I don’t know if you’ve ever had the embarrassing experience of someone giving you a gift, only to realize, after opening it, that you absolutely don’t have any idea what it is, or what it’s for.
What’s even worse, is when the person who’s given you the gift is standing right there in front of you, watching you open it, with eager anticipation to see your happy reaction and approval. All eyes are on you…
But what is it? In those first couple of silent seconds of panic and uncertainty, your mind races, and you’re asking yourself:
Is this a pencil sharpener, or a coffee grinder, or one of those fancy, individualized tea leaf steepers?
Is it a scarf or a bread napkin?
Earrings or fishing lures?
Finally, out of courtesy, you have to say something, so you say, “Oh, how could you have known? Thank you so much. I can really use a tire pressure gauge.” Only to have a wounded voice say, “Tire gauge?! That’s a meat thermometer!”
There’s something similar happening in the reading from Acts chapter 2.
All the leaders of the early church are gathered in one place when suddenly there’s the sound of rushing, violent wind, then tongues of fire appear resting on every head, and each one of them begin speaking different languages.
In dramatic fashion, something has been given to the church, a gift from God. The gift is the Holy Spirit. God gave the church the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But what exactly is this gift of the Holy Spirit? What is it for? What does it do? How does it change a person’s, or a people’s lives?
We can get clues to the answers of these questions in what happens immediately after the rushing wind and flames of fire in the Acts 2 chapter.
We read that all the gathered leaders began to speak a whole host of different languages, each according to their ethnic background: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Romans, Jews, Cretans, and Arabs.
Amazingly, we see this explosion of colour, and variety, and differences bubbling forth in the people gathered. And the Spirit brings this out.
And we see this in the scriptures – that God loves diversity. That God created a world of such stark and beautiful diversity, not only within the non-human animal and plant world, but also among the human family. And that’s the way God has always wanted it!
In the creation account in Genesis, we see God’s intentions playing out. In stark contrast to the other ancient creation myths, like the “Epic of Gilgamesh” which typically describe fierce rivalries and violent and hostile competition between many gods battling for domination and control over others, the Genesis account has God’s creation beginning peacefully, in the creative words: “Let there be.”
Let there be. Through these words of permission, space and time open up to make room for a variety of created beings, to exist peacefully, and cooperatively, and respectfully, together.
God essentially is saying: Let there be. Let there be variety in our midst.
The creative hospitality of God who is host to the multitudinous variety of created beings, leads us today to realize that it’s not only about “God loving me,” but also “God loves others too.”
No more rivalry, or sense of superiority, or having power over others. Instead: mutual respect, understanding, appreciation and care for “the other.” Diversity without division. Different but respectful. Distinct but united. Harmony without hostility.
You know, during this season of Pentecost, which stretches from now until the end of November, it would be good for each of us to read through the Book of Acts, which chronicles the courageous acts of those first followers of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in mission to share the Gospel message of God’s love for ALL people—not just “us,” or “our own kind,” or own “Christian Club.”
It begins with this amazing story of the coming of the Spirit, where we learn that God speaks ALL languages, not just ours!
Then we move on to the early church which held “all things in common”, and where we learn how God reconciles rich and poor.
We move from there to the healing of the lame beggar. God welcomes the physically challenged.
Then, on to the resolution of the Jewish-Gentile controversy – we learn how God shows no favourites!
Then, to the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. God includes the racially and sexually “other.”
Then, to Peter’s conversion at Cornelius’ home. God calls nobody “unclean.”
The Book of Acts is full of these examples.
Empowered by the Spirit of God in Jesus, we, today, are the “body” of Christ, the “hands and feet” of Jesus in the world, called to a mission of not being afraid, but going out and embracing “the other” – to engage, dialogue with, welcome, be open to, learn from, and help in whatever way.
Diana Butler Bass, Christian author and teacher, writes in her latest book of a time two years ago when she went to her bank one morning to deposit some cheques.
Hardly anyone was in the bank that morning, except the three tellers behind the counter. All were women. One woman wore a pale ivory hijab as a head covering, a Muslim. The second woman’s forehead bore the dark red mark known as a bindi. She was Hindu. The third woman had a small crucifix hanging around her neck, a Christian.
And Diana was absolutely amazed and moved by what happened over the next several minutes. Because the bank wasn’t busy that morning, the four of them began to chat amongst themselves, to joke around, share vegetarian recipes, and share some of their own unique religious practices and experiences.
In their conversation, they said how important it was to love our own religious traditions, and be faithful to our God, and at the same time, to teach the beauty and goodness of other religions. They concluded how that’s the “only way to peace – to be ourselves and to create understanding between all people.”
Then Diana writes in her book: “When I reached my car, I realized that I was crying. I had only rarely felt the power of the resurrected Jesus so completely in my soul.”
A moment, in that brief gathering of such diverse people in that bank, the Spirit of God descended. And love, mutual respect, and care were so deeply felt among them all.
There is the Holy Spirit of God!