Today is Pentecost. In the Christian Church we mark this as the beginning of the "church." It is the day, described in the book of Acts, when Peter and the other disciples were teaching in the town square and a whole bunch of people saw something like tongues of fire come upon them, and suddenly they were all speaking the many languages of the people in the crowd. The United Methodist Church logo is a cross with a flame - it comes from this passage in Acts (chapter 2).
My friend Ann is a spiritual director (Hi, Ann!) and leads a group of people in a lectio divina practice once a week and I am privileged to be part of it. I've been trying to practice lectio on my own but it isn't quite the same. This morning I actually tuned in to our church service because Jay performed with the bell choir. He read the scriptures, too, and so I applied one of the steps Ann has taught me - see if a word, phrase or idea shimmers, or strikes you in a new way.
I heard Jay read the words from verse 6: "...each one heard them speaking in the native language of each."
I thought about these words, and was reminded of the Spanish Conquistadors. When they encountered native peoples, many times they demanded that the people convert to Christianity. The conquistadors preached the gospel in their "mother" tongue, and when the people didn't understand and didn't convert right away, the conquistadors murdered them. I thought of the Native peoples of North America whose children were required to attend boarding schools hundreds of miles away from home, and who were forbidden from speaking their native languages. The goal was assimilation into the white culture. I'm sure there are many other examples of a native tongue being forbidden in an effort to erase (cancel, anyone?) a culture. Not the message of Pentecost, but it was "Christians" carrying out these atrocities.
These words are in the Mohawk language - the closest I could come to Susquehannock, on whose land I live.
I also heard Jay read these words, from
verses 12 and 13: "All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others sneered and said, "they are filled with new wine."
I thought of the name calling that is going on in our politics. When we disagree with someone it is so easy to sneer, "Socialist! Libtard! Antifa!"
After Peter assured the people that the disciples were not drunk, he quoted from the book of Joel: "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women , in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18).
But women are still not allowed to preach from the pulpit in many churches. LGBTQ people are not allowed to be church leaders - and what if THEY are the ones prophesying now?
The usual Pentecost message is usually something about listening to the Holy Spirit, receiving what you need, and taking the gospel out to the people.
Today, I thought of this message a little differently, perhaps because I am entering a post-church phase in my faith journey.
When Peter and the disciples were speaking and a tongue "as of fire" rested on each and gave him the ability to speak in another's language, some noticed that something profound was happening and wondered what this all meant. Others sneered that the speakers were drunk.
I want to be one of the people who stood in amazement and wonder. I'm afraid many in the church would be sneering.
I am not a historian, much as I'd like to be, so here is my Wikipedified version of church history. Peter, one of the original disciples, argued regularly with Paul, who actually never met Jesus before the crucifixion. Paul, then called Saul, encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus, when he was going to persecute some more Jews. Jesus asked, "Why do you persecute me?" and Saul was blinded for three days. Ananias came and laid hands on Saul and witnessed to him, his vision was restored, and he became not only a believer but a leader in the early church. (Acts 9:1-19).
One of the major points of contention between Peter and Paul was the role of Israel. Peter believed that the salvation was for and through the Jews. Paul wrote that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Gentile." (Galations 3:28).
In Matthew 16, verse 18, Jesus tells Peter, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Peter, then, went on and became the father of the Catholic Church. Catholics believe Peter was the first Pope.
Peter focused his ministry on the Jews, and Paul focused his ministry on the Gentiles. Peter preached that the law must be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and must be accompanied by good works. Paul believed that salvation is separate from the law, and that if one believes in Jesus Christ there is no need to pay strict attention to the law. (Please note we are talking about God's law here, not the law of the land. As Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.")
Of course the events of Pentecost predated Saul's conversion to Paul, and at Pentecost Peter and the rest of the disciples were just trying to figure out what the heck had happened and to keep their heads on.
Anyway, there have been multiple schisms within the church. In 1054 the Eastern and Western churches split in what is called the Great Schism. In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses which resulted in the cleavage of the Protestants from the Catholics. Now, 500 years later, Phyllis Tickle wrote that we are undergoing the Great Emergence, and the church will be very different when we come out on the other side, in 50 years or so.
I think this Great Emergence is creating another schism. We argue over whether the Bible is inerrant or not. The United Methodist Church is no longer united; the issue is whether the LGBTQ community should be ordained and married within the church, or condemned as abominations. The Southern Baptist Convention is falling apart over its treatment of women. Many in the church today have reverted back to a strict - but selective - interpretation of the law as written in Biblical times. We forget about the grace that comes with faith, and even the grace that comes just because God loves us.
So the early "sneerers" were followed by plenty of subsequent sneerers, and the early amazed ones have been followed by many many others who have wondered what it all means. And maybe we all have a little of each in us - sometimes we stand in awe and amazement and sometimes we sneer. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong.
How about this:
If I want to share a message with you, I need to do it to the best of my ability in YOUR language, just as the apostles did on that first Pentecost.
I must not demand that you hear the message in my language.
I will ask the Holy Spirit to open my ears and mind so that if I hear you speaking in tongues, or in a language unfamiliar to me, I will not sneer that you must be drunk. I pray that I will ask for understanding.
Our men and women are prophesying. I will not discount the words of anyone based on gender or sexual orientation.
The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, not just white, male, cisgender and heterosexual. All flesh - young and old, women and men, black and white and all skin shades in between, heterosexual and homosexual, cisgender and gender fluid, immigrant and native-born, rich and poor... I could go on.
Although I may not choose to worship as you do, I believe that worship is worship. You do you! And I'll do me, and hopefully sometimes we can get together and inspire each other.
I will respect whatever name you use to denote God.
When you prophesy, I will listen. And with the help of the Holy Spirit if I discern what you say to be true, I will with the grace of God change my ways.
It doesn't matter to me who you are when you prophesy - I will listen to you. I may argue with you, but please know that helps me to understand and discern the truth.
I will listen for the whole message.
And whether I agree with you or not, I will not sneer. I may not want to hear what you have to say, but I will not call you names or accuse you of not being sincere.
Will you join me? Will you help me?
A search of Native American Lord's Prayer gave me this, written by Chief Yellow Hawk:
And here is the Lakota version of the Lord's prayer.
Atéŋyaŋpi maĥpíya ektá naŋké čiŋ ničháže wakĥáŋlapi kte;
Nitĥókičuŋze ú kte; maĥpíya ektá tókhel nitĥáwačĥiŋ ečhúŋpi kiŋ hé iyéčhel makĥá
Akáŋl ečhúŋpi kte, aŋpétu otóiyohi aĝúyapi kiŋ lé uŋk’úpi yé;
Na waúŋĥtanipi kiŋ uŋkákičiktuŋžapi yé uŋkiš tóna šičáya ečháuŋkičuŋpi kiŋ iyéčhel awičhauŋkičiktuŋžapi;
Na táku wawíyutaŋ kiŋ él uŋkáyapi šni yé tkĥá táku šiče čiŋ etáŋhaŋ éuŋglakupi yé. Amen
This Pentecost, I pray that we can all hear the message of God in many voices and in a language that makes sense to us. I pray that the Holy Spirit will come upon all of us and give us tongues to speak and, more importantly, ears to hear. I pray that we will once again hear the message of Jesus Christ that we are to love one another, whether we believe in Jesus as the Christ or not. I pray that we will remember the words of Chief Yellow Bear: "My greatest enemy is myself."
May the Holy Spirit, indeed, be with you.
Adamson, Ian (trans.) "The Lord's Prayer in Lakota Sioux." Dr. Ian Adamson OBE. The Lord's Prayer in Lakota Sioux | Dr. Ian Adamson OBE. August 26, 2011. Accessed May 23, 2021.
"Differences Between Peter and Paul's Messages." Grace Ambassadors. List: Differences Between Peter and Paul’s Message (graceambassadors.com). Accessed May 23, 2021
Yellow Bear. "The Native American Prayer". Image. 46bea2fcfd89b1ee7bcf286f11691b0d.jpg (645×856) (pinimg.com) Accessed May 23, 2021.
"The Lord's Prayer: Mohawk." Image. our father prayer.jpg (1165×719) (katericenter.com). Accessed May 23, 2021.
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence. Ada, MI: Baker Books. 2012.
"What the Early Church Believed: Peter as Pope." Catholic Answers. What the Early Church Believed: Peter as Pope | Catholic Answers. Accessed May 23, 2021.