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Hallo again to all.

Today is Whit Sunday, Whitsun, Pentecost. Call it what you will, it’s our annual celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, who were gathered for the Shavuot festival. Since it was the occasion of the first Christian sermon, and the first recorded appearance of the Holy Spirit, it is often light-heartedly referred to as the church’s birthday.

As Anglicans we have in our prayer books specific liturgies for the celebration of Pentecost. The lectionaries for Pentecost also contain a set of usual readings, which alternate from one year to another. One of the typical Pentecost readings is Acts 2:1-21, which quotes from that first Christian sermon, and includes this portion, which is originally from Joel:

'In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

At the risk of seeming to be proof-texting, we note that in this passage, Peter is quite unambiguous in saying that God sees all people equally, that everyone who asks will be answered. Almost the definition of inclusivity.

Daily we see people pushing against (or for) radical inclusivity. In the Middle East Palestinians are unable to live with their Jewish spouses; elsewhere those who identify as transgender are restricted from the same comforts as their cisgendered* friends and neighbors; minority races are being gunned down by those who fear them. Now, more than ever, with tens of thousands of men, women, and children seeking asylum from their war-torn homelands we see the need for inclusivity more clearly than ever.

It is not uncommon for parishes to mark Pentecost with the reading of a lesson or the gospel in multiple languages, looking at Pentecost as lifting the curse of the Tower of Babel, or about speaking in tongues. It is often about understanding diverse languages or about inclusive understanding of diverse speech. We were once questioned by a Roman Catholic friend as to when our dear Church started using English as its primary language. She was surprised when we answered that it was the 16th century rather than the mid 20th century. But for us as Anglicans there is an importance of the service being in the vernacular. The Bible and our Book of Common Prayer have been translated into hundreds of languages. That the content is understood by all, and the message is understood by all, is more important than having the sounds match. Earlier, in the quoted portion from Acts those who were listening to Peter  and the other disciples were shocked 'in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.'

Really, isn't 'speaking in many languages' just a metaphor for 'being many things' or 'being unlike one another, but nevertheless all the same'? It would be easy to assume the worst of  someone who spoke, incomprehensibly to us, in an alien tongue, but in that Acts passage, Peter reminds us that God includes us all, regardless of how we speak.

Dare we mention that 'Pentecostal' denominations tend to be the least inclusive with respect to doctrine? In reading scripture, we each see what we expect to see, since what is there is so diverse. Pentecostalists and other charismatics pride themselves on making a literal interpretation of scripture, and exclude those who disagree. Would that there were only one such interpretation.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

All of us at Anglicans Online

15 May 2016

* Cisgender is the term for those whose gender matches their sex assigned at birth, it is considered the antonym of transgender. From the latin cis-, meaning 'on this side of' which is the antonym of trans-, 'on the other side of'.

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