Somebody once said that Jerusalem is the heart of the world, and when the heart is sick then the whole body is affected. The wisdom of this comment is particularly apparent now with the turbulence created by the USA moving its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is the most contested city in the world. Not only does it contain the holiest sites for the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths, but both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to it as their capital cities. By moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the USA has given a powerful voice to the Israeli claim and has removed the lid from the violence simmering below the surface. This move has not only had an impact in Israel/Palestine but has reverberated around the world.
In the middle of this, the feast of Pentecost (also known as Whitsunday) is being honoured by many Christians. Pentecost is a celebration of God inspiring the followers of Jesus Christ to communicate their experience of his message of love, justice and reconciliation to the wider world in ways that will encourage them to listen and respond. And the miracle of Pentecost first happened in Jerusalem, which today cries out for love, justice and reconciliation.
On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were fearful and uncertain. They had experienced the most unsettling weeks of their lives. They had been appalled by Jesus’s cruel death, puzzled by his being raised from the dead and then mystified that, after all this, the Jesus to whom they had committed themselves, had left them. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that on the day of Pentecost they were inspired (that is, God the Holy Spirit filled them) such that they were able to communicate to people from across a huge variety of cultures and languages. ‘How is it that we hear, each of us, in our native language?’ asked people in the crowd. Although some sneered, thinking that the disciples were drunk, others said, ‘What does this mean?’ The crowd did not need to have the message from the followers interpreted because they all understood it: but they did need to have it explained. It was then that Peter, chief of the followers, stood up and told the crowd the story of God’s love, justice and reconciliation.
The miracle of Pentecost inspired the followers of Jesus to move out of their comfort zones to communicate the experience of God’s love, justice and reconciliation to people from alien languages and cultures. Furthermore, they communicated in such a way that encouraged their hearers to listen and respond, both positively and negatively. That is the calling of Christians today, to move from our comfort zones into different cultures and sub-cultures, some of which may be alien or hostile, to communicate God’s love, justice and reconciliation: into the many and varied cultures of the young, into the fragile cultures of the elderly, into the superficial cultures of ‘success’ and ‘failure’, into the cultures of those who regard themselves as excluded by race, sexuality and poverty, into cultures of despair and fear, into cultures of cynicism and dismissiveness. The list is endless. It is a sign that the Spirit of Pentecost is at work when people stop and listen, even though they may disagree: another sign of the Spirit’s activity is when they want to discover more.
As we celebrate, let us also remember our sisters and brothers of all races and faiths who live in the land where the miracle of Pentecost first happened. Let us pray for all who are witnessing to God’s love, justice and reconciliation in that region, remembering that when one part of the body is sick, then the whole body is affected.