There’s a party going on out in the streets of Jerusalem. People of Jewish faith and/or ancestry have come from all over the Empire to the city for Pentecost. It’s a religious feast. It’s religious, and it’s also a feast. The purpose of this particular feast is to celebrate the first harvest (wheat), and to give thanks to God for the blessings of food and sustenance. It is much like our country’s modern Thanksgiving, but with more religious overtones.
Just like any other religious festival then or now, it’s a reason to gather for worship and celebration. Friends are catching up who haven’t seen each other since last year. Extended families gather at grandma’s house. And the food. Oh man, the food.
Every restaurant in town is full to capacity and there are lines waiting to get in. The markets have stocked all the best meats and fish and vegetables and fruits for people cooking at home. Not only are there the usual street vendors, but pilgrims from out of town have come to set up their booths of Ethiopian, Greek, Turkish, Italian food. The baklava stand is already cutting and selling pieces of deliciousness.
And the Jesus people are in a room praying.
They can hear the voices rising from the street, smell the food getting started on griddles, and there they are, praying. Waiting. Maybe some of them are wondering when the prayer meeting is going to be over so they can go grab a lamb kabob or at least a bagel. After all, the coffee and donuts in the meeting are starting to get a little stale.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. [from Acts 2]
I don’t know what their prayer agenda is, but I’m certain that scary sounds, tongues of fire, and speaking in different languages isn’t on the list.
What happens? They spill out into the streets. They seem not to be able to keep from it.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
This was the first event in the life of the church. Yes, it started indoors, but it moved outdoors. With the people from Jerusalem and all over the world. Into the festival, the food, the music.
If we take this as a metaphor for today’s church, we can’t help but see the beauty of it. The spirit gives the gathered community the courage and gifts to be the scattered community. Yes, spirit comes, quite dramatically, to those who are praying and waiting. But just as dramatically, they are drawn to the street. The church is given the ability to speak in ways in which people can understand. Do we have good news to share? Absolutely. Is there also good news to be heard in the street? Definitely.
We move to the other side of our stained glass and engage, because we come to recognize that the spirit is already and also active there. We have much to give and much to learn if we don’t stay indoors. We begin to have the vision and understanding to see tongues of fire resting on all the people we pass. We see them as sisters and brothers, as friends and family.
This is the movement of the spirit today. From indoors companionship to outdoors openness. From prayer to action. From a small room to a world full of beauty and possibility.
The church isn’t the church if it stays indoors. Set down your donut and go find the baklava.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier