A Tale of Three Readings

So what are we to learn from the three distinctive readings for Pentecost?

Let’s   begin with Genesis & the Tower of Babel, recalling a story of initial unity that never really existed. We are certainly not dealing with history – what we are dealing with is a story told around a campfire that contains more truth than history ever could.

          Everyone spoke a single language – and everyone worked together – and they accomplished good things – until they decide they were as powerful as god.  And suddenly the world as we know it appears – different languages, confusion and clash of different culture, so no one is able to cooperate with the others.  Here we find in ancient Hebrew scripture our present situation… primarily seeing difference, disunity, and distrust.

          In the book of Acts we hear of the apostles (after what we call Ascension)  waiting together – not knowing what to do.  Commissioned by Jesus to tell the story but instructed to wait not knowing what they were waiting for. Together in the upper room on the Jewish feast of Pentecost  they have an experience they cannot describe except in comparing it to other things

– like the sound of a mighty rushing wind – but yet it wasn’t a wind.  

They saw something come upon them like tongues of flame – but it wasn’t flames or fire.

They found that the experience changed them and later described it as being filled with God’s spirit. They found the courage to leave the fear  that held them in that upper room, and discovered the ability to do what they did not believe they could do. They were able to speak to those gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world.

It is like the reversal of the tower of Babel. Where people who were powerless in terms of the culture and society of the day, recognized God in their midst and found that Spirit which unites them and gives them the ability to tell the story of Jesus to a diversity of people in spite of the differences. This community of believers found a unity of purpose.

          But some have asked how do we know that something really happened?  By the fact that we are here in the 21st century  as people following in the way of Jesus. The fact that for generations these stories have been shared, and  each generation discovers them to be good news for people of different countries, cultures, races and temperaments is proof that there is a spiritual reality here.

          The additional proof is that that for generations people have experienced God’s spirit present with them, and many are able to do amazing things. They become people like Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandella, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa, and also like those saints we have experienced in our life that do not have world wide fame but who none the less touch lives deeply.

In the Gospel of John we hear of Jesus and the disciples in the upper room, before the crucifixion. There there is tension in the air as Jesus is trying tio prepare them for the future they do not see ahead of them. There is a sense of urgency, of time is running out. Phillip, unable to understand what Jesus is trying to tell them, asks for Jesus to show them God, saying “Show us the Father”. In essence Philip wants to know everything in one clarifying moment

– wants to under stand the mystery

– wants to comprehend all Jesus has been teaching him… wants to see it clearly NOW!  

I think we have all had those moments when we want to understand it and we want to understand it NOW!

Instead Jesus tells him: 

  • You know me – To see God look at me – you can see the divine through and at work in me.
  • If that is not enough – look at the things I do and see God at work in them.
  • And insists that anyone (including Philip, you and me) who believe in Jesus and offer them selves in service to others will discover within themselves the Spirit of God.

Pentecost celebrates God’s gift to his people of this Spirit. Through the Spirit God dwells within us to empower us to find and use the gifts we have been given.

          When we do, we are able find unity with others different from ourselves, to do things that may astound us, and allows us to recognize this indwelling presence of God.

          In baptism we receive the sign of the cross of Jesus on our forehead with the words “You are sealed by the Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  That sign is an assurance that God created us, loves, us, gifted us, and commissions us to be God’s heart, and hands, and voice in the world.

            In the account of Pentecost in Acts there was a sudden event leading to dramatic results.  The resurrection account in the Gospel of John is different after Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit – there is not much change in the apostles, they remain in the locked room. It was a first ‘baby step’ changing their understanding, which led later to the overpowering presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  This tells us not to be disheartened if our journey has not yet produced dramatic spiritual results.  Stay on the path.  Don’t go back to your locked room of defeat or fear; do not end this spiritual journey.  Jesus says “The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills” and one day it may blow upon us with a deepened awareness of the Spirit’s power within us, or may kindle a fire within us that changes our life and the lives of others.

Jesus said  “…my peace I give unto you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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