It’s All Greek to Me!
(During the children's time this morning we had a little bit of fun with language)
Well I promise you that we will stick to English for the rest of the sermon, for the most part anyway, I just can’t help myself sometimes—you know how I am with languages, how we communicate with each other, it’s all so very fascinating to me. And what better story than the one we are celebrating today on this Pentecost Sunday. It’s a story, at its heart, about inspiration and commissioning, but today is also a day in which we recognize the founding of the Church Universal. We celebrate Pentecost during this time because the root of the word means “fiftieth” both in our story and today being 50 days after our Easter Sunday.
It was during this time, 50 days after Christ had made that ultimate sacrifice, that the disciples were gathered together, anxious, waiting, and hoping that Christ would show them the way forward. When suddenly, a rushing wind filled the entire house, “ruach” as it’s called in Hebrew, “pneuma” in Greek, the very Spirit of the Living God entered that place and filled the disciples hearts, minds, and souls. This scene has been depicted countlessly over the years, often with literal flames residing over the disciple’s heads. It's one of the most well-known stories in our Bible.
We know that Jews from all over the known world had traveled to Jerusalem at that time to recognize the 'Feast of Weeks' and so the city was abuzz with excitement. We also read in our story that a miraculous thing happened after the Spirit entered that place—as the disciples were filled, they began speaking tongues, languages of native peoples from far away lands, Galileans uttering words they had never heard before. I wanted to spare our liturgist the stress from reading verses 8-11 although she could have done a wonderful job, but we are told languages varied from the lands of 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, Cretans and Arabs—people from all over the known world gathered together.
It got me thinking how language can be used as such a powerful tool, a tool for uniting people together but also a tool that creates barriers at times. After college I worked briefly at a retail store here in town and I was speaking to a customer one day and trying to explain something to him. His English was there but it was a little sparse and we were having some trouble understanding each other. But, I had heard him speaking French with a friend not too long before. ‘Well, I took a few years of French in college’ I thought to myself, ‘I should be able to get along just fine’. So I attempted to converse with my customer and we get along decently, he’s sort of squinting as he’s trying to make out my no doubt awful French accent and what I was trying to say. At the end of our conversation he smiles and begins laughing. I ask him what is so funny and he puts his hand on my arm and says, “My English is bad, your French is bad, we are the same” and we both had a good laugh at that together. At that moment, I had a very small glimpse into this person’s world, at the challenge of learning and communicating in an entirely new language, but also in that moment that we were able to connect in some small way through our attempt to communicate with each other.
The power that communication has, the ability to understand each other, is more paramount in our lives than I think we give credit to. We often take for granted our ability to read and communicate with those around us or even our ability to open up this book (the Bible) and see it translated in English. For hundreds of years, this Bible could only be read into Latin, services were in Latin, prayers were in Latin, and if you weren’t wealthy, educated, or a priest, you couldn’t read, write, or understand Latin. Just imagine for a second your religion, your belief, your very world, in a language you can’t even understand.
Our passage in Acts continues as people from all around Jerusalem gathered at this extraordinary act, at Galileans speaking tongues from all around the world. A certain character is immortalized in history through their criticism of such an event, “Oh but they know not what they say, for they are filled with new wine! Simply drunk is all.” I love Peter’s response to this, “we cannot be drunk, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning!” he says as he then moves into a prophetic passage from the book of Joel. So what is going on here? What is this scene about really? Is it about a miraculous event brought forth by the Holy Spirit? Is it about the beginning of the Church Universal? Is it about prophecy or language or legacy? …….Yes. Short answer, yes! It’s about all of those things, it’s about a turning point in the Christian tradition, it’s about new beginnings, a celebration, about the joy at God’s real and tangible presence in our lives. Although Christ’s body has gone, his Spirit continues to live within each of us.
We’ve talked before about the disciples and how they must have felt as Christ left them to continue on his legacy through the Church. At its core, this story is about that great commission, it’s that last piece that the disciples were missing, it’s when the advocate, the Spirit, the pneuma shows up and says here I am, I will be with you now and always.
The Holy Spirit has always been that mysterious, perhaps hardest to pin down, third part of our trinity. We seem to have a relatively strong grasp on God and God’s attributes, God’s love and Christ is relatively easy, we have stories and examples to follow, but the Spirit—that one is more difficult. What exactly is this Spirit, how does it speak to us today? How does it function in relation to God? Is it God? You might run me out of here if we try to tackle all of those things this morning, but I would like to briefly talk about how we recognize the Spirit in our lives and the comfort we can have knowing she is always with us.
So quickly, let’s look at some examples, the very beginning Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God moving, creating across the face of the deep. Ezekiel 37:9-10 as the wind or breath of life. Isaiah 44:3 as the water of blessing, Isaiah 63:14 as shepherd and guide. In Acts and Luke we see Spirit as a force of fire and in Ephesians one who comforts and seals us in safety. The Spirit is everything and anything that connects us back to God, the multifaced and ever-present help in our times of trouble. She can look like many different things, a nudge in our hearts or our gut when we have to make a difficult decision, a friend or family member that says just the right thing when we need it most, a feeling of peace or presence in the stillness of the morning, the hope and inspiration that has been guiding the church for thousands of years and continues to speak to us today through worship and service and mission. It may be different for you and I am sure it is different for every person in this room, but the Spirit is speaking today. Sometimes it may even feel like no one is there at all, but in those moments, we must remember from last week, that God often speaks in extraordinary ways and even in silence, we are assured that we are never alone.
We celebrate because the Spirit of God is alive today. We celebrate our community as a church, one that can come together, not despite our many differences but because of them. Because we are all unique and because Christ unites us, we are thankful for this Day of Pentecost. We are thankful for open communication and an ability to dialogue. We are thankful that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us as we seek to make this world shine just a little bit brighter. So we say today Happy Pentecost! May God’s Spirit continue to guide us all our days long.