St. Stephen Lutheran Church
On May 19, many churches will celebrate the festival of Pentecost, the day that marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and the official beginning of the Christian Church in the world. Tongues of flame appeared on the apostles' heads, and they began speaking in languages they didn't understandyet everyone surrounding them in the crowd heard what they were saying in their own language. What an astounding event!
Language can provide a big barrier to our understanding. Recent immigrants face a huge barrier in language every day. This can be a big struggle for people, even in our own community. Regardless of your heritage, you have had ancestors who faced a language barrier when they came to this land in the first place. The church has been a place where people have learned to speak new languages. Some of you may remember attending worship services in languages other than English. I remember hearing a story in seminary about an old Danish congregation that was visited by a pastor from Denmark on Pentecost Sunday. In honor of the congregation's heritage, he was invited to lead the service in Danish. Not more than five people in attendance could understand a word that the pastor was saying. Yet, the sermon was fascinating, and the worship service was very powerful for the congregation. Printed in the worship bulletin were these words: "We are delighted to have Pastor Borg with us today. Most of us will not understand his words. But we witness today the ways that the Spirit moves among us as we worship together, as we receive Holy Communion together. Watch for the power of the Holy Spirit as it is alive here today, enabling us to understand, each in our own way, the love that God has for us. And when we are finished this morning, go back out into the world with the Spirit of Pentecost in your life, empowered by God to destroy walls of separation, empowered to reach out and communicate in new ways as you touch people with the language of love Christ has taught us." What a wonderful way to celebrate the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It can be difficult to communicate with people who are from different places or who speak different languages. But then, it can be difficult to communicate with people who live across the street or with those who sit at your dinner table. It is difficult to speak with anyone if there is any kind of barrier between you and them. What are the barriers that keep us from understanding one another? Anger between spouses, mistrust between parents and children, festering conflicts between co-workers, disappointment between friends, impatience with those of another generation, or unkind words between neighbors. God created us for community and fellowshipbut it seems at times that our human nature, our sin, resists God's design and creates conflict and misunderstanding. We have an internal desire to be left alone, to keep to ourselves, to keep our nose out of other people's business, not to communicate, to look out for No. 1. To isolate ourselves. And when this happens, we become cold and solitary. And in this midst of all this, God sends the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost reminds us that communication and community with all people is possible when the Holy Spirit is involved. The dwellers of Jerusalem heard the good news of Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, were baptized and were re-created in the unity of faith. The many became one. Language is not a barrier to the working of God's will. God does not require people to hear the Word in Aramaic or Greek. God uses apostles of all nations to speak in God's languagea language that all people understand. God's language is not just about wordsGod's language creates the ultimate sense of community and communion. God's language uses physical signssigns like water, like bread and wineto communicate God's love and God's promise for us. We all communicate in God's language when we sit down to worship together, no matter what words are being used or what person is using them. God uses God's Word through Christ and the Holy Spirit to communicate God's love for us in such a powerful way that we cannot possibly ignore the message. God's language is tangibly made known to us in the presence of his Son in the bread and wineand in the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin." What a wonderful way for God to say I love you.