The feast of Pentecost is a great day to have a nine o’clock service. As you will have seen in your Messenger, we will be going back to 8 and 10:15 Masses in August, but right now, Pentecost is a great day to have a 9:00 service. We actually know the time that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, because it was preserved for us in the text of our first lesson today. The disciples are proclaiming the power of God so loudly and so enthusiastically, speaking in multiple languages at the same time, that a crowd begins to gather and someone suggests that they’re obviously all just drunk. Peter, rebutting the accusation, argues that nobody gets drunk at nine o clock in the morning.
So because Peter made that point, we know what time Pentecost happened, and here we are, at nine o’clock, a couple of thousand years later, wearing our red and singing our hymns and celebrating that the Spirit is still poured out, on you and on me, and that as Peter explains by quoting the Old Testament, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
People often focus on the miracle of speaking that happened that first Pentecost at 9AM. The book of Acts tells us, “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.” So there’s a miracle of speaking, which seems here to be of speaking several known human languages, although that word “other languages” is also used later in the New Testament to describe the Spirit inspiring people to speak unknown languages in prayer and praise to God.
But in this case, the miracle of speaking seems to be known languages, which commentators usually theorize symbolizes the way that the Gospel will spread, thanks to the power of the Spirit, through all cultures and all nations. It’s for everyone, not just for us. God’s disciples need to be able to speak every language so that every person can hear the Gospel.
So there’s a miracle of speaking. But if you read a little farther, it seems to imply that at Pentecost there is also a miracle of hearing. The crowd is listening to the disciples proclaiming what God has done, and the book of Acts depicts them as saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (And then there’s that long list of countries we get every Pentecost:) “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.”
The disciples are speaking a lot of languages, but whether or not the disciples are actually speaking in every single one that happens to be spoken in that big crowd, the people are hearing in their own languages. (Except, perhaps, the ones who think the disciples are just drunk, whom the text says “sneered”; they apparently are so closed to the work of the Spirit that they don’t hear the Gospel, they don’t hear joy. They just hear chaos.) But for many of the crowd, the message of God’s power and love is coming across so that they can understand it in the language that is the most natural and intuitive to them; they don’t have to translate, because the Spirit is translating for them. A miracle of speaking, and a miracle of hearing.
Now there are many things the Holy Spirit does in us and through us – it’s quite a fascinating study to go through the Bible and try to pick out sort of the job description of the Holy Spirit. But Spirit-empowered speaking and Spirit-empowered listening are the two I want to talk about a little today.
As most of you know, I hope, we are reworking the ministry of small group meals in homes that we call Common Table. When Fr. Caleb began Common Table, it was only for our 20s-30s, and at a pilot event this spring we expanded it so that it was part of Emmanuel’s efforts at intergenerational ministry, something for all ages. The first round of the new version of Common Table meals will take place this summer. If you sign up to take part, you’ll be invited once in June, once in July, and once in August into the home or yard of an Emmanuelite host, along with maybe 7-11 other Emmanuel members. It’s a true potluck, so we’ll all bring a dish of any kind to share. Everyone will enjoy conversation and social time, and along the way your host will make sure everyone gets to respond to a few accessible discussion prompts designed to help us have a relaxed exchange about things that are important to us as Christians and Episcopalians. If you came to the pilot this spring, you saw how that worked. Each evening will conclude with Compline.
So what does this Common Table ministry have to do with inviting the Holy Spirit to be part of our speaking and part of our listening? A great deal. One of the main ways the Spirit works is through groups of Christians; through using several of us as a team. While you can experience the Spirit individually, a central way we see the Spirit working throughout the New Testament is by empowering and deploying a collection of believers. We each have different gifts and different personalities, and God uses those as he expresses himself through us together. Even some of the New Testament people that we think of, because of our modern American biases, as working individually actually didn’t. Paul traveled with a team, and what we think of as his letters are frequently signed not just by him, but by the whole team. 1st Corinthians is signed Paul and Sosthenes. 1st Thessalonians is from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.
So if we want to experience what God has for us in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we need to experience gathering in groups of Christians who are together specifically as groups of Christians. You could hypothetically experience the Holy Spirit working through both of you when you run into someone who goes to this church at Prairie Gardens or a high school graduation, but it could also be just the same as running into anybody. The intentionality of making time to be together as Christians, open to the Holy Spirit, speaking and listening as Christians, is extremely important.
This is an area we’ve been growing in somewhat at Emmanuel this year, thanks to the way our Sacred Spaces group and our Intergenerational Formation Group and the Revive lay leadership program have engaged their work. And I think people taking part in any of those are seeing that the nervousness they may have had was unnecessary, and that actually it’s rewarding and enjoyable to speak and listen to one another as Christians. That the Spirit does move among us when we gather as Christians in order to grow as Christians.
So we want to build on these successes, and Common Table is one of the ways. We want to offer the Spirit more places to work among Emmanuelites, as we gather to get to know one another better, to enjoy fellowship over food, to speak in simple and accessible ways about things that are important to us as followers of Jesus Christ, and to listen as others speak. The first meal will take place at 5pm on Sunday, June 26th and there is a signup sheet for the summer round of Common Table in your bulletin today. You can just fill it in and leave it in the Offertory bowl here by the pulpit. There’s also an online signup via Breeze that went out in the Mini Messenger. Either way will work, but we do want to know how big the pool of participants is soon, so we can tell our hosts when we need them.
Of course signing up doesn’t obligate you to come to all three meals, but it does ensure that you can take advantage of this chance to get to know your fellow Emmanuelites better, to build relationships based on Christian belonging, and to enjoy some great food – we have a lot of terrific cooks here! Join us this summer at Common Table, speak and listen to words about our Lord, and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit.