May 15, Feast of Pentecost

Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21

Kristin White


Please join me in singing a prayer as we begin. I’ll sing one line, then you sing it back, then I’ll sing the second line, and you sing it back. Then let’s sing the whole thing through a couple of times; and whatever harmony you hear, I hope you’ll sing that into our midst as well.


What we need is here…

What we need is here.[1]


I’m not sure that was the prayer the disciples would have chosen to sing as they gathered together in that space, whether for safety and protection from whoever might have wanted to do them harm in the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension; or for comfort, for the solace of being together with friends who have gone through the same thing, the kinship found in not having any idea of what comes next.

And what does come immediately next might not inspire those disciples to break out in prayerful song proclaiming that what they need is here. After all what’s here – a rushing wind? Tongues of fire in their midst, landing on them? Didn’t Jesus promise them a comforter? An advocate?


I wonder how much those followers of Jesus might have instead craved after some assurance, some hope for a measure of safety, even certainty. The disciples have been traveling by foot and by boat for the past three years. They dropped their nets, and have seen things and done things that they must have thought impossible. I wonder if any of them might have wished for the sort of sameness from the first story we heard today about the people of Babel. That kind of stability only seems possible when everyone shares a place and a language, the same peculiar words. I wonder if it might have even felt like a kind of relief for the disciples to think about staying in the same place for long enough that they might find themselves doing the steady and predictable work of making bricks…bricks that could build a city, and not just to build a city but a tower, and not just to build a tower but the highest sort of a tower – one that reaches up all the way to the heavens. I wonder if, after three years of wandering, followed by the devastation they faced into, and then confusion with a measure of hope restored, and then the grief of loss again but this time with a promise…I wonder what those disciples might have been willing to do in order to keep themselves from being scattered any further than they had already been. I wonder if the faintest breath of imagination might have sneaked in to their thoughts, as it did for those builders in Babel: “Let us make a name for ourselves…”

The trouble, of course, with such a wish is that if everyone is doing the same thing in the same place, speaking the same words in the same ways, then there’s no space for harmony. And so, as we see from the time of that story in Genesis, God has been disrupting these thoughts almost from the very beginning.

Instead of giving the disciples what they might have thought they wanted, that great disrupter known as the Holy Spirit rushes and blazes into their midst. The disciples speak languages they do not know, as the Spirit gives them ability. And others who do know these languages both understand and are bewildered, because they have known those languages as their very own, and they know that those who speak them have not.


And so, in this strange moment, instead of isolation, the disciples find disruption that spills out beyond their walls. Instead of sameness, there is now diversity. And instead of unison, they find harmony.


Luke Powery, dean of the chapel at Duke University, claims that God is multilingual, multivocal, multicultural, multiethnic. “The gospel is polyphonic,” he says. “We should not erase our own names, our languages, our cultures, our skin colors, our hair texture, the color of our eyes, the shape of our bodies, our identities. We should not obliterate whom and what God has created…God made all of us with our own native tongue, and when we are tempted to erase that which is different, it is an affront to God and to God’s collective Body.”[2]


So into this polyphonic harmony that is St. Augustine’s Church we welcome Josephine and Florence today. Josie’s parents were married in this church some years ago; her grandparents help with our Family Promise ministry, so that people have a place to stay together as families until they can find a home of their own once again. Flora’s family came to us last June, when her mom Marianna and her big sister Violet arrived at St. Augustine’s for the first time by bicycle. Violet has a special job to do today – she will be pouring the water that we will bless and use to baptize Flora and Josie.

In fact we all have special jobs to do, today and always. If those words of the prayer we sang at the beginning are true on this feast of Pentecost – if what we need is right here, through the Holy Spirit’s great disruptive power of a mighty wind and blazing fire, then it’s our job to be the sacred body that such a spark and such a breath inhabit. It’s the special job of each one of us, and it takes us all – not to march in lock step and use all the same words to say all the same things, not to bake bricks to try and build some kind of fortress with the understandable but mistaken idea that we can secure ourselves to heaven. But instead, to join our voices to the song – whether we’re 2 or 82 or older or younger or someplace in between, it takes everybody, and those others we’ll invite to join the singing; to find those places where our own voices resonate in harmony; and to sing Flora and Josie into our midst.

What we need is here. It’s right here. So let us go, now, to the font of our salvation.