Let’s play a game. I’m going to write a phrase, and you take a snapshot of the picture that pops up in your mind when you see it. Ready? OK — just highlight the space after the parens with your mouse:
(highlight with mouse –>) Gathered believers at Pentecost
Got the snapshot locked in? Good. Now answer me this —
Who’s in the picture?
If you are like most of us, it’s probably some sort of Sunday School picture with a bunch of guys in Bible garb and beards. Perhaps they are in a room, and maybe you’ve got the tongues of fire above their heads.
But here’s the important part. Look again at your snapshot in your mind. Have you noticed something? It’s all guys.
Yep, most of us unconsciously go there. Perhaps it really is the influence of the picture on the wall in Sunday School. Maybe it’s the fact that we just assume it was only the Apostles, which were all men. Or we’ve just not ever really thought about it.
Today, let’s think about it. Because it’s important.
The beginning of Acts 2 says “they were all together in one place.” Who is the “they” referred to here? If we look back in Acts 1, the last reference to a group is verse 15, where the author says that Peter addressed the believers, a group numbering about 120. When Peter speaks, he begins with “Brothers and sisters.” Note that in verse 14, we’ve already been told that the apostles were gathering with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” It seems pretty obvious that the group of believers in Acts 1 included women, and there is no reason to change that makeup for Acts 2.
So when the tongues of fire are distributed, and the speaking in many languages happens, and the wonders of God are declared in public in many languages — the women were right there alongside the men, receiving the Spirit and speaking the Good News.
Consider this: the crowd that gathered to hear them was made up of “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” Don’t you think they were shocked to see Jewish women standing right next to Jewish men in public, calling out the praises of God together?
Note, too, how Peter answers them. He quotes Joel, who says that God will pour out God’s Spirit on both sons and daughters. Not only that, God will even send the Spirit to both male and female slaves. Gender, age, status — none of these matter.
We are so prone to reflexively fall back into that picture and our assumptions. If we don’t try to limit God by gender, we still may use other criteria: education, or financial status, or worship style, or even hair style. Be honest — haven’t you been flipping channels and come across someone speaking about God, and thought “there’s no way that person has any word from God that I need to hear.” I’ve done it, and I bet you have too.
As we reflect on Pentecost, let’s retire that old Sunday School picture from our minds. Let’s start by getting women into the picture. Then let’s add some people of other races and nationalities. Next, put in some people who are very poor, some who are very rich, some who are very smart, and some who just aren’t. Finally, think of someone or some group that you can’t stand, and put them in there as well. Now take a snapshot of THAT group.
This is the Upper Room Church that God touched with fire. This is the church that changed the world. This is the church that is still changing the world. And this is the true snapshot of Pentecost. May it be so in our churches, and may it be so in our hearts.