Unity not Uniformity

May 23, 2021 (Pentecost Sunday)

Acts 2:1-21

Imagine the challenges of moving cross country. Perhaps you have done it yourself. Moving more than a thousand miles from your support system. From experience, we moved four hours away when I attended seminary and going from seeing family nearly daily to seeing them every few months was a challenge.

Sarah Thebarge took on such a challenge. Not only that, but she was also recovering from breast cancer treatments at the age of 27 and had recently broke up with her boyfriend. Sarah was looking for a fresh start and was eager to find such a new start in Portland, Oregon. She did not quite know what to expect in this move and was open to whatever may come her way. I believe the Spirit was at work when it brought Hadhi and Sarah together for the first time. A chance encounter on public transportation revealed their many differences. Hadhi, a Somalian Refugee and single mother of 5 girls, was having difficulties navigating her new American life.  Sarah found herself present to help Hadhi’s family adjust. Hadhi and her daughters provided an opportunity for Sarah’s life to be transformed and find new meaning. In the barriers of language and cultural practices, the Spirit drew them together and they affirmed each other’s differences.[i]

On the Day of Pentecost, we recall the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and all those gathered together. The Day of Pentecost was already remembered in the Jewish community as the Feast of Shavuot and originally marked the first harvest of the planting season. It would eventually become a day in the Jewish calendar when the Jewish people would remember Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. On this first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promise of Christ is fulfilled as an advocate is sent in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The Day of Pentecost reveals the differences among the people of God. The multiple languages spoken in the aftermath of the rush of the wind and the tongues of fire reveal a God working in the differences. It has been suggested Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. At the Tower of Babel, we are told in the Hebrew Scriptures, God separated the people and sent them off speaking in various languages. On Pentecost, they continue to speak in various languages, but now they are understanding one another. The Holy Spirit comes seeking unity, not uniformity.

Imagine if we were all the same across the globe. What a boring world it would be. We would not have the beauty of various languages nor the cultural practices found in each region around the world. The Holy Spirit has come so that we can affirm our differences and live into unity.

Pentecost is a call to action. It is not the beautiful, peaceful image of adoring the infant Jesus on Christmas Eve. It is not the glory found on Easter morning as we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pentecost comes in with the sound of a violent wind and fire resting upon all present. If you look at the flames of a fire, they can be unpredictable. Just when you think you are in the perfect spot to toast your marshmallow, the flames decide to shift. The Holy Spirit is much the same. The Holy Spirit invites us into the car, and we are encouraged to take the backseat and let the Spirit guide us. Pentecost and the Holy Spirit guides us out of our comfort zone and leads us to a scary place. A place where we proclaim the Good News! It is also a place where we meet one another in our differences as witnessed on the first Pentecost after the resurrection.

It can be difficult to sit down at the table when you do not agree with the person on the other side. This has happened throughout history as we have seen many splits within the Christian church and many denominations formed. In government, you have politicians doing all in their power just to suppress those thinking along different ideological lines. Instead of having conversations, we have press conferences denouncing one another. Churches dig their heels in and hold steadfast to tradition and push back on any inkling of change. This can result in being very insular.

As individuals, we can fall in the same traps. Why would I want to understand someone if they don’t think the same as me? In a society where wondering what is in it for oneself, is the first thing thought about, there is the notion that my way is the only way. On Pentecost, the Spirit has come to stir up all those misconstrued beliefs. The Holy Spirit comes to draw us together in our differences. The Holy Spirit invites us all to the same table.

Are you willing to let the Holy Spirit guide you to the table? The moment we begin to understand we are not in control it is like a relieve valve is turned and tension and pressure is released. The moment we say yes to the Holy Spirit taking the driver’s seat and begin to enjoy the ride, we open ourselves up to the divine mystery of God in our lives. It is in the divine mystery where new relationships are formed, and we begin to love our siblings for their differences.

A wind ripped through the crowd and garnered everyone’s attention.

What would it take to garner the attention of people today? Is it a pandemic bringing life to a standstill?  A pandemic which has helped reveal issues existing beyond our personal boundaries affecting our siblings around the world. The movement of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost fulfilled the promise of Jesus sending an advocate. The Holy Spirit is the advocate Jesus promised, guiding us in the truth and drawing us together in our differences. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit draws us out of our comfort zone by bringing us fully into the Light of Christ. Being in the Light of Christ, we are brought together in our differences to affirm one another and seek the kindom of God. May you let the Holy Spirit reveal the Light to you.

[i] Sarah Thebarge, The Invisible Girls, 2013.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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