Speak Your Dreams and Act Your Visions: The Day of Pentecost

Speak Your Dreams and Act Your Visions: The Day of Pentecost
Photo by Hasan Almasi / Unsplash

We have spent the past eight weeks reading through the Acts of the Apostles. The events after the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter that imagine what that astonishing act of God has made possible in the world. If you’re paying close attention to the chapters and verses, you will notice that today’s reading—the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost—actually precedes all of the other events we’ve discussed. There is good reason for this reversal of order, finishing with the beginning.

We, the Church, are about to embark on the season of proclamation that is the weeks and months after Pentecost. We hope and pray that we will have the same kinds of profound experiences of God in the world that the apostles did in the readings we’ve heard over the past eight weeks. They were equipped and empowered for this on the Day of Pentecost. They encountered situations that they hadn’t anticipated and there were plenty of misunderstandings along the way, just as there were when they were traveling with Jesus. We remember that day here, at the end of Eastertide, to remind ourselves how we have similarly been equipped and empowered for our own acts of discipleship and our own experiences with surprise and misunderstanding.

Pentecost has its origins in a Jewish festival. First-century, Greek-speaking Jews called this day Pentecost; the fiftieth day after Passover. In Hebrew it is called Shevuot, the Festival of Weeks. This holy day has its roots in celebrations of the spring harvest and a remembrance of God’s giving of the Law to Moses and the people of Israel. This festival is one of the major festivals in the year when Jewish people from all around the Mediterranean world would travel to Jerusalem to worship, make sacrifices, give thanks, and, of course, have a party. Hence the disciples of Jesus all being in Jerusalem and all in one place. Where better to celebrate than with your closest friends?

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

In hindsight, rushing wind and the appearance of fire are frequently associated with God’s presence. God breathes into humanity to give us life. God speaks through a burning bush which is not consumed by the flames. God leads Israel through the wilderness as a cloud of smoke and a pillar of fire. Mount Sinai is wrapped in smoke when God descends upon it in fire and the mountain shakes. In the moment, however, the roaring of a rushing wind and the appearance of tongues of flame on the heads of the apostles may not have immediately appeared to be a good and holy thing.

The Spirit did not appear only to the disciples gathered together. The crowd gathers at the sound and are astonished when they understand what the disciples are saying as though it were in their own language. And not just languages, but individual dialects. The communication here is perfect in the way that only God can manage between people.

Of course, even with God’s help, there are those who misunderstand what is happening. Seeing the crowd and the joy at this revelation, accusations of drunkenness begin to fly. Peter steps in and dispels that suggestion handily. He points out that what is happening must be of God and reminds the skeptics that this is the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy:

Then afterwards
   I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   your old men shall dream dreams,
   and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
   in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

These people are not drunk, they are living proof of Joel’s prophecy fulfilled. The Spirit of God has been poured out on them—on all present—and they are dreaming dreams and having visions. They are seeing the world that is to come, a better world than this where unity is not determined by uniformity and where the whole people of God are never again put to shame.

For all of its confusion in the moment, Pentecost is a festival of unity. Today Christians seldom get so far as disagreements about whether a particular event is the work of God. We spend more of our time arguing with one another, not about God at all, but about whose language and practices are right. The languages and practices meant to help people know God. We hear claims by one group that their particular collection of ideas and practices is the correct way of doing Christianity and that all others are living in differing degrees of error. Sometimes this goes beyond accusations of error and descends into denying that the other group are “really Christians.”

I recall well a conversation where someone was complaining about discriminatory practices at Christian universities. I popped up and said “I think you’re painting with too broad a brush. I am a chaplain at an Anglican university and we don’t practice any of the kinds of discrimination you’re mentioning here.” Without a moment’s hesitation I was told that it’s because I was working at an Anglican university, not a Christian university. I never learned whether that dismissal was based in ignorance of the broader Christian tradition, an intentional middle-finger to me and my tradition, or some combination of the two. Regardless, the idea that some people are “real” Christians and others are something else in Christian costumes is real, insidious, and pervasive today.

Photo by Cam Morin on Unsplash

Pentecost, for all of its celebration and wonder, is a feast that puts hard work before us. It demands of us that we consider these questions of unity. It is difficult to own those siblings in Christ with whom we disagree. Who have ideas that we find hard to understand. Who have practices that don’t make sense to us. Who level accusations directly at us saying that we are wrong because of who we place in leadership, who we allow to teach and speak, who we allow to come to font and altar. Who say and do things that we find reprehensible and cannot reconcile with the teachings of Christ. It is difficult to look at these and say, “We share this life in Christ.”

But it is true that all those who have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are members of the Body of Christ. Full stop. There is no undoing this, no removing this. These people have been adopted through Christ into the great people of God, they have had the Spirit poured out upon them. While every one of us struggles with sin and the ways in which we are called to live out this Christian life, we can never deny their place in our Christian family. We may not want to sit next to them at the banquet table, but we cannot deny them a seat somewhere at it. We have seen time and time again that when we build walls to deny those whom God has claimed, we later realize the Holy Spirit was moving in their midst all along, begging us to recognize her.

Pentecost calls us to contend with the reality that we, collectively, have been given the gifts we need to do the work God has called us to. Pentecost is a story of unity in the midst of confusion. Abundance in the midst of frightened cries of scarcity. Rather than an abundance of food in loaves and fishes, this is a story about an abundance of understanding. The wonder that is possible when we stop to listen to what is being said and watch what is being done. It is a story about discerning the movement of the Spirit in the world. About making peace with the strange people that God calls to be our siblings in Christ. They are not the people you or I might have chosen for the team but they are the people God has sent which means they must be the people that the Body needs in this time and place. It is a story that makes us examine how we speak and act in the world, not only for what we intend, but how those words and actions are received by the world. This is a feast that reminds us to listen for voices that need to be heard; that questions which voices we are diminishing; that grieves the voices we choose not to hear at all.

As we set out into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, Pentecost is our assurance that we do not go alone. We go equipped, empowered, and accompanied by the very Spirit of God so that we might speak our dreams, act on our visions and, groaning with all creation, be present for the birth of the better world Joel saw. We go to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, see the forgotten, house the homeless, protect the vulnerable, and, with every breath, give praise and thanks to our God through whom all things are possible. This is what the resurrection has made possible. This is what the Spirit empowers us to do. This is who God has created us to be. Thanks be to God.

Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

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