Celebrating Pentecost Sunday: A Prayerful Reflection by Julia Styles

Lectionary reading for 5/23/2021: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Selected passage for reflection: Acts 2:1-21 (NIV)


Read

Acts 2:1-21

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.


5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”


13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”


Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:


17 “‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’


This painting by JESUS MAFA is a response to the New Testament readings from the Lectionary by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. Each of the readings was selected and adapted to dramatic interpretation by the community members. Photographs of their interpretations were made, and these were then transcribed to paintings.  The exuberant expression of joy in this depiction represents the Acts story, including Mary and the women mentioned in Acts, Chapter 1. Pentecost was originally an ancient Hebrew time of thanksgiving celebration for the first grain harvest, as recorded in Leviticus. The new significance given to this day by the gospel writers and early Christians extends that joyful expression to the new "filling up" by the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost by JESUS MAFA, circa 1973, Cameroon

Reflect

“God says, I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people, your sons and daughters, young and old, men and women [and non-binary people] will prophesy and see visions and dream dreams!” God promised that They would give Their Spirit to all people, no matter their ethnicity or gender or age or station. God proclaimed through Joel that all people who call on the name of the Lord will be saved--not just people from Jerusalem or the United States, not just Evangelicals or Catholics or Mainline Protestants-- everyone.


Throughout history, people have drawn lines for who is “in” or “out.” No wonder the people in Jerusalem were disturbed by what they heard, that the holy scriptures, once only spoken in their tongue, were now being translated into every language! Where were the dividing lines to determine who was holy and who was not holy?


Christianity is about inclusivity: we have an Old Testament derived from Hebrew, a New Testament derived from Greek, Jesus spoke Aramaic, and at Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, early Christians heard scripture in their native languages. Today the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages. The Christian faith has always been one of translating the Good News, so that everybody could hear and believe. The God of compassion translated Their very nature into that of a human being in Jesus Christ, in hopes that we humans would hear God just a little more clearly, in our own human and cultural contexts. Accessibility and inclusivity are a part of the Gospel: Peter quotes the Prophet Joel, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”


And although Christians proclaim that “every knee shall bow and tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord,” we still seem to forget that the Holy Spirit is speaking to people in their native tongue. Most Christian publications, sermons, theology, and music is exported from North America and Europe, predominantly by white men. Good theology and praxis have come from these people and places, but just like iron sharpens iron, the rest of the planet has messages from the Holy Spirit that will sharpen the Christian faith, and show us the dull areas, where the Christian church has gone astray.


Are we listening to diverse voices, or do we tune-out when we hear a name or gender for God that makes us uncomfortable? Are we listening to diverse voices, or do we tune-out when BIPOC Christians warn us of the blatant white supremacy that has intertwined with the history of the Church? Are we listening when trans-people teach us about the gender inclusivity of God, or when LGBTQ+ tell us how they have been wounded by the Church? Just like the religious people in Jerusalem who were scandalized by the Holy Spirit reaching people of different languages, Christians today are often scandalized by the communities challenging the status quo of the church. Similar to pentecost, we pass by them dismissively, assuming drunkenness (or unorthodoxy). The Holy Spirit is speaking to people on the margins, and the Church does itself a disservice by only listening to the person with the megaphone or the man behind the pulpit.


This devotional has been about widening the gates, and creating a platform for female voices. Whether cis-or trans-gendered, straight or gay, BIPOC or white, married or single, inside or outside of the church clergy, young or old, we have all shared a truth that the Holy Spirit spoke to us. We are grateful that you stopped and listened.



Respond


God is speaking to women. Write a list of the women theologians and pastors you are listening to.

God is speaking to people of color around the world. Write a list of the BIPOC voices you are listening to.

God is speaking to people who are differently-abled. Write a list of influencers who are differently-abled.

God is speaking to LGBTQIA people. Write a list of LGBTQIA Christians and theologians you are learning from.


What do your lists look like? Could any of them be longer or more significant? Feel free to include names of people who are shaping your theology in the comment section below. I know I personally need to continue to expand my lists.


God has always spoken to people at the margins. Are we listening, or are their voices being drowned out by larger megaphones? It takes work to learn from and follow people who have not been pushed to the center. Do some research to increase the number of influencers, teachers, pastors, writers, and theologians who are women, BIPOC, differently-abled and LGBTQIA. I promise, your understanding of God’s love will only grow.



Rest

God, thank you for this devotional series that has accompanied us on our spiritual journeys during Lent and Eastertide. Thank you for all the women and trans persons that took time to pray, to read, reflect, respond and rest in your Name. God, thank you for speaking my language and empowering me with the Holy Spirit. Help me notice the power of the Holy Spirit in others, especially those outside of the center, and take the time to listen to what they have to say. And Lord, help me realize the power of the Holy Spirit within myself to speak truth and good news, as well. Amen.



About the Author


Julia Styles is a Spiritual Director and Diversity & Inclusion Consultant living in Atlanta, Georgia. Julia has a Masters in Christian Ministry and Certificate in Spiritual Direction from North Park Theological Seminary, and a Masters in International Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin. With over 20 years of ministry experience in cross-cultural environments, Julia is passionate about creating welcoming spaces for people to authentically pursue their calling. Most days you can find Julia at one of the beautiful parks in Atlanta with her husband, Derek, and son, Jakob.


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