SPIRITUAL - PART 6
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Acts 1:1-11, 2:1-21
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?
I’ve always been highly academic and I love learning just about every subject, but the one thing I cannot seem to learn is how to speak a foreign language. I took several years of French in high school and barely remember a word. I tried learning Spanish later in life and nothing seems to stick. I aced Greek and Hebrew in seminary, but without a lexicon in front of me, I don’t even remember the alphabets. Perhaps it comes down to a lack of practice or opportunities to be immersed in speaking the language regularly, but for whatever reason, languages are just not my gift.
I discovered in South Africa they have 11 official languages and I thoroughly enjoyed preaching a revival service last year with a translator who spoke Ndbele. Even though he was simply translating my words, somehow his sermon sounded a lot better than mine. The children’s Sunday School teacher in the church there mentioned that some of the kids in her class did not speak any of the same languages and could not always understand each other, and yet somehow the Holy Spirit kept drawing them back together as one family.
The coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts demonstrates the truth that Paul speaks of in Ephesians when he writes:
You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
In many nations around the world fluency in two or more languages is nearly a necessity. I fully recognize the privilege of having English readily available almost anywhere I go. Even when we are all speaking English, however, we are not always speaking the same language. I’m not just talking about southern vs. northern accents or British vs. Australian vs. American dialects. Language is more than the words we say or even the accents with which we say them. Words have meaning based on cultural context and often take on further nuance based on individual experience. Most arguments involve people talking past each other using the same language and the same words with very different layers of meaning and interpretation.
The same is true in our churches.
Every time a congregation gathers for worship, many different people, from different points in life, with different needs and perspectives come together; each refracting messages through their own lenses. Each person processes communication in ways that are influenced by age, gender, race, personality type, ethnicity, education, and social and economic backgrounds.
Joseph R. Jeter Jr. and Ronald J. Allen, “One Gospel, Many Ears”
It is easy to rail against people who don’t speak “English” in America, but perhaps we would be better off recognizing that we have a much more serious language problem. We all struggle to say what we mean and often to mean what we say. We all talk past each other on a regular basis. We all misinterpret or misunderstand what people are saying to us, even our closest loved ones.
This is why the unifying language of the Holy Spirit is so crucial. Too often the church sounds just like our political rallies and our news media, fighting and arguing and talking past each other as if shouting in a thousand different languages, when in truth, we all desire the same thing. We just have different perspectives and approaches.
What would it look like for your church to look less like the people fleeing from the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and more like the church at Pentecost, who truly speaks “One Gospel to Many Ears.”
If you are interested, here is the sermon I preached with the translator in South Africa. It was my first time trying to communicate to an entirely different culture who spoke multiple languages which I did not understand. Truly a blessed experience.
You can also learn more about supporting this church, “The Family of God” and their work in Mpumalanga, South Africa at africanrescueministries.org.