I love Pentecost weekend, don't you? Some of it is the whole red thing - the one and only time in the Christian calendar that particular color makes an appearance. That makes it all the more striking when it comes. In Northtown, like a lot of other churches I'm sure, we're all invited to wear red to worship, to enhance that impact.
But more than the color, I love Pentecost because it's all about communication / lanugage / understanding one another / relationship. And all made real by the Holy Spirit, and recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 2.
Though the wind and fire (no earth?) are exciting, I'm more intrigued by what happens after the tongues of flame come, when the disciples start talking, and the people start understanding. Acts 2 does not record what exactly they said, only a general topic: "God's deeds of power" (NRSV) or "The wonders of God" (NIV). Yet even without the benefit of knowing their specific words, we are told that a whole lot of people understood the message, and some responded with amazement, some with perplexity, and some just cynically made fun of them.
Question: Why did God inspire the author of Acts at this point to exclude the actual words of the disciples in this story? Why weren't these words so important? Of course, we get to hear Peter's words later (vv. 14-36), but at this point all we know is that the 12 were talking, but we don't know what they were saying.
I think that maybe there's something about understanding one another that transcends the words we say. Maybe we too often get stuck on the words and never get to the actual understanding. Have you ever found yourself thinking, "I hear the words you are saying, but I have no idea what you're talking about" in the middle of a conversation? And on the flipside of that, have you ever been able to truly understand another person without them needing to say a word?
Pentecost seems to be about how people understand one another, empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is a "sighs too deep for words" quality to it. It reminds me of the well-known line, "Preach the Gospel ... use words if necessary." Words are powerful and important, and I'm a "word guy" so please don't read this as advocating complete silence all the time. That would lead to some pretty boring blog posts, for one thing.
I heard a radio story this morning about a poet who works by eliminating words from the New York times. The results, after marking out the words he doesn't need, are his poems. (click here) Maybe the key to understanding one another is figuring out what words we don't need to say?
Also posted here.