The importance of having a strong sense of community and an awareness of its benefits is well known to those who work for social justice and seek to build grassroots-based movements that serve the wellbeing of the individuals and families who populate what are loosely defined as communities, which are the geographic locations in which we live or the peoples who are connected to one another through shared belief systems, identities, or activities.
Just as there are vibrant neighborhoods in towns and cities that strive to make themselves the best possible places for their inhabitants in which to live, there are online communities that link their self-identifying members together with shared interests and goals and, in the process, create strong bonds between them, even though they have never met in person. Communities of identity and purpose can be created temporarily in order to address specific timely concerns or to counteract what is perceived to be a threat to the shared values or ideals of a group of previously non-organized citizens. The same is true in our communities of faith when we are communally committed to a larger reality or a shared ministry.
The Pentecost reading from the book of Acts is an example of how a collective consciousness is formed when people gather together in a self-aware community. We are told that on the fiftieth day after Passover, that time when the giving of the law through Moses is commemorated, the apostles “..were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The first line points to something very important: that they were all together in one place. Yes, they were all physically sitting or standing in the same dwelling in Jerusalem, but it means much more than that; it means they were of one mind. Today, we would say they were “on the same page” in that they were of the same understanding and were gathered together with the same purpose.
They had been witness to the arrest, torture, murder, burial, and then resurrection of their teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth. This common experience, which had been preceded by almost three years of living together in community and ministering with Jesus as he proclaimed the Good News, made them single-minded about who they were and what they were to do in this world. And because of this, when they gathered together, their consciousness was heightened and the vibratory frequency around them was increased (“..sound like the rush of a violent wind..”) which was what then facilitated the appearance of the Holy Spirit and caused a transformation in them (they were able to “..speak in other languages.”) This newfound ability means they were able to understand and communicate in a way in which they were previously unable to do. Their consciousness was expanded as their sense of community was extended out into the greater world.
In May 2015 nearly a thousand environmental activists took to kayaks in the Seattle harbor to surround one of the giant offshore oilrigs that were moored there. They had united via social media in order to protest arctic oil exploration. The intensity of these peoples’ belief in the rightness of their cause, along with the dynamic of being united in a common purpose, ignited an energy that heightened the effect of what they were undertaking.
So, too, is it with us, when we gather as community activists and people of faith, putting aside our personal agendas as we unite to stand up to a commonly perceived social injustice. We are greater as a group than as individuals. We find resources within ourselves and in our communities that we didn’t know we had and we find that our influence and ability to affect change is greatly enhanced.
And this is why we gather into communities and worship together, pray together, and work for social justice together. Through our faith and our communal identity as people of faith, what we can do together is so much greater than what we can do alone. Just as on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit senses our Oneness and pours down upon us in order to strengthen and protect us as we seek to bring about the Kingdom today in our own communities.
Let us remember this as we witness to the suffering of the world.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION OR DISCUSSION
- To what communities do you belong?
- How are they defined? Who is allowed to be part of them? What rules do they have? What goals?
- What social justice causes are important to you?
- If you belong to a faith community, does your experience of working for social justice with that community differ from your experience when you go it alone or with a secular organization?
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
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