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  • Adam Schell

Room For One More

The week before I started college all the way back in the fall of 2000, the school I attended – Georgetown College – had a week of freshmen orientation. Now, part of the reason why they did this orientation was to help new students get settled into the dorms before the upperclassmen started to arrive a week later. And part of the reason why they did this orientation was to help new students learn their way around campus and figure out where all of their classes were. But the biggest reason why they did this orientation was so that new students could start getting to know each other and make a few friends before the fall semester started.

And since the biggest goal of freshmen orientation was to give new students the chance to get to know each other, that meant that we played a lot of icebreaker games. And icebreakers are kind of like dad jokes – some people love them, some people hate them, but they always manage to break the tension and make things a little more lighthearted.

So during my freshman orientation, I spent plenty of time playing Two Truths and a Lie, and Would You Rather, and trying to unravel human knots. But in my favorite icebreaker game that I played that week, all of the freshmen were divided into groups of six. And then every group had to come up with a list of things that all of their group members had in common. And the team who had the longest list at the end got a gift card for a local pizza place. And, when you’re a college kid getting free pizza is almost as good as getting actual money…so we were all excited to play.

But there was a catch to this game. The catch was that your group could only count the things that you wrote down on your list if no other group wrote the same thing down. So this meant that if your group was going to win then all of the obvious items were out. You weren’t going to be able to say that everyone in your group was in college, or that they were a freshman, or that they had just graduated high school. You also couldn’t say that everyone in your group had ten fingers or ten toes, or that they had two eyes and two ears.

So you had to spend some time talking with each other to figure out some stranger things that you all had in common. So my group started out by talking about TV shows we all watched, or books that we all read, or music that we all listened to…but it didn’t take us long to realize that all the groups around us were talking about the same things. And that’s when my group got a little more creative.

Instead of talking about what TV shows we watched, we figured out that we could all name the main characters on Scooby-Doo. Instead of talking about the books we’d read, we figured out that we all knew the opening line to A Tale of Two Cities. Instead of talking about what music we liked to listen to, we figured out that we all knew the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bell Air…and, yes, the people leading the group made us prove it.

Even though my team had a great time coming up with our list and I’ll never forget having to rap in front of a couple hundred of my fellow freshmen, the biggest thing that I remember from that icebreaker game was just how diverse our freshmen class was. We had people in our class from at least a dozen different states and a handful of different countries. We had people in our class who spoke multiple languages or played multiple instruments. We had people in our class from different faith traditions and financial backgrounds. So that little icebreaker helped me realize that there are plenty of things that can divide us, but there’s so much more that unites us.

There are plenty of things that can divide us, but there’s so much more that unites us.

And the same thing is true for our church. Now, our church isn’t the biggest church around, but we have a wide variety of people who are part of our church. There are people who are part of our church that are decades into their retirement. And there are kids in our church who are still decades away from starting their careers. There are people in our church who have spent their entire lives in the city of Louisville, and there are people in our church who have called at least a dozen other cities home. There are people in our church who have practically been here since the church was founded over sixty years ago, and if you’re joining us for the first time today you’ve been a part of our church for less than sixty minutes. 

And that doesn't even scratch the surface of the diversity that we have in our church. So just stop and try to imagine how much diversity there is when you think about everyone who follows Jesus. There are about 2.6 billion people in the world today who call themselves Christians. And there are 158 countries in the world today where Christians make up the majority of the population. The entire Bible has been translated into over 700 languages, and portions of the Bible have been translated into another 2,500 languages. And there are believed to be more than 200 different Christian denominations in the United States alone.

So there is a lot of diversity when it comes to our faith. And when we think about just how diverse we are, it’s kind of hard to imagine that there is anything that could bring us all together…but there is. And in the passage of scripture that I want us to take a closer look at today, we’re going to see what it is that brings every follower of Jesus together regardless of where they’re from, what language they speak, or what denomination they may be a part of.

So, if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone go ahead and open it to Acts 2. And, as you’re finding Acts 2, I just want to point out that the book of Acts tells the story of how our faith in Jesus grew and spread in the first couple of decades after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. And in Acts 2, we’re going to take a look at what really kickstarted the spreading of our faith.

So let’s take a look at Acts 2 together, and we’ll start reading in verse 1. It says:

1 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered.

Acts 2:1-12 (Common English Bible)

So this is the story of Pentecost. As the story begins, we find that all of the disciples are together in one place. Now only a few days earlier, these same disciples had witnessed Jesus's ascension into the heavens, and his final words still echoed in their ears when Jesus told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the father sends you what he promised, the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” 

But here's what you may not realize about this passage, the disciples are far from the only people who were in Jerusalem that day. On the day of Pentecost, the city was overflowing with people who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Weeks – which is a festival that celebrates when God gave the people of Israel the Torah – or the Law – seven weeks after they escape Egypt.

But the point is that on the day of Pentecost, people from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. But the passage we just read takes it one step further. Rather than just telling us that the story of Pentecost takes places during a festival when people from all over the world would have come to Jerusalem, the author takes the time to tell us where all of these people had come from.

Luke tells us that there were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia. They were people there from Pontus and Asia, from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene. And there were visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), as well as Cretans and Arabs.

Now, to us today, that just sounds like a list of random places. So this list means about as much to us as we when we run across one of those Old Testament genealogies telling us about who begat who. But what we have to remember is that when Luke was telling the story, in the book of Acts, these places these locations, they meant something people that he was writing to. 

So let me help you understand just a little bit more about these places, regions and cities. If you were to look at all of these places on a map, these 15 places would spread from the familiar boot of Italy, all the way to the modern day border of India, they would stretch as far north as the Caspian Sea and as far south as the Persian Gulf, these places dot across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and into Asia. In all they cover more land than the Roman Empire did at the time. 

But that's not all. In this list, there are two different empires that are mentioned; there’s the Roman Empire that we're familiar with, but there’s also the Empire of Parthia. And these two empires have been battling each other for more than a century. This list also includes the names of urban metropolises, as well as rural regions that barely made it onto a map. In this list there are political powers, and there’s a whole region that is so insignificant it’s simply known as Asia Minor.

In this list there are important seaports as well as rich farm lands. There are friends and there enemies. There are strong allies and uneasy alliances. There's wealth and there's power, right alongside poverty and insignificance. And this list, there's big cities, there's small towns, there's big fish, and there's plenty of little ponds. 

There's about as much diversity in this list of places of cities, regions, as we can possibly imagine. So it’s hard to imagine that there is anything that could bring all of these people together.

Let's face it, there was nothing in the world that could have bridged the gap of diversity that was found in that crowd on the day of Pentecost. They were from too many different places. There was too wide of a range in their ages. They like different foods and different music. They told different stories, and they had different values. There was nothing, nothing that should bring them together, only things that would drive them apart. 

But they were together. They were together standing in the street somewhere in the city of Jerusalem. They were together, even though they came from different places. They were together even though they were young and old, and everywhere in between. They were together despite their different tastes in food and music. They were together even though they told different stories, valued different things and even spoke different languages. 

But how? How was it possible when everything said that these people had nothing in common, when everything said that all of these people didn't belong together, when everything said that they should just go their own separate ways? What brought all of these people from all of these places together? 

Well, I’ll give you a hint. We’ve been talking about what brought all of those people together over the last few weeks here at Melbourne Heights in our “Ghost Stories” series. So what brought all of those people together? It was the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down from the heavens like a howling wind and filled the entire house where the disciples were staying. It was the Holy Spirit that filled those disciples who began to speak in different languages so that the crowd could hear in their own native tongues. 

The Holy Spirit bridged the gap. When everything should have driven those people apart, the Holy Spirit brought them together. 

When everything should have driven those people apart, the Holy Spirit brought them together.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way in a letter he once write, Paul says:

13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12 (New Revised Standard Version)

What this means is that on that morning it didn't matter where all those people had come from. It didn't matter what language they spoke. It didn't matter how old they were, or what kind of music they liked. The only thing that mattered was that the Holy Spirit was pulling them together so they could know God and serve God better.

But what about us? I mean, this story happened nearly 2000 years ago to people who lived halfway across the world from us. So what does any of this have to do with you and me? 

Even though this story happened millennia ago, when a part of the world that most of us have only seen in pictures, it sounds a whole lot like the church does today. Week after week, we come together in this place. But we're not one homogenous people. We're different. We're diverse. We eat in different restaurants, we listen to different stations on the radio. We have different jobs. We live in different parts of the city. Some of us are raising children. Some of us are spoiling our grandkids. Some of us aren't even thinking about kids and won't be for a long time. We tell different stories. We value different things. Sometimes it even feels like we speak completely different languages. 

From the outside looking in at us. There is no reason that we should all come together. But we do. And we do because we are filled with one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. And we do because we believe that the Holy Spirit has moved us and changed us, and that this Spirit is still working and moving and still changing us, in our world today. 

So in a world that can only see us as different. May we all be reminded that we are one. We are one in the Spirit of God. 

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