Sermon: One Spirit, many languages

THEME:  Turn to Jesus, go with the Spirit: Transformed
TEXTS: Acts 2:1-21  The Pentecost Holy Spirit comes upon us
John 20:19-23  Risen Jesus greets disciples, “Peace be with you.”

I would love to have been there! Wouldn’t you? To have been present for this infusion of the Holy Spirit erupting in a babel of languages must have been astounding. To have received the Holy Spirit and heard people speaking my language as well as many other languages must have been awe inspiring. What an amazing moment it was — that first Pentecost receiving the Holy Spirit and glorifying God in many languages!

Centuries earlier there was another outburst of many languages at the tower of babel as told in the Book Genesis. People defied God by trying to build a tower to heaven not to glorify God but to hail their own handiwork. God confused their languages so that they couldn’t communicate with each other and continue their idolatrous project.

In Jesus’ time devout people had come to Jerusalem from many places speaking many languages. Jesus has just left the earth. It is a new and uncertain time. They had a come not to build a tower of power but to worship God.

Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon them and there is a babel of languages erupts. This time instead of being confounded by the many languages they comprehend in their own language.

I wish I had been there not only to hear and see it but to live and be it. Or would I have been one to sneer and accuse them of being drunken fools? Pondering this possibility this week my mind turned to the Spirit gift of speaking in tongues. I confess that I am not enamored by speaking in tongues. I am grateful I haven’t heard from any of you a plea to speak in tongues.

Years ago I remember Larry Hauder, our former PNMC Conference Minister, telling me about a time when he was pastor of Hyde Park Mennonite Church in Boise. For a time a member criticized Larry for not being a faithful Christian. Why? He wasn’t speaking in tongues.

Whatever place speaking in tongues may have for some Christians, I am not ready to claim that to be a faithful Christian you have to speak in tongues. I am not convinced that I will ever receive that gift of the Spirit and not certain that I want it. Perhaps that places me with those who scoffed about drunken fools on that first Pentecost Sunday. So I hesitate to criticize it.

Whatever was taking place that Pentecost, those present were filled with the Spirit and able to hear an inspiring word from God and glorifying word for God from the babel of languages.

Having just been in Jamaica at the Just Peace conference of a thousand people from over 100 countries and nearly as many languages, I am very aware what it sounds like to worship God in many languages. A few times we sang or prayed in many languages at the same time. It sounded like what we heard a few moments ago in worship – except multiplied a 10 times.

In Suriname too we heard many languages because it is a land of many peoples – many indigenous peoples with their own tribal language many peoples from many other countries in the world who speak their own language. In southern Suriname among the Wayana people two translators were needed – one to translate from Wayana to Dutch, another to translate from Dutch to English and back again through both translators.

One becomes mindful of the wonder and limits of language in such situations. I am especially mindful of the limits of knowing only one language. I am grateful and envious of anyone who knows more than one language. I am envious and awed by someone who knows 4 or 5 or 6 languages. I met a few people who speak several languages at the Just Peace conference.

On this Pentecost Sunday be assured that the Holy Spirit is present on our lives and in our life together as the church. Be assured that the Holy Spirit is even present in the brokenness of our daily lives and the messiness of our church life.

This Holy Spirit of God through Jesus Christ our Advocate empowers us for all that we are and do. It is the fresh Pentecost wind of God’s life-giving breath blown upon us and the enlightening flames of Pentecost fire burning God’s love in us.

This Sunday we complete our regular church and Sunday School year. We celebrate the gift and grace God has set before us the past year with a picnic after worship. Next Sunday we have a special Sunday in our re-structuring process at SMC. Our long season of discernment is a kind of listening in many languages. We all deeply desire to listen to each other and to the Spirit in each other. When are we confounded by the languages of the tower of babel? When are we clarified by the languages of the Holy Spirit? Is this the Tower of Babel or is it Pentecost?

In the Spirit of Pentecost we trust that God’s Spirit is upon us beckoning us to growing faithfulness in the Jesus uprising as we listen together to what God is setting before us and reshaping within us.

On Pentecost we also hear the risen Jesus greet disciples: “Peace be with you. As God sent me, I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Be forgiven as you forgive.”

May the one Spirit take our many languages and make of us God’s people of Just Peace.