“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Pentecost (Hebrew: Shavout) is a Jewish festival that celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses. It is celebrated 50 days after the second day of Passover, hence the name Pentecost from the Greek word for fifty days. In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to followers of Jesus. We call Pentecost the birthday of the Church. On Pentecost, Jews from many nations gathered together in Jerusalem for the Festival. The disciples of Jesus heard the sound of a mighty wind and tongues of fire rested upon each one of them. The Spirit led the disciples to tell the gospel story in different languages so that it could be understood by the people who had come to Jerusalem from many parts of the Roman Empire.
Ever since that day, there has been one faith, but many voices. Each one of us has a story to tell and each story is unique. We learn, we grow, we serve, and we give. We join with others in worship, prayer, study, and witness. We help others in need; we seek to make the community a better place for all; we work for justice and peace; we bear witness to what Jesus is doing within us, among us, and beyond us. In all these ways we bear testimony to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
Do you ever wonder why there are four gospels and not just one? Each gospel writer sees the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from a different perspective. Each gospel is written to respond to the needs of a particular community in a particular time and place. We see Jesus more clearly and know Him more fully if we listen to the witness of each writer. Through the centuries some people have been troubled by the different voices and perspectives of the four gospels. Some had attempted to write a “harmony of the gospels” by reducing the four to one. Such efforts have never been very successful because the unique witness and voice of each gospel is lost.
In a similar way, we do not all speak with the same voice, see Jesus in exactly the same way, have the same perspective on social and moral issues, or feel called to serve in identical ways. How tedious and uninspiring it would be if we were all the same. Such rich diversity of the church comes from the variety of gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to the people of God. Paul understands that we are given different gifts, but we are to use our gifts in humility for the common good. Paul writes to the Corinthians who have a hard time getting along and appreciating one another:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:5, 7).
The dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit is followed by a seemingly simple practice of Bible study, meals, and prayer. The earliest converts received the Holy Spirit and then gathered together and did what churches have been doing ever since.
They worshipped and ate together, learned the Apostles’ teaching and prayed. (Oh, and they also shared everything in common!) Through these familiar practices the Holy Spirit worked, Christianity spread, and formerly disparate (and even hostile) groups of people became the one household of God.
What can we learn in our current, vastly different context, from those earliest Christian communities? Is it possible that we could learn from listening to those whose voices are much different than our own? Is it possible that our anxiety and fear has crippled our ability to grab hold of the basic gifts of faith that God uses to transform the world?