“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)
There is something terribly wrong in America at this moment, and we all know it. Whether one calls it tribalism, or the fraying of our social fabric, or the rise in distrust of institutions and of one another, it is slowly eating away at our capacity for community and for a shared vision of a preferred future. There is erosion in the idea that America was founded on a set of transcendent principles – “self-evident truths” as the Declaration of Independence puts it – that can enable diverse and strong-willed people to remain reasonably united around a set of deeply held commitments. I wonder about the possibility of a renaissance in American vitality, and a restoration of shared values that unite us rather than divide us.
The second chapter of Acts tells about a unique moment in history that, in general terms, is undisputed by even secular historians. Simply put, it was the birthing of what came to be (arguably) the most influential force in the history of western civilization: the Christian church. The writer of Acts goes to some effort to emphasize the diversity of those who were present at what the Bible calls the day of Pentecost. There was a multitude of ethnicities, nationalities, skin colors, and languages. And yet, in a moment that was ignited by forces attributed to God, their many and very real differences became subordinated to an experience of Divine love that bound them together. Their differences didn’t disappear, but their commitment and loyalty to the higher calling of God’s love and mission transformed their diversity into strength rather than weakness.
An honest reading of the story of Pentecost would have to conclude that there were two preconditions to that extraordinary eruption of God’s grace. First, they patiently and prayerfully waited for God. They clearly sensed that what was needed in the moment required resources beyond their own human abilities. Second, they continued to worship together in one place. When there was nothing else that could unify them, they sensed that coming together to God’s house for prayer and worship was the highest form of faithfulness.
The story of America is not the same as the story of the church, but I wonder if the church doesn’t have the opportunity to draw from its rich history the wisdom now needed to model a new way of being together. What if we were to set aside the ideological battles long enough to simply “be together in one place” for a while? What if we were to contemplate what it actually means to be together? Surely, whether being together in the pews of the church or in the halls of Congress, the contemplation of our common humanity — both our tendency toward sin and our capacity for heroic faith — can lead us to the possibility of a Pentecost moment; a moment when we are humbled by the presence of God, when our diversity becomes our strength, when our eyes are filled with the vision of unity that is God’s plan for us.
Rev. Don Underwood