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The Feast of Pentecost - May 23, 2021

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Many years ago I had an Aunt and Uncle who were missionaries to Czechoslovakia but they lived in Vienna, Austria. We spent a Christmas there, all of us crammed in their little apartment but it didn’t matter. One day my little brother and I were in the back courtyard being rowdy throwing snowballs, too noisy I suppose. Then this woman came out and began to yell at us in German, I mean really letting us have it and we couldn’t understand a word. She stormed off and returned with two snow shovels. Well, we knew what that meant. We spent the next hour shoveling snow. At one point my brother asked me, “Wasn’t Hitler Austrian?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Makes sense.” And then…the same woman came back but this time with two steaming styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, patted us on the heads and walked away.

Lost in translation, but we found a way to speak.

Fast forward in time a bit and I mowed lawns and bussed tables all year so I could go on the Senior trip to Paris. Me and a few friends found ourselves out late one night looking for the part of town the sponsors told us to stay away from. See we heard things about French girls, we heard they didn’t care if you were on the football team or not. But we were terribly lost about one o’clock in the morning, asking people for directions back to our hotel, but none would speak English. I turned to my friend and said, “Haven’t you had three years of French?” He said, “I don’t really pay attention.” “Well, can’t you at least try here.” So, he stopped the next gentlemen and had an exchange and then we kept walking. “Well…what did you say?!” I asked.

He said, “I asked him where a bathroom was. That’s all I know how to say.” Finally, we approached an older man, he couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English either but took out a pen and under a streetlamp drew lines and circles on a subway map – showing us the way.

Lost in translation, but we found a way to speak.

In my mid-twenties I was with a group of people working at an orphanage in Lima, Peru. Most of the children there, discarded and cast aside because they were born with physical disabilities. Many of them unable to speak and those that could spoke a language different than our own. The whole time I was there I kept bumping into my own entitled-ness, I kept coming rubbing shoulders with my selfishness, I kept wishing I was anywhere else but there. Until the last day, we gathered to say goodbye and a boy with a crooked leg and a bent arm limped over to one of my dear friends, threw one spindly arm around him, buried his little head into my friend’s chest and began to weep saying over and over “stay…stay…stay.”

Lost in translation, but we found a way to speak.

What’s going on there? In moments like that? Do we chalk it up to human decency? Or kindness? Do we refer to it as the better angels of our nature?

Luke, the author of the gospel and the book of Acts calls it something.

The Holy Spirit.

I know. I know. You’re sitting there thinking, “That’s a bit much don’t you think. I mean really. The Holy Spirit? Because this is Pentecost Sunday we’ll let you talk about the Holy Spirit today but don’t get carried away…I mean this is the Episcopal Church after all. Let’s not get too enthusiastic.”

But that’s Luke…and for Luke the Holy Spirit isn’t just some ethereal third person of the Trinity who occasionally stirs the emotions. No! For Luke the Spirit is active, present, and moving. The Spirit hovers over the watery chaos in Genesis and brings forth life, the Spirit is what drove the prophets of old to confront the temple and the throne, and who put the story of Jesus into motion. You see for Luke, the Holy Spirit gets us to move in a certain way in this world, to act and be a particular and peculiar kind of people no matter how small or large the act, and yes… the Spirit even gets us to speak…or, dare we say, to proclaim the resurrection of Christ and the love of God at work in this world.

You see it happening right there in Acts chapter two. A rushing wind, a fire, a disturbance really…an outpouring of the Spirit upon those gathered in the upper room on Pentecost – all kinds of people, from all walks of life, and all kinds of places. It’s like what God spoke through the prophet Joel…

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters shall preach

(Did you hear that parents sons…AND daughters)

Your old people will dream dreams

And your young people will have visions

(Did you hear that young people – listen to our older members here…and older members, don’t ignore the words of our young people)

Even on the male and female slaves, I will pour out my Spirit.

(Did you hear that…even from the beginning it’s been about liberation, inclusivity, freedom)

That’s what’s going on in Acts Chapter 2…a pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh – sons, daughters, old, young, everybody.

I don’t care about the facticity of it. I don’t care about the historicity of the moment. Don’t get all hung up on that. I don’t think Luke wants us to get hung up on that. He’s trying to bring us into a narrative here, he’s trying to show us something about the Holy Spirit. That is, to show us that even people once…

…lost in translation, can find a way to speak to one another.

And even more, can find a way to speak to the world. But what do they say?

What do they say? Especially to those standing around with their critiques, and their sneering, and their accusations.

“Those people aren’t right!” They say, “Look at ‘em. They’ve just had too much wine.”

But then Peter…thick skulled Peter….Peter, the fisherman….Peter, the one who denied knowing Jesus…that Peter encountered the Spirit…steps out into the crowd (and it’s a little further in the reading we have in our bulletin) but he steps out and says…

Listen, we are not drunk on new wine.

I just love that – that the first recorded sermon we have in the Church begins with the line “We are not drunk…” It’s like from the very beginning there’s this acknowledgment that we’re all supposed to look and act a little funny in this thing called Church.

But he goes onto speak…no, to proclaim – the life and ministry of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Christ, and how we get to participate in that risen life. A life that looks like Jesus…a life of love, of forgiveness, of grace, of justice, and of mercy.

Amidst all these languages, Peter speaks the language of the Spirit…and it’s going to change things.

Have ya'll noticed or heard these languages that are being spoken lately? They seem to be competing languages. I’m noticing it more and more. I can hear it floating over from other tables in restaurants, I’ve heard them spoken in bars, and coffee shops, I was at my kids band concert the other day and heard it coming from a couple rows back. It’s the languages of party-lines, political allegiances, and religious bickering…it’s the languages I used to just catch every once and a while on the news – and it often rings with the tone of bitterness, and cynicism, and cruelty….but it seems to be growing and sometimes I’m tempted to speak the same. So pervasive I’m wondering if Rosetta Stone will publish courses on them so we can become even more fluent in our language of choice. So pervasive, the children are picking it up around the dinner table and speaking it at school the next day…so pervasive you can go to a lot of different churches on Sunday mornings and hear it spoken passionately from behind the pulpit. Which is strange to me…because it’s not the language of the Church. It’s not the Gospel, it’s not language of people trying to live and love the way Jesus did.

Which makes me wonder…if there’s an opening here. Which makes me wonder if we were more attentive to the Spirit…what might happen…what actions would we take in our community, what shape would our lives take, what would our relationships look like, what words might we share…I’m starting to wonder if God’s Spirit might be trying to show us something…I’m wondering if the Holy Spirit is trying to show us…that all of us…

…lost in translation, can find a way to speak to one another. Amen.

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