Living out the Real Day of Pentecost!

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After working on my sermon yesterday, I realized how difficult some scripture passages are to preach! Not because there isn’t anything good there, (although that, if I’m honest, is a problem for some scripture passages) but because there is SO MUCH to see in some scripture passages!  Some scripture passages are so dense in metaphor and meaning that I almost feel I could preach a month on them! One of those passages is the second chapter of Acts: the author of the gospel of Luke’s wonderful story of the Day of Pentecost!  You may know the story, if you don’t please take a read in the 2nd chapter of the book of Acts.  It’s one of the craziest stories in the bible.  The one where the author uses images like “tongues of fire” and “a mighty wind”.  It’s also one where “supposedly” people began to speak in tongues…hence the word “Pentecostal church” … i.e. the church where people speak in tongues.

But if you read this scripture carefully, the writer of this event isn’t talking about “speaking in tongues” he’s talking about people speaking in all the different languages and understanding them in their own.  He’s talking about a giant language translation seminar!  What is going on here?

Many scholars believe that this part of the story is a reference to another key story in the Old Testament.  (Many of the gospel writer’s, by the way, allude to the Old Testament in order to emphasize a theological point.  That’s one of the reasons we have the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) in our book…to help us understand what the New Testament is trying to say.) The story that is referenced here is the story in the book of Genesis (Genesis 11) called the Tower of Babel.  Here’s a synopsis of the story:

The descendants of Noah were living in the area of Mesopotamia in Babylon. They settled in a land named Shinar.  The population was growing, and they all spoke one language.  The people decided to build a tall, proud symbol of how great they had made their nation.  The Babylonians wanted a tower that would “reach to the heavens” so that they could be like God and that they would not need God.  They began to construct a great ziggurat. God did not like the pride and arrogance in the hearts of the people.  God caused the people to suddenly speak different languages so they could not communicate and work together to build the tower.  This caused the people to scatter across the land. The tower was named the Tower of Babel because the word Babel means confusion.

Many scholars, then, believe that the writer of the book of Acts was trying to say that in Christ God was reversing this action.  In Christ, God was bringing all things back together.  In Christ, God was and is bringing people of all nations and languages together as one.  The apostle Paul, in his letters, tries to make this same statement.  In Galatians 3:26-28 he writes: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In Ephesians Paul not only refers to people but almost in a mystical dream for the ages he says: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:8-10

Wow!  In Christ, God is bringing all things in heaven and on earth together!  What an amazing dream and vision for the world!  So, if the scholars are correct here, then the church, God’s agent here on earth, should be about making this dream become a reality.  Christ, according to these scripture passages, is God’s “bridge of reconciliation!”  In Christ’s spirit God is binding everyone back together as one, and as Christ’s church, our work is all about building bridges!

Sometimes when I contemplate this wonderful dream of what the world should be like, I weep!  It seems like every time I see a sign of this coming to be, the next day I see signs of us taking two steps back again.  It’s almost as if the world gets it for one brief moment, and then the next day we wake up and suffer from a failure of nerve, and we slip back into selfishness and division!  The key to all of this is to keep at it!  We can’t give up.  This dream of a world coming together as one is too important.  In fact, it is my belief that if we don’t learn to come together, we will not be on this earth long!   We must come together in order to survive.

In August, our church is sending 13 or more folks to Honduras on a mission trip.  For me, this is a trip that is meant to do just what this scripture passage is calling us to do: we are building a bridge between two groups of people who have a different culture, a different language, and a different way of looking at the world. 

My hope and prayer is that Christ will be with us as we meet on God’s bridge of reconciliation and understanding...as both cultures learn from each other and learn to respect both our similarities and our differences.

Your friend and pastor, trying to join Christ on every bridge I cross, Brook

Tim Schaaf