuable lessons. First, that the work of God is really only possible through the power and infilling of the Holy Spirit. And second, that work happens when we are willing to step out of our own skin and learn the “language” of the “other”—to truly be incarnational.
And I can’t imagine a better time for this message. We absolutely need the power and wisdom of the incarnational God in order to do the work of proclaiming peace in communities that are being torn apart along racial, ethnic, gender, and every other line of division you can imagine.
If we are called to mission in this context, then it is a mission of wading into the heart of how people make sense of their world by truly listening to them in their own tongue, their own culture, and their deepest joys and pains. It is a mission of learning others first and proclaiming God in a way that is native; in other words, in the ways that God has already instilled and embodied in people.
Because really, if you think about it, Pentecost isn’t just a demonstration of how people “heard” that day, but also how an incarnational God “speaks”—in every tongue and to every context.
I am so grateful for a God who speaks to me where I am. May God grant all of us the grace to see, hear, and speak to others in the same way.
Lina Thompson Street Psalms Fellow
Pastor | Lake Burien Presbyterian Church Seattle, WA