It is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the Spirit which united and unites the church. For those who claim to be spiritual but not religious, this is your day! Come celebrate the wild, undomesticated, wind that blows where it will, and inspires life in all its forms.
Click HERE to view the video from our Sunday Worship Service on June 9, 2019
Our first story of our faith for Pentecost is a very old story passed on from generation to generation even before there was a bible. So I want you to imagine a child around a campfire long ago. Their family has been travelling and has come across people who speak a different language from them. And so the child is puzzled- has never heard this before, and asks the wise grandmother, why do people speak different languages, and the grandmother replies, “It’s interesting you should ask that my child. Our people have a word for this many language phenomenon among the nations. We call it Babel. Let me tell you the story.
A very long time ago it wasn’t like how it is now. Back then the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east,[a] they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[b] the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
That, my child, is how it came to be that the nations speak many languages.
The second story of our faith for Pentecost is not so old. It is only 2000 years old. The early followers of Jesus after the resurrection had stayed in and around Jerusalem, and were there for the Jewish feast of weeks known as Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard a disciples speaking, proclaiming the gospel in their own native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 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, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
A witness of our ancestors to the wisdom of God. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Thanks be to God.
Reflection by Rev. Will Sparks
I am envious of people who speak multiple languages. My daughter speaks fluent Spanish and some French although I think that’s kind of rusty these days. And of course English. We had a funny experience walking the Camino 2 years ago in the northern Spanish province of Galecia.
We were walking along a country path and ran across an elderly woman who began to speak with us. She was tiny and wrinkled, with an expressive face, and absolutely Brad Pitt perfect false teeth. I was catching the odd word. Anna was listening and responding- seemed to be holding her own. After a few minutes as we said goodbye and continued on our way I asked her, so what did she say, and Anna said, “I haven’t a clue. It certainly wasn’t Spanish, or even Portugues. Must be a local language.” A lovely interaction, without understanding. The human gap was bridged, but not one of understanding.
I took a couple of weeks of Spanish in Guatemala when I was on Sabbatical some years ago- intense immersion, one on one teaching for 5 hours a day, staying with a family. It was intense.
And I carried my dictionary or my dictionary app around wherever I went, and if I didn’t place it on the table at mealtime, my house mom, Dona Oti would say, Donde su amigo? Where is your friend, your friend the dictionary. We ate together, laughed together, cooked together, walked the city together, and we struggled to understand each other, because we are people of Babel. We carry between us the gap of understanding.
And this gap is not just language. It is much deeper than that. Because language is much deeper than just words. A language is an expression of the culture, and world view of a place and a people.
Sandra Moran and I were talking about this in a brief conversation this week and Sandra used a phrase that is new to me but makes sense. She said, that language is an expression of cosmovision. Different languages are not just different word systems, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation. No languages express visions of the cosmos, the universe. Different languages express worldviews. And so to learn another language is to learn another way of seeing the world.
You can see why I am envious of people who speak multiple languages. They gain access to different ways of seeing and expressing the universe. You can also see why one of the powerful and destructive tools of colonial control over the last 500 years was destruction of indigenous languages. Make them speak English and you will make them be English. Separate them from their language and you separate them from their worldview. The Tower of Babel reminds us that the one language, one culture, one religion, one empire, leads to one tower, and the controlling arrogance of thinking we could become like God.
I like to think that the tower of Babel story is a reminder that God loves diversity as much in the linguistic, cultural and political worlds as much as God loves diversity in the biological world. Diversity is a good thing, a healthy state, a blessing.
But that diversity creates gaps in the human family- gaps of understanding. Pentecost is the experience of the Holy Spirit building bridges between diverse peoples. As of Pentecost, we are no longer only a people of Babel, no longer left to the mercy of our linguistic incapacity. We are people separated by language but united in Spirit open to the hope that even though we live with different languages, cultures, world views, cosmo-visions. Even though these differences genuinely mean we see the world differently, there is a Spirit, and a love at the heart of life that is common to us.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is an expression of a universal desire within the human soul for love, justice, freedom. In different cultures that desire gets expressed very differently. The miracle of Pentecost was not some ecstatic speaking in tongues. The miracle that made these diverse peoples wonder what in heavens name is going on was that the universal desire for love and justice and freedom was being expressed by these rural Galileans in their own language, as if from their own heart.
To be human is to stand between Babel and Pentecost, to hold in one hand the beauty and struggle of our human diversity, and on the other hand the power of the Spirit to bridge the gaps and learn to see the world as another sees it. And we stand between. But that is a fertile place to stand.
God grant us the Pentecost Spirit, stirring up holy curiosity about how another sees the world. God grant us the Pentecost Spirit to speak our own truth, our own language, our own expression of love, and justice and freedom in a way that inspires and does not oppress. God grant us the Pentecost Spirit in such a way that the nations of the world are inspired to live their own God-given expression of love, and justice and freedom, until, by the grace of God, the whole world is healed. Amen.
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