Day of Pentecost

May 19, 2013
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Acts 2:1-21
Reading 2: 
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Reading 3: 
Romans 8:14-17
Reading 4: 
John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Alt Reading 2: 
Acts 2:1-21
Alt Reading 1: 
Genesis 11:1-9
By Ignacio Castuera

Some lectionary lists suggest using either the traditional Acts 2 reading or the story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11. Using both will help convey the fact that the author of Luke/Acts had in mind that one of the most important roles of the Holy Spirit was ushering the time when Babel would be reversed and true communication be re-established.

One of the important tasks of the pastor is that of educator. Pentecost has been misused as proof that speaking in tongues happened when the Spirit of God was poured on all. Referring to the tower of Babel and the “confusion” of languages will help correct the misconceptions that some use to justify “speaking in tongues” as a foundational teaching of the Christian church. Paul does indeed mention glossolalia, but there is absolutely no way to associate that phenomenon with the events surrounding Pentecost. True communication, interaction, is the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Dialekto, language not glossa, tongue, is the Greek term that is used as people marvel that they can all understand the message in their own language.

The quotation from Joel included in the Acts passage, introduces another element of Pentecost that is essential to our faith, the democratizing influence of God. “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh... male and female servants will prophesy!!” This point is reinforced by the astonishment of the people that the ones who are speaking in languages each can understand are “country hicks” Galileans. This element of the story is often misused as an excuse not to study and work hard to discern the message of the Scriptures. It should be instead utilized to reinforce the point that all should be empowered to cultivate the gift that is poured on all.

The Epistle and Gospel texts should be woven around the Acts story to strengthen the basic message of communication and democratization. Paul’s reminder that the Spirit is a unifying force, not a fear inducing element must be highlighted. It is the Spirit that reinforces the Lord’s prayer. It is the Spirit that nails down the fact that we have only one Abba and that we are all sisters and brothers who practice love of one another as Christ requires in the Gospel text.

Pentecost must be a joyful celebration! I often remind congregations that it is the one feast that has not been commercialized. No special Pentecost sales, cards or gadgets. The Spirit is truly free.