On A Miracle of Inclusion

On A Miracle of Inclusion

On a Miracle of Inclusion
May 28, 2023
Traceymay Kalvaitis
Numbers 11:24-26
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.
Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’”
Today’s sermon is titled, On a Miracle of Inclusion

The words we speak are dangerously accurate in representing who we really are and yet what are words, really, but an invisible cooperation of sound and air? So what gives words their power? The speaker’s intention gives power to words and that power can draw in and lift up or that power can push away and divide.

We are given a story today from the book of Acts that has everything to do with the power of words and the work before us is to imagine what could have been the intention, what could have been the reason behind this event that is so strange and wonderful that we have one Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, set aside to consider this one miracle that forever defined the trajectory for what would come to be known as Christianity. (We have about 14 minutes to figure it out so stay with me here.)

As with everything, knowing the context is essential. We must keep in mind that Jesus’s followers would have been familiar with the story concerning their ancestors, 1500 years prior. We heard the story today from the book of Numbers. Moses returned from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and the cloud that represented the presence of God settled on 70 of the elders and gifted them with the Spirit so they could share with Moses in leading and caring for their community. We must keep in mind that this sharing of the Spirit of God was already part of the historical narrative of the Jewish people.

1500 years after Moses, and after many prophets had risen and fallen, dismissed and put to death for speaking truth to power, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and rose again. The events in our second story take place approximately 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Jewish people have gathered from far and wide to celebrate the Festival of Weeks known as Shavout. As many of the disciples were gathered, a great gush of wind “filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The words were spoken by Galileans, words with meanings unintelligible, but there were Jews gathered from at least fifteen different regions, each with their own language, and each person was able to comprehend. Each person was included; what a beautiful thing!

What are we to make of these disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking of God, each in a different language, with flames of light above their heads? What was the intention of this miraculous event? We can only guess. I found insight through this following quote from Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he merely understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Pentecost carries so much significance because any question or debate about who was intended to receive the good news of Jesus’s ministry was forever put to rest. The good news is meant to be lived and to be shared. Further along in the scriptures of Acts we find these reassuring words from the Apostle Peter, “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, for everyone…” (Acts 2:39). Theologian Michael Jinkins shares a similar interpretation; he writes, “Pentecost represents the inbreaking of God’s purposes for all humanity, bringing humanity together in understanding, despite their differences.” Pentecost is a miracle of inclusion, a miracle where everyone experienced a sense of belonging. This was a miracle of the highest order of love…a love that transcends all differences, a love that transcends all divisions that we, as humans, create.

I like to think that some day far from now, in the future of humanity, people will still be studying this story. I like to think that Christianity as a whole is growing to be more inclusive and more welcoming of all people, with no exceptions, but there is still a significant amount of work to do. In the upcoming month of June, we will be sending a message of inclusion by displaying the symbol of the rainbow flag to celebrate that we are a welcoming community. We will be sending a message of inclusion to many who have been unwelcome in other houses of worship. We will be sending a message of inclusion because we remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 verse 1, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” We will be sending a message of inclusion because our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, teaches through his life example that all are welcome at the table. There are no exceptions.

The miracle that we celebrate today, on Pentecost Sunday, is a miracle of inclusion. The Holy Spirit came in wind and fire and spoke to each in their own language so there could be no mistake. All are welcome here. I pray that some day in the future, there will be people that look back at pictures from this era and they will marvel that there was a time when rainbow flags were flown from houses and buildings as a sign that in that place, people were not discriminated against based on sexual preference or gender identity. I like to think that humanity in the future will be so far past that.

We are making way for that caliber of kindness in humanity to arise. The Holy Spirit is at work; we know it because we are learning a new way of speaking. We are learning a way of speaking that is inclusive, respectful of our differences, and mindful of the power our words carry. Yes, there are plenty of sources where words are spoken with hate, with judgment and with divisive intent. That is precisely why we must be even more intentional in the way we speak. The scriptures record Jesus saying, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:17).

In closing, I hope that this story serves as a reminder to us that what we say is a reflection of what resides in our hearts and if we allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in and through us, our hearts will expand, our words will convey that expansiveness, and we will change the culture of humanity, one kind word at a time. So be it. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer
God of sunlight and God of rain, we are here with all our complexities…our mix of hope and fear, trust and worry, health and illness, acceptance and resistance. Help us, Lord, to bring the disparities of our emotions ever closer together, so that we may move through the joys and challenges of our lives with equanimity, balance, and serenity. We pray your healing presence be with us and with all those in need. May we be ever attune to the ways we can serve, with sensitivity and effectiveness and in the spirit of Christ, the giver of this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.

I leave you with these words from the Apostle Paul in the book of second Corinthians, chapter 13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen.