28 May 2023
Today we hear some of the Pentecost story, but not all of it. This is the story that marks the beginning of the Church, the first mass event that brings the Good News to a large number of people with the instant response of some 3000 persons.
In the Pentecost story, the disciples are empowered to speak some 15 different languages not their own. This adds to their ability to reach these 3000 plus persons but we need to remember that the words spoken by the disciples were not just any foreign languages. The Spirit empowers them specifically to speak the languages of the “devout Jews from every nation” in Jerusalem (verse 5).
Just imagine Parthians, Mesopotamians and Cappadocians, as immigrants or visitors in Jerusalem, hearing their native language spoken for perhaps the first time in years! What might it have meant to those listening? Have you experienced the relief and joy of hearing your first language in the midst of words that are not from your “home”.
This gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the birth of the church is a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement, those who had lived displaced in a language-world not their own. We cannot miss this! It is a spiritual gift given not for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening. God’s gift reaches outward to those outside of this immediate circle of Jesus followers. It seems that one mark of the Holy Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.
And this gift given for the sake of others can sound crazy, ridiculous, so that “others sneer” (Acts 2:13). Peter responds to the sneer-ers by calling on the ancient prophetic tradition. He doesn’t hesitate to claim this Pentecost experience as the fulfillment of Joel’s inspiring vision of what is looks like for God’s Spirit to be poured out “on all flesh” (Acts 2: 17-21). “All flesh” means young and old, women and men, slave and free., all people. All will prophesy, which means speaking God’s word into reality. Peter says, “it’s happening now!” The Jesus community, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, challenges existing religious norms just as Joel did. These dreams and visions turn the Jesus community outward, proclamation through outsiders’ mother tongues.
What does that mean for us? How are we speaking the first language of those around us so that we can share the good news? Does this speaking even involve words? What are the ‘languages’ needed in our community that we need to learn? Language might be a particular grouping of words or human language, but it could also be other forms of communication like emojis, texting or digital images. It could even be music or nature, language that speaks deeply into people lives. This is what we are striving and asking the Holy Spirit to do.
The church birthed at Pentecost carries this deep DNA, to make a home in God’s life and invite others, in a way they can understand, to make a home in God’s life, too.