A Spirit of Understanding

A Spirit of Understanding


Acts 2:1-12 (NRSV)

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?"


Some things never change.

Nearly 2,000 years after the events described in the Book of Acts took place, there are still devout people from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. The variations in culture, custom, and costume are amazing.

Walking down the narrow, cobbled streets of the Old City, you might hear snippets of dialogue in Arabic and Hebrew, Armenian and Yiddish, German and Polish, Romanian and Russian, Amharic and Tigrinya, and many more. Surrounded by such linguistic diversity, you quickly grow accustomed to being left in the dark by the conversations going on around you. You know there are sentences being spoken, but you can't even make out the words, let alone decipher their meaning.

In such a context, you can imagine how it would be bewildering indeed to experience what those Jerusalemites experienced on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly, they heard what the disciples were saying in a new way. Words that previously had sounded like so much noise became filled with meaning. Words that had washed over them incomprehensibly were transformed into poetry.

But the coming of the Holy Spirit didn't mean that everyone suddenly spoke the same language. All those Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia - they didn't all begin to speak Greek, or Aramaic, or some other lingua franca. Rather, they became able to understand each other across their linguistic differences.

Perhaps the Spirit thought that all those different languages sounded beautiful together. Perhaps she knew that flattening out all our differences would make the world bland and boring. Perhaps she knew that it is a dangerous thing to have only one way of understanding. Perhaps she knew that unity is much better than uniformity.

In this coming Pentecost season, how will you embody the Spirit of understanding that touched down in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago? How will you be an agent of communication and reconciliation among the many diversities of our world?

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.


O Lord Jesus, as we make our way through this day and the ones that follow, help us to love all whom you love, and do what you would have us do. In your precious name we pray. Amen.

Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer is the President of the Southern New England Conference and the Senior Minister of United Church on the Green, New Haven CT.

May 20, 2015
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