Last Sunday, I helped in my son’s Godly Play class. Because the kids worship in church with us on Pentecost, Julia, the worship leader, told the Pentecost story: how the wind roared in the upper room and flames as of fire rested on each of the disciples, how they went into the city and proclaimed the good news of Jesus to the people.
At the end, Julia wondered aloud, “I wonder how Peter and the other disciples knew all those languages so everyone in Jerusalem could understand them?”
One boy said, “Maybe they learned them in school!”
“Maybe,” Julia said, “but Peter was a fisherman. So was his brother Andrew and so were James and John. They probably didn’t go to school. So I wonder how they knew how to speak so the people from far away could understand them.”
Silence fell on the children for several seconds. Then a little girl, who does not speak much, said, “Maybe God taught them?”
A chorus of “Yeah, yeah” rose from the other children. “I bet God taught them!”
As a child, it is not improbable that God would teach you something as complex as a foreign tongue. As a child, you don’t know how hard it is to learn a new language, how miraculous that would be. As an adult who has never spoken in tongues, I find myself envious of these children: what would it be like to believe that God could do something so wonderful?
Oh, I believe it. Of course I believe it. I have too many friends who have received the gift of tongues to not believe it.
But still—it has not happened to me. It is not part of my experience. And so my belief is at one remove, the belief of an observer, not a participant.
And yet, the Psalm for Pentecost reminds us that God is the giver of life and all that sustains it: All creatures “look to you to give them their food in due season;/ when you give to them, they gather it up;/ when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.”
It takes a certain amount of faith to believe this, to live with a heart of gratitude, looking upon the richness of our lives (whatever form that takes) as gifts rather than givens. It takes even more faith to let others’ gifts be theirs, without coveting them or questioning the goodness of God. That is one of the lessons of Pentecost—that whatever form our gifts take, they are simply that: gifts. Nothing we earn, nothing we deserve. Sheer grace.
Pentecost is about more than this, of course. It is about power and new life and resurrection and the birth of the body of Christ. It is about a God who gives unstintingly, pouring out His gifts, His grace, His Spirit on all flesh.
I believe; help Thou my disbelief.
The lectionary passages for Pentecost:
Acts 2:1-21 (or Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Romans 8:22-27 (or Acts 2:1-21)
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15