The Pentecost story is one of those stories that feels too big for words on a page to contain. There they all are – the first chapters of Acts tell us – the disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the other women who have followed Jesus. There they all are gathered in one room. The Holy Spirit pours on in, and then flows on out into the streets of Jerusalem, and then on and on and on, out into the whole known world – and on down through the generations. – your daughters, your sons, your children. The story spills off the page. The gift of the Holy Spirit – for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
The story couldn’t be more expansive. Just look at the language of the story. In 21 verses, I count at least 15 times the story makes it clear that this is for everyone – all of them, each of them. There they are – all of them gathered together in one room. It’s the festival of Pentecost – in the Jewish calendar – 50 days after Passover. For us, 50 days after Easter – 50 days into Resurrection.
They are all there together, and a mighty wind comes and fills the whole house. And then tongues as of fire appear, and rest on each of them – on all of them. And all of them are filled with Holy Spirit. All of them begin to speak in languages not their own, empowered by this Holy Spirt.
And then, the action spills out of the house, into the streets. The festival of Pentecost is a pilgrimage festival, so we’re told that there are devout Jews there from all the nations – Libya, Phrygia, Pamphylia. All the nations of their known world – the Mediterranean world. Our known world is even bigger. If we were telling the story, we’d list the nations of Asia, and South America, and North America, and Australia, and Southern Africa, and island nations. Everyone from everywhere. They are all there, and they all hear the ruckus, and a crowd gathers. They all hear them speaking in all the languages of all the nations – each person in the crowd – each person hears their own native tongue. Everyone speaks, and everyone understands. And they all are amazed and perplexed. They all wonder at this miracle.
Well, almost everyone is amazed. Did you notice that? There are some there, who look at all this, and scoff – they say, “Ha! These people must be drunk with new wine!” Well, who are these buzzkills? Who are these few who are missing the miracle?
In the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned a scholar I’ve been reading – Justo González – who writes from a social location within the LatinX community. From that social location, Justo González looks at these scoffers and says this: The miracle here is that pilgrims who are far from home hear their own language being spoken and being understood. They are strangers in a land not their own. They don’t expect people to speak their language; they don’t expect to be understood. They don’t have that privilege. Hearing their own language, spoken and understood, is miraculous.
The scoffers here – the ones who don’t get the miracle – Justo González says – they are the ones who always expect to be understood – the privileged locals -- the ones who speak the language of the place – the ones who have the privilege of language.
When I move around in Marin County, I take it for granted that when I speak my language of birth – English – I will be understood. For me, hearing my own language spoken and understood, here, is not particularly miraculous. Justo González says, that “If I [walk around in my privilege] expecting my language to be spoken, how can I be surprised when I am understood?” Because of my privilege – and what I take for granted – I might miss out on the miracle taking place. He calls this the “disadvantage of the advantaged.” I might need to set aside my privilege – to look and listen a little harder to the voices not from around here – to experience the miracle breaking forth. Just something to think about.
Remember, the narrative journey to Pentecost began way back at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke – Luke is volume 1; Acts is volume 2. Remember the beginning of Luke: Mary sings the Magnificat – the powerful brought down from power, those held down low lifted up. Jesus says at the very start: “I come to bring good news to the poor, release for the captive, freedom for all the oppressed, the forgiveness of every debt.” And then Jesus sets out on dusty roads healing the hurting, gathering at table those who have been cast out, turning the world rightside up – transforming even death into life. All those roads – all those roads lead to this moment.
At Pentecost, here they all are, people from all the known world, and no matter how far from home they are, they hear their language spoken, and they are understood. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit – rushing through and over and beyond every boundary, border, and separation – for everyone, from everywhere.
And then Peter stands up and takes it even further. Everyone. Everywhere. All the time. This is what the prophet said, he says. Do you remember? “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons, your daughters, all your children will prophesy. Your youth will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. I will pour out my spirit – even on those enslaved – servants of every gender. You all will be free. And then, Peter winds up his speech (some verses past this morning’s Scripture): “For the promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom God calls. Everyone. Everywhere. All the time.
What you’ve experienced in Jesus – in his life, death and Resurrection – what you’ve experienced in the Risen Christ – that’s what’s pouring forth even now. You’re experiencing all that now. The Spirit of the Risen Christ poured out in you. All of you.
Everyone. Everywhere. All the time.
That refrain I’ve been repeating – Everyone. Everywhere. All the time – might sound somewhat familiar. It is, of course, a riff on the title of the movie that won Best Picture this year: Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a ground-breaking film in many respects – in the ways that it centers Asian actresses and actors, and Asian storytellers – and also in the mind-blowing ways that it tells its stories. The movie begins small. We find Michelle Yeoh’s character living life in what one writer calls “a small universe of stress and frustration.” The action takes place in the troubled office over the family-owned laundromat, as she battles with the IRS and struggles with a teenage daughter.
And then things get weird. What happens next... well.. I don’t know if I understand what happens next. So let’s just say that the movie is built on the premise that there are multiple possible universes existing all at once – that there are different lives we could be living based on the choices we and others make. The premise goes like this: Every choice we make forks out into at least two possible universes – based on what we choose and do not choose – multiplying again and again – with every next choice, yours and mine – into a world – a multiverse of infinite possibility. Michelle Yeoh’s character finds herself vaulting from one possible universe into the next – as A.O. Scott in the New York Times says, “Our roads not taken blossom into new universes, world without end.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once. is at the same time both revelatory and utterly bewildering. I left the movie theater knowing that I had experienced something profound, beautiful, and true – but even now I’m at a loss to tell you precisely what that was. It was something that was intimately about love, healing, and reconciliation within a family, and at the same time, broadly and extravagantly about the infinite possibilities present in the experience of human life.
Last week, I listened to a podcast interview with Mayim Bialik – you may know her as an actress from Blossom or The Big Bang Theory, or maybe you know her as one of the hosts of Jeopardy! Mayim Bialik also has a PhD in Neuroscience, and she is a practicing Jew. I heard her interviewed on a mindfulness and spirituality podcast.
Mayim Bialik set off down the path of studying neuroscience when she was awed by the physiology of a neuron. Now, I don’t know much (or anything) about neurons, but here’s how Mayim Bialik describes them: “Neurons are specialized cells in the brain and nervous systems. They do all the things that regular cells do, and they also communicate with each other. They communicate with each other through the release of ions and electrical impulses. Through these neurons, there is an elaborate and constantly occurring electrical storm going on in our brains and our nervous systems. It’s a chain reaction – one neuron touches the next, touching the next. And that electrical storm going on in those neurons in our brains leads to the experience we are having right now, to consciousness, to our sense of self and other.” Bialik says it undergirds all our experience; it is the basis for love, taste, touch, sight, hearing, feeling.
And, Bialik – remember she is a practicing Jew – Bialik sees God’s hand in all that. In that understanding – of neurons – she experiences the divine. She experiences God in the elemental particles of human experience.
All that, to me, is revelatory and utterly bewildering.
What happens at Pentecost – this gift of Spirit and life at Pentecost – is expansive and all-inclusive – Everyone. Everywhere. All the time. The experience of Pentecost is, at the same time, both revelatory and bewildering. There are tongues as of fire, resting on each and all. There’s the roar of a mighty wind, the cacophony of every language of every nation sounding all at once, the clamor of a crowd amazed and perplexed, even the mocking of some scoffers.
And yet, as we listen in to the experience, we hear and understand languages not our own. And what we hear and see and sense and feel – is nothing less than a world enlivened, empowered, set free. We glimpse beyond what we can comprehend. Pentecost opens up a world of infinite possibility – a world whose possibilities are limited only by the bounds of God’s love and power and imagination.
What in the world can all that mean? Well, here is but a glimpse: What God is doing in this moment is what God has been doing all along – from the very beginning, creating and recreating – entering into a world broken by our choices, and empowering and transforming it all for good. Jesus is so very clear: I’ve come to proclaim and embody good news for the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, release for the captive, freedom for the oppressed, the forgiveness of every debt. In Resurrection and in Pentecost, what begins to become even more clear – if only in a brighter glimpse – is that what God has been doing in Christ – God is doing in us.
Like the movie suggests, a world of infinite possibility.
Like Mayim Biyalik’s experience of the neuron, an experience of God in the elemental particles of human experience.
Like Jesus said, good news for the poor, release for the captive, freedom for the oppressed.
At Pentecost – all of that – all that possibility, all that freedom, all that Resurrection, all that life – is breathed into us – and not just us –
Everyone. Everywhere. All the time.
© 2023 Scott Clark
 For general background on the text, see Justo L. González, Acts (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001); Mitzi Smith and Yung Suk Kim, “Acts of the Apostles,” Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018); Jeremey L. Williams, Commentary on Working Preacher, at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/day-of-pentecost/commentary-on-acts-21-21-16  Justo L. González, Acts (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).  See https://www.tenpercent.com/tph/podcast-episode/mayim-bialik-600
Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt, used with permission via Unsplash