Pentecost Sunday, Readings (Lectionary Year B): Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
“And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Have you ever wondered who these people were, these Parthians, Cretans, Phrygians and people with other hard to pronounce names?
They were Jews living in the ancient Diaspora, the scattering of God’s chosen people across the earth, and they had come to Jerusalem as pilgrims, as Jews, Christians, and Moslems do today. These Jews had come to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Pentecost, and they happened to come in the aftermath of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These foreign Jews have come running to the site of the visiting of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and their followers, gathered together, and can now hear their preaching and carrying on in the many languages represented.
So that’s who these guys were. Foreign Jews, touched by a miracle. And, like people today, in a sign that not much about human nature has changed, they react differently. Some are sceptical (these guys are drunk, they say) and others believe. Of the latter, about “three thousand” commit themselves to what Acts calls “The Way”.
What became of them? What happened when the went home to Parthia, or Phrygia, and Crete, and Libya? What were the rest of their lives like?
Scripture doesn’t tell us, and I’m not going to speculate … too much. T.S. Eliot once imagined the Magi in later life, touched by a miracle and restless, disaffected, cut off from their peoples and cultures by this new thing they barely understood. Was it like that for these three thousand or so?
Perhaps, perhaps not. We know that churches formed around the ancient world following the Resurrection and the events that followed, as ripples spread out from Jerusalem across time and distance. Perhaps some of these three thousand founded some of these churches. We know from Paul’s letters that these churches were often fractious places, divided over authority, over teaching, over wealth, and sexuality, and inclusiveness towards gentile believers and foreigners. That doesn’t sound overly different from the church today, does it?
Perhaps some of these first believers, these Elamites and Parthians and Cretans, had family members and friends who didn’t accept their new faith. Perhaps estrangements followed, and perhaps these first believers suffered because of their faith in their work, careers, and communities. Perhaps they experienced disappointments later in life. Perhaps some of them lost faith, or caved in to pressure, and fell away. We don’t know.
What can we say of those who remained faithful, who lived out their lives in Parthia, and Phrygia, and Crete? Were they any different than we who live in Alberta, or other far flung places? Not much, really.
Like these first believers, we live in a church of many different nations and languages. We have met some of those foreign believers here, in this chapel, people from all parts of the world, from every corner of the British Isles and its former colonies, Africans, Ghurkas, Fijians, and the like. We know that despite these differences, we have in common the fact that God has reached out to us and called us friends, called us in our own language.
Like these first believers, we have the promise of God’s friendship, and the sign that friendship is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to his disciples, as we heard in our gospel reading. So what can we say of the Spirit?
Sometimes I wish the spirit worked the way it did in Acts, dramatically, like a comic book or a movie about super heroes. I wish it created a commotion in this chapel that brought crowds running to see. Perhaps it does work that way in some churches. What I can say, however, is that it is the same spirit of truth that Jesus promised his disciples. It speaks to us through scripture, through the sacraments, through the fellowship of our church. It reminds us that the things we believe and strive for are unique in all the world, and will not disappoint us when all else does. It reminds us that God is with us, in our struggles, in our day to day difficulties, as it was with all those who returned from Jerusalem to Parthia, Prhygia, and Crete, to live out the rest of their lives. So it is with us.
I suspect, if we were all to take a moment, we could think of a moment in our lives when the Spirit was especially strong in our lives. You may not have spoken in tongues or performed miracles, but you felt a strong sense that God was with you when it counted, that his presence had made a difference in your life and connected you with his love and the love of his Son.
The little flame in your bulletin today is a reminder that you can take away, stick in your bible, your wallet, etc, as a promise “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ That promise holds as well for you as it did for the Prhygians, for all who want to respond to God’s call that comes to us, in our own time, in our own language, in our need.