Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sermon 5/11/08 Pentecost Sunday "Being Bilingual"

“Being Bilingual”

Acts 2:1-13

Today is a very special Sunday for a number of reasons. First, it is Mother’s Day. Second, it is Confirmation Sunday at our church and third, it is Pentecost. I want to begin this message by honoring mothers. To do this, I want to give your husband some advise about buying gifts for you for Mother’s Day.

1. Don't buy anything that plugs in. Anything that requires electricity is seen as utilitarian.
2. Don't buy clothing that involves sizes. The chances are one in seven thousand that you will get her size right, and your wife will be offended the other 6999 times. "Do I look like a size 16?" she'll say. Too small a size doesn't cut it either: "I haven't worn a size 8 in 20 years!"
3. Avoid all things useful. The new silver polish advertised to save hundreds of hours is not going to win you any brownie points.
4. Don't buy anything that involves weight loss or self-improvement. She'll perceive a six-month membership to a diet center as a suggestion that's she's overweight.
5. Don't buy jewelry. The jewelry your wife wants, you can't afford. And the jewelry you can afford, she doesn't want.
6. And, guys, do not fall into the traditional trap of buying her frilly underwear. Your idea of the kind your wife should wear and what she actually wears are light years apart.
7. Finally, don't spend too much. "How do you think we're going to afford that?" she'll ask. But don't spend too little. She won't say anything, but she'll think, "Is that all I'm worth?"

Today we are also celebrating “Pentecost Sunday” which means we are celebrating the event recorded in Acts 2, where the Luke (The author of Acts) tells us those who believed in Jesus received the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus tells his followers that they are to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift that they have been promised, the Holy Spirit. Luke records the story as follows,

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Luke is clear that this happens on the day of Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Passover and was a celebration the Old Testament calls the Feast of Weeks. It was a time when the first fruits of the years harvest were given. As with these feast celebration, religious significance was also attached to the celebration. At some point, Pentecost was also associated with the celebration of Moses receiving the Law from God.

On this very special day in the Jewish calendar, the disciples who have been gathered together hear something that sounds like wind and see something that looks like tongues of fire. Then, Luke tells us that the have been filled with the Holy Spirit and as evidence of this, they begin to speak in tongues.

At this point in the text, it is fair to ask, “What is the nature of their speaking in tongues?” The reason we normally ask this question is because people now days have quite a diverse understanding of what it means to speak in tongues. Some people say that speaking in tongues should be understood as simply speaking other languages and the gift is simply being able to learn Spanish or French for example. Others have said this is a special prayer language that you receive when you have the Holy Spirit. God enables to speak in a language that only the spirit can understand. Others have suggested that this is the gift to speak in a language a message from God that you do not know and others will be able to hear your speech and discern it.

Thankfully, Luke takes some time to explain what he means by speaking in tongues, at least in this instance. He says that some folks where staying in Jerusalem from “every nation under heaven.” Luke gives us some examples of where they have come from. We are not sure if they are living in Jerusalem, but are just from other areas or if they have just made the journey to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration because they are Gentiles who hold to the Jewish faith.

They do however, speak native languages. In this culture it was not uncommon for people to speak several languages. Most of this world spoke Greek plus their own native language. Some may have also spoke Latin. Luke tells us that the crowd is amazed because the disciples speak a native language that they do not speak, but they were able to hear them in their own native language that they knew the disciples did not speak. What was happening was that the followers of Jesus were able to speak their own language and people who spoke different languages could understand them plainly.

Often times, we go so caught up in the speaking of tongues in the passage that we miss the real message Luke wanted to tell his readers in the 1st century and the message he wants us to learn today. After Peter sees the crowd in amazement, he explains what has happened by preaching a sermon. In his explanation Peter tells the crowd that the prophecy spoken of in Joel has now come to pass: “I will pour out my spirit on all people... and everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved.” This is the moment that God has chosen to make salvation known to the word. Luke tells us that 3,000 people believed as a result of this event.

Pentecost is not about us receiving some kind of special power so that we can be more spiritual. Pentecost is about the day God began the missionary journey of reaching the world and bringing redemption and salvation through the message about Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of something fresh and new, something powerful and life changing.

This story in Acts in some ways causes us to recall the story in Genesis when the people decide to build a tower into the heaven in order to become “like God.” To prevent this from happening, God causes them to speak different languages so they will spread out. I have always seen this story as being the climax of human sin, which brings about other languages and brings about a disconnect. In the Acts story, while there are sill different languages being spoken, everyone hears the same story, bringing unity. After checking this view with several New Testament scholars, Joel Green helped me see that God’s giving diverse language in the Tower of Babel story was not a punishment, but a call for people to spread out and experience new possibilities. In the same way, Acts 2 is a call for Christians who receive the Spirit not to remain in the same place, but to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. After all, this is Jesus’ command in Acts 1.

Often when we read the story of Acts 2 and the event that took place as the gospel of Jesus is launched into the world through these spirit filled followers of Jesus we become disillusioned because we do not see this kind of event happening. We believe (1) God does not act this way anymore (2) God does these things, but we don’t believe enough to see them or (3) This type of miracle only happens in places where the gospel is first being preached.

I am not sure of the answer, but I do believe that God wants to speak to us, to move us, and to use us to make disciples of Jesus. I think we oftentimes fail to listen. Notice in Acts 1, Luke tells us that while they were waiting on the promise Jesus had told them about, they joined constantly in prayer. They were expecting God to act and because of their expectancy, they prayed not to miss it.
A young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man completed his form and sat down with seven others waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.

Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man."

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, "Wait a minute--I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair."

The employer responded, "While you have sat there the telegraph has been ticking out the following message: "If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours."

I believe God still speaks to us today in both big and small ways. The problem is that we don’t expect to hear from him so we don’t listen. I hope this Pentecost we will be reminded that God still speaks to us and we can hear him if we would just expect it and listen.

No comments: