Acts 2:1 – 11 (paraphrased)
When Pentecost came, the believers were together in one place. Without warning there was a loud sound and strong wind. No one knew where it came from and when the Insiders came to see what had happened, they heard the people speaking in different languages – ones they declared the believers could not readily know.
“How can this happen asked the Insiders? They are not from our tribes? They have not learned our languages and they’re talking of God’s mighty works! How can this be?”
My husband and I used to attend a different church before we became part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We faithfully attended and were active within a church group. We really liked it. We would gather every week, in addition to Sunday’s service, to read, study and pray together. We attended this group for more than 10 months. Weekly we discussed the things of God and what it meant to be Christian. Its goal was to make Disciples out of us so that we in turn, could share our faith with others. Imagine that, come together, build community, learn, go and do likewise. This seems perfect, right? The stuff of a real faith community – a goal of any church community really. Seems pretty typical and on-target, right?
Well, one day, during our weekly meeting, we entered a conversation about what we should think, do and say when we encounter Christian’s that do not hold the same beliefs as us. At first everyone said, “No, this couldn’t happen? All Christians believe the same things.” I looked at my husband and then back towards everyone and said, “Really? Aren’t you just saying that because we are so fond of each other and hope we all agree?”
They looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and asked me to give them an example. Looking squarely, I blurted … “Well, how about homosexuality?” As I looked around the room, some immediately dropped their eyes while one lady said….”I had an uncle when I was growing up. I could never go see him, the family said no. They were afraid he would xxxxxx me.” [you fill in the blank, I know you know what it is]
And then another asked, “Why are you bringing up such a thing? How dare you. No one here is a homosexual.”Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one woman who intermittently attended silently sinking into the corner. It was as if she wanted the room to disappear. I suddenly felt real sad.
Then another piped in, “Yeah, why does that even matter to you? Looking towards each other, knowing we have held this in for months, I answered… “We have gay people in our family.” One said, “Who?” I said, “My son, for one” as I looked briefly back to the corner the silent woman curled in the corner, looked up at me. We silently saw each other. She then looked down and stayed silent.
Another then said, “Well, that issue is pretty clear in the scriptures, isn’t it, looking now over to our group leader?” And then another immediately piped in… “Yes. It is ..its in….Leviticus … its in there. It is an abomination. Those people go to hell.”
Suddenly my husband and I felt small. It was like the group – the community we loved was standing over us. The room began to spin. Slow at first, but surely catching steam. We thought these people were our friends… but they were not. We spent months with these people. We had these people over to our home, we laughed, prayed and did things with these people.
The room changed. It was no longer smiles and hugs but cold shoulders and twisted looks. All of a sudden one exclaimed, “That’s a sexual deviance!” I felt my heart break. I felt a sense of panic swelling inside as I said, “They are not deviants! You do know that….even if they never ever had sex, they”d still be gay. Its not what they do, its who they are.”
A woman sitting across from me, looked at me with real “Christian” concern and said, …”There are those programs he can go to. They can fix him, can’t they?”
Hearing this, I my voice simply climbed as I said, “There is nothing wrong with him or any of them. Why don’t you go to a program to fix you.”
With that — all of sudden, everything stopped! Silence filled the room. You could cut the air with a knife.
Suddenly, all attention turned to our group leader – the pastor. By now, tears were falling down my cheeks. My husband and I were sitting firmly on the edge of our seats, feeling betrayed and vulnerable. Tightly we held hands and hung together, by a thread. We were hoping she would salvage the moment – give us a little air. We were hoping she would say, “God loves all people and we do not judge another.” We were hoping her words would put us back together, that our hearts would not be broken. We were hoping our community would not be shattered.
Sadly, this did not happen.
Sitting with her shoulders back, she confidently lifted her bible in the air. She then waved it slightly over her head… for all to see as she said, “Yes, in the bible it is clear. It is outside God’s good intention for us. It is a sin. However,’ she went on, ‘while we hate the sin, we love the sinner and we will pray for him.” Looking at me straight in the eyes, she asked… “Can we pray for your son?”
Tears running, breath gasped and my husband and I clutching each others hands, I leaned forward and said, “Sure, if we are praying for his happiness, for his acceptance – just as he is, not as you think he should be.”
In the scripture – on Pentecost, when the believers were suddenly swept by the in-breaking of the spirit – they were speaking in languages not known to them. They were saying words traditionally reserved for others, the insiders – not them, the outsiders. One of the powerful messages in this scripture is how the Spirit came. It came to the believing community, not per se, those steeped in tradition but those who waited, longed for and believed in the Spirit.
The Spirit was breaking in, making them insiders. Their speaking in languages they never learned demonstrated to any watching that they too, were included. Acts shows us that all have a place within the kin-dom of God. It is God who decides; it is not based on anything we do but who God is.
Acts 2 demonstrates that any professing and believing people are able to see, speak and produce the things of God. It is not restricted or withheld from any seeking, from any hoping. God’s grace, love and gifts are for any who believe.
I wish now, when I think back to that day, where we gathered as community – in prayer, in study and in service – I wish the language of inclusion, was spoken – one that restores and deepens community rather than destroys and divides. There was nothing good that came from that day. We left, to never return and that lady, cowering in the corner, never returned either. While their words sent us running they sent her packing; she silently resigned, never to return. Perhaps you know why, I know I do.
If our goal as a community is to foster Christian love, grace and acceptance; one that prepares us to go and do likewise – we need to understand this. We must open ourselves, entering the rooms of believers – ready to hear the language of their hearts… the Spirit will come to whomever it pleases – even those we wish it would not or think it should not. As we are freely given grace and unconditional love – we must go and do likewise.
Given this experience, to this day, whenever I see or hear Joel Osteen raising his bible in the air to say,
“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. ….”
I cringe a little. As Christians our words have the power to heal or destroy. Our words can lift up or cast down. Where I believe Joel desires for us to be empowered, these words, for some, limit. My hope is for us to take seriously our kin-dom building responsibilities – letting any who believe in so that we all may learn the language of grace and love.