When we read the texts appointed for Pentecost, a clear theme emerges. The work of the Spirit includes everyone! The life-giving and empowering breath of God is found throughout creation, and all that lives shares in the divine ruach.
The first reading for Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-21, narrates the coming of the Spirit upon devout Jews from “every nation under heaven.” Diverse in their many languages, they hear the proclamation of the apostles in their own tongue. Further, Peter cites Joel’s prophecy, which specifically includes women among the recipients of the outpoured Spirit. Acts 1 is very clear that women are among those gathered in the upper room, waiting for the coming of the Spirit in power. The iconography of the church places Mary in the very center of those touched by wind and fire.
The second reading from Psalm 104 expands the circumference of the Spirit’s vivifying activity. All creatures look to God for holy breath, and when God sends forth the Spirit, all are renewed (v. 30). Without the creative power of God blowing through creation, nothing could continue to live.
The epistle offers a vision of how the Spirit draws into one new humanity both Jews and Greeks, as well as those of very different social status—slave and free. The generous over-spilling of the Spirit into a differentiated world is the way God chooses to forge harmony where alienation has reigned.
The Gospel reading links receiving the Spirit with the capacity to participate in the forgiveness of sins (John 20:22-23). While Thomas is not present, he soon learns that the presence of the Spirit creates a welcoming place for him, with all his doubts. The disciples soon have the opportunity to see how the Risen Christ—embodied Spirit—welcomes disbelief.
I have just returned from the funeral of my beloved—and ancient—Aunt Jerry, who was buried yesterday in Muskogee, Oklahoma, after nearly 101 years of faithful inclusion. She managed to engage a wide variety of persons, both at home and from around the world, with genuine interest and respect. It surprised no one that the congregation included Asians, African Americans, Native Americans, Democrats and Republicans, those who honor women in ministry and those who do not and, perhaps more to the point in her musically gifted household, those who love classical music and those who prefer George Strait. (Please place me in the former grouping!)
Pentecost is surely about the birth of the church; yet, the vision of the Spirit was never to sunder those who proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the historical people of God, the Jews. God always wants to find ways to include. So should we.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.