May 20, 2018 Pentecost B
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, with its description of tongues of fire and a multitude of languages, has me thinking about the gift of language the power of words. Words are powerful, and we as Christians value words as an incredible gift from God as those made in God’s image. But like all the blessings of this life, the gift of language is easy to take for granted.
Think about the miracle each word is and what an incredible thing it is for us to have the ability to understand each other. You can have a thought in your head, and through the gift of language, I can know your thought—something that can’t be seen or touched, or smelled, or felt, or tasted. But I know it’s reality through your words.
You can tell me about a place you’ve visited that I have never been to. As you describe the landscape, and the surroundings, and the way the light hit the architecture in the just the right way as the sun started to set, and I somehow share some of your experience of that place.
Or think about literature. Someone creates a world full of characters and events, and through her words, we get to experience that world. We get to share the experiences and feelings of people who live totally different lives than us and who may not even exist, but their influence on us is as real as the ground we walk on. Language is an incredible gift.
We as Christians believe that words form us as a people, we spend our lives gathering around them in our scriptures, liturgy, and songs. We have a profound respect for words and they shape who we are as a people.
Genesis tells us that in the beginning, God creates the universe by a word.
Isaiah says “The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”
Proverbs says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
And how do we refer to the second person of the Trinity, the Son, whom we know as Jesus Christ? This is the language John uses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
Words are powerful. We of all people know this well. But it’s easy to get so familiar with the blessings of this life that we start to take them for granted. Maybe what we need to hear today on this day of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit calling us to pay attention to our words and to respect the great power they possess.
Today is the day of Pentecost in the church year, and our collect for the day sums up today’s theme:
“Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit. Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth…”
Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit made available to all races and nations of the earth.
Our spiritual ancestors celebrated Pentecost in Judaism as the fiftieth day of Passover which came to be associated with the giving of the law to Moses and the people of God. We as Christians celebrate Pentecost as the fiftieth day of Easter, when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the believers in Jerusalem and ultimately the church.
In today’s reading from Acts, Jews from every nation under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—the list covers all of the known world, folks from everywhere representing many different cultures, languages and races. People who had immigrated to Jerusalem and visitors to the city were gathered together when the gift of the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples.
And here’s what happened: All of these diverse races and nations heard the disciples speaking in a language each of them could understand as their own. Everyone was perplexed and amazed. But others dismissed the disciples as being drunk. And then Peter gets up and starts telling them about Jesus, and a little further in Acts past what we read today, they are cut to the heart and ask what they should do. Peter tells them to be baptized, to be immersed into the life of Jesus and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand people welcomed his words and were baptized and added to the community that forms around Jesus.
How does all of this happen? It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and what does the Spirit do? The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to speak words of God’s love for all people, for all races and nations, and cultures.
And on this day of Pentecost, it is especially fitting that Mary Durham and Helen will be baptized because, they too, will be immersed into the risen life of Jesus, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.
We will speak powerful words over them. We will ask God to teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit and to witness to God’s love to the world. And as we welcome them into the household of God they also demand something of us. Will we help them and each other grow into the full stature of Christ by our prayers and witness?
As we speak these life-giving words of God’s love for them and for us, we must reflect on the words we use in this world. Are we loving others in the power of the Spirit and witnessing to God’s love in the world by the language we use? Are we living out our baptismal covenant to resist evil, seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being in our language?
James tells us that with our mouths “we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” “From the same mouth,” he says, “come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
On this day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to speak the language of God’s love for all people, for every race and nation. And all of us, in the vows we have made to God in our baptismal covenant, have said yes to God, while at the same time, saying no to any language that dehumanizes or diminishes the dignity of any human being, regardless of their nationality, politics, personal beliefs, wrongdoing, or anything else we might use as an excuse to not see the worth of each person as someone made in the image of God.
Today, we acknowledge the power and gift of words, and the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us the language of God’s love for all people. For Mary Durham and Helen. For you and for me. And for all the races and nations of this world.