Reading: Acts 2:1 - 21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 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.’ 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Today is Pentecost and the verses taken from the second chapter of Acts are good for helping us celebrate this exciting day in the Christian calendar. There is energy in this story, from the sound of the wind, to the tongues that rested on the people gathered in the house, to the crowds congregating in the street to find out what was going on.
Of course, this is not the first time the Spirit appears in Scripture. The Spirit was present at the creation of the world, the Spirit guided the prophets, the Spirt filled Jesus at his baptism and if we read the post resurrection stories in John’s gospel we know that Jesus gave the Spirit to the disciples in the upper room. However, this is not simply a story about an outpouring of the Spirit but a story that demonstrates to us some of the power of the Spirit, how the Spirit changes people, and how the Spirit has a role in spreading the gospel.
The part of the story that made me stop and think this year was the reference to speaking in different languages. Those who were filled with the Holy Spirit in the house were given the gift to speak in different languages and it was this gift of language that make it possible for them to communicate with others. The people in the crowd were amazed because they could understand what was being said and for some, it made them curious to know more.
While I am not a linguist, I do understand that language is important, it is how we communicate with one another. When I started working in Shetland I didn’t always understand what people were saying to me because of the local dialect. They were speaking English but with a twist and I had to learn their local words so I could effectively communicate with the people I met. Not all language is verbal and involves words. When I was attending Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia I was shocked to see some of the young men sitting in worship with their baseball hats on. They weren’t being disrespectful but for that generation they saw it as nothing out of the ordinary to wear their hats indoors and in church, that was part of the language they used.
I wonder what language we as Church use? What language are we using when we think about the activities that we hold, the songs that we sing, the way our buildings look or feel, the way we practice hospitality, the format of our services and even our view on mission? Everything about us communicates something to the wider community and the challenge is to know whether we are speaking the same language. I am asking myself this question and I want you to consider this too. To be effective in spreading the Gospel we need to speak the same language as the people we are trying to reach. That is what worked on the day of Pentecost, the ability to speak to the people gathered in a language they understood, and the church needs to do that today. Where in our life as a congregation has our language become outdated and what is the new language we need to learn. These are not simple questions and there are no simple answers but to share the gospel we need to be effective communicators. Firstly, we need to understand the language we are speaking and what we are currently saying about God and the Church but then we need to decide whether we want to say something different and if so, what language do we use.
• Think about the language the church is currently speaking – think about every aspect of the church and ask what does this say about us as a congregation and as people of God?
• If there are things where the language can or should change then take a note of them. You can share them with an Elder or myself, but we will find time to talk about them once we start having church meetings.
• Give thanks to God for the life of the congregation and the way we currently communicate with the wider community
• Give thanks for the ways in which we have keep in touch with people during the pandemic
• May the Spirit challenge us to be better communicators of the Gospel within our communities