Although it’s been two weeks since churches around the globe celebrated Pentecost, we are still in need of a fresh Pentecost spirit to enliven and embolden a richly diverse and creative body of Christ in our own nation today.
Pentecost was the time when the Holy Spirit filled, authenticated, and birthed the church. Acts 2 portrays this as a truly miraculous event: The Spirit rushed upon the disciples like a “violent wind,” tongues of “flames” rested upon them, and they started proclaiming the gospel in different languages.
Pilgrims to Jerusalem, who were present for the Feast of Weeks, heard those “Galileans” speak in their own distinct languages, and they accused the disciples of being drunk.
It is curious that many Bible commentators argue that Pentecost reversed the event at Babel (Genesis 11). In Babel, Noah’s descendants spoke the same language. Their was very little disagreement, and the community seemed to favor conformity. This ethic allowed them to invent the brick; their next big idea was to build a tower as high as the heavens.
God did not favor this community of conformity, however, and It seems that speaking the same language might have hampered creative diversity. Consequently, God “confused” their language, and different ethnicities were thus born.
Was Pentecost a true reversal of this event? If it was, then all those pilgrims to Jerusalem would have simply understood the Aramaic language typical of the disciples’ speech. The disciples would not have spoken different languages at all.
But the disciples did not proclaim a uniform, harmonious message. Their speech was not organized. There was no choir director to lead them in unison. Instead, the Pentecost event was a chaotic, muddy, and disorganized cacophony of diverse speech. No wonder the disciples sounded drunk.
The ability to speak different languages ignited the spark that launched the Great Commission “from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Pentecost did not reverse Babel, it reaffirmed the fact that God’s creative and redemptive spirit becomes fully alive in the midst of diversity rather than in dogmatic conformity.
My wife and I speak English, but there are many situations in which we seem to speak different languages. The adage that men are from Mars and women are from Venus rings all too true. When we disagree, my temptation is to pray, “Lord, help change my wife; make her more like me.”
When I stop and look at the spouse with whom God has blessed me, our differences no longer hamper our relationship; rather, our differences express the wonderful tapestry that makes our marriage all the more unique and complete.
Some Christians go so far as to claim that there are certain parts of the Bible no longer open for discussion.
Yet, we humans continue to hear the Bible in our own languages, as it were. We come to the text with our own biases.
From the perspective of Pentecost, a varied–and at times chaotic–cacophony of theology is something to celebrate and cherish, not exclude or silence. Only when we embrace our differences and turn our attention to the world beyond our Christian conflicts, will we be able to see that our Weaver-God is still spinning a luminous web* filled with the majesty of his creative diversity.
*I could not help but take this phrase, “luminous web,” from the Barbara Brown Taylor book sharing the same title.