Signpost for Sunday June 4, 2017 (Pentecost): Numbers 11:24-30; Ps 104:24-34,35b; 1Cor 12:3b-13; Acts 2:1-21.
Some people might think this Sunday is ‘speaking-in-tongues-Sunday’. They might see the disciples as specially chosen people who were filled with the spirit for the first time and the result is this amazing event. I’ve certainly been in churches where that’s very much the impression I and the rest of the congregation got. Worse, I’ve sometimes been made to feel that speaking in tongues is the best sign that you have received the holy spirit. But even reading this passage as any kind of miracle is utterly misleading.
Those ways of seeing the passage leave people feeling excluded from a special group. Yet the whole point of Luke’s description of Pentecost is that there is no special group. Anyone and everyone can speak and hear the word of God. Hearing it is as important as speaking it.
The truth of this story is not about tongues of flame or whether the disciples really spoke in lots of different languages. It’s about the fact that the holy spirit is the means by which God communicates with all people, no matter where or who they are. It’s about inclusion, the beginning of the spreading of the word beyond Jerusalem, beyond Israel, beyond the Jews themselves.
Peter’s own words spell it out in his paraphrase of Joel: ‘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 … I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’
And let’s not be fooled by that word ‘prophesy’. It doesn’t mean everyone will become a prophet in the sense of predicting the future. I think it’s simpler than that. I think at its most basic, every time someone speaks a prayer or reads a passage that you find particularly affecting, that’s prophecy: speaking a truth about God’s work in the world we live in.