Many, many years ago I was asked to proclaim the first reading on the solemnity of Pentecost. I was about 12 years old and was extremely excited to be asked. Little did I know that this is one of the most difficult readings to proclaim. My dear great-aunt, sister Hildegard worked with me on the pronunciation of the words. I was quite intrigued by the people I had never heard about: who were the Parthians, the Medes or the Elamites? My great-aunt seized the opportunity and enlightened me about all of them. Ever since, I have had a great love for the Acts of the Apostles. And in the spirit of full disclosure, despite my careful preparation, I stumbled. It was Phrygia and Pamphilia that did me in. Embarrassed I solemnly declared I would never proclaim in church again.
Despite the embarrassment, I will always be grateful for the experience and especially for my great-aunt’s introduction to the early church. It allowed me to imagine Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. I likened it to the Sunday Market in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and Europe. When my grandmother took me there for the first time I could not believe my eyes. Coming from a small and traditional town in Flanders, the sight of people from all over the world made me dizzy with excitement. I could not believe the exuberant and colorful clothes. Competing music in unknown languages blared from the different booths. I saw vegetables I had never seen before and to this day I remember being overcome with the scent of the many different spices. It was an absolute delight and it felt like I was traveling from country to country in a matter of moments. This is how I imagined Jerusalem in the time of the apostles.
Having a vivid imagination I knew exactly where the apostles were. I saw them hiding in the upper room. In stark contrast to the festive market outside, the apostles were laden with angst and burdened by uncertainty. I could see the fear in their eyes and feel the weight on their shoulders. And then, in an instant everything changed. Aflame with the Holy Sprit they threw open the doors and windows, burst into the streets and started speaking of the marvelous deeds of God.
This happened with so much energy that it quieted the market gathering. And miraculously, everyone could understand what the apostles were saying, no matter their native tongue. By the power of the Holy Spirit, all the sudden the differences between all these people were overcome as they all received the same Good News.
Our world today is very complex and extremely diverse. Yet, unlike my image of the Jerusalem market where there was a certain harmony within the diversity a dangerous fog of fear and anger seems to linger over our world today. These days, diversity of any kind often leads to division and rather than experiencing it as something exciting and enriching diversity is met with suspicion and apprehension while the gap between the many groups and factions is widening at an alarming pace.
The political world is particularly affected by this. Yet, our church is not immune to this either. Rather than welcoming the richness that comes from respectful dialogue between diverse opinions we seek safety in uniformity. And rather than listening to one another it seems like we just speak louder and louder in a desperate attempt to be heard and to win whichever battle we are waging. Sadly, we lack the inner peace and the mutual respect needed to listen intently to one another and learn from one another and together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit continue to weave the richly diverse tapestry of Christianity and humanity.
I look forward to the day when it will be said: “We are republicans, democrats and independents; rich and poor; liberals, conservatives and moderates; women and men and children; gay and straight; Africans, Asians and Americans; Australians and Europeans yet we hear them speaking in our own tongue of the mighty acts of God.” We are very different, and yet, we are one. What a great market place that will be. May that day come soon!