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Faith United Methodist Church

May 24, 2015

Pentecost Sunday

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Acts 2:1-8, 14-21

Prayer of Illumination:

The Spirit of truth has come. May our hearts and minds know and understand the truth God is revealing to us each and every day. Amen.

Sermon:   A Message for Everyone

Even under the best of circumstances communication can be a challenge. Communication gurus tell us that an audience needs to hear something at least three times before they really ‘get it,’ but I suspect it is even more than that. In our church this takes the form of communication through bulletin announcements, PowerPoint, Horizon articles, Sunday morning announcements and e-mail. Still, things sometimes slip through the cracks. Communication, even when we share a common language, is hard work.

And, no matter how hard we try, miscommunications do happen. Even the simple things stump us sometimes. You contact a friend about getting together. You think it’s lunch at 11:30. She thinks it’s lunch at 1:30. You miss each other. This kind of thing happens to all of us at one time or another. If details of time and place trip us up, imagine how much more difficult it is to communicate emotions and things of the heart. We all bring to our communication personal meanings and histories and nuances that can’t be fully expressed in words. It’s a wonder any of us ever really know what we are talking about!

But we do, thank God, and we keep communicating. Communication keeps us connected, helps us grow and challenges us to consider things in new ways. And then, occasionally, you meet someone with whom communication is easy ~ or easier. My best friend Stephanie and I worked closely together for five years. By the end of that time we had developed a shorthand way of communicating. Yet, even spouses married many years run into communication difficulties. Sometimes we take that shorthand for granted, and don’t really listen.

The Scripture tells us that people from all over the known world journeyed to Jerusalem to commemorate the Jewish festival known as the Feast of Weeks. Fifty days after the Passover, this was both an ingathering of the Spring harvest and a celebration of the day the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. As Grace Imathiu describes, “…this was the day each person was to bring God a special gift in proportion to the blessing the Lord had given.”   Jews from everywhere were gathered in Jerusalem to give their offerings to God. The streets were full and bustling, like Church Street in the summer. Many languages were being spoken. This was the first big festival since Jesus’ crucifixion.

And the disciples, we are told, were all together in one place. As faithful Jews, they probably planned to participate in the festival.   But then something happened that got everyone’s attention. First there was a noise, like the rush of a violent wind or a tornado. Then flaming tongues appeared among them. When they opened their mouths the disciples found they were given the ability to proclaim God’s word in different languages, languages they didn’t even know.

The people standing outside on the street began to hear what was happening and were drawn to it. The Parthians were suddenly hearing their language spoken. Then the Elamites were able to hear their language. People from Pamphylia and Cappadocia heard familiar words and no longer felt like strangers in a strange land. As one preacher put it, it was a great day for multiculturalism.   God’s word was spreading, not just among one group of people, but among all people. No one was excluded. There was a message for everyone. Perhaps this is why we think of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. As Peter preached, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The Feast of Weeks was a time for the faithful to give their gifts to God. Instead, God gave the people the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples, who had been wondering what it was they were to do to build Jesus’ church, were finally given the answer. As Thomas Long preached, “Strangely enough, the gift of Pentecost is the gift of something to say.” Jesus followers, who had been largely silent since Jesus death and resurrection, found their voice.

We read several different translations of the Bible today. Our words became a bit of a jumble, just as I suspect it was on that first Pentecost. I like knowing that, from the earliest days of the church, the Word of God was translated into many different languages so all could understand. Indeed, the first translator was the Holy Spirit. I like knowing that the language of faith is not Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic, but whatever language speaks to your heart. This first Pentecost taught us, as our Seasons of the Spirit describes it, “No one had to change languages or cultures to hear the good news, no one had to become a different person to experience the presence of Christ.” I can imagine those folks from Pamphylia and Cappadocia, Mesopotamia and Egypt going home to their friends and families with the amazing news, “You’ll never guess what I heard…..”

The Holy Spirit speaks our language. The Holy Spirit speaks every language. This is the Good News of Pentecost. The story of Pentecost is not just an account of something that happened a long time ago and is over. Pentecost is our story. The Spirit is still speaking to us and through us. The Holy Spirit is an unruly character. Maybe that is why the Holy Spirit is described in so many different ways ~ wind, breath, dove, fire.

So on this Pentecost Sunday what are you called to say? What word has the Holy Spirit given you to share? The disciples didn’t know what or to whom they were speaking. In fact, they didn’t even know what they were saying. Still, the people who needed to hear those words understood. Similarly, we don’t always know how our words affect others. Words are powerful. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can inspire. What language are you speaking?

Let us pray: Lord, may we be your people guided by your Spirit. You call to us in our languages, in our cultures, and circumstances to be your people. Help us to hear the language of the Spirit spoken to us and help us to speak the language of the Spirit to each other. Amen.