How astounding a miracle the Holy Spirit makes in this scene Luke describes—they went outside and found that people in the city could all hear their native language being spoken. If you have ever lived in another country and were immersed in another language you know the feeling of being isolated until you speak the language and there is always a kind of home-sickness to hear your native tongue. I often get to speak to fellow students from Africa and I’ve noted they still feel this way though they know their educational opportunities are here, just a few words of their ‘mother tongue’ makes them rejoice. Years ago I read a book by Catherine Marshall—a collection of her work. And in one of the essays she describes being at a city’s local Presbyterian church during Sunday worship. She is familiar with the very proper young woman who belonged to this church for years. In the middle of the service this young woman stands up and starts speaking—everyone looks around in amazement. She appears to be speaking in tongues. At the same time and older immigrant man is walking by outside and is praying to God because he is so lonely. Suddenly in front of this church he hears his native Greek being spoken. He opens the door and goes in. In broken English he translates what the young woman has said. For me Catherine Marshall brought the Acts story into the 20th century.
For me this story of languages starts way back in the Old Testament with the story of tower of Babel—that is Genesis 11:1-9. (read) From there people were spread all over the earth. Each made language families of their own. In this scene from Acts, we see the drama of unifying the people of God— According to Robert Sheffield, “Babel was undone in the speaking of God’s Word to everyone.” Through the Holy Spirit each disciple was given a separate language so that the whole crowd heard their native language spoken at the same time. This shows us what the Gospel does—the Word of God comes to us through the Holy Spirit and unifies us in Christ in a way that makes us all understand…even if we do not speak the same language.
After two thousand years in the constantly changing Church of the Triune God, the Gospel is still coming into the world. Pentecost is the celebration of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Mission of the Church of Christ. When the Spirit is poured out on everyone—what fantastic opportunities for discipleship arise. I think of the hymn—Arise Your Light Has Come!
I want to end with a personal example—a couple weeks ago I had a dream so real that I woke up and remembered it. I got out of my car and walked straight into a tornado. It was so real that I couldn't believe I was doing it even as I was doing it. I was at peace even in the midst of the whirlwind.
This last two weeks my life has taken on the appearance of something like a whirlwind—final papers have been due, my children and I have sinus infections, my husband had been cheating on me months before he left, my old dog has a UTI…and my oldest sister called from Albuquerque mid-week to tell me of my step-mom’s death. She took the time to tell me the story of Mom's last day and gave me some peace about that. I told her I was writing a sermon and she said “well, tell those folks that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working among us.”
I said, ‘what happened?’ She said when she went to the Pharmacy in the middle of the night to get mom some more morphine, the pharmacist, who had never met her before, grabbed her hand. He said ‘we’re praying for you.’ She said, “it’s a big city, how did he even know I am a Christian?” I said “he knew, Beth”
“Yes,” she said, “the Holy Spirit told him somehow.” I think sometimes as Christians we are too hesitant to talk about the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It doesn’t need to be that way. If the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people I think we might need to honor that when it happens. We are all Lutherans here who believe we are called to be disciples in Christ by the Holy Spirit. We live our lives of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
John 14:26-27--But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.