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Pentecost and Globalization

Lectionary reflections for Pentecost (C)

By Andrew Davey

 

Readings for Pentecost Sunday, Year C, May 30, 2004

Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Pentecost story is its geography. A minor provincial city, known as cultic centre of pilgrimage, is shaken. The meteorological spectacle is matched by the commotion as visitors and residents are confronted by confusion and clarity that the sceptics immediately attribute to drugs.

The event embeds itself in the extraordinary diversity of the festival crowd: 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. These people represent a whole host of connections, border crossings and identities in the Roman Empire. It is the birth of the church in the power of the Spirit, a community empowered with a faith that could travel light. The message will be spread via the information super-highway of the Empire – its roads, sea routes, and messenger networks. It is the moment when the kingdom begins to use the lower circuits and back alleys of the global system. The cosmopolitan and the metropolitan converge in a new project that transforms human identity, that forges a new community in which difference is present and empowered.

Behind this project are a cluster of people for whom this is the moment of authentication, those who have grasped the hope that they have been given in the forty day since Easter, who have waited expectantly in the city unaware what was in store, alert, prayerful, but unprepared. Pentecost is a disruption, a moment of disturbance.

Naim Ateek describes Pentecost as a moment of intifada :

The same people who were weak before Pentecost had become strong. They were not replaced by a stronger group of people. The weak had been transformed, renewed, and remade by God.

Pentecost marked the beginning of the “shaking off” of many shackles . . . their view of themselves as well as their view of God and the world had undergone a dramatic change. Pentecost was a spiritual and religious intifada of great magnitude. (‘Pentecost and Intifada' in Segovia and Tolbert, Reading from this place. Volume 2. Fortress 1995)

The prophet Joel pictured this disruption among those on the margins, not at the polite centres of religion and politics. The young and old – those rarely heard or easily dismissed are singled out as recipients of the Spirit. So too were those whose place in society was precarious or unacknowledged.

The prophet Joel pictured this disruption among those on the margins, not at the polite centres of religion and politics. The young and old – those rarely heard or easily dismissed are singled out as recipients of the Spirit. So too were those whose place in society was precarious or unacknowledged.

 

Even on my servants and my handmaids,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.

 

Among whom do we look today for the activity of Spirit?

Colombian philosopher-theologian Eduardo Mendieta considers the urban churches of the poor to be a vital source of real resistance to the insidious impact of globalization:

. . .religion appears as a resource of images, concepts, traditions and practices that can allow individual and communities to deal with   a world that is changing around them by the hour. In the new [unsurveyability] of our global society, religion appears as a compendium of intuitions that have not been extinguished by the so-called process of secularization. Most importantly however religion cannot be dismissed or derided because it is the privileged, if not the primary form in which the impoverished masses of the invisible cities of the   world articulate their hopes as well as critique their world.' (‘Invisible cities: A phenomenology of globalization from below' in CITY-analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 5:1 April 2001, p.20)

 

Even on my servants and my handmaids…

In a recent disturbing volume on migrant women in the global economy, Saskia Sassen writes of the emergence of new mobile “serving classes” of Filipinas, Hispanics, Indians, and Eastern Europeans in global cities – domestics, nannies, maids, cleaners holding together the lives of rich professionals, as well as enabling their own impoverished families to survive in some of the world's most heavily indebted countries. (See Saskia Sassen ‘Global Cities and Survival Circuits' in Global Woman. Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild (eds), Granta 2003)

The geography of the Spirit is reimagining our cities and our world. How do we make space for the spirit of prophecy in our cities and churches? To whom do we listen this Pentecost for the words of the Spirit and are we prepared for the consequences?

VENI, Sancte Spiritus – Come, Holy Spirit, we sing at Pentecost. In the words and concepts of a previous generation we continue:

Veni, pater pauperum,

veni, dator munerum,

veni, lumen cordium.

 

Come, father of the poor

Come, giver of all gifts

Come, light of every heart

 

Even on my servants and my handmaids,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.

 

The Rev. Andrew Davey is the National Adviser on Community and Urban Affairs for the Church of England. A founding member of the Anglican Urban Network, he is author of Urban Christianity and Global Order: Theological Resources for an Urban Future (Hendrickson, 2002). Andrew may be reached by email at andrew.davey@bsr.c-of-e.org.uk .