Column by Daryl Hay: The Holy Spirit draws us into the community of faith | faith and values
Many churches have recently celebrated the day of Pentecost.
The usual reading for this Sunday is taken from the Acts of the Apostles where it says in chapter 1 that when the day of Pentecost had arrived, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky what looked like a strong wind that filled the house where they were gathered. The disciples saw divided tongues of fire resting on each of them. All who were there were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.
“And at this noise,” says Acts, “the crowd gathered together and was distraught, because each heard them speaking in each other’s native tongue. Stunned and astonished, the crowds asked: “Are not all those who speak Galileans? And how come we listen, each of us, in our own mother tongue? »
I took 19 hours of Spanish in college after completing two years of Spanish in high school, but I can’t say I know or can speak Spanish.
I learned the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew in seminary, and I can pick out some Bible words and phrases in those languages.
People also read…
Learning a language is difficult, so we might be envious of the disciples who on the day of Pentecost were given the power to speak in other tongues. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they were given the ability to do something beyond what they were able to do before.
Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says in his book “Religious Experience in Early Christianity” that the experiences described in the New Testament involve the experience of power, and the language used to describe this experience of power is the language of Holy Spirit. Johnson says the Holy Spirit is an active power and “dwells in them, moves in them, transforms them, and gives them life. It is poured on them, and poured into them. This Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples from the day of Pentecost gathering nations and peoples.
One way to understand what happened to the disciples and those who heard them on the day of Pentecost is the story of the Tower of Babel. This story about mankind and their efforts to build a great city and a great tower happened after the time of Noah and the great flood, and is recorded in the book of Genesis. Genesis says that after the flood all people spoke one language and used the same words, and as people migrated they settled on a plain. On the plain, they decided to build a big city and a big tower to make a name for themselves, thinking that by making a big name for themselves, it would somehow keep them together.
But the Lord came down and saw the city and the tower, and was displeased. In the story, God says that because mankind spoke one language, there would be nothing to accomplish, so God decided to confuse their language and scattered the people, leaving the city and the tower in ruins.
This is the context for understanding the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts. In Genesis chapter 1, when God created mankind, and then again after the flood, God blessed mankind and commanded them to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth. Instead, mankind gathered on the plain and built a city and a great tower. Because they spoke the same language, they could accomplish this great feat, and in order for God’s will to fill the earth to be accomplished, he confused their languages and scattered them.
Now, at Pentecost, God brings everyone together. Reunite what had been divided. Gathering that had been dispersed. The earth had been filled.
The Acts of the Apostles lists all the peoples who were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Asiatics, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans and Arabs. Everyone known was represented there and they heard the disciples speaking in their own language. The diversity of tongues that has resulted from mankind’s disobedience has been redeemed by God through the unifying power of the Holy Spirit. God’s will to bless everyone was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God was drawing everyone to join the redeemed community. The mob people did not have to give up their own languages to join this community, but they would learn a new language.
Following the way of Jesus Christ involves learning a second or third language. As members of the Church, we learn a language that includes words, symbols, and actions. We learn a language of grace, love and blessing; confession, repentance and forgiveness; hospitality, peace and friendship. A language that takes the normal things we do and by the presence of the Holy Spirit transforms them into something new: the act of bathing becomes baptism and a meal becomes Holy Communion. Through the great stories of the Bible, the singing of our hymns and our prayers, we are granted a whole new vocabulary that gives shape and meaning to our lives. We have received words of consolation in times of sadness and words of praise on occasions of celebration. When our own words may fail us, God has given something to speak and to hear.
The Church is the community in which we learn this language. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us and dwells in us, touches us, transforms us and gives us life. It may not have happened with the blowing of a wind and tongues like fire, but the Holy Spirit was given to us as it was to the disciples on that first day of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit draws us into the community of faith as a sign of God’s intention to bless and unite all.
Daryl Hay is the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Bryan.