Babel to Pentecost

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Deuteronomy 16:9-12, Acts 4:18-21, 23-33, John 4:19-26

Pentecost readings:
Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, , Acts2:1-21


Genesis tells us the first people of the earth built a city named Babel, and in that city built a tower which aspired to reach the heavens. God was displeased with this development, for he said mortals would soon be unstoppable, so he struck down the tower and confused the tongues of the people so they spoke different languages. Humanity was scattered across the earth. This story of Babel is often told as an introduction to the story of Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, which scripture tells us was ten days after the resurrected Christ ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of flame descended upon the gathered disciples. The crowd came from many lands, and each person heard the disciples speaking in his or her native language. Some people assumed the excited crowd must have been drunk, even though it was only nine in the morning. Peter assured them no one was drunk, and this event was a sign of fulfillment of prophecy. The Holy Spirit (also called the Advocate or Paraclete) promised by Christ had begun to work among the people.

How telling that the Holy Spirit’s first gift to us was the ability to understand each other. In our largely monolingual culture we take that for granted, but in most of the world traveling from your home for a distance less than the breadth of Ohio can result in a language barrier. Yet even within our common language, we lack common understanding. Never take for granted that your frame of reference or your assumptions and inferences are the same as anyone else’s. The unspoken meaning of words like “love” and “family” and “God” can vary widely from person to person. We may share a common vocabulary, but communication – like jazz and poetry – is all about context.

We should continue to rely on the Spirit to help us understand each other, to teach us to listen before we speak. God’s kingdom does not require forced uniformity of speech and thought; it is a place where those once scattered by pride reunite in understanding.

 

Comfort: The Holy Spirit works among us to further the kingdom.

Challenge: Pray and work to free yourself from the biases and assumptions of your own language, experience, and culture.

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit guide and teach me to live and teach with the compassionate heart of Christ. Amen.

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