I went to a large used book sale this past Saturday. Reading is such an individual thing. I usually get in trouble when I read over someone’s shoulder or read my book out loud when others are trying to sleep. So, when I shop for books, I shop for my personal enjoyment. Yet, as is often the case, my book shopping this weekend was very communal. I had four other family members with me. As we rambled through the aisles we kept separating and coming back together in little clumps of twos and threes to compare finds. Together, apart. Apart, together. The mix and match of the Kemp family’s communal love of books.
The day of Pentecost was a group experience with an individual dimension. As you read Acts 2, you bounce back and forth between the communal and the personal. The first Christians are all together, yet the spirit falls upon each individual as a personalized tongue of flame. The disciples go out on the balcony to speak to the crowds on the street. Yet each hearer experiences the Holy Spirit’s communication in their own language. This really should be known as the gift of individual ears rather than as the gift of a common tongue.
This is perhaps a good time to think about your congregation and ask if it has a balanced understanding of the Holy Spirit. Many churches treat the gift of Pentecost as an individual right, and fail to grasp the communal nature of Christianity. Other churches celebrate what this day means for organized religion and fail to offer the gift of spiritual formation to those who are thirsty to drink from the one to one relationship that God offers through the spirit.
Both aspects are important, but this week we should focus on the one the people of our congregation need most to hear.