How many of you speak a second language? How many of you have used that language to carry on conversations with people who are native speakers of that language? It’s a humbling experience if you’ve ever tried. It takes courage to even try…because when you first begin…you will sound stupid. You will get it wrong. You will be misunderstood. But often, you find your efforts are met with surprise and appreciation that you tried. Not always….there are those who will not have the patience for your fumbling attempts…but most will be gracious. Because they know it is not an easy thing to do. I think of that every time I hear a person fumbling with their English. They are courageous …heroes, in my book.
But there is also nothing more challenging and exciting than learning other languages….because what happens when you begin to be immersed in that language, is that you realize there is a lot more to the world that you ever realized. Because it’s not just words we learn…but we begin to realize how those words shape the way we think…our humor…our perspectives. Other languages have words for feelings and experiences and relationships that we never even realized were there. Like Greek…which has 6 words that we simply translate as “love”. Suddenly there are more possibilities for how we “love” someone that we had before…simply because we can name them…recognize them. It’s like that moment in Aladdin…when he takes Jasmine for that magic carpet ride….and opens up “a whole new world”. That’s what languages do. The open up our world…make it bigger than we ever knew it was.
50 days after Jesus rose from the dead…during the Jewish feast of Pentecost…when Jews from all over the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration…the disciples went to the temple. They had finally mustered up enough courage to go out in public and try to tell people what they knew about Jesus. But then… something wild happened. Those who were there say it was like a wind…or a storm…like flames of fire…but whatever it was, suddenly people from all different places heard those disciples speaking in their own language. It was unbelievable….truly. Some simply rolled their eyes…they were not impressed…. “must be a bunch of drunks”….and walked away. But for others…for many…for thousands, it actually says later….hearing the story of Jesus in their own language…within their own framework….changed everything. They believed. They believed Jesus was the revelation of God’s word and God’s love and God’s presence in our world. They believed Jesus was the Messiah….their Messiah. They believed God was with them. And God could not be driven out of this world by the power of any of their various governments or politicians or religious leaders. God would not be driven out of this world by hate or bigotry or arrogance or fear. In fact…the powers of this world had tried to drive God out. They hung Jesus on a cross to die….but God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s love and light and peace and joy could not be put out. They were gifts that could not be taken away…and God wanted everyone to have them …Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, Arabs….residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt , Libya, and Rome. So we have this awesome spectacle of Galileans speaking all kinds of languages…which allows people of all stripes to hear the good news about Jesus and God’s amazing grace.
But I wonder, actually, that day…who was more surprised….or more uncomfortable….the people listening…or the people speaking? You have to remember, the disciples’ entire life was shaped by the familiar borders of Palestine. Their Galilean accent was so thick, they were easily recognizable, according to the gospels. In their travels with Jesus, they thought talking to a Samaritan was about as “cross-cultural” as you could get and they tried as hard as they could to avoid that…even though Samaritans really were just people who lived in the same land, spoke the same language, and practiced basically the same faith as they did – but who just happened to disagree about where the best place to worship God was. Not a big stretch, really. These disciples…their world was pretty small. And suddenly, here they are, talking with people who come from all different races and cultures and nationalities… speaking in languages they never even knew existed before. Talk about being shoved out of your comfort zone. It seems the holy spirit can be a bit pushy….and doesn’t really care how awkward it is for us.
And that’s the story of Pentecost…the story of the church’s birth. The church begins with the Holy Spirit, nudging us…sometimes shoving us….out of our comfort zones and into situations and relationships that continue to open our eyes to the wideness of God’s love and mercy. We, as followers of Jesus, as the church….don’t have all the answers. We are always learning new languages…new ways of seeing the world…from others. And sometimes that means we will look foolish. Sometimes it means we will sound stupid. And it will always take courage…and a willingness to look past our fears. But when we do…the Holy Spirit takes us on a magic carpet ride…opening up a whole new world for us. A world more beautiful, more gracious, more hopeful, more kind, more colorful and wonderful than we could imagine on our own.
Pentecost reminds us that God doesn’t belong to any one people or language or culture. But that the Holy spirit blows through all the world…and speaking only one language means we only understand one sliver of God’s story. And so there is so much more we can learn….from the Cretans and Partheans and Arabs and Romans and Libyans and Asians and Egyptians…as well as the Swedes and Russians, Argentinians and Indians, Salvadorians and Mexicans, Pakistani and Chinese, Irish and Tanzanians…the list is as unending as God’s grace. God is so much bigger than our Galilean or American accent.
And this is what the disciples learned that Pentecost day. God’s dreamers of dreams and seers of visions are in unexpected places…they are unexpected people…but if we are willing to learn, they can teach us …help us understand a little better… what kind of love and light and peace and joy Jesus came to give us. And that…that is the church God dreamt of….And the Holy Spirit gave birth to. Amen.