Pentecost May 31 2020
Today, we let the call to worship set the scene. It’s the story of Pentecost, in Acts, chapter 2. That was the day when the Holy Spirit hit the disciples and turned them into apostles, from followers into leaders, and gave birth to the church.
Luke describes it like a thunderstorm. He says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
A “violent wind.” Every summer, some Sioux City neighborhood has trees flattened by a violent wind. And it was followed by “tongues of fire.” Sounds like a lightning bolt hit the house. I’m not saying that the first Pentecost was literally a Jerusalem thunderstorm, but if it helps to picture it that way, go for it.
Then Luke says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
“Speak in other tongues.” But what does that mean? Maybe we think of something that goes on in Pentecostal churches. If you ever watched ol’ Jimmy Swaggart on TV, he’d do it every week, usually at the end of an emotional song. It reminded me of my dad. When he was upset with us kids, he’d say, “Ibigo, osca ah!”
What are we supposed to make of it? I’ve been to those services and seen it happen. In some churches, speaking in tongues is a formal part of the liturgy. At a certain moment, people stand up and just start doing it, almost on cue.
I don’t speak any other languages, but I do know what a language is supposed to sound like. There’s rhythm, inflection and structure. Now, maybe they’re speaking in some language from deep in the Amazon. I won’t question the sincerity of it.
It doesn’t matter. Something else seems to happen on that first Pentecost.
Luke says: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?”
And then he goes into a list of countries that gives most of us a panic attack: I’ll give it a try: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia;” Republicans, Mexicans, Procrastinators, Hawkeyes…you get the idea. … They said, “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.” “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”
And then there’s the reaction of the onlookers: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” Maybe that’s what we’d say: Is this whole thing just stupid, like the ramblings of a bunch of drunks? Or are we like those who were listening. “What does this mean?” What’s going on?
Our lesson from Genesis 11, is about the Tower of Babel. The Pentecost miracle of tongues reverses the curse of Babel. The moral comes in verse 9: “That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
The people were confused, and the people were scattered. But now, on Pentecost, the people were gathered: It says, “There were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” And instead of babble; instead of a confusion of languages, everyone heard the same message, loud and clear.
This is the birth of the Church. The Church is the curse reversed. The Church would begin with a common language. But what does that mean for us? After all, even here in Sioux City, our churches don’t speak a common language. We have congregations that speak English, Spanish, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Laotian, and more.
Maybe instead of a common language, we should think in terms of a common currency. In Europe, Greeks and Germans may not understand each other’s language, but they spend the same Euro.
So what unites the Church? What’s our common currency? What’s the common language that binds us together?
In our gospel, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Counselor” and the “Spirit of truth.” In verse 26, Jesus says that the Counselor “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
And then in verse 27, Jesus defines the heart of his message. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The common language of the Church is the language of peace—peace with God, peace with another, and peace within ourselves.
That’s our common currency. In Galatians 5, Paul talked about the “fruit of the Spirit” in terms of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
This is how we live in the peace that Jesus gives. In that same passage, Paul goes on to say, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
We need to re-discover that Pentecost gift of a common language. We need to start speaking in tongues so that we can understand one another. I’m not talking about some babbling language we don’t understand, but about the common language of peace, and be one people, gathered together in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Is your home at peace? Is it a place of love & forgiveness? Or judgments & grudges?
Is it a place of patience & kindness? Or a place of dissatisfaction & disappointment?
Is it a place of goodness & faithfulness? Or a place of resentment and lies?
Is it a place of gentleness and self-control? Or is your home a place where everyone’s struggling to control of everyone else and always have the upper hand?
Does your home speak the language of the Holy Spirit? Or do we hear only a babble of arrogance, confusion and pride?
Is your church at peace? Smaller churches can be like families. And that can be good, if we live like a Christian family. If we don’t, we can turn into the biggest hypocrites on the face of the earth. Do we love every person who gathers with us? Do we accept them as they are? Do we accept them as our brothers and sisters in Christ,
–or do we treat them like visitors who have crashed our private club?
Is our town at peace? It’s sure been quite a week.
As a nation, we shot past the 100,000 mark this week for pandemic deaths, and as a city, we’re still going strong too. It’s a number that’s hard to comprehend, and there seems to be no end in sight.
People are getting upset. We’ve seen the videos of women, the so-called “Karens,” throwing fits in the stores when they’re told they need to wear a mask. We’ve seen the President himself mocking people who wear masks.
We’ve seen the horror in Minneapolis of a man, George Floyd, being slowly killed by a police officer, who presses his boot into Floyd’s throat until he’s dead, and does so without any emotional expression on his face except, perhaps, boredom.
People have had enough.
As Christians our responsibility is to stop violence and reject hate. In the Pentecost story, the confusion and separation is overthrown. People from every corner of the world were gathered together as one, and spoke the only true Christian language– the language of peace.
The Holy Spirit is the power of God that breathes life into the people of God. No one—not one single person—walks into this church unless the Holy Spirit has moved them to do it. Whoever comes to us is here because the Spirit wants them to be here. Do we recognize that, honor it, and act accordingly?
Welcoming one another is the same as welcoming Christ, but if we’re hostile or judgmental, it’s like telling Christ himself that he’s not welcome here either. This church must always speak the language of the Spirit, and cast aside all confusion about who we are and who we serve.
Does your own soul breathe the language of the Spirit? Are you at peace with yourself? None of us is perfect. Every day, we face the temptations of anger, jealousy, and resentment. Every day, we face the demons of bigotry and prejudice. Every day, we face the dead ends of selfishness and greed. But are we letting the Spirit push us up, or are we content to let the Devil hold us down?
In verse 15 of our gospel, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” You will live by that common language of the peace that Jesus gives. But the good news today on this feast of Pentecost is that Jesus also promises us the gift of his Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father,” he says in verse 16, “and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”
The Holy Spirit can overcome the confusion of the Tower of Babel and build a church instead, the body of Christ, where both as a community of faith in church and home, and as individuals seeking to serve our master, we’re a church united and speaking the common language of peace in Christ. Pray for that gift to burn in your own heart today, and to be alive in this church, and our nation, for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord.