Pentecost, for UUs
The ancient Jewish season of Pentecost, which also has special meaning for Christians, but all too often, little or no meaning whatsoever for UUs, began yesterday according to the Christian calendar. So tonight I will offer my UU elevator sermonette on the meaning of Pentecost for UUs. Some readers have heard it before, but it bears retelling.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.'
The meaning of the Tower of Babel legend in Genesis is that diversity in human speech and understanding, and divergence in human aspiration and purposes, are God's will. In contrast, the longing for uniformity, to speak in only one voice and understand in only one fashion and act with one unified purpose, suppressing all others, is human pride and folly.
The meaning of the Pentecost legend in Acts is not that a bunch of zealots started babbling unintelligible gibberish and it was somehow a divine gift. It is not even that Jesus' disciples miraculously spoke in a single voice to strangers from all the corners of the world. It is that God, having created human diversity and our divergent human capacities to speak and understand, reaches through our diversity and divergence to speak to each one of us, individually, according to our individual capacities, in whatever language each one of us is best equipped to comprehend.
If I do not understand what you do, that is not my folly, or yours, but divine will. God is not in your voice alone, or mine alone, or only in the things we can agree on together, but in the totality of all sincere voices and spiritual insights across the globe. Our folly is to think that we alone understand, to the exclusion of others.
So speak your truth with conviction, even as prophecy, but listen respectfully when others speak theirs also, even when they seem to contradict you. It's all good. It's the Holy Spirit, still moving in the world, even as it once moved so confoundingly among the disciples at Pentecost long ago, inspiring us each to do our little piece of God's will in our own unique way, and to reach those others whom we are uniquely able to reach with the gifts we are given. For God is not only in our words, but also even in our differences and contradictions.