What Language Does Your Life Speak?
Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018
1 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force— no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. 3-4 Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. 5 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. 6 When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. 7 They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? 8 How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia,Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” 12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. 15 These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk— it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen: 17 ‘ “In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams. 18 When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.
19 I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
20 the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous;
21 And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.” Acts 2:1-21 (MSG)
Pastors tend to lend out their books quite a lot. If someone comes to me with a concern that I feel a particular book from my library might helpfully address, I pull the book and hand it to the person. One such book is Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. My copy has circulated quite a bit over the last decade.
Most of us have at one time or another asked ourselves: why am I here…what’s my purpose in life…what am I supposed to be doing? Christians might frame the question: what is God’s will for my life. Such questions address the matter of ‘vocation’—our personal vocation. The word comes from the Latin ‘vocare’ which means ‘calling.’ What’s my calling at this point in my life? How does God want to use me?
As I prepare to re-retire I’ve been pondering such questions. What I learned the first time I retired is that God has a purpose for me even in retirement…what I call ‘ministry’ or ‘ministries’. I wasn’t asking that question then or paying much attention to vocation. I’ve since discovered that if I’m not aligned somewhat…plugged in and engaged with that vocation I won’t be at peace and my life will lack focus.
We may have one big vocation during the course of our lives. For Dave and Judy and me it’s being a pastor—for Valarie it was teaching science for 30 years—for Jackie is was nursing—for Marisha it’s been music…for Pam it’s art.
Sometimes we make a living at our vocation. At other times our vocation is what we give ourselves to outside of our job…perhaps where we volunteer. That’s where we have a sense of calling. Frederick Buechner defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” So John and Karl drive seniors to appointments…and Hilda and Dolores help coordinate the Thrift Shop. In retirement I will continue mentoring persons serving as Licensed Local Pastors, just as Dave Purdy has served on the District Committee on Ordained Ministry during his retired years. Rose aids a patient on hospice, not for the big bucks, but because she has experience in that work and enjoys the relationship.
Most of us like doing something for others…something that makes the world a better place even in some small way. Buechner is right on: Our calling is “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
You might wonder how all this relates to Pentecost. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come upon his followers, empowering them to be witnesses to the gospel and to serve in his name. Doing such witnessing and serving is accomplished, among other ways, through our unique calling and passion. So Rose serves Jesus by directing her expertise toward aiding her patient on hospice. And Valarie serves Jesus by using her knowledge about the natural world at the National Seashore…knowledge developed over 30 years of teaching biology. Throw in her curious mind and her people skills and you have the making of an effective park ranger.
So Pentecost has everything to do with vocation and calling.
According to Luke, when the day of Pentecost arrived some 120 of Jesus’ disciples were gathered in a large room in Jerusalem. They’d been together for some days, praying and waiting on God for power from on high. Without warning a mysterious and mighty wind began to blow through the room. I’m imagining the wind lifting the disciples clean out of their seats or up off their knees…then lighting them up, not in the sense of being drunk with alcohol, but with their countenances brightening and what looked like flames of fire dancing on their heads.
It must have seemed very strange, but who had time to wonder? With the wind and fire came the hooting and hollering of the disciples…..so filled up with Spirit they couldn’t keep it in. They began praising God and witnessing in foreign languages they didn’t know….but it turns out were the languages of the Jewish pilgrims visiting the city. The noise drew many of these pilgrims to their door…and the disciples spilled out into the streets, praising God and telling of all the wonderful things God had done and would do through Jesus the Messiah. Folks from all around the Roman world heard these Galileans proclaiming God’s might acts in their own native language.
So Pentecost is about ordinary people hearing the truth of God’s great love for humanity…and comprehending it. They got it, and transformation was underway.
Back to the book title…Let Your Life Speak. The Pentecostal question for us today is this: what language does your life speak? What’s the accent of your calling from the Holy Spirit? How are you making the mighty acts of God known and comprehensible to others?
It occurs to me that Spirit-prompted tongues are not limited to words and vocabularies, grammar and diction….but are also expressed through the witness we embody in our everyday lives…our character, qualities, gifts and values…the ways we live in relationships…how our faith is transforming and empowering us. Witnessing is accomplished holistically… with our whole selves.
So the foreign languages spoken by Jesus’ disciples… Parthean, Elamite, Cappadocian and Phrygian…can be expanded metaphorically to describe all the ways other people experience and understand the Good News of God’s love.
Consider the language of advocacy for the poor and marginalized….the language of reconciliation in the face of broken relationship…the language of listening and by doing so validating the worth of the speaker. What about the language of peace-making expressed during community conflicts…the language of solidarity in which one identifies with others and comes alongside them….not to fix them but just to be with them….thereby entering into and affirming their humanity.
There’s an embodied language of forgiveness. When Ruby, from the first congregation I served, decided to walk down the road to knock on her brother’s door and forgave him for not being as attentive as she would have liked during the final days of her husband’s life, she was speaking a language of the Holy Spirit with her feet as well as her words. The sweet reconciliation that resulted was a Thy-Kingdom-Come moment taking place on a back road in Mendocino County, CA.
Consider the language of non-judgmental acceptance— when you help another person understand that you accept her the way she is, faults and all. Such acceptance builds trust, something we all need and yearn for. Creating a climate of trust in which people can open up and be themselves allows for healing growth and real communion to take place.
Then there’s the language of appreciating differences and embracing diversity…demonstrated by respectful listening, putting aside our assumptions and prejudices, or spending time with the other who is different from us.
When we willingly bear another’s burden, through supportive presence or gestures of tender kindness, are we not speaking one of the tongues of the Holy Spirit? The one carrying the burden is blessed by having a companion and may, in turn, be more open to hearing about our Companion, Jesus Christ.
It seems to me there is a Spirit language being spoken when someone dares to do something new outside their comfort zone. It could be as big as giving up a job in a company over an ethical issue (what Buddhists call ‘right livelihood’). Or it may be as small as introducing yourself to the immigrant family who just moved into the neighborhood. Such witnessing helps the rest of us to grow and serve in ways we may not have experienced if it was simply left up to us. Courageous, creative leadership gives witness to God’s passionate purposes and speaks the language of empowerment.
Spirit-prompted tongues lift up and reveal God’s saving purposes through words, gestures, attitudes, actions and relationships. The languages of the Holy Spirit make faith and love generously available…mercy, patience and compassion embodied….incarnated.
Who do you know whose life speaks a Spirit-inspired language? What Holy Spirit-prompted language does your life speak? Who could use the touch of a Holy Spirit tongue?
Tony Compolo tells the wonderful story about a clergy friend who had a deacon in his church:
“The pastor tried to get the deacon to really open up and let the Spirit of God lead him. Finally that deacon concluded that there was one thing he could do. He could take the youth group to the old folk’s home. Once a month the youth group of that church went to the old folk’s home and put on a little church service for the people there. He went with the youth group and stood in the back of the room. The young people were performing and this old man in a wheel chair rolled over to where this deacon was standing, took hold of his hand and held it all during the service. That was repeated the next month and the next month and the next month and the next month and the next month.
Then they went one Sunday afternoon and the old man wasn’t there. The deacon asked the nurse in charge, “What happened to that man?” “Oh,” she said, “He’s near death. He’s just down the hall, the third room. Maybe you should go in and visit him. He’s unconscious, though.” The deacon went into the room. There were tubes and drips and ….you know the scene. The deacon went over and took hold of the hand of the gentleman in the bed and…instinctively, led by the Spirit, he said a prayer. And when he said “Amen,” the old fellow squeezed his hand.
He was so moved by that squeeze of the hand that he began to weep. He shook a little. He tried to get out of the room and as he was leaving, he bumped into this woman who was coming into the room. She said, “He’s been waiting for you. He said he did not want to die until Jesus came and held his hand and I tried to tell him that after death he would have a chance to meet Jesus and talk to Jesus and hold Jesus’ hand. But he said, ‘No. Once a month Jesus comes and holds my hand and I don’t want to leave until I have a chance to hold the hand of Jesus once more.’” (“Being Upbeat in a Downbeat World”, textweek, 5/27/07)
A little understanding, a tender presence and a prayer…the Holy Spirit speaking to a dying man through the simple act of holding his hand.
Theologian John MacIntyre once spoke of Pentecost as “the wholehearted expression of the almost unlimited imagination of God.” (Sermon Nuggets, textweek, 5/27/07)
Pentecost is an appropriate occasion to acknowledge that God’s imagination is indeed unlimited….just as is God’s love…just as is the reach of God’s Spirit. And so we can gladly be Pentecostals today…for we have the opportunity to leave this sanctuary speaking languages prompted by the Holy Spirit…in word, attitude and deed. May those languages glorify God and tangibly bless others we will encounter this coming week. Amen.