I am always amazed at the reaction of the crowd on Pentecost Day, as they see before them a group of Galileans, but hear the Good News being proclaimed, each in their native tongue. Luke tells us that “all were amazed and perplexed.” This seems to be the appropriate reaction to what is going on here.
The details of the story are a bit vague, so we don’t know how many disciples were gathered together on Pentecost. The list of languages represented seems to be close to 15, so we can assume that there was more than the 12. Luke doesn’t tell us if the gathering had spilled out into the streets or if all the commotion was still happening within the house with the crowd gathering outside. We don’t know if the people could still hear or feel the rushing wind. Whether or not the tongues of fire that lighted upon the disciples are still visible, Luke doesn’t tell us. All we know is that people who didn’t look like they should be speaking certain languages were, and everyone was “amazed and perplexed.” The reaction, however, was mixed.
Some, Luke tells us, asked “What does this mean?” While others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine!” Some, it would seem, were hopeful: searching for some deeper relationship with God, while others couldn’t imagine the God that they worshiped acting in such a way. All of them, we are told, were “devout Jews” and “Proselytes.” It strikes me that the Church is, in many ways, still split down the middle like the crowd was in Luke’s story. Some are seeking a living and active God who is always ready to surprise. Some are longing for God to turn their hearts on fire, to tap into their emotions and revive a lackadaisical spirit. Others are quite happy with the box that they have placed God in. They don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to be changed. They certainly don’t want some kind of ecstatic encounter with God that might look unseemly or, as Anglicans are fond of, out of order.
The only difference between these two groups, however, is the expectations they bring to the event. So, dear Christians, what do you want to hear? Do you want to hear the Good News proclaimed in a language you can understand that will change your life forever? Or, would you prefer to sneer it all away while you sit comfortably in your pew, juggling your books, singing unsingable hymns, waiting for Jesus to return in a nice, orderly way? My goal is always to push people toward the former, but I know that part of my job is ministering to the latter. Maybe that’s why I like Peter’s speech so much. He breaks down that divide. More on that later.