Pentecost 2021

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As a white, middle class, middle-aged, cisgender female, heterosexual, Global North, American, Christian, I have a particular view of the world. It is shaped by my experience, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, education, history (or the history I have been taught), media, family dynamics, socio-economic status, geographical location, etc. Every human has a unique vantage point through which they view the world. Only you have experienced life in your body. Different vantage points produce different understandings of reality, of truth. I can stand on one hill and look down at a valley and see a house, a horse, and a little girl playing in the field.* You may look at the same valley from a different hill, but the horse and the girl are hidden behind the house. You see a man mowing the grass in the backyard. To you, there is no girl nor is there a horse. Without each other, without communication and trust, we only know what we can see.

Perhaps, if we have conversations accompanied by faith in the other, we could believe in a reality we cannot see. If you tell me about the man in the backyard, and I tell you about the girl and the horse, our definition of reality expands. We both have a fuller and more complete understanding of the valley. However, if I deny your reality and say, “There is no man, because I can’t see a man,” then my view is limited, my truth is incomplete. Also, I disconnect myself from you with my judgement and limitations. I elevate myself away from you as “the one who knows,” and I dehumanize you as “the one who doesn’t know.”

As we can see in our current socio-political climate, embrace or acceptance of others’ truth, others’ experience, is fraught with tension and distrust. So many of us are unwilling to do some border crossing.** We are insecure in our own sense of self, and we need others to be like us in order to create a false sense of security. Without clear self-definition, that is rooted in ultimate truth (i.e., I am worthy of love, I am made good, I belong here), we are too weak to cross over into someone else’s land, to venture unto someone else’s hill. We are unwilling to see what they see of the valley, to let their truth be truth, because we are just hanging on for dear life. We wall up and shut down, thinking that will keep us safe, that will keep our sense of reality firm. However, everyone loses in this scenario.

We also can lose out on the fullness of the valley when we do border crossing, learning what is on the other side of the house, but then end up condemning what we were looking at before. “Oh my goodness! There is a man over here. How could I only see the girl and the horse! The girl and the horse must be bad, because they kept me from seeking the man.” If we, when we learn and grow and see new views, shut out and completely condemn previously held ideologies, our sight is just as narrow as when we stood on the first hill. As we border cross, I would hope that we grow, not just our sight, that our hearts and minds expand with humility and curiosity. That does not mean that some of our first view is not distorted or wrong, in need of being discarded. It does mean that swinging from one stringent ideology to another narrow view is unhelpful and limiting.

This leads me to this past Sunday, what the Christian church calls Pentecost, what Jewish believers refer to as the festival of first fruits, Shavuot, and the week of weeks. Pentecost is the Greek term for the long-celebrated festival in Jewish culture. Fifty days after Passover, with the harvest complete, God’s covenant (and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai) was observed with rejoicing, gratitude, and hope. Shavuot marked the beginning of a new covenantal relationship with God, a new way of living as a people. In Acts 2:1, as the believers in Christ were “all together in one place,” we see similar language to the experience at Mount Sinai, with wind and fire. Just as Mt. Sinai signified a new beginning for the Hebrew people, this wind and fire marked the beginning of the Church.

Ezekiel had foretold this rebirth, this new beginning: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek 36:26-27). A new heart, a soft heart. A new spirit, a compelling power to obey Jesus’ covenantal law of love and liberty.

I see four specific concepts in Acts 2 that inform the previous discussion of border crossing and landscape. In Acts 2:3, the tongues of fire divide, appearing on each individual. We are all unique, as I stated before; no one experiences God the way anyone else does in totality, because we see life and God through a distinct and lived embodiment. The same Spirit came upon each and was willing to divide and rest particularly on each soul. The Spirit could have come like she did to the burning bush, completely engulfing the room. But she didn’t. She rested on each. Each person dignified. Each person blessed. Each person equal. Each person loved. Each person embodied.

Secondly, God loves nations. God loves cultures. God loves diverse languages. God is not into melting pots or assimilation or conformity. God is into diversity. “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem… each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:5-6). In this moment, God chose to access the human heart by the logos, the Word, incarnating diverse languages. From the being of the Bible, God used human language to come near and reveal Godself to people. God didn’t speak in some high and mighty heaven speech. God came near and spoke in our tongues. God did not condemn or recoil at the human creation of speech. God loved us and chose our frail, finite means of communication to be with us. God was and is not concerned with a hierarchy of language. In this text, we see God exalt all language and culture as a vessel for God’s glorious declaration. God loves the whole valley and all the hills. God can see it all, and God wants all to know God. God chooses to do so, not by creating one way to encounter, but by coming near to where we are, incarnating our speech in all its beautiful diversity.

Thirdly, God gifts all people, both women and men equally and collectively. In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes the book of Joel, stating that this Scripture was being fulfilled in that day: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” The Spirit does not look at gender like we do. There are no hierarchies in God’s economy. God, the infinitely perfect one, even became one of us- if that doesn’t blow up your sense of exclusivity, patriarchy, and pecking order, I don’t know what will. In this text, we see clearly that God chooses women to speak, to bear witness and to be God’s messenger. Churches that refuse to hear from and make room for the women in their congregations, who refuse to let them teach or lead with equity, are missing the fruit of this text. Churches that erase or omit the voices of women and men of color, erase and omit the Spirit’s revelation. They are setting up camp on one hill, and missing the view from the other side of the valley.

Lastly, God poured out the Spirit upon people of all socio-economic statuses: “Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit…” (Acts 2:18). Yes, even upon those thought of as uneducated, without the means to offer insight upon the valley. Even upon those thought of as dirty, slow, less than, incompetent.

God poured out the Spirit on all. This must have affronted the patriarchy and exclusively national sentiment of the people gathered. Their reaction: “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Isn’t that just how we roll. We don’t understand, so we condemn, we judge, we negate, we erase, we justify. However, in this text, we see God dignifying all languages, all genders, all classes, all ethnicities, all races with God’s presence. God gives revelation, and even more so, God gives Godself to all.

We see here, in Acts 2, that the ability to see and interpret the valley does not require any means but existence. If you are alive, you know something about the valley, and your view matters. Collectively, we can piece together a more complete view, perhaps even get a little closer to what the all-seeing God witnesses and knows. Maybe God poured out the Spirit on all, so we could come that much closer to fullness, for we would have to do it together. What if that was the point? Togetherness. Border Crossing. Oneness through the beauty of diversity. It would require humility and a cruciform life that wants God-knowing, God-life more than self-preservation. That sounds like Jesus.

So be it. Amen.

*The idea of different vantage points overlooking the same “landscape” comes from Justo González’s Santa Biblia, pp. 17-20.

** “Border crossing” comes from Brian Blount’s article “The Soul of Biblical Black Folks and the Potential for Meaning” published in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 138, No. 1 (2019), pp. 16-17

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