Acts 2:1-21/1 Cor. 12:3b-13/John 7:37-39
A few chapters back Jesus tells a woman at a well about water that he would give that would become a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” You’ll never be thirsty if you drink this water. Here he goes further: not only will we not be thirsty if we drink this water, but out of our own hearts will flow rivers of living water! As the narrator explains, he is talking about the Holy Spirit, which was yet to come. The Holy Spirit, he says, is going to flow out of our hearts from one person to another—rivers of living water, rivers of the love of Christ from one to another. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ, the Spirit of God is passed from one human heart to another, like water circulating through a great fountain.
For the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit, we turn to the Book of Acts, where there’s quite a Pentecostal commotion, enough to attract thousands of people. We read a little later that after the spectacular wind and fire and speaking in tongues, Peter preaches to a great crowd, and 3000 are baptized on the spot. That is some wind and fire.
The story is about a spectacular supernatural event. Supernatural wind, supernatural fire, supernatural inspiration. But it is set in the context of a very natural occasion: a harvest festival. It was the time of the ingathering of the winter wheat crop. Pentecost is the Greek word for the Jewish festival of Weeks (Shavuoth in Hebrew). A week of weeks after Passover: 7 times 7, 49 days. Which is almost 50, hence Pentecost. Pentecost, or Shavuoth, is mandated in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. First fruits of this early, springtime wheat harvest were to be brought for sacrifice.
I don’t have much to say about the supernatural wind and fire in the story other than “Wow, wish I’d been there!” Or, “You did it once—do it again!” I find the harvest theme more fruitful, so to speak–a bit more grounded and earthy and natural. And however impressive the Pentecostal wind and fire might have been, God has put a lot of effort into the earthy and natural as well.
The festival of ingathering of wheat echoes, of course, the ingathering of people in the story. A festival of ingathering of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete and Arabia…..
An ingathering of people from all over: “from every nation under heaven”—thousands of them. And surely including rich and poor, old and young, well and unwell, beautiful and plain, intelligent and less so, educated and illiterate. The the rabble and the elite, latte drinkers and the beer guzzlers.
Now stalks of wheat gathered from the fields would have a certain all-look-alike quality. But this first century UN gathering suggests a richer, more complex crop. A harvest of people rich in vibrant contrasts of color, form, size, character, personality. No two stalks of this “crop” are alike. No two of us are the same.
And, yet, for all our differences, we are knit together in one body, to use Paul’s language. In the power of the Spirit, we are made one people. A unity of diversity; diversity within a unity. That’s Paul’s vision of the church as the Body of Christ. It takes all kinds, but we’re baptized into one body.
The flames of the Pentecost story are supernatural. But bringing diverse people together ignites its own kind of fire, its own kind of transformational fire. Diversity itself can be inflammatory. For better or worse. Diversity within a single body is a lovely vision of the church; it’s also a recipe for combustion. And fire can be a good thing, or not.
Diversity can be unsettling. It can be uncomfortable. It can cause friction. Differences can cause things to go up in flames in the church or any other body. Or, the fire can be a transformational energy. How to manage, how to temper the Pentecostal fires of diversity has been a challenge to the Church for 2000 years. But diversity is probably the single most potent source of transformational energy available to us. Both natural and renewable energy!
The festival of Weeks, Shavuoth, Pentecost is about stalks of wheat that all look pretty much alike. We don’t see ourselves in this way—we’re much more likely to notice our differences. But, God has a different perspective. God, I think, is able to see us in two ways at the same time. When God sees us, God sees our uniqueness, our particularities, our peculiarities, our strengths, our weaknesses, etc. And God loves us for who we are, warts and all. But, at the same time, God is able to see in us an essential equality—just as we see an essential equality in the stalks of wheat. God is able to see both our uniqueness and our essential equality together, at the same time.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a God’s eye view of the universe! I suppose moving in that direction, to begin to see things as God sees them, is why we’re here.
Diversity can be combustible. Differences can be incendiary. But seeing and embracing our essential equality, our radical equality before God can be a way of channeling, of tempering the fiery energies of diversity. What could be a wildfire out of control becomes a dynamo for our transformation and growth when we acknowledge our essential equality. A dynamo for transformation and growth.
There are deeply personal implications of this principle. It is a big mistake to consider ourselves of more value than other human beings. It is equally a big mistake to consider ourselves of less value than other human beings. In terms of essential value and worth, one stalk of wheat is just like another. Acknowledging this truth can become deeply transformational. We are so tempted to measure human worth by what we have or what we can do or any number of other ways.
But if the Spirit of God dwells within us, if this Spirit flows between us and among us and through us like “a river of living water”, we are bound to recognize our essential equality. Whether we be prince or priest; pope or pauper, however diverse we are, we share one thing in common: that river of living water. That great river of living water that flows from the heart of one to the heart of the other like in a great fountain. That great river of living water, that great and luminous river, that great and fiery river of living water.
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