by Jen Owens
I’ve always loved the Pentecost story in Acts. The disciples coming together to discern what to do next, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit coming upon them in “tongues, as of fire,” gifting them with the ability to communicate with people speaking such a great number of different languages. The Advocate intervening, renewing the fervor of their faith, sharing with them the gifts they need to endure, just when we thought all hope was lost.
The messages I hear coming out of this first reading, as well as the readings from 1 Corinthians 12 and John 20, are both comforting and challenging. First and foremost, God is with us. Over and over again, in ways we expect and in ways we don’t, God will continue to reveal Godself to us, as long as we open our eyes to see. This in and of itself is cause for celebration, enough to turn over in our minds and let settle into our hearts and bodies for a long while to come. But the story goes on to tell us that even at the driest points in our spiritual journeys, during the times when it seems that Jesus is no where to be found, God will give us what we need to continue on. It’s an idea that is just so difficult for me to wrap my brain (and fragile ego) around–that God’s love and God’s plan for me have more to do with God and God’s immense goodness than they have to do with me or any of my own efforts. But there the disciples stand, not doing anything particularly spectacular, simply spending time together in their grief and confusion. And in that singularly un-spectacular act–forming community in the face of isolation–the disciples provide the space for the Holy Spirit to come in and do her work. Which she does in her characteristically fantastic way, with tongues of fire and the gift of diversity.
At a time in our church when I am concerned about the divisive messages that I hear, the messages that tell us that we must all think and believe exactly the same things in exactly the same way, these readings provide a welcome respite and a call to action. In the Pentecost story, I hear that the Good News should be translated into words that we can hear, into a message that speaks to the cultures to which we belong–to young and old, to rich and poor, to the races and ethnicities of the world, to those who find a home across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, to those of all abilities. With this diversity comes significant responsibility, and reflecting on this, I hear Jesus’ message in the Gospel. Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. With all the gentleness he can muster, he breathes on his friends and shares the gift of the Spirit with them, with us. If we can focus on this common calling, this gift of peace that comes with the Spirit, there is more hope for us than there might seem.
Jen Owens earns her Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, next month. This fall, she will began doctoral studies in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.