I like to joke that my family is like the Hotel California—“you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” My parents, maybe by accident, ended up making our family system one that sucks people in like a black hole of love, adopting friends to become like family who become part of what we always did. It’s why, even after my sister’s first marriage has been over for going on six years, her stepkids are still very much my niece and nephew. My parents have always valued being family to whoever needs it; it’s one of those things I’m glad they taught me growing up.
And being a close knit family isn’t something that’s outside of the experience for us at Our Savior’s. It feels like every other week I discover some new family connection in the congregation; people I didn’t realize were related (well, I knew they were related, but I didn’t know how). So when Paul talks about the church being the family of God, and the members being children of God—well, we get a really good picture of that. We here are a literal family!
But there’s a different reason we’re family as a church. It’s not the fact that y’all are all each other’s relatives by blood or by marriage—no, what makes us family as the Church is the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is a spirit of adoption, as Paul writes, God’s free choice to make us part of the family. God brings us in together, and whether or not we have anyone we’re related to in the congregation, we are family because we are in the Spirit.
God first gathered this family of God with the rushing wind and the tongues of fire that appeared in the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost. This day is really important, as well, because Pentecost was and still is a Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Moses came down the mountain with the covenant God made with the people, and in that covenant was the Law that showed them how to live. Well, just as the Jews received the covenant of God through the Law on Pentecost, the church received the covenant of grace on Pentecost, in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
See, the disciples were all gathered together, and suddenly they heard this rush of a violent wind—remember the wind of God on the surface of the waters of creation? And tongues, as of fire, broke into the house and landed on each one of them. Set on fire by the Holy Spirit, the disciples started prophesying, naming the deeds done by Jesus and the salvation he brought. But the catch was that these disciples weren’t speaking their own language; they were speaking the languages of every devout Jew in Jerusalem.
Now, if you’ve ever been in a situation where you are surrounded by people speaking in a way that you simply do not understand—whether because it’s a foreign language or it’s English using so much jargon that you don’t understand—it can be like a homing beacon piercing through the darkness when you hear something you understand. These Jews in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost heard their native languages, and like moths to a flame they had to find out where it was coming from.
What they found was a group of Galileans prophesying about how God had brought salvation in Jesus Christ. But the thing that was especially unusual is that these Jews point out how these prophets are all Galileans, speaking in their various languages. How did they know they were Galileans? One of my good friends and a colleague in South Dakota suggested that it may have been their accent that gave them away.
Yes, the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak foreign languages, but didn’t take away their accent that gave away where they were from.
I love this detail because it tells us that God doesn’t take away who we are when we are called to share the gospel. Instead, God lifts up and celebrates the things that make us different. God lets the person we are shine through as we share God’s good news. God wants you to let who you are color the unique way you can share the good news of God’s salvation with others. All of our own life experiences, our cultural background, our way of seeing the world is all a part of how God calls us to share our experience of God so that others can come to know and love Jesus and work for the just and loving world he calls us to embody.
But it doesn’t stop at us. God doesn’t merely want the sharers of the gospel to bring their whole selves into the mission. God also wants the ones who receive the gospel to bring their whole selves too. Notice that God didn’t undo the variety of languages the Jews in Jerusalem were speaking. Instead, God came to them in the language and culture they already knew. God didn’t ask them to leave who they were behind in order to participate in the kingdom. Instead, God wants the whole variety of all people, everywhere.
Pentecost reminds us that God celebrates the diversity of humanity. It means we’re called to reflect that celebration, lifting up the beautifully different ways that people around the world name and honor God. And that’s not just the variety of people overseas; no, God calls us to celebrate the ways that Black Baptists down south worship God, and celebrate how small-town Lutherans worship God, and celebrate how undocumented migrant communities celebrate God, and celebrate how refugees from Syria worship God. And we celebrate all of these differences, the ways of people who might be nothing like us, because God has knit us into one family by the power of the Holy Spirit. God makes us one family, and doesn’t ask us to leave behind what makes us unique—whether as individuals or as groups.
God calls together the liberals and the conservatives into one family without asking them to leave that part of them behind. God calls together black people and white people together into the same family, without asking them to leave that part of their experience behind. God calls together men and women, young and old, city and country, citizen and immigrant to be part of the one family of God, because God has poured out the Spirit on us all.
Throughout history, the Church may be the most dysfunctional family there is, but it is a family. We are bound to one another in the Spirit, to care for one another, to love one another, to correct one another, and to celebrate one another. God has poured out the Spirit on us all, and that makes even the black sheep of the family have something important to say. It’s why God loves the variety of us all.
And as this one family of God, we are called to celebrate the variety of what this family looks like. We’re called to lift up and honor the many different traditions, different experiences, different languages we all speak knowing that God wants it all here, in its great big boisterous variety. The Church is called to unity in Christ, but nowhere is that unity meant to be uniformity. Instead, the story of God’s salvation is only made richer by just how different this family is.
And that is truly something we can celebrate.
Thanks be to God. Amen.