Happy Feast of Pentecost! This is called Whitsunday in England, our mother church--”whit” (w-h-i-t) for the white baptismal gowns worn today. Pentecost is one of the six primary days in the church for baptism. 

The English also have a custom on Pentecost of selling ale, called Whitsun Ale, to support the church. It was basically a big party, to which everyone in the community would come. This goes back centuries, and I first learned of it through a little medieval song that goes: 

The churches must owe, as we all do know,

For when they be drooping and ready to fail,

By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go

And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale. 

This was once a major holiday, and a fun one. I even have to think the first reading sets that tone, with all those names needing to be pronounced by some unassuming lay reader. And then of course, from later in that same reading, the bit about being drunk already by 9 o’clock in the morning. There are whimsical lessons, today.  

But behind that whimsy are good lessons, for these times we’re in, especially.

The story of Pentecost comes from the book of Acts in the New Testament: the disciples, after Jesus departed from them for good, in his Ascension into heaven, remain in Jerusalem and close themselves in a room to wait, and pray. Jesus had told them the Holy Spirit would come, in its time.

That time came after 9 days, on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost--from “pente” for “fifty” because it came fifty days after the Passover celebration (just as it now comes fifty days after Easter). 

While the disciples were all there in Jerusalem, along with other pilgrims from around the Jewish diaspora, the Holy Spirit rushed in, in the form of wind, and flame--all these being established Old Testament metaphors for the spirit of God. The disciples are given by that spirit the ability to speak and to understand multiple languages, thus drawing together this polyglot of people gathered there in Jerusalem: Persians, Phrygians, Elamites and Medes--Pamphylians!

I’ve heard it said that the miracle of Pentecost, more than of speaking, is the hearing. And specifically, hearing voices and points of view that don’t sound like ours at all, yet still understanding them. 

I have not from the pulpit waded recently into current events, though our Wednesday Bible study has had many good and hard conversations about a lot of things going on in our world today. 

There are many things I can’t say with confidence about the complex world we live in. Sure, there are bright lines: racism is wrong. Killing innocent civilians, whatever their race and creed, is wrong. Christianity is not a white man’s religion. That’s one of Bishop Heyd’s constant reminders. I love hearing him, as white a white man as it gets, say that from the pulpit. 

These are things we can declare, as Christians. But the pulpit isn’t a two-way medium, and with most things, what we need today more than anything, is dialogue.

Sometimes this Pentecost story is paired with the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis. The people, the inhabitants of the then-world, are building a tall tower, when they’re stricken by God, who all of a sudden causes them to speak in different languages where once they (and the whole world) spoke in one tongue. So, one minute they can all understand each other, the next minute, they’re all speaking different languages and can’t understand a word the other is saying. Their common project falls to pieces, and they scatter. To all parts of the globe.

It seems to be a story about the origins of different languages. But like everything in the Bible, you can always make more of it.

I read recently where the sin in this story is their running away, scattering, when it became hard to communicate. And we do that, when confronted with differences. 

Last Monday the Scarsdale Hartsdale Women’s Interfaith Group met here to listen to a speaker talk about the organization Hearts and Homes for Refugees. We were expecting 80, 90 people, as has been the kind of crowd in the past. We had maybe 30. Ruth, our layperson who is one of the leaders of that nearly 100 year-old Interfaith women’s group, thought the low turnout was on account of the topic, refugees. I suggested it follows a trend I’m noticing more generally: interfaith groups aren’t meeting. People are finding excuses not to get together. I’m in two of them, based in this area and consisting of Christian, Jewis, and Muslim clergy. The first meeting called after October 7 (I'm going to confess this), I was like I can’t do this. I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought that, because the gatherings slowed, even stopped, altogether. 

It’s as if one moment we were building something, together, and the next moment, we were speaking completely different languages. We went in different directions, when what we should have done was stick with each other and work through that moment so we could keep building, together. 

Pentecost says, listen to voices that aren’t like yours. Do not run away. If you don’t listen, you’ll never understand. The disciples that day, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit--and we *do* need a force outside of and greater than ourselves to inspire us in this important but hard work--[the disciples that day had] by the grace of God, the capacity to hear, and the whole Christian movement is based on that. It’s our calling, and it’s right in our origin story. 

Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to continue its work in us. Because the world needs this--we need this. It starts here. It always starts locally. Listening to each other, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, striving to hear and to understand those who don’t seem to think or look like us. This is the call of Pentecost. May the Spirit empower us, today, and every day, to follow, its call. Amen.