Babel to Pentecost


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 surrounding 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 much 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. Understand how this is not a rejection of your heritage.

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.

Discussion: What do you think when you hear someone speaking a language you can’t understand?

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Pentecost Songs: What would you pick?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI was looking for a music video to post for Pentecost. Found lots of songs about the Holy Spirit, but none of them spoke to my personal tastes. So what do YOU think would make a good Pentecost song? Leave your suggestions and links in the comments.


Flaming shots for everyone!


Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Isaiah 11:1-9, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, John 14:21-29

Readings for Pentecost:
First Reading Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b,  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Gospel John 20:19-23

Blessed Pentecost!

The Sunday of Pentecost is affectionately known as the birthday of the Christian church. Today we commemorate the day the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered disciples in tongues of flame. As this happened, they began to speak in many languages, and members of the crowd – who came from many places in Europe, Asia, and Africa – heard them in their own native languages. Many were “amazed and perplexed” while skeptics suggested the crowd was drunk at nine in the morning.

Now that’s a party.

Birthdays and anniversaries are important events for many people. On those dates, we acknowledge the past and look toward the future. Can we imagine a future when we are once more so full of the Spirit that some people can’t help understanding what it’s all about and others think we’re intoxicated (not in a barroom brawl sort of way but more in the vein of “I love you, man!”)?

We may not have tongues of flame dancing over our heads, but Jesus promised the Spirit would be with us always. How can we live fully into that promise every day? We can speak with and listen to people where they are. The gathered crowd did not suddenly all speak the same language; the Spirit transcended language. Living into the Spirit doesn’t compel us to make everyone the same; it helps us bridge the spaces that were once walls. Strangers cease to be objects of concern, and become objects of love.

We can also let go of worrying about how our attitudes and actions appears to others, and surrender to joy. People may call us naïve, foolish, and weak. Let them. Sacrificial love and forgiveness are not languages everyone is willing to hear, and to them it will sound like gibberish and nonsense. Our joy comes not from how much we receive, but from how much we give. Don’t let other people’s lack of understanding keep you from unwrapping your gifts.

Nine in the morning may be a little early for a drink, but when it comes to the Spirit it’s always five o’clock somewhere.

Comfort: The Holy Spirit is with us always.

Challenge: Meditate on what it means to listen for the Spirit.

Prayer: Holy God, I am open to hearing you however you will speak to me. Amen.

Discussion: When does your faith feel most like a celebration?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!