St. Stephen's Lutheran Church
First Things: The Spirit Makes Diversity a Gift
“First things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading for this coming Sunday. This Sunday’s reading is Acts 2:1-21, which you can find by clicking here.
“It’s Greek to me!” — confused English-speakers and relieved Greek-speakers.
This is perhaps one of the most famous scenes of the Biblical story: a large crowd of disciples gathered in Jerusalem experience a rush of wind, tongues of flames, and a cacophony of languages becomes intelligible. Christians rightly celebrate this day, where the Holy Spirit comes to the followers of Jesus, as the birthday of the church.
As a worker in said Church, I am very comfortable talking about the other two persons of the Trinity. God the Father creates heaven and earth, gives daily bread, speaks from above, etc. etc. God the Son is God taking on flesh. He lives, teaches, heals, dies, and is raised again. What about this third thing, much more nebulous, literally? A bird? A wind? Okay, we receive it, but what does God the Spirit do?
To think about this story’s significance, we might also consider and earlier story, Genesis 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel. Here, all of humanity had “one language and the same words.” They constructed one great city with a rather famous tower, “with its top in the heavens.” God responds in a quizzical way, seemingly threatened or perhaps annoyed by humanity’s ambition.”
“Look, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is only he beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible for them.”
So God goes down and confuses their language. Suddenly, people are divided and scattered, and earth is populated. Some make this an explanation for humanity’s diverse cultures. Others show it as punishment for humanity’s hubris. Others, a gift from God to populate the world. Certainly, Babel brings with it its challenges.
Fast forward a few thousand years.
Here, rather than being spread out, the people are gathered. Here, there are those many, many languages — tongues. The confusion that God caused (?) is yet again a challenge. And here, at the end of the age, a wind rushes in. God’s breath. God’s Spirit. And here, everything takes on new meaning.
Those scattered peoples can understand each other again. The Spirit of God gives common language. Each language preserved, each language intelligible. Difference is not erased but embraced. That which divides is a source of strength.
God’s — perhaps — fears come true. “Nothing they propose to do now will be impossible for them.” The church has power. The power of the very presence of God dwelling in them, connecting them, impelling them to do new things. Yet, here, humanity is no longer a threat, no longer wayward. Humanity is reconciled, brought back to the fold through the cosmos-changing life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the gift of Pentecost. This is the work of the Spirit. God dwells in each of us, and so our differences are no longer a threat. They are a gift. We are united. We are different.
We here at St. Stephen’s celebrate our diversities. People of all ages, abilities, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, marital status, and the like come together. We each bring our differences to the table, sharing all of who we are. And together, we are stronger for it.
If you have been looking for a place where you are embraced for all of who you are, we hope this is the place for you. St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church is one of only a few in our area that publicly welcomes LGBTQIA people and commits itself to work against racism. We are proud of who we are, and we are sure that God is proud of you too. We make great effort to be ability-aware, and we invite people to participate in our services however God calls or equips them, recognizing that we bring a variety of gifts and abilities to worship.
Furthermore, we are proud of the ways we connect with people across differences. For years, our congregation has had a partnership with the Durand, an organization that supports people with autism and other developmental differences. We are a Reconciling in Christ congregation, part of a national registry of Lutheran churches that publicly welcome LGBTQIA people. Our pastor is a member of Proclaim, an association of publicly-identified LGBTQ ministers. And as part of the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation, we are held in communion with churches in other nations and countries, all proclaiming in our own language that God’s Spirit is poured out upon all flesh.
To learn more about St. Stephen’s and what to expect, check out the rest of our website, or better yet, come to Worship at 9:30 AM every Sunday.