Acts 2:1-21, Pentecost B, May 24, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Uncertainty of a Foreign Place
During May Term 2007, I went with Dr. K and a group of fellow Wartburg College students to visit Germany. For three weeks, we toured all of the Reformation sites. We walked in Martin Luther’s footsteps as we remembered all that he accomplished there. We also spoke with people from former East Germany who shared the great challenges that they faced everyday under Soviet rule. We also discovered what the Lutheran church looks like in Germany today.
This trip was only my second time overseas. On the plane ride, we all were nervous and excited. We wondered what Germany would be like. None of us spoke German, and we hoped that would not detract from our experience. We were ready to go exploring!
Then we walked off the plane in Berlin and onto the terminal. The complete foreignness of the place felt like a slap in the face. Most of the signs and posters were completely in German; I couldn’t read a word. The few signs that did have English only had it in small print, almost as an afterthought. All of the people around me were speaking German or other foreign languages. I didn’t understand any of them, and I didn’t know where to go. I was completely out of my element and felt quite uncomfortable.
So, I stayed close to my group. Dr. K carefully helped us navigate our way through the airport to our bus. We drove through the city, gazing at all that we could see. Berlin was such an odd mix of beautiful and drab. Along the way, we picked up our tour guide who happened to be named Christian. When he stepped onto the bus, we didn’t know what to think of him. We were struck by how tall he was. He could have been quite a menacing figure. We knew that the quality of our entire time in Germany was focused on this one man.
Then Christian opened his mouth, and he spoke perfect English. We all let out a breath of relief. Not only did Christian speak English, but he also cracked some jokes and put us at ease. He truly made our three weeks in Germany a delight. He challenged us to look at the Reformation in a new light. Overall, Christian helped us to appreciate his beautiful country and the people therein.
As I experienced during that class in Germany, there is something truly refreshing about hearing your own language in a foreign place. It is that relief of hearing your own language that I find inspiring in the story of Pentecost. Jerusalem was - and is - a metropolis of Jews from all over the world. They may have shared the same faith, but these Jews spoke the language of their native countries.
The Uncertainty of Pentecost for the Disciples
These Jews were minding their own business in Jerusalem, visiting the Temple and other holy places. They also did not speak the language, yet they hoped that would not detract from their visit. Then they hear a ruckus happening inside a home, and they wonder what is going on! Curious, the Jews start to crowd around this little place. Then the disciples spew out of the front door.
They are all speaking different languages! The disciples were preaching in languages they hadn’t known an hour before! What a delight it must have been for these foreign Jews to hear someone speaking their language. Immediately there must have been some bond formed. Simply hearing their own tongue in a foreign place must have opened them up to receive the gospel. They were able to believe everything they heard about Jesus because of this powerful gift from the Holy Spirit.
In our time and place, we don’t need the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of language. Pretty much everyone we know speaks English. Yet, for someone who has rejected the church or who has never been to church, sharing the good news with them can be a challenge.
We can say, “Jesus died so that your sins may be forgiven. You can live forever because of the cross!” Yet those words fall flat. Listeners may not know what sins are or why they need to be forgiven. They may have no desire to live forever. Even if we strip away all of the Christian lingo, the very concept of who Jesus is and what he did for us can be completely foreign.
Sometimes, we can’t evangelize using words. Sometimes, we need to show the good news through our actions. Even St. Francis supposedly said, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
The confirmation students have shared with me that you are not allowed to talk about faith in school. You are not able to use the gift of words to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So, I encourage you to take St. Francis' words to heart. Show your classmates who Jesus is through the language of your actions.
Whenever you lift the spirits of a classmate who is down,
whenever you lead a food drive or charity fundraiser,
whenever you are kind to a disabled classmate,
whenever you follow Jesus' example at all,
you are showing your classmates who Jesus is.
Junior high and high school can be tough. Emotions are heightened, classes are challenging, and friendships are hard to maintain. With the Holy Spirits help, you can brighten the lives of your peers. You have a wonderful opportunity to be Christ's hands and feet. We all can do the same, no matter what the context we find ourselves in.
We can show Christ's love to our classmates and colleagues because the Holy Spirit enables us to. We pray that the Holy Spirit might descend on us like tongues of fire. We pray that the Holy Spirit might inspire us to know what language of action we can use to make our community a little better. Amen.