When we celebrate Pentecost, we are adding our “Amen” to God’s purpose of diversity. Those Jews who gathered in Jerusalem for Shavout, fifty days after Passover, were witnesses to a new demonstration of the Spirit’s transgressive power. Particularity matters to God, as the history of the Jewish people discloses; yet this particularity is never meant to extract one group from the larger human tapestry.
This past weekend the Metro Chicago Region of the American Baptist Churches gathered for their annual meeting. I had the opportunity to reflect with leaders there about the new church that is coming and ways in which the Spirit is always bringing newness out of the chaotic mix of cultures. This region is diverse, and congregational leaders understand that the “walls of separation” have been broken by God’s work, and that they can enjoy being “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5).
I witnessed Joel’s prophecy being embodied as women and men, younger and older, offered their gifts for the purpose of a larger unified mission. Persons from India, Honduras, Colombia, and Ghana, to mention only a sampling, added richly accented English to the African American and European American linguistic conventions. It was Pentecost for me.
Yesterday churches enjoyed “seeing red” in banners, vestments, clothing, and flower arrangements. We read the Acts account of speaking in tongues in varied languages, and we glimpsed a sense of the wonder of the translatability of the Gospel. I wish we would “see red,” however, over the anti-Pentecost impulses gaining momentum in our world. It is very hard to be a minority, either ethnically or religiously.
This past week Joshua M. Landis, a scholar of Middle East issues, wrote a column for Christian Century entitled “A Violent Sorting Out.” He argued, “The entire Middle East is in the midst of a nation-building process.” There are casualties in this process, e.g., Jews, Christians, different Islamic traditions, and other religious minorities, as nations become ever more homogeneous. Dominant and absolutist ideologies replace a more inclusive approach to peaceful co-existence.
The Spirit-fueled experience of Pentecost made visible God’s intention to create a new people, including both those near and far off, as Paul writes (Ephesians 2:13). God’s own project of “sorting out” requires that we welcome the stranger and call nothing unclean that has its origin in God. Then we will begin to discover how beautiful is the Body of Christ.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.