Gathering the Scattered Ones

GENESIS 11.1-9 / Acts 2.1-21 / John 14.8-17

The Day of Pentecost

When we say, “Come, Holy Spirit” what do we think will happen?

What are we expecting?

What are we hoping for?

Perhaps a warm fuzzy feeling, maybe some divine inspiration, a little more confidence in our faith?

When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost he came with noise and fire and disruption.

He came with power.

It’s quite a violent image, unsettling, unexpected and designed to shake everything up.

And the disciples began speaking in other languages.

This is an odd sounding thing – God’s spirit bursts into the room and suddenly everyone is a language expert.

What was the point, you might think, what did it do for them?

But this miracle wasn’t for the disciples, to make them feel good or superior or show how great they were – it was for everyone else.

It was for people who didn’t believe or understand the gospel.

It was for people who might not even have heard of Jesus.

It was for the outsiders.

There were Jews from across the known world visiting for the Jewish festival of Pentecost – basically a harvest festival.

Maybe it was even their first trip to Jerusalem for some of them.

And now they were confronted with a group of local Jews talking away at them in their own language.

Babel Reversed

What was happening here was a reversal of the effects of the Tower of Babel.

As you may remember, the story in Genesis 11 goes that everyone spoke the same language and came together to build a huge tower to get as near as they could to heaven and get some fame and glory for themselves.

Their aim was to prove that they were equal to God and able to match him in power, showing that they didn’t need him.

They were also for some unexplained reason afraid of being scattered across the face of the earth and thought they could protect themselves by using their own power.

But God put an end to this by doing the very thing they were afraid of – he caused them to be scattered across the world by making them unable to understand each other.

In this way God limited their arrogance and proud ambition and placed limits on them.

And looking at how people treat each other given unlimited communication on the internet I think I see God’s point.

But the Day of Pentecost turned the scattering of humanity on its head.

By making it possible for people from all over the world to understand the disciples’ message the Spirit was reaching out and gathering into God’s kingdom everyone who wanted to come.

People who wouldn’t normally meet and who couldn’t understand each other were being drawn in by the power of the Spirit.

He was inviting them to gather together as one people belonging to God, united by a common language of love, forgiveness and understanding based on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Spirit was starting the process of bringing together the scattered people of the world and healing the nations.

And this is a process that’s still going on today.

In our world we’re divided by so many things – by race and gender and politics, by ideology and by creeds, by arguments and by long-running feuds.

And terrible wars are fought – we’ve been remembering this week the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a great day in that it was the beginning of the end for the Second World War, but also part of a very dark time in our history.

A New Hope

Yet, despite our ongoing divisions and problems, we see in the coming of the Holy Spirit a new chance for reconciliation, unity and hope.

A new beginning for humanity.

We can see the gathering power of the Spirit in churches where people of different ages, experiences, ideas, temperaments and backgrounds come together to try to live and worship as God’s people.

We can see it when people reach out to each other with repentance, forgiveness and understanding, not forgetting the past but also not letting it poison the present.

I saw this week a video of a meeting between two soldiers who fought in World War II, one English and one German, and they declared themselves to be friends, partners and brothers.

In such recognitions of our common humanity we can see hope for a better future.

We also see the Spirit’s power to bring people together when they try to understand those who are different from themselves, not being content to lean on stereotypes or prejudice but willing to listen and learn and break out of the bubble of those who are just like us.

And this is the power that’s at work within each one of us today.

We have access to the power of the Sprit – not to use for our own fame and glory, like the builders of the Tower of Babel tried to do, but to be part of God’s work in the world.

Our gospel reading reminded us that we’re given the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide us, to remind us of the way of Jesus, and to enable us to do things for God – not just for our sake but for the sake of gathering into God’s kingdom all the scattered peoples of the world.

Just as those first disciples were given power to speak in other languages so that people from across the world could hear the gospel, we are given power to do the work that God has for us to do here and now.

We are given the power of the Sprit so that we can point to Jesus and through him to the Father, in the things we do and say, in how we live our lives, and in the ways in which we serve both God and the people around us.

And by pointing people to God we help to bring together scattered humanity into God’s kingdom, where all are united in love, joy and peace forever.