I love Pentecost. It’s my second favorite holiday in the ecclesial calendar. I just love all the messages it sends—and not at all subtly—about who is invited into the kingdom and what God plans to do.
As you know, if you’ve read this column in the past years, Pentecost was already an ancient festival by the time Jesus’ disciples celebrated it in the upper room after his resurrection and ascension. Pentecost was celebrated for 50 days (which is where the word Pentecost comes from) after Passover and was one of the “big three” pilgrimage festivals. Yearly, Jews from all over the world would stream into Jerusalem to offer the firstfruits of their harvests at the temple.
The year captured in Acts 2 was no exception. Jews from all over the Roman and Parthian empires, as well as unconquered peoples, streamed into Jerusalem (9-11). Moreover, Jerusalem itself was apparently quite multicultural with many non-Judean Jews living there and preserving their ethno-linguistic heritages (5).
When the Spirit descended on the men and women (Acts 1:12-15) who were assembled in their Jerusalem headquarters, they spoke in the hearing of Jews from all over the world about God’s mighty deeds (Acts 2:11). I envision that each person in the Jesus community gave a speech like Steven (Acts 7), rehearsing God’s saving works that culminated in Jesus but doing so in the dozens of languages spoken by Jewish pilgrims. Everyone was included in the proclamation, but no one knew what the miracle meant.
I think we are called today to respectfully listen to the words of God from people we don’t recognize as belonging to our own ethnicity or culture.
Then Peter stepped forward and gave a Bible study on Joel to explain what was happening. Peter quoted God through the prophet Joel to say that not only would the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom be preached in every language, but that this good news would also be spread to all flesh. Boys and girls will prophesy. Old and young will see visions or have dreams. And even servants will receive God’s Spirit and prophesy.
Peter was talking to a crowd that was probably mostly men (the pilgrimage was only incumbent on men) who were all Jews (Acts 2:22). But they were all included because of the miracle of the languages. And the message for all of them was that neither ethnicity nor race, gender, age, nor even personal status of being enslaved or not would hinder God from using everyone in the kingdom.
The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. So if a person has skin and muscle, God is coming for them. The message needed that day as God was calling all people into the kingdom is the same one that God shouts this day in all languages and from all people. Just as women joined men in that Christian Pentecost proclamation, we look forward to all churches and denominations recognizing that God always calls women to preach and teach. Just as Peter taught that old and young, male and female, slave and free will all speak for God (that’s what prophesying is, after all), so we need to be ready to hear God speaking from any and every human mouth in our day.
Certainly, there were those on that Pentecost in Jerusalem who scoffed and said, “They’re crazy” or “They’ve been drinking the celebratory wine too early.” There will always be scoffers who don’t believe the words of God in their own ears simply because they don’t trust or recognize the human sources of those words. Let us not scoff at who God chooses to speak God’s words.
I think we are called today to respectfully listen to the words of God from people we don’t recognize as belonging to our own ethnicity or culture. God’s Spirit has always spoken to and through folks whom we would least expect. When people who don’t look like me or speak like me say God is doing a new thing, I need to be sure to pay attention. It may well be that on this Pentecost, like so many others before, God is announcing God’s mighty deeds in a new way.