Readings are here.
The disciples are behind locked doors, moving around the city as needed but mostly hiding for fear of the Roman authorities and the religious leaders. Gathered together, 120 of them now, women and men, remembering their time with Jesus, studying the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), praying, breaking bread (Eucharist) with one another. Mary, the mother of Jesus, with the newly re-formed 12 and others who had journeyed with Jesus. Jesus told them to wait - so they are waiting. Suddenly fire and wind rush through their midst, blowing them out the doors. Like Moses on the mountain receiving the law with fire and storm - but instead of fire on the mountain - fire rests on each of the gathered followers, hearts aflame, minds aflame - they run out into the street. Galileans - looked down upon by city folk of Jerusalem - unstoppable words pour forth.
"They must be drunk" the people laugh derisively. But no, what's this each can understand the words in their own language. Many voices - much like the cacophony we heard with all of us speaking at once in the Acts reading - but making sense - the words of call - call to become whole, to find fullness of life, to draw close to the Holy One. Both terrifying and fascinating. 3000 responded to the call.
Pentecost was a high holy day in Israel - a spring harvest festival and celebration of the giving of the Law. People were coming into the city to the Temple to make their offering and give thanks for the guidance and support that the Law gives them. Though all are Jews or those who worshipped in the Jewish traditions, proselytes, lovers of God and God's law, they come from many countries and speak a variety of languages. The followers of Jesus were also Jews - mostly Galileans - which meant not particularly educated. Most spoke street Greek (which we find in the New Testament) or Aramaic but not the individual languages of the pilgrims that day. Yet the pilgrims testify that they heard their own languages - that long list we heard in the reading.
How great is it it be heard? To be really listened to? To know that the person hearing you is receiving what you are saying? Not the chaos of unintelligible languages but the one on one connection. Listening one another into fullness of life? A miracle not of the tongue but of the ears (as someone has said).
The disciples were hiding in fear. How often to we hide in fear - fear of others who differ from us? Do we avoid those we perceive as different, somehow scary? How do they overcome their fears? First they gather with those who are similar - who have the same sort of life as they have had, they pray, they remember how Jesus went through the world - how he welcomed all who came into his presence. Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, Roman soldiers and bleeding women, old people and children, angry people, those with illnesses, all saints and all sorts. They are nourished by word and sacrament. And one day - they walk out - undefended, open, vulnerable, to speak of what they know - regardless of the consequences. To me the best proof of the power of the Holy Spirit - that this little band of followers could go forth to witness to God's presence in spite of their totally realistic fears.
Now the "other" becomes brother and sister. Seeing all people as children of God. Differences do not go away - but difference is appreciated and not feared.
William Johnston in The Inner Eye of Love calls it Unrestricted Love --
...when I say unrestricted love I do not mean perfect love. I simply mean a love that goes on and on and on, just as man's knowledge and questioning go on and on and on. but, I repeat, it is never perfect in this life: authenticity is never fully achieved. The person with this unrestricted love has his conflicts and struggles, his imperfection and anguish, his neurosis and fear. He has his moments of betrayal and failure and sin. All this is part of that human adventure which is a love affair with the infinite. It is part of the experience of being in love.*
Jesus speaks of this coming of the Holy Spirit in his last words to the disciples – that feminine aspect of God – Ruach, Sofia, Holy Spirit – as she is known in the books of Genesis and Proverbs. The Spirit, who was present at creation, is that which leads us into all truth – the one who reveals more and more to us – Jesus says – the Spirit/Advocate will reveal more than he had been able to tell them. More and more we learn the full extent of God’s amazing inclusive love.
When we know that love from God and begin to return it to the world we enter into a relationship with God and God's people that can heal the world around us.
Mychal Judge, chaplain to the Fire Department in NYC, who died on 9/11 prayed:
Lord, Take me where you want me to go.
Let me meet who you want me to meet.
Tell me what you want me to say,
and keep me out of your way.*
Let us make this our prayer this day.
**Thanks to Edge of Enclosure.
Image from Hermanoleon