Have you ever been to Disneyworld or any other place that attracts a truly international clientele? Have you ever stopped and just listened to people talking and noticed the different languages that are spoken? I find it interesting to see if I can identify any of the languages I hear, often by being able to identify 1 or 2 words and guessing from there. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to understand all those languages, all those people talking?
In our reading about the Day of Pentecost, we are told there were devout Jews from all over the area, from many different countries, speaking many different languages. When the Holy Spirit appeared to the crowd as a mighty wind and divided flames of fire resting on each person, the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to hear different languages in their own tongue.
It would be as if we could hear someone speaking Spanish, or Chinese, or Arabic, or Italian as if they were speaking English. Even though they are speaking their own language, we would hear them speaking English.
We do indeed live in a multicultural world, and it seems to become more multicultural with each passing day. It seems anytime I call a business, I have to press 1 to hear the instructions in English. Whenever I buy a product, the owners manual seems to be printed in three or four different languages, and I often hear people speaking different languages when I am out and about. In some areas with a large Spanish speaking population, I have seen road signs in Spanish.
I am not complaining, for I have visited other countries and experienced the frustration of not speaking the native language and not being able to communicate with people. When I was in India, most of the people I interacted with spoke English. But when we went into town and shopped, all that changed. I was lucky enough to have people with me who could interpret for me, but imagine how frustrating it must be for a visitor in America who doesn’t speak English. In many countries, most of the people speak more than one language, but in America that isn’t true. Perhaps it is because America is so large and travel to countries with different languages is not as common as it is in other parts of the world. But the population of America is changing and more and more people are coming from other countries who do not speak our language or know our customs. I guess we Americans have a choice. We can welcome the stranger and do our best to communicate with them, or we can complain they are here in the first place and insist they learn our language as I hear many people do.
But enough about languages for today. Today we celebrate Pentecost and while I am not much of a historian, I do find it interesting to learn a little bit about the history of our religious celebrations. I find it helps me understand things a little bit better. As a Christian brought up in the Church I have always thought of Pentecost as a Christian celebration. But, in fact, Pentecost is a Jewish festival celebrating God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Festival is 50 days after the second day of Passover and is called Shavuot in Hebrew. Pentecost is the Greek name for the festival. Our text tells us there were many devout Jews at the festival and from Peter’s address to them; it sounds like many were not followers of Jesus.
For Christians, Pentecost has a different meaning. Many Christians consider Pentecost the Church’s birthday. Many celebrate the Holy Spirit coming and filling each person.
Each year we hear the text from Acts read as it is the only account of this event in the Bible. We read about how the Holy Spirit came like a mighty wind blowing through the entire house where the people were gathered. We read about how tongues of fire came among them and rested on each one of them, filling them with the Holy Spirit. And we read about how they began to speak in other languages.
This is not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Bible. In fact, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as early in the Bible as Genesis 1.
But is the Holy Spirit the advocate that Jesus promised the disciples in our reading from the Gospel of John? The Greek words are different. In Acts, the word used for Spirit is “Pnuema” which is generally translated as “Spirit”, “breath”, or “wind”. In John, the word used is “Paraclete” which is usually translated as “encourager”, “advocate”, or if translated literally as “one called alongside”. What is the difference?
The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, but in a very personal role. Jesus promised not to abandon his disciples when he left, but to send the Advocate. The Advocate, or Paraclete is the presence of Jesus in each individual Christian. Jesus sent the Spirit of Truth to make a home within each of us, to guide us, to teach us, to comfort us, and to enable us to proclaim Jesus as Lord to all.
The Holy Spirit is what enables us, the Church, to live in the world but not be of the world, to not be conformed by the world, but to be conformed by the love of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is what enables us to be present with people who are suffering loss or experiencing illness and to provide comfort for them. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus within each one of us. The Holy Spirit is what connects us all into community.
Joan Chittister in her book “Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light” wrote a very good piece about the importance of community. I would like to share some of her writing with you.
“Community, Abba John teaches, calls us to the kind of relationships that walk us through minefields of personal selfishness, that confront us with moments of personal responsibility, that raise us to the level of personal heroics, and lead us to the rigor of personal compassion day after day after day. It is when we see in the needs of others what we are meant to give away that we become truly empty of ourselves. It is in the challenges of the times that we come to speak the Spirit. It is when we find ourselves dealing with the downright intransigence of the other that we understand our own sin. It is when we recognize in the world around us the call of God to us that our response to the human race becomes the measuring stick of the quality of our souls.
When anger rages in us unabated and unresolved, we obliterate the other in our hearts. When months go by and we never even speak to our neighbors, never seek them out, never stir ourselves out of our hermitages to admit their existence, we deny creation. When advice is something we resist and questions are something we avoid in life, God has no voice by which to call us.”
The Holy Spirit connects us into community, into the increasingly diverse community of Elkton Maryland, and into the community of Rock Presbyterian Church. Through the Holy Spirit within each of us, we care for each other, we help those in need, we work together on projects such as our annual auction and working with homeless ministries. The Holy Spirit is with each of us to guide us through our daily lives, to comfort us in time of need, and to help us discern God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is a gift from God, sent to us in Jesus’ absence, to teach us, to guide us, to comfort us, to enable us. I encourage each of you to listen for the Holy Spirit inside you as the Spirit gently, and perhaps sometimes, not so gently, guides you through your daily life.
Let us pray’
God’s Spirit joins with our spirits to declare that we are children of God.
Come Spirit of wisdom,
and teach us to value the highest gifts.
Come Spirit of understanding,
and show us all things in the light of eternity.
Come, Spirit of counsel,
And guide us along the straight and narrow path to our heavenly home.
Come Spirit of might,
And strengthen us against every evil spirit and interest which would separate us from you.
Come, Spirit of knowledge,
And teach us the shortness of life and the length of eternity.
Come, Spirit of Godliness,
And stir up our minds and hearts to love and serve the Lord our God all our days.
Come, Spirit of fear of the Lord,
And make us tremble with awe and reverence before your divine majesty.
Come, Holy Spirit!
Rain upon our dry and dusty lives.
Wash away our sin
And heal our wounded spirits.
Kindle within us the fire of your love
to burn away our apathy.
With your warmth, bend our rigidity,
And guide our wandering feet.
Amen and Amen.