Holy Spirit Connected Communication
May 28, 2023
The Day of Pentecost
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Have you ever been in a crowd where no one was speaking your language, and you could not understand the language that was being spoken? Even though I once was fluent in Spanish, I noticed that when traveling in Spain I was thrilled when I could understand even a few Spanish words of those a native was oh-so-quickly speaking. That little bit of connection caused me to feel less isolated.
Commentator Amy G. Oden reflects on an experience she had on a subway platform in Moscow, Russia. She writes that after a week in Russia, without the ability to speak any Russian, it seemed as if her ears were overwhelmed by a sea of random sounds that she could not understand. Then, in an instant of clarity, she heard English from the other end of the platform. It reminded her of a beam of light, she said, piercing through all the other sounds, straight to her ear. And, it was American English that was being spoken, her native language! It was like a homing beacon, sharpening her senses to its signal. “I felt every molecule in my body relax as I focused on the voice and understood the words;” she wrote, “it was like coming home.” (1)
That’s what happened in the Pentecost story, only more so. It always fascinates me to imagine the followers of Jesus, a group of uneducated Galileans, speaking about God’s deeds of power in languages they had not previously spoken.
No doubt the Holy Spirit caused this to occur because Jerusalem was filled with Jewish people from throughout the Greco-Roman world – visitors and immigrants – who had come to celebrate Shavout, a festival that took place 50 days after Passover. The focus of this event was two-fold, they thanked God for the spring harvest and remembered the gift of the Law, given by God at Mt. Sinai.
It is interesting to consider that although they shared a common faith, many of those pilgrims did not share a common language. Yet, on that day, they heard their own language spoken for perhaps the first time in years. As was true for Amy Oden in Russia, did it feel like coming home?
Hold on to that thought for a minute while we do a little review. The Risen Jesus had ascended into heaven; as instructed, his followers were waiting in Jerusalem to be clothed with power from on high. In other words, they were waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. In spite of the days they spent with Jesus post-resurrection, and his specific command about being witnesses, I’m guessing that questions abounded among them: What’s next? How do we start? How can we go on without Jesus?
The text says that they were all together in one place. Could it be that they were gathered in the same locked room where they sought safety on Easter evening? No doubt they could hear the diverse voices of the crowds in the street. Perhaps they were getting more anxious as each hour passed. Suddenly, there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind, causing them to put their hands over their ears. They stared at the flames, as of fire, dancing over one another’s heads, yet no one was burned. And, then, when they opened their mouths, they expressed themselves in new, totally Spirit-led ways. Can you imagine?
It does not say so in scripture, but I imagine that they rushed out into the street, and the people around them could hear and understand what they said about God’s deeds of power, done through a man named Jesus. But…what does this mean? Are they all drunk?
I like the way Pastor Kristin Adkins Whitesides summarizes Peter’s response: “Let me explain,” he said. “These people who are speaking to you are not filled with spirits, but with God’s Spirit! And it is this spirit that is drawing us together, even in the midst of all our diversity. God’s Spirit has come to all of us. The young and the old. The women and the men. The powerful and the oppressed. In every language of the world God’s Spirit is speaking. And here we are, from different places and from different lives, speaking different language, but drawn together by this Spirit that will not let us stay the way we are.” (2) (OK…I cannot help but ask: what language was he speaking and did everyone gathered there understand him, even if it was not their language?)
Certainly, those first followers were never the same because, as Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “They had sucked in God’s own breath and they had been transformed by it.” That is the only way the people who waited anxiously in that room could become those who changed the world, and that they did.
So, let’s pause for a moment and consider how that happened: it was through connectedness. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ followers to connect with others, to communicate, to interact with those who might have been viewed as, or felt like, outsiders, causing them to feel at home. That leads us to an interesting question, posed by Amy Oden: “How might those outside your congregation hear their own language and feel at home?”
In some cases, it might actually involve speaking their language. At our monthly Laundry Ministry in North Hill our volunteers encounter people from many places around the world - immigrants and refugees. We have language resources that help us share our ministry in their languages or rely on Google translate to do so. Even though Faith’s members may be difficult to understand as they try to speak unknown-to-them languages, it must be a relief to those who have come to do laundry - even if it’s just for a moment - not to have to struggle to communicate.
But that’s not the only way to help others hear what is communicated and feel at home. There is the language of acceptance as we learn about those whose point-of-view or life-style is different than our own and come to understand what is important to them. What about the language of technology? Our congregation is striving to communicate more and better in that way. You’ll soon be hearing about an outreach that connects technology and prayer. There is the language of science, or of music, through which there are many avenues for connecting. Most importantly, there is the language of God’s heart that speaks unconditional love.
The Holy Spirit connects to us to empower our communication, so that we connect with others, communicating in many “tongues” the message of God’s grace in Jesus. AMEN
“Day of Pentecost: Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” by Amy G. Oden, www.workingpreacher.org
Pentecost sermon by the Rev. Dr. Kristin Adkins Whiteside, 2023, A Sermon for Every Sunday: YouTube