Monday, May 16, 2005

A prayer for a new Pentecost

...how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:8-12, NIV)
Isn't it interesting that the first gift of the Holy Spirit was not doctrine, dogma, liturgy, or "correct" teaching - but understanding?

That day, Jerusalem was a melting pot; when I read this story, I imagine modern-day New York City. The crowd was made up of "God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5), with virtually every language known to humanity at that time. However, unlike the Star Trek universe, there was no Universal Translator gizmo available. Language was a barrier, even to people who professed the same beliefs.

But the Holy Spirit descends as tongues of fire, and an amazing thing happens. The Spirit does not settle the long-standing struggle between the Jews and the Samaritans; nor is the Battle of the Believers settled between the Pharisees, Saduccees, the Essenes, or anybody else. Dogma was not decided, turf-wars were not terminated, barriers between social groups were not blown away.

But people whose language was completely undecipherable could suddenly understand each other. And the message they received was not one of doctrine, or of moral purity, or of condemnation and repentance for sinful behavior. It was a message of promise and of hope - delivered not by the established church, but by a ragtag ragamuffin-band of fisherman, tax collectors, untouchables and ne'er-do-wells. The Gospel delivery guy turns out to be none other than the former "No, trust me - I'm sure I don't know this Jesus fellow" guy, Mr. Championship Screw-Up himself, the apostle Peter. And listen to the promises packed in Peter's delivery:
God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people...not just the ones onto whom you THINK I should pour it.
Everyone - male, female, young old, even those who are enslaved and treated as
property (in short, the ones you'd never guess would get the gift) - they will all see visions and dreams.
You're gonna see stuff you can't even imagine - wonders in the earth and in the sky. It will knock your socks off.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:17-21, my paraphrase.)
On this first Monday after Pentecost, can we pray for that kind of understanding today?
- That the message of the Holy Spirit (then, and today) is not about getting the dogma right, or having the right music, or the right program, or the right liturgy, or the really catchy "mission and vision" tagline for our so-called ministries?
- That it's not about us coming up with a checklist of who's going to heaven, or hell?
- That it's God's job, and not ours, to decide who's "in" or "out" of the Kingdom of God?
- That the message of the Holy Spirit - regardless of tongues of fire or any other modern-day manifestation - is about people coming to understand each other, and
their being able to hear a message of promise and salvation?
- That the people who most need to hear the voice of the Spirit from us are the supposedly "God-fearing" religious people, just like it was at the beginning?
Dear God, let those tongues of fire rain down again. Remind us of Your promise, and your salvation. And God, please - help us understand each other. Help us hear each other. Let every voice on earth be silent, so that Your voice can be heard - in every language and every tongue. Rain down Your fire on our souls, Lord. Amen.

6 comments:

Keith Brenton said...

Yeah, let's make a program for it. We can call it "Fifty Days of Fire!" We'll rent a big stadium and put up billboards and hire translators and bus in illegal aliens and ...

Heaven help us. No, really.

Please.

Marie said...

Oh yes, let's please pray that prayer and mean it. Inclusive. That's what Pentecost was.

Rick said...

Yes,but don't we have to truly desire to understand ne another? Perhaps the HS has already given us the gift for understanding and we are not using it??? To understand requires listening--"How is is that we are able to hear each of us in our own native language?" Are we willing to listen and enter into the story of one anothers' lives?

Great post!!!

Steve F. said...

Keith: how very, very Warren-esque of you.

Rick, this is something I wondered about. Peter and his buds didn't say, "Hey, make us understood by all these folks!" As I read the text, they didn't ask to be given the ability to be understood. That ability was the gift of the Spirit.

We talked about this in another book study I'm in tonight. For those of us who have no native-language barrier, but for whom certain concepts are prejudicial or easily rejected, we have to pray to both listen and to hear differently, I think.

As a sidebar, I think that's what was so annoying to folks who read the whole "How Shocking is the Gospel" thing - the idea of Jesus talking to a gay man in Boystown without saying, "Repent!" was completely offensive to many folks.

To many Christians, they just can't see talking to them (whoever "them" is in your life) without getting them to first repent of that behavior, or that belief, or dogma, or attitude. to just listen, to een try to understand someone's life and story without framing it with a prejudicial understanding of "the truth" is where Jesus points us to go, but so many of us are unwilling to even consider it.

To re-phrase an old truth: "What I believe talks so loud, I can't hear a thing you're sayin'..."

w.kwong said...

hey steve...

you definitely won't know me. i'm from the other side of earth. in australia but a fellow Christian.
anyway, i was searching for the lyrics of One Christmas Eve and got it in one of your posts.
wonderful...
cause i did a mime dance for the song in one of my church's cantata in malaysia.

here's my blog
chroniken.blogspot.com

william...

Mitch said...

:D