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Sunday, 13 May 2018

Inspired to Follow: Pentecostal diversity

‘Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story’ is a free resource to help people explore the Christian faith, using paintings and Biblical story as the starting points. It’s been created by St Martin-in-the-Fields in partnership with the National Gallery.

Here is the latest reflection that I have prepared for the series:
Topic: Pentecost
Text: Acts 2:1-39 (extracts)
Image: ‘Pentecost’, Giotto and Workshop, probably about 1310-18, G5360
Location: National Gallery, Room 51

Giotto was mainly active in Florence, although he may have been trained in Rome. He became known as the chief liberator of Italian painting from the Byzantine style of the early Middle Ages. This was because he drew his figures from life, rather than copying from old well-known pictures in the way that the Byzantine artists like Cimabue and Duccio did. The figures that Giotto painted are solid and three-dimensional. They have anatomy, faces and actions that look very natural, because they have been drawn from looking at real people. This more natural way of showing people was started by Pietro Cavallini, but Giotto took the new ideas much further.

In his paintings each scene looks like a shallow stage with actors on it. There are always some buildings or landscape such as a rocky hill, so that the viewer can see where the action is happening. The figures are carefully arranged so the viewer can imagine that they are right there, taking part in the action. That is what we see in 'Pentecost' which represents the twelve apostles gathered together after Christ's Ascension into Heaven. The Holy Spirit is shown descending on them in the form of a dove and tongues of fire, granting them the power to speak in many languages. In the foreground, men from different nations marvel at hearing the apostles' words in their own language. Giotto depicts real people animated by God’s Spirit and wants everyone to see and experience that for themselves. The painting is organised so we are among those viewing this scene; part of the diverse crowd in Jerusalem.

The Day of Pentecost is the turning point in the history of Christ’s Church. The believers had gone from gathering together in fear of the authorities to gathering together in readiness for the promised gift. They were waiting to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had spoken to them about the Kingdom of God and told them that when the Holy Spirit came upon them they would be filled with power and would be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That prophecy and promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit enabled the believers to take God’s message to all.

We often think those words meant that the disciples were to start with their own people and gradually move from there to the ends of earth. What we forget is that on the day of Pentecost there were Jews and Gentile converts living in Jerusalem who had come from many different parts of the world: Parthia, Media and Elam; Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia; Pontus and Asia; Phrygia and Pamphylia; Egypt and Libya; Rome, Crete and Arabia. A real diversity of nationalities and ethnicities was right there on the streets in Jerusalem that day.

That diversity meant that a diversity of languages were spoken in Jerusalem and the coming of the Holy Spirit enabled the believers in Jerusalem to engage with the diversity that they found. As they were filled with the Holy Spirit they all began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Although the believers were mainly Galileans and not known for being multi-lingual, each person heard God’s message in his or her language. The Holy Spirit embraced the diversity of Jerusalem and gave the believers the tools they needed to communicate in and through that diversity.

Those diversities – of nationality and language – aren’t the only diversities mentioned. In explaining what God is doing at that time in Jerusalem, Peter spoke about a diversity of age and gender. He quoted from the Book of Joel, where we find the Holy Spirit being poured out on everyone, young and old, men and women, so that all see visions, dream dreams and proclaim God’s message. God used the diversity of age and gender among the believers in order to speak to the diversity of nations and languages in Jerusalem.

Now think about our situation here in London. Doesn’t it, in some ways, seem similar to the situation in Jerusalem? London has always been one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities. Throughout history, people have come from every continent and corner of the globe to live, to visit, and to mix. Today the city brings together more than 50 ethnic communities of 10,000 or more people. More than 70 different national cuisines are available and a staggering 300 different languages are spoken. The world is right here in London, just as it was in Jerusalem.

Just as, at Pentecost, God poured out his Spirit on old and young, men and women, so a similar diversity can be seen in this city and its churches. That diversity is given to us so that we can proclaim the message of God to people of every ethnicity, age, gender, disability, sexuality and religion. And we need the Holy Spirit’s power, gifts and enabling to make that happen.

We need to remember, too, that as the Early Church grew and as God’s message spread there were people who tried to restrict this wonderful new diversity. Even Peter, who led this move into diversity at Pentecost, on one occasion in Galatia tried to restrict the diversity of what God was doing and had to be rebuked by Paul. In the same way today, there are those both in the Church and in our society who want to place restrictions on diversity.

In the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost God celebrates and engages with the diversity that we find in the world he has created. The Holy Spirit comes on all for all and we must not seek to restrict the Spirit’s coming but must enable all to hear God’s call on their lives and be filled by the Spirit just as occurred on that first Pentecost in Jerusalem when all the world’s diversity was gathered to see the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all and for all. And, as Giotto makes clear, that also includes us.

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire; strengthen your children with the gift of faith, revive your Church with the breath of love, and renew the face of the earth. Amen.


Barratt Band - My Spirit's Free.

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