by Rev. Courtney Pinkerton
Acts 2:1-6 (Inclusive text)
When Pentecost day came around,
the apostles had all met in one room,
when suddenly they heard
what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven.
The noise filled the entire house where they were sitting.
And something appeared to them
that seemed like tongues of fire;
these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak foreign languages,
as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.
Now there were devout people living in Jerusalem
from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled.
But they were bewildered to hear their native languages being spoken.
What gives evidence to the wind?
Artists have a hard time capturing and portraying the movement of the air. It is much easier to simply allude to the wind by depicting the objects that it moves: stalks of wildflowers dancing on a breeze, ripples of waves on the surface of a pond, hair blown across the cheek of a beloved.
What gives evidence to the Spirit?
Likewise it is hard to describe the movements of God among and within us. Storytellers in scripture and throughout time have struggled to articulate the essence of the Holy Spirit- often relying on metaphors or poetic license to capture something of Her truth.
We are told that she is like the soft flutter of a dove’s wing, yet also as feisty and unpredictable in her movements as a flame. This week’s scripture from Luke-Acts, one of the most familiar of biblical passages, describes a mighty wind, not outdoors where you might expect one, but inside, filling a house where the whole community of Jesus-following folk were gathered, about one hundred and twenty people in all. And divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, one tongue resting on each individual. So the Spirit is present to all, unified in form, but also divided in such a way that she is accessible and intimate.
What gives evidence to the Spirit?
For a long time when people would talk about the Holy Spirit I would tend to get kind of uncomfortable. She seemed too convenient. If someone wanted to claim a higher authority for an action or opinion they could always say the Spirit had guided them to their conclusion. And I wasn’t sure how to argue with that. Or even if I even should.
But I have to confess that I have tipped over the edge on this one. I love me some Holy Spirit. (Sara Miles, author of the book we have just concluded at Church in the Cliff, Take this Bread, has a new one out called JesusFreak. I have heard other progressive/emergent/funky Christian writers reclaiming religious language. Like when Anne Lamott calls herself a holy roller. So can I call myself a Spirit freak?)
Call her what you will: Pneuma, breath of God, Sophia, this feminine Spirit of God woven through Hebrew Scriptures, Flame, Wind, Advocate, Paraclete, Comforter. I’ll take them all. I also have a sneaking suspicion she may be what the Quaker’s call the inner teacher, the soul’s own wisdom.
It just makes sense to me that God is on the move and somehow accessible as an embodied experience. And I am thankful to the tradition for describing this phenomenon for me so I don’t think I’m crazy when I encounter Her presence.
And also, I am interested in what happens at Pentecost as it relates to language. Some commentators talk about this as a reversal of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). But that would seem to suggest the creation of one unifying language from disparate linguistic fragments. And that is not what happens. Rather today’s passage describes the diversifying of language so that Greek, the imperial language, ceased — at least for a moment — to be dominant. Instead, the first act of this new incarnation of spiritual community was to give immigrants gathered in Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire the experience of coming home after a long absence. The church, filled with the Spirit, gifts foreigners with a return to the sounds they heard while floating in their mothers’ wombs.
This leaves us with another name for the Holy Spirit: the voice which welcomes us home. Join us this Sunday as we talk about spirit, home, identity, love, beauty, truth, and anything else we can squeeze in.
Courtney Pinkerton is a pastor, mama and lover of community. After her undergraduate degree from SMU, Pinkerton experienced living in poverty through an AmeriCorps opportunity at The Rise, a grassroots feminist organization. Leaving The Rise to work with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, Pinkerton lived on the side of a volcano and was integral in implementing two community banks. Upon her return to the US, Courtney earned a dual Masters in Divinity and Public Policy from Harvard University and completed a series of consulting and internship opportunities. After graduation, Pinkerton’s journey brought her to Dallas and in May 2009 she was called to serve as lead pastor of Church in the Cliff. A life-long United Methodist, Pinkerton ministers at the intersection of the mainline and emergent communities, a space she describes as “ecu-mergent.”