"Our Own Language" Pentecost C (May 19, 2013)
Acts 2:1-8, 11-21
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? I 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, “People 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 servants, 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 God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Holy One shall be saved.’
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Philip said to him, “Sovereign, show us God, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen God. How can you say, ‘Show us God’? Do you not believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but God who dwells in me does the work. Believe me that I am in God and God is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to God. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that God may be glorified in God’s Child. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask God, who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees nor knows this Spirit. You know the Spirit, who abides with you, and will be in you.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
"Our Own Language"
Will you pray with me? You who are, open our hearts and spirits to hear your voice speaking to us, in words that we can understand if we listen. Speak to us in our language, so we can make your words, your truth, a part of our lives. In the name of your gracious spirit, amen.
This reading from the book of Acts is probably the most challenging reading of the entire year. All the different nations and places, most of them now just names—like Parthian and Mede and Elamite. It’s interesting to note, though, that Mesopotamia is modern-day Iraq. The effect of this long list—which I did not ask Jason to read today—is to emphasize just how far and wide Judasim had spread throughout the ancient world. Remember, these crowds were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, or Weeks—fifty days after Passover, a day to celebrate the giving of Jewish law to Moses. These were Jewish crowds, not pagan, not Christian. Sometimes we forget, or don’t really think about, the fact that the early Christians were, in fact, mostly Jewish, and considered themselves Jewish—but fulfilled, or completed Jews, because Messiah had come, in Jesus.
So this crowd of Jewish people from all over the known world, have gathered in Jerusalem. You know what Walkerville is like during Art in the Park? Or downtown during one of the parades? Imagine that, if you will, with donkeys instead of cars, and few paved roads, and nobody has bathed in a few days.
This crowd has one thing in common—most of them live within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and therefore speak, or understand, Latin and or Greek. But that is not what they hear in the prophetic speaking at Pentecost—they hear their own languages—Persian, Egyptian, and so on. It’s not Hebrew—which might be expected—but the language each of them speaks at home.
How beautiful, that God speaks to each person in the most familiar language of all—the language of home. When the Holy Spirit reveals herself, as Jesus promised, everyone present can understand what is being said. There is no secret language, no translation needed—everyone hears God’s truth in her or his own language.
God still speaks to us, in the familiar words we knew as a child, the language we grew up using. In countries where more than one language is used, such as India, Canada, and South Africa, and people often switch between languages depending on the situation and who they are speaking to, intimate conversations are in the language a person grew up using. That language is the one in which they understand matters of the heart.
But this matter of languages isn’t just literal languages spoken, my friends. The truth is that each of us has a language of our own, that expresses us as individuals. Our language, our own language. God speaks that language; God speaks to us in ways that only we know. Each of us is unique; I am not like John, who is not like Amy, who is not like Steven. Each of us is unique and has our own language of the heart, of what is closest to our spirit, our soul. That is the language God speaks to us, not only on Pentecost but every day.
We celebrate Pentecost as the birth of the church, the day when the disciples were empowered to go out and share the good news they had been taught, to teach it themselves in turn, passing it down eventually to us, and now we in our time take that message of love and God’s truth to others.
God doesn’t require us to be multilingual. God asks that we be open to the moving of God’s spirit in our hearts, and that spirit speaks to others. We use our voices, our words—but it is God’s love speaking through us, in the power of the Spirit of God.
Yes. It requires a measure of trust. But trust is not a knowledge that everything will work out the way you want it to. Trust is knowing that taking that leap, speaking that truth, is worth the risk of failing, of being laughed at or ignored. And so we trust in God, and speak the truth. We use the words we are given at the time, and trust—we trust that as we speak in the language of our heart, each person will hear in the language of their heart. And that is the spirit of Pentecost.
Trust in your heart-language; share God’s love with others in your own language, and you will be understood, by each person in their own language.
In all God’s names, amen.