Sunday is Pentecost, and we celebrate the birthday of the church! It is an exciting time as we recount the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the gift of translation as the apostles spoke while people from lands far and wide heard the good news being proclaimed in their own native tongue. We will celebrate the essential unity of the church and the gifts bestowed upon its members that bring power and vitality to the body as a whole.
There is one element, however, that is absolutely essential to adequately understanding the revolutionary nature of Pentecost. That element is inclusiveness. When we stop and think about the various people listed in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we are struck by the varied (sometimes complicated) names listed:
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybia belong to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.
It would seem obvious that the lines could easily have been drawn between us and them! What if someone who was a Pamphylian was normally considered an outcast and unwelcome in Cappadocia? The relationship between Arabs and Judeans then was not much better than it is today, so I’m pretty sure there would have been strains in the relationship between these people. My guess is that some of these people would have been no more than cordial to each other at best, and at worst, they would have been outright hostile toward the people they considered “them.”
My point is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift that breaks down barriers and looks beyond differences. It is the gift of inclusion that says to everybody out there … everybody … that they are loved by God and invited to be part of this Body of Christ.
We are currently having a struggle in the United Methodist Church over the issue of inclusion of people belonging to the LBGTQ community, and it is tearing at the very fabric that defines us as “united.” We are struggling with what some consider to be moral choice when others (including me), believe that we are talking about essential differences in the way God made us. The stand we have taken for several years is that members of the LBGTQ community are “people of sacred worth” but their lives are somehow “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I wonder if being Phrygian might have been incompatible with Christian teaching early in the history of our faith.
My point is that the things we use to differentiate between “us” and “them” are somehow irrelevant to the Holy Spirit. The power of Pentecost is the power to take the message beyond our dividing lines and open the church to people of all ages, nations and races … to people who are gay and straight … to people who speak languages we don’t understand. It is the power to unite us regardless of what divides us.
The joy of serving Wellspring is the joy of living daily with the motto that has been part of this church from its founding: “All are welcome! All are accepted!” And then someone a few years ago added the tagline, “All means all!” So as I celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I celebrate our diversity … the many ways God made and gifted each of us! My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will overtake all Christians everywhere that we might truly be a church where “all means all.”
To see the option that I endorse as a pathway for the UMC in this debate, please visit A Way Forward, and please sign according to the instructions if you agree that this is a positive step in addressing this challenge.