The Spirit still comes, gives us the ability to reach the world with God’s Good News, gives us the language – rich and broad and diverse – to tell all what God has done, and is doing.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Day of Pentecost, year B
Texts: Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15; Ezekiel 37:1-14
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Language has always delighted me.
I love learning words, using words. Foreign languages come easily to me. But love of language isn’t always a blessing. On my first report card in the first grade I received a C in citizenship. My teacher wrote there, “Joseph over-exercises his freedom of speech.” And Mrs. Peterson actually liked me!
My verbal fluency also didn’t help me when I became a parent. I had many frustrating experiences as a father in the years when my children were non-verbal. This went both directions. I couldn’t understand their needs sometimes, especially after trying food, changing, or holding, and I couldn’t explain anything to them. I loved it when, with each child, I could communicate with my beloved words, and could hear them speak.
“Give us language to proclaim your Good News,” we asked the Holy Spirit at the start of this liturgy. But language is more than words. Even once my children learned to speak, my tone of voice, my body language, my facial expression, even my volume, I’m sorry to say, conveyed more to them than my actual words. Communicating love is complex, challenging, and richly diverse in how that communication happens.
So when we ask the Spirit, “Give us language to proclaim your Good News,” when we hear once more of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit onto the faithful believers, we are asking for words, yes. And for much, much more.
This Pentecost event meant finding language – so a diverse group of people could hear the Good News about what God was doing.
Imagine the scene. At the Passover, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all over the world, who carried news of this strange death and resurrection back to their various homelands. Fifty days later, Jerusalem is filled again, for the harvest festival of Pentecost. It’s an astonishing litany of nations represented, as far away as Rome – over 2,000 miles – and northern Africa – over 1200 miles – and as near as Asia Minor, faithful Jews filling Jerusalem to overflowing once again.
What a cacophony of languages represented there! Only one hundred and twenty followers of the risen Jesus were gathered, speaking only Aramaic, though some knew Greek. How on earth would they tell all these foreign people what God is doing in Christ and what the Spirit is bringing into life?
The Spirit gave them the ability to communicate, Luke says. Over 3,000 joined that group of 120 believers that day. These thousands heard, saw, marveled. And they believed God’s Good News.
The Spirit gave the believers the ability to reach these people.
That’s why we ask, “give us language to proclaim your Good News.” If we’re going to witness to God’s love for the universe revealed in Christ Jesus we’ll need as much help as those hundred and twenty did 2,000 years ago.
We’ll need help to communicate that the God of the universe can bring life even to dead, dry bones. That the God of the universe loves all creatures beyond our understanding and description. That the God of the universe lived a human, mortal body among us and showed us the path of vulnerable, sacrificial love that can heal the earth. That this God will draw all creation into the love and dance of the life of the Triune God. And that this love of God we’ve found gives us life and joy – and hope for us and the whole creation.
How on earth can we tell all this? Well, the Spirit gave them the ability. That’s our only hope.
And the language we pray for is words, and much more than words.
In the Church we constantly pay attention to the words we use. We cherish our ancient words, and here at Mount Olive we lovingly tend that tradition. But we also listen and hear that some words we use, even beloved ones, block others from hearing of God’s Good News. We need the Spirit’s help to hold the balance between beloved tradition and new language, so people aren’t prevented from hearing of God’s love, but are drawn into the heart of God’s love.
We also pay attention to our other languages. St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We attend not only to what comes out of our mouths, but what our mouths look like, our faces, our gestures. Our bodies are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we will convey compassion, grace, forgiveness, and love far more by how we are with people than by the words we choose. This is true in this place, and our hospitality to guests who sojourn here for a day or months or years. But it is true for every place you go. In your home, at the market, at work, on the street.
What do God’s children you don’t know see in you when you meet them? Do they see welcome, love, grace? Do they see judgment before a word escapes your lips? Is God’s love visible in you? The Holy Spirit fills you to be the embodied love of God. The language you need for that witness is the fullness of communication: voice, hands, heart, eyes, posture, attitude.
Jesus promised God’s revelation wasn’t completed with his teaching.
The Spirit will guide you into all the truth, when you’re ready to bear it, Jesus said. That’s why we delight in this Pentecost language we pray for. We carry the words and attitudes and bodies of our ancestors to proclaim God’s Good News. But as we’re ready, as you’re ready, the Holy Spirit will teach new things to add to the old. Will sometimes urge a change in words or actions. Will remind you of your call to love.
Pentecost isn’t really about that event 2,000 years ago. It’s about the truth of God’s Holy Spirit continuing to give birth to witnesses today, among all God’s children, young, and yes, Joel says, even old ones.
The Spirit will give you the ability. So be ready. It’s breathtaking when God’s wind and fire blow into your life. And just imagine whom God will reach through your witness!
In the name of Jesus. Amen