I’ve been thinking about an impossible possibility lately. Tom Long* tells the story of a young girl about five years old who came to church on Pentecost Sunday with her parents. Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit of God coming into our midst interrupting and transforming the people of God, and the world. The little girl was all dressed up for the occasion, something that I find quite adorable. When she came forward for the “Children’s Time,” her parents were sitting in the second row. The Children’s pastor told the story of Pentecost with great animation, the fire, the speaking in tongues, the earthquake, the wind – it was dramatic. While the pastor was in the middle of the dramatic retelling of the story, the young girl stood up, looking towards her parents, put her hands on her hips, and in a loud whisper said, “I don’t believe a word of it!”
Pentecost Sunday is coming around again, are we like that young girl? Or maybe you have heard the story so often that it does not set off the alarms in your own head. We have heard this story many times and with all good stories there is a temptation for “familiarity to breed contempt.” For those of us in mainlines who take the story of the text seriously, these become more difficult to get our minds around with science and all. But this is not science, this is faith. This is not ideology, it is theology that makes a difference in our lives, or at least ought to.
Sometimes this day seems more like an unwelcome guest that comes around on the holiday, like the SNL caricature drunk uncle who has had too much day-drinking, as the story itself even suggests.
While recently re-reading this story, a good thing for your pastor to do, I was astonished by a phrase that has always been there but eluded me to this point in my life. I could handle the “fireworks”: the tongues, fire and wind, but the harder part of the story for me to get around was the part of the story that reads “these people from diverse cultures were speaking different languages and understood each other!” Whaaaaat?? Different languages understood each other.
It seems that we are all speaking different languages these days and not understanding one another. This tendency to wage war with words and weaponize our words has now become the new norm. It is difficult to stretch into the notion that we can speak different languages and understand each other.
I am trying desperately hard in my own life to talk less and listen more. The people we sit next to in the pews and shop with at the local store and the ones we cannot see across the globe need us to speak different languages and understand each other. Will you commit with me to slow down, stay engaged and be tender with one another and everyone. It is the interruption and transformation of Pentecost. What a bold impossible possibility. It can be a movement of God to ourselves and the world that there is hope for us to coexist together with good folks everywhere.
May the winds of Pentecost blow a fierce tenderness in your life,
*Adapted from a sermon by Joseph S. Harvard III in the Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2019.