ALL PEOPLE ARE GOD’S PEOPLE


ALL PEOPLE ARE GOD’S PEOPLE

The tweet was occasioned by a resolution facing the Episcopal Church at its upcoming national meeting. At issue is the question of open communion (or open table), whether the meal of sharing bread and wine is for only baptized Christians or for anyone wishing to participate. A group of theologians wrote a letter on the question that included this line: “Holy Eucharist is therefore not intended for ‘all people’ without exception, but is rather for ‘God’s people.’”

And that’s when I hastily — and passionately — posted the tweet:

All people ARE God’s people. Start your theology there. Start every theology there for God’s sake. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the planet.

Churches make rules about rituals and practices — what actions are exclusive within communities of initiation and participation. I get it. That’s just what religious institutions do. While I object to the particular boundaries this letter puts around communion, that wasn’t what mostly deeply worried me.

What upset me was the distinction between “all people” and “God’s people.” How easily it was made, how assumed it was. Them and us. The great unwashed of humanity versus the special people of our inner circle. The people who aren’t invited and those of us who are. Outsiders and insiders. The unsaved, the saved.

The kind of distinction that has been the source of Christianity’s worst moments, most violent episodes — drawing a line between “all people” and “God’s people.”

Pentecost is sometimes called the “birthday of the church.” A great wind howls from the skies, flames blaze above the heads of Jesus’s followers, and a huge crowd hears the Word of God in their own languages.

But it is the birth of something much bigger — the birth of a new humanity, a new creation. “In the last days,” God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.

All flesh. Not just some people. Literally, in Greek, “the whole of human nature” or “every physical body.” Pentecost is a story of the world’s baptism in holy fire. In it, you hear echoes of a more ancient tale — God appearing to Moses in a burning bush on holy ground:

Now an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a blazing fire – a fire that devours fire; a fire that burns in things dry and moist; a fire that glows amid snow and ice; a fire that is like a crouching lion; a fire that reveals itself in many forms; a fire that is, and never expires; a fire that shines and roars; a fire that blazes and sparkles; a fire that flies in a storm wind; a fire that burns without wood; a fire that renews itself every day; a fire that is not fanned by fire; a fire that billows like palm branches; a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning; a fire black as a raven; a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbows! ("Celestial fire" by Eleazar Ben Kaller)

At Pentecost, the wind drives fire on the crowd, across the world, and through the cosmos. God’s breath remakes the universe, restores the oneness of all creation, and births a new humanity. All ground is scorched with holiness, all bodies soaked with the Spirit. All. All. All.

All people are God’s people. All people. The Spirit didn’t discriminate. The Spirit didn’t draw distinctions. Pentecost doesn’t birth a church. It isn’t the birth of the Church. Pentecost is the extension of the holiest of all moments — the naming of the One who sets the cosmos ablaze — in conversation with us, on this ground.

With flames still licking their brows, someone in that cacophonous gathering might have cried out words that became the first baptismal creed: “For you are all children of God in the Spirit! There is no Jew or Greek; there is no slave or free; there is no male and female. For you are all one in the Spirit!” Some formed a new community devoted to solidarity and sharing where they held all things in common, gave to all who had need, spent hours in the temple, and broke bread with gladness and generosity. A new humanity. They wouldn’t be called “Christians” for many years to come. They were simply followers. People of the Way. Imitating a crucified Jewish rabbi named Jesus whom they experienced as fully alive.

For many years, I lived in California. I understand fire. I’ve been evacuated because of fire. It is frightening, overwhelming, and it destroys. On that day so long ago, the wind blew, a fire came — and it consumed division, bigotry, selfishness, injustice, and ingratitude.

But it also created. And that’s Pentecost: the fire of creation. New creation.

In Romans, Paul affirms that all who are led by this vision — by the Spirit of God — are children of God. All.

All people ARE God’s people. Start your theology there. Start every theology there for God’s sake. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the planet.

This post is from the weekly column of Diana Butler Bass, "Sunday Musings." Diana is an American historian of Christianity. She is currently an independent scholar who writes on American religion and culture. In this post, Diana gives us another reminder of the power and the importance of Pentecost, which we celebrated in worship on June 5th.


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