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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before May 8, 2016

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

What I Am Learning:

Pentecost was a Jewish religious festival called Shavuot. It was a double celebration, first of the giving of the law to Moses on Sinai and second a harvest festival. Both of these were a time of great celebration.

It is called "pentecost" in Greek because the giving of the law to Moses occurred 50 days after Passover.

A few things from the Social Science Commentary on the Book of Acts are really helpful when reading this text. First century people saw water, wind, oil and fire as liquids capable of being poured out on people.

Jesus instructed the disciples that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit - the wind and the fire, since they are both liquids, were the means by which they were baptized.

The word "spirit" means both breath, wind and spirit. It evokes many biblical stories

  •  the enlivening creation of the two human beings and the breath of life they were given.
  • the wind that pushed back the red sea (or reed sea) that gave the people of Israel a path out of Egypt
  • the wind that Elijah witnessed on the mountain in 1 Kings 19
  • the new spirit given to the dry bones in Ezekiel 36 and 37

The day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of this promise to renew Israel, to give them a new "spirit".

26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26-27

What is at the heart of this new spirit?

Dr. Eric Barretto suggests that a key part of this is a joyful appreciation for and inclusion of racial, gender and cultural diversity.

First, those in the room included women. When the Spirit baptized them with wind and fire the women were included in this baptism. Then as they moved into the public space and began to speak the women spoke as well. This was unheard of first century. Being a rabbi simply was not an option for women. But Acts assumes that while men still had many cultural advantages in proclaiming the Good News of God's way of mutuality women will equally share in the leadership of the movement.

Second, Jewish folk from all over the Mediterranean world were in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. By the power of the Spirit these diverse people heard what Jesus' followers, female and male, had to say in their own language.

If the intent of the story was to homogenize everyone, then then they all would have been converted to one language. Instead, the message was made understandable to people of all languages.

God's vision then is not a monoculture but to teach us to appreciate the gifts of the racial, gender and cultural diversity in the world.

May the Spirit continue to baptize us to learn to embrace and enjoy our differences!