Sermon by Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
May 20, 2018
Acts 2: 1-21
What was the miracle of the first Pentecost; the significance of the big event? If we were to answer the question the gathered crowd asks to each other, what does this mean? What would we say? Well we know for sure what drew the crowd. What drew the crowd was the fact that a bunch of uneducated Galilean Jews suddenly started speaking to foreign Jews in their own languages, rather than the language of Galilee, about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.
The crowd, our scripture tells us, was amazed and perplexed that all these Galilean tongues were suddenly forming the sounds of the languages of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, all the residents of Mesopotamia. It would be as if we were suddenly given the ability to saunter up to our Chinese brothers and sisters and speak to them in Mandarin or Cantonese, whichever were called for. But, I think the crowd, and by extension all of us, gathered together celebrating Pentecost almost 2 millennia later, might miss the real miracle if we spend too much time focusing on the stunning and sudden acquisition by those without formal language study of all those different tongues. The crowd was right to be amazed and perplexed, and so then are we, but were they amazed and perplexed over the right thing?
Certainly, the ability to communicate in another language than our own does seem something of a miracle. That what once was once merely jibberish to a person could become, even after lots of hard work, the mediator of a way of life, the hopes, dreams, laughter, and values of people of another culture is quite remarkable. Still, with human language, one thing is the medium and the other is the message.
Knowing another language might seem like a very good thing, something that might open up worlds to us. But, the reality is that knowing another language might also open us to worlds we’d rather not see.
Even in our own language, we often hear things we might prefer not to hear. Sometimes language conveys frightening things like it does in the words “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or acute lymphoblastic leukemia.” Sometimes it conveys hurtful things, like when someone we’ve tried to love for a long time says, “I am not sure I’ve ever really loved you.” Sometimes it conveys playfulness, sometimes joy, sometimes simply information. My point is, that, with human language, the medium is just that, the medium, and that the message is separate and apart from it. In other words, we might have facility in multiple languages and still utter nothing that is worth speaking about almost 2000 years later. So, the mere fact that the disciples spoke many different languages could not be the extent of the Pentecost event. If it had been, we’d not still be celebrating it.
So what makes the Pentecost event we read about so special? What was the significance of the big event? Well, this much is for sure. The full impact of the first Pentecost had much more to do with what was said to that motley crowd of Jews gathered than how it was said. Though as is always the case when God speaks, it is impossible to separate God’s medium from God’s message. On Pentecost, unlike the case with human speech, what was said and how it was said were one in the same thing. Can you guess the content of God’s language and thus of God’s message to us that long ago day? When in doubt, the answer to any question a pastor puts to you in a Christian Church is Jesus Christ. That’s right, you’ve got it. God’s language, God’s message to us is the victory we have in the risen Jesus Christ. The real miracle of Pentecost was not the disciples’ gift of the extraordinary ability to communicate in languages other than their own. No, the miracle of Pentecost was the gift of Christ Himself. The gift of Christ himself poured out on the disciples through the Holy Spirit. But even that is not the full story of Pentecost, the reason it is still celebrated.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the slogan of the United Church of Christ. I remember a large banner sporting it on a side street of old Philadelphia. I’d drive past it every single time I’d go to work as a pastoral intern at Old Pine Presbyterian Church. The large white and blue banner said, “God is still speaking…..”
That, my friends is the miracle that is Pentecost. The miracle of Pentecost is the gift of the risen Christ, the gift that keeps on speaking to us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the medium through which God speaks to us even now, even today. Pentecost tells us this, not that God spoke his Word once, but that the Word that was with God in the beginning continues to be spoken in the world through the Spirit. We have not yet, that is to say, arrived at the end of the story that God began writing at Pentecost. And, a new chapter is added to the Pentecost event, the event of God’s revelation to the world by the power of the Holy Spirit, every single time we who are his followers hear God speaking to us again through the Word that is the risen Savior on the loose in our world.
That’s why we celebrate Pentecost. Not because God spoke that day in Jerusalem, but because the miracle of God’s self giving is ongoing. God is still speaking…….
I think it is important that we take the time to articulate to one another where and how we hear God speaking in this place. I think it is absolutely critical that we learn to recognize the risen Christ in our midst. That’s because the risen Christ’s mission is also the mission of the church. God speaks Himself to us in our language, the language of the humanity of Christ Jesus, in order that we, in turn, might speak God in Christ to the rest of the world. If we can’t recognize God’s Word when he comes among us, if we don’t learn to spot the Pentecost event as it happens even here, even now, we won’t have a clue about whether our ministries are fulfilling our vocation as Christ’s church, our mission to speak Christ into the world, that is, our mission to allow ourselves to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in order that we might speak, not Chinese necessarily, or Spanish or German or Japanese. But so that whatever language we speak, we will be conveying God’s message of Christ, and thus be speaking God’s language to the world.
I have no doubt that some of our ministries speak God’s language. I’ll give you an example of where I have heard the risen Christ speaking God’s language into the world through the history of Crescent Hill Presbyterian. Not so many years ago, the Lord house, the blue house behind the parking lot, housed a vital, active ministry here, the tea-room. It was an example of the activity of the risen Christ. It was such an amazing ministry because it not only reached out to the world on Christ’s behalf, but it also had the potential to transform those doing the reaching out. Hearing about it through some of you, I have almost wished I had been here to see it at the peak of its operation. All the elements of Eucharistic, that is joyful and thankful, self giving were present in its structure. Those involved in the tea-room ministry came together to offer their gifts first to one another in the form of fellowship. The tea-room mission gave those involved not only something fun to do, but also gave them the gift of a common purpose. All the money the tea-room raised from the food consumed by those frequenting it was then used to support Louisville autistic school. Thus, the tea-room house was a perfect example of the risen Christ speaking to those participating in the tea-room, molding and shaping them as they worked together, so that they would get more and more chance to speak the Spirit’s gifts they’d received back into the world.
I think the build a bed project is a more contemporary example of how Christ might use us to speak into the world, specifically to children and their families who do not enjoy sleeping in a comfortable bed of their own night after night. The work will allow us to deepen relationships with one another as we work together for the common purpose of providing those children with a tool they might use to get better sleep. As a result their parents might sleep better right? Have you ever had your bed invaded by a child that wasn’t sleeping well? Exactly. And if the family sleeps better they might have more energy to put into school, work, nurturing one another. And finally the build a bed project allows us to reach out to our neighbors and invite them into mission in the name of Christ with us! So it allows us a chance to speak Christ into our neighborhood, not with a bullhorn calling for repentance lest our neighbors burn in hades, but instead, with the message of compassion that transcends culture, religion, economic status and, instead calls us to live into our common humanity in order to change the world for the better. What is not to like? Same with the opportunities for mission and service we have through UCHM…..the ELL, Guatemala connection. Bottom line is, I’d love to hear more from you about where and when you’ve heard God speaking in Christ to you through this Church. To me, that is the way to celebrate Pentecost. Not as a commemoration of something that happened a long, long time ago, but as a joyful telling of another chapter of the never ending story of how God is speaking Himself to us, in order that we might learn through the hearing of Him to speak God’s language to the world. Share your stories with me? That we might be mutually inspired by the ways the Spirit has played among us in the past, and will still, if we will listen, and then dance with her as she leads us toward the life of humble service and solidarity with our brothers and sisters that is life indeed.