The Day of Pentecost

Pentecost: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 11:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27); Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Today is the day of Pentecost, the 5oth day after the Resurrection. We celebrate the presence of the spirit among us, and hear the story of the Spirit coming upon the disciples. Central to our readings today is the reading from Acts, where we hear that when the Spirit descends on the disciples, they are able to speak in all the languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem.

But we start today in Genesis, with the story of the building of the tower of Babel. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” They sought to “make a name for themselves” and build a tower that reached to heaven. The Lord is disturbed by their ambition, and fearful of what they might choose in the future: “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them”. The Lord then says, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”

The confusion of language divided the nations of the world. The story from Acts tells a story of connection. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and gives them the gift of tongues, so that they can be understood by everyone in Jerusalem: all can hear the story of “God’s deeds of power”. This is a healing of the brokenness of the world. It is sufficiently astonishing that Peter needs to tell his listeners that they are not drunk, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning”!

In the Gospel, Jesus promises that those who believe in him “will do greater works than these”, because He will be with God. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” This is an extraordinary promise; and one that many of us may have trouble believing. I don’t think I know anyone all of whose prayers have been answered; they certainly have not always been answered in the way we hoped. Jesus has that covered: “I do not give to you as the world gives”.

Jesus also tells us that those who love him will keep his commandments. This too is a difficult message to believe: those who love Jesus (or at least claim to) have done many things which seem far from his commandments. Certainly the actions of Jesus’ followers have not always been marked by love of one another!

We still live in a broken world. During Easter season, we do not say the confession: its absence is a reminder that our sins are forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today was the first time since Easter that we have confessed our sins. Jesus ends his message to his disciples telling that that the Holy Spirit will be with them, and “will remind you of all that I have said to you”. Even the disciples would need reminders. We certainly do too.

We live in the world of Babel, where the Holy Spirit may help us bridge the divides of language and culture, but does not erase them. Those divisions get in the way of our following all Jesus’ commandments. The promise of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is with us, and if we let it, can heal the divisions among us. The question for us is always, will we listen?

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