This past Sunday, 2BCLR joined Christians all over the world in thinking about the first Pentecost, when a fledgling group of Jesus’ disciples received a wild wind from heaven and tongues of fire.
Since it was a major holiday, faithful Jews from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem. The geographical roll call of all the nations present that day is quite impressive (Acts 2.9-11). In a way, it seems like the entire world was there in Jerusalem for Pentecost.
I can’t help but think about what that crowd looked like. Surely there was a large man who had his 5-year-old son sitting on his shoulders so he could see. Surely there was a young woman in that crowd who showed up for reasons she couldn’t begin to explain. Surely, there was an old man walking on a cane who believed this to be the very last pilgrimage of his life, before he began the longest pilgrimage of all. I can’t help but imagine all the diversity present in the crowd that day. Young and old. Rich and poor. Liberal and conservative. I can’t help but wonder how it must have sounded with all the various languages present.
Suddenly, the heavens loosed a wild wind which filled the house. Then, resting upon each person in the house were flaming tongues. The Spirit gave each person gifts of utterance. The crowds stood in amazement as each person in that diverse gathering heard the gospel in their heart language. To be sure, this was no less an act of God than when God breathed (same word as “spirit”) in the dirt and created Adam and Eve or when the Spirit came upon Mary who became pregnant with Jesus. Like those stories, this one was wondrously inexplicable.
Each Sunday, I look out over a congregation of people who are quite diverse. We are different racially, economically, and ideologically. We have senior adults who walk in behind walkers, and we have young children who are running down the aisles. We have Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. We have folks who were raised at 2BC and have never known anything else. We have folks who have been Cathlo-Anglo-Charismatic-Baptists. We have folks who aren’t sure what they believe at any given time.
The word “diversity” often evokes a flutter in the heart and a warming of the soul. But I must confess, diversity is hard work! There are days when a more uniform and homogenous body feels more appealing to me. There are days when I wish we could bring up a topic about which everyone agreed. There are days when I long for no one to challenge my viewpoint.
There are also days when I worry about the unity of such a diverse body. What is it that binds us together? What is it that creates a singularity out of our multiplicity? What is it that creates a harmonious unity without an enforced uniformity?
Sunday, however, I looked out at all the saints in the pews, and I thought about how much they enriched my life. I thought about how much their distinctive voices were caught up in God’s symphony of truth and beauty. I was reminded of how much I have learned from them. Their perspectives have informed mine, reminding me that my personal viewpoint is just that- a view from a point. I thought about how the older folks’ mere presence reminds me that God was busy long before I arrived, and the children laughing remind me that God will be working long after I’m gone. I thought about how the gospel is so much more than an ideology, because it reaches into the depths of our being, far deeper than the brain. As each person came forward for communion, that word sunk into my soul. Communion. Christians don’t just think about communion, we eat it and drink it until it metabolizes into our own bodies. The mere fact that these diverse people gather together every Sunday is wondrously inexplicable, and it’s a sign that they have become one with the bread and the wine.
As I said my prayers Sunday night, I asked God, “What binds us together? What REALLY binds us together?”
But I knew the answer before I asked it…especially on Pentecost.
Sometimes I wish it was something more predictable and controllable than wind and fire. Sometimes I wish it was something more overt and observable. Sometimes I wish it was something more tactile. But the church isn’t my doing; and it’s not yours. The church’s birth was something of a virgin birth too.
The next time I wonder what binds the church together, I’ll listen to the wind and the fire. Their answer will be my answer.
I guess if wind and fire are good enough for God, they’re good enough for me. Happy Pentecost!