Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 19, 2024

YEAR B 2024 feast of pentecost

Pentecost, 2024
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Psalm 104:25-35, 37

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As you know by now, I sometimes consult language experts when preparing a sermon.  This usually means checking a particular blog by Mark Davis, a Presbyterian pastor from California.  Most times, there’s nothing that stands out in his word-for-word translation of the readings, but sometimes there’s something that really makes a difference, when compared to the translation we get in the bulletin.

And today is one of those times where I stumbled onto something significant in the reading from Acts.  As we heard, the crowd that gathered around the disciples could understand what they were saying, and they ask, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”  Our own native language.  Now there’s a perfectly good Greek word that means “language,” and that word is glossaiGlossai means “language.”  But that is not the term Luke uses here.  Instead of language, he uses idia dialecto, which means idiomatic dialect to you and me.  

So the crowd is actually asking, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own idiomatic dialect?”  It is specific, personal, tailor-made for each person.

Now dialects are mostly regional, but they can also be class-based, or occupational.  On a regional level, we get things like the “all y’all” of the deep south, and the “gnarly dudes” of southern California.  If we throw in things like accents and vocabulary, Americans living in rural Georgia and rural Vermont could hardly even have a conversation, even though they are technically speaking the same language.  So, for the crowd in Acts to simply hear their native language might still make it hard to understand.  Hearing in their own dialect means they understand what is being said.

And then when we consider idioms, it ramps it all up.  If I say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you all know what I mean.  But in other countries they have different phrases for a hefty downpour.  Some make sense to us, like the Hungarian, “It rains as if it had been poured from a basin,” or the Russian, “It is pouring like from a bucket.”  But what would you think if you were in Ireland and heard someone say, “It's raining shoemakers’ knives?” Or, in Spain you heard, “It's almost raining husbands.”  Or, in Wales, “It's raining old ladies and walking sticks.”  I’m not from around here, apparently.

The use of an idiom gathers a community who are all in on the joke.  And that necessarily means you can tell who isn’t from around these parts, right?  If someone says to me, “It is raining young cobblers,” I would say, “You’re from Germany, aren’t you?!?”  So an idiom tells us who’s in and who’s out, while sharing a dialect makes us able to understand what someone is saying.  The crowd asks, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own idiomatic dialect?”  How can I not only understand, but also know that these people get our idiosyncrasies?  How could everything that usually separates us from one another suddenly be dissolved?  They get me and I understand.

Now let’s go back to the scoffers.  The ones who sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine.” What they have just witnessed, in sight and sound, is the coming of the Holy Spirit.  What the scoffers have seen is the arrival of this Spirit in a very tangible way.  Something like tongues of fire on people’s heads, rushing and violent wind, people speaking in multiple languages.  Assumedly, they do not understand what is happening, and so they scoff.

But actually they do understand.  Because remember how the disciples started speaking in tongues?  They weren’t speaking in some kind of possessed nonsense way; they were speaking in languages.  Real dialects and idioms.  Languages that people spoke, and understood, and wrote with.  The scoffers did understand.  Everyone understood.  So why the hostility?  Why the accusation of drunkenness?  Why would hearing and understanding make them turn away and refuse to listen?

Well, let’s go back for a minute and imagine that the disciples were not speaking in languages that people understood.  What if the disciples were all speaking in, say, English?  No one in Jerusalem would have any idea what these men were saying, and therefore the disciples could be dismissed as some crazy little cult.  Filled with new wine, no threat to anyone, and certainly of no importance to you and me as we walk by.

But what if, instead, we suddenly understand what they’re saying?  And so does everyone else walking by.  Each in our own idiomatic dialect.  In that case, there’s a sudden realization that this message is for everybody.  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, and Pamphylians . . . whoever those people are.  What the disciples are saying applies to every possible person in the world, and all together, and all at once . . . And that is what makes the scoffers scoff: The impossibility of everyoneEvery idiom and dialect.

And what is the message they are proclaiming?  Well we hear it from the non-scoffers.  They say, “in our own idiomatic dialect we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.”  That’s the content of the message: God’s deeds of power.  Why would someone scoff at that?  Why is it that hearing of God’s deeds of power makes the scoffers scoff?  Well, we can only speculate, but here’s a possibility.  Maybe the reason scoffers gonna scoff is because that’s not how life works.  You don’t suddenly become fluent in another language; it takes commitment, and duolingo.  You don’t give credit to God for your achievements; you give credit to your university, or your co-workers, or your own hard work and effort.  The disciples are not qualified, not authorized.

The disciples didn’t do anything to become these brazen apostles in the street.  In fact, they were still hiding from the world.  Since Easter!  The disciples have not been to rabbinical school.  Which means they have no knowledge of God’s power.  You’re going to listen to a bunch of scared losers who thought Jesus was the Messiah?  What are you, filled with new wine? 

Peter quotes the prophet Joel:  In those days, God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, even upon slaves, both men and women.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  Everyone.  All flesh.  Men and women, slave and free.  Even the Elamites and the Pamphylians—though I still don’t know who those people are—but this Spirit is for all people.  This message is for everybody.  Even the scoffers.  And what message is this?  This message for all people?

The impossibility of everyone.  It is a message of unity in the Spirit.  As Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”  There are not many spirits giving a whole bunch of different gifts.  There is one Spirit. 

These gifts of the Spirit, poured out on the Church, do not rely on our earning them, or deserving them, or even needing them.  Those disciples huddled in the room that we just heard about in the gospel reading, they were frightened, and grieving, and doubtful, and not expecting Jesus to show up.  But he did.  And he breathed the Spirit onto them, and sent them out to be his witnesses.  And, I don’t know if you remember this from after Easter, but the next week, they were still huddled behind that same locked door with Thomas, when Jesus came back.

My point is, we have no idea if they ever left that room.  This is not exactly the crackerack evangelism team.  Jesus breathes on them, says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”  And they were like, great.  See you next week Jesus.  Right back here behind the same locked door again.  And . . . take note . . . Jesus does come back.  Even though they did nothing, he comes back to them.  Back to Acts . . .

Notice the setup for this reading today:  “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.”  Now I’m guessing here, but I have a hunch they were all together in one place hiding behind a locked door.  And again, they are not out knocking on doors and preaching with bullhorns.  They don’t seem to be doing much of anything.  And still, the Spirit rushes in with all her pyrotechnics, and they are emboldened to proclaim the power of God in languages they have probably never heard, let alone understood.  It is not because of them: it is because of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit.

And the same Spirit who gives trembling Peter the courage to raise his voice and address that crowd, that same Spirit is in this room today, as we gather in Massillon.  You and I were baptized into that same one body, in the same one Spirit.  This same Spirit who gave courage to those disciples gives courage to you and me.  Gives us the strength to speak a word of love.  Gives us encouragement to minister to those around us.  Gives us wisdom to know when to be silent.

We do not expect tongues of fire to descend on our heads this morning.  We do not expect to start speaking in languages that we don’t understand.  But we do expect God to meet us in this place.  We do expect to be fed with the body and blood of Jesus.  And that same one Spirit is still at work in our lives today, guiding us to do more than we know or expect, to go and proclaim God’s deeds of power.  God is still shaping and guiding the Church, through that same Spirit.

Whether you are frightened or bold, grieving or hopeful, doubting or faith-filled, American or Pamphylian, Jesus meets us here today, and says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”


No comments:

Post a Comment