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Monday, June 6, 2011

Tongues: Day of Pentecost, Year A

This Week’s Lectionary Texts

Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

This Week’s Reflection

There is something happening this week that has to do with our tongues. As I read through all of the lectionary texts, something jumps out at me. Should I say “shimmers at me”? Most of us know very well the image used for the day of Pentecost found in the Acts text – tongues of flame resting on each person gathered in that place. A quick reading of the other texts will point us toward the use of tongues in other ways as well. In this, I am not talking about the gift of speaking in tongues, of which I know nothing about. I am suggesting that God is trying to tell us something about the ways in which we use our language, our ability to speak, and our physical tongues in this world.

First, a word about the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot, which was the event being observed, the reason those disciples were gathered together in the first place. Whether the disciples were celebrating in ancient ways - giving thanks to God for creation, harvests, and land - or observing a more contemporary version of the feast and thanking God for the law, we know that the observance of the feast was happening and had brought many people together from all over the place.

Is it any wonder that God chose this day of all days to allow those disciples to experience this? As they gathered in thanksgiving to God for all that God has provided and, most especially, for the Law of Moses, God bursts onto the scene in a way that cannot be denied and gives them a renewed sense of their calling to follow Christ and preach the gospel. It is as if God says, “Open your mouths! Folks are listening. Don’t stand here lifting up the law and ignoring the people. Tell the story! Use your tongues!”

In the Numbers passage, Moses' friends got angry because a couple of guys who didn’t go along with the crowd ended up receiving the same gift anyway. “Do something Moses! They shouldn’t be allowed to prophesy like the rest of us.” And, Moses assures them all that God is the one who decides such things, that God has provided this gift, and that if these two men are using their tongues to bring glory to God, why would anyone want to stop them?

The writer of 1 Corinthians reminds us that no one can even begin to proclaim the good news without the gift of the Holy Spirit in the first place. And, last but not least, Jesus himself tells the disciples in John 20, after using his very mouth to breathe upon them, that if they forgive sins, then the sins are forgiven. Our tongues are very powerful things!

One other thought I had about these tongues of flame resting on a head is that, should it literally happen, it would be quite uncomfortable! I have a very funny image of one of our TV evangelist sisters with lots of hairspray experiencing this. I don’t think it would be a comforting moment at all.

So, if receiving the Holy Spirit isn’t always a comfortable experience, then it would seem that the ways in which we use our tongues will not always be comfortable either. There may be times when God calls us to say things to our brothers and sisters that aren’t easy. There may even be times when we really want to say something to them, but God tells us to shut our mouths and keep quiet. This is no new idea, of course, but it is interesting to me to think about Pentecost as a day to remember, not only the gift of the Holy Spirit and tongues of flame dancing on my head, but also the ways in which Holy Spirit guides my own tongue and its use. May it be so, God. May it be so!

For more on these texts, check out the sermon at The Lectionary Lab by Dr. Delmer Chilton.

This Week's Art
in order of appearance in the reflection

Holy Spirit Fire by Yivviepants

The Spirit of Fire/Palais de Tokyo by Vincent Haverlant

Empryean by Yogendra Sethi

The Spirit Dwelling on the Inside by Gina Hyatt

Pentecost by Harold Sikkema

Tongues of Fire by Becky Soto


Watch this incredible video from WorkingPreacher.org.