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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Pentecost: The thing about diversity is ...

I’m a skeptical person by nature and I am not at all sentimental. So when I say that I experience a sense of being overwhelmed by the readings we have on the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s descent on the early Church after Jesus’s Ascension, I do not mean that I feel an emotional sentimentality. What I mean quite specifically is that as years pass for me, I see with more breadth and depth the variety, uniqueness and complexity of the people and of nature that God has made. But this complexity and nuance in things is met - the more I encounter God in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in my experience - by what I can only describe as an emerging recognition that all of this uniqueness in all created things, nonetheless points to one origin, one point of creation, to God as their creator. 


This shocks me. It profoundly disorients me because where I often fail to see connection between things, to suddenly discover that this thing or this person points me in some new way to God - simply because I have persisted in following, being drawn more closely, more intimately, through the good and bad times in life - I am brought face-to-face with what strikes me as the only one powerful enough to have made all things, to have made the sentient ones free to love, and yet to reclaim them by love when they reject his perfect love and so perfect order. 


Awe is simply not enough to describe the rational and sensory recognition of what perfect love truly is: the power to grant another perfect freedom to respond to being loved, with love - love that involves being allowed to question, to struggle, to doubt, to lament, to breakdown, to cry, to be confused, to misunderstand, love that is perfectly human in needing time and experience to grow. 


Perfect love allows all of these things to occur, making allowance for our limited natures, not turning the demand for love into threat, coercion or mere duty. This is how perfect love allows for our diversity and for our limitations that arise from our diversity, from our limitations, and of course from our sin. And yet this perfect love God has of us diverse, limited, sinful creatures also involves the capacity to order every single diverse person and unique element of nature, to hear, see, sense, experience, and know the one source from which they all originate. 


To recognize that one source as using all the things God has made as opportunities, as tests, as signs, as invitations, to open up to the overpowering presence of encountering God face-to-face and to the inevitable change of mind that results as often as one is willing to step into that violent wind, that, as with Isaiah, touches a coal to our lips and sets our tongues on fire cleansing our hearts and souls, turning our thoughts, words and actions to witness no longer solely to our diversity, but in our diversity, to the source and origin that sustains it: to the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 


This is the experience those early followers of Jesus have in our reading from Acts today: “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?” 


Paul in his letter to the Galatian church tells them: there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. God tells Abraham that he will not just be the ancestor of the Jews but of many nations. We know these distinctions or diversities of language, culture, social class, biological sex, colour of skin, experience in life, that all of these remain. And in following Jesus over time, we come to learn that all of these distinctions or diversities have their own peculiar ways of pointing beyond themselves so that they are all equal in their most basic ontological purpose i.e. their purpose in existing: to show the perfect love of God to everyone who encounters them. 


If we fix ourselves and our judgement of other people on that reality - that everyone is an agent of God’s - then how we treat ourselves and how we treat one another has this as its purpose: how am I now, how does this person, how does this event, how does this sunset, or lake, or weather, or frustrating situation or failure, or loss, or illness, or struggle allow us to hear that rush of the wind, that Holy Spirit who, as our Gospel lesson from John says, shows us more fully and so over time, opens us up more fully to experiencing who Jesus Christ is with us, and for us. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own … because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. And what is declared? That God might gather all the diversity of people and things that he has made to himself where he will be all in all. Perfect love that casts out fear and wipes away every tear. That is the God to whom we are being drawn if we will but let him. AMEN


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