The heading “Coherent Voices” sounds a lot like an oxymoron. Coherence means there is a unifying reference. Yet in the middle of an argument when all sides are shouting there is no coherence. This country is in the middle of an argument about race, I like to call it human dignity. The protests of the past few days are an eruption of it.
Another man of color, George Floyd, has died while under arrest at the hands of the police. This continues to happen and it should not. Protests have happened in thirty cities because this must stop. Yes, there has been damage to property. The other side has labelled the protesters “thugs” and connects “looting” to “shooting” as pointed out in a recent Twitter comment by the President. The argument continues to be fanned for political gain.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Jews from the known world had gathered for a festival when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a strong wind and tongues of fire settled above the heads of Jesus’ disciples. They spoke and those present, even with different dialects and languages, could hear clearly what was being said. There were many voices but they were coherent in the message which was about the wonderful things that God has done. One of the great things God has done and continues to do is work toward unity of all people.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people with no distinction between age, rank or sex. God is pouring his Spirit on all people. We divide but God unifies. We degrade each other but Christ’s death and resurrection was for all and brings value to all humanity. We destroy but in Christ all creation is being made new.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 20: 19-23) has Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. He sent them out with the business of forgiveness which is about restoration and the renewing of relationships (with God and each other). The church is being sent out today with a coherent message among the voices. The message is about human dignity that is granted not by us but by Christ himself. The message speaks directly to the division that it must end because the kingdom of heaven is not of this world. The message is about what the wonderful things God has done for us in Christ. It is for all.
The day of Pentecost has come as the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. The day is often called the birthday of the church. One thing for sure it is the dread of lay readers trying to pronounce the likes of Cappadocia, Elamites and Phrygia. The day is a strange one with a violent wind and tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples. The God-fearing Jews heard the witness of the disciples in their native language (outreach to the Gentiles will come later). The reaction was bewilderment and some considering the disciples to be drunk at 9:00 a.m. While alcohol may loosen the tongue, it doesn’t give command of another language. This shows the Spirit was given for the purpose to give witness to the mighty things God had done. Namely, raising Jesus from the dead.
The Holy Spirit was the gift given for the benefit of the church to do the work God has called it to do through Christ. Yet, as always, we work to limit the Spirit to our own prejudices and power structures. Peter quoted the prophet Joel to respond to the bewilderment of the people present. In the last days, God will pour the Spirit upon sons, daughters, young, old, men and women. Nobody gets left out! Imagine how much the church has lost out by restricting the witness of women. How many children have walked away because their voice was not allowed to develop and be shared?
The Holy Spirit was the gift given for the benefit of the church. Yet we praise the gifts of some and not others. We use the gifts as a measurement of who is most empowered or blessed the most by God. We get so enamored with the gifts that we forget to use them. The gifts need to used for the purpose given by the Spirit.
The people present were bewildered by what was going on. We should be too! There was God setting people free by cutting through the boundaries of sex and age. There was God refusing to be held under the power of tyranny as the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead. This news was bewildering to the people. The mighty acts of God was running counter cultural to all they understood. This was God setting his people and all of creation free.
So we celebrate Pentecost as the same Spirit is upon us to declare the mighty acts of God. The message is still the same of God cutting through the boundaries of age and sex and race for people to be free. The message is still the same of how God refuses to allow the powers at hand to have final control as Jesus was raised from the dead. The message is still the same but the language is bewildering because it is so different from what we are used to hearing. God is here and setting us free. This is what the Spirit is guiding us to do. This is a Holy voice.