Before going into the sermon, watch this video called "Pentecost in 2 Minutes" (the link will take you to YouTube, though the video comes from somewhere within the Catholic Church). I played it before preaching, and I make some references to it in the sermon.
“Living Jesus Languages”
Sermon, Year B, Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
©2015 Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
[You may also listen to the sermon]
“Enkindle in us the power of your love.” That's some powerful praying right there. “Fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.” [in case you skipped watching the above video, these words are the final words of the video]
If you pray for nothing else, at least pray to be filled with the spirit of love. Because it's all about love. I've said that many times before. That it’s all about love. That to be a follower of Jesus is to live a life of love, and to trust in God’s love for us. I’ve said that many times. But one thing I haven't said enough is to give credit to the Holy Spirit for that. We don't, I don't, talk about the Spirit. That’s more my fault than anyone else’s. But we should, because it is the Spirit, as the video said, that gives us strength. That helps us. The Spirit is part of God’s power born through us. We can rely on the strength of the Spirit. I like the part in this video where it says, “Sometimes it can be really difficult to be a Christian.” That’s so true. We’re called to make sacrifices, to live in a way that is not always easy or natural or expected by the people around us. So it can be difficult. But the Spirit is there to help.
It was the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that came down on Pentecost with flames like tongues of fire, lighting on peoples’ heads and gave them the power to speak other languages, or to comprehend other languages, so they could understand one another. It brought the people together. It was a communion of all these different people who were there. There were many languages being spoken in Jerusalem during that week, as the Jewish people came to celebrate Pentecost, a holiday which goes back a thousand years or more before Jesus. It was a celebration of the time that God gave Moses the law on the mountaintop. Since then, the Jewish people had moved all over the middle east and the Mediterranean. Of course they then spoke whatever language was common in the countries they were living in. And now they were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost festival. The day that we now call the birth of the church.
So people of all sorts of different languages are gathered there in Jerusalem. Yes, they are all Jewish, but still their languages and their cultures are different. But with the Spirit coming upon them, they understand one another. The Spirit brings them into a community. As I have been thinking of Pentecost, and this scripture, a moment has stood out for me in this text. it’s the part about them being able to understand each other. Understanding each others’ languages that stuck out for me.
I was thinking about language. How we communicate with one another. And wondering in that, What is the language of the Church? What is the language of Jesus?
I think also of how many languages we have in the world. Thousands of them spoken by people all over the world. Think of how many languages we have lost, that no one speaks any more. Plus the languages that are close to coming extinct. Some languages of Pacific islanders are being lost. We almost lost the Hawaiian language. Many of the Native American languages are dwindling and dying. Some European languages, spoken by previously secluded groups, are being lost as we become more mobile and fewer places are as secluded any more.
I had these thoughts about language as I went to the farmer’s market yesterday. That might sound like a terrible or odd segue, but stay with me. It’ll work out. I had an encounter at the farmers market yesterday. If you haven't had a chance to get down there yet this year, you might not know there's a new baker that comes from Elk Mound [this link goes to their facebook page]. He has incredible breads and cookies. I bought a rye bread a couple weeks ago and it was amazing. Also tried a cookie, an oatmeal caramel raisin or cranberry that was delicious.
So I went back to the guy because I wanted another loaf. I got there about 11 o’clock or so, and he was already almost out of everything. Just a couple loaves left. So I asked him, “Do you have a rye bread left?” And he said yes, handed me the loaf, and said “Have a good day.” That was it. I must have looked puzzled, because he said, “That’s for you. Have a good day.”
Because I'm a Christian, a pastor, a follower of Jesus, I'm interested in acts of generosity. Why is this guy giving me the bread? So I asked him this incredibly coherent and beautiful question about generosity I looked at him and said, “Wha... huh?” He said I follow the loaves and fishes model of Jesus who had the five loaves and two fish and fed thousands of people with them. [I didn't know then, but found out as I searched for the above link, that the name of his bakery is, in fact, "5 Loaves and 2 Fish Bakery" <-- same link to their facebook page as above, for your convenience]
Because of that, he said, “I always give away the last five loaves. So that one is for you.”
Then I told him I am a pastor, and we had a good conversation about faith and life.
“I always give away the last five loaves.”
And I can't remember if he said it was a gift back to God, or his neighbors, or the world. Doesn't really matter. But I was so struck by someone so willing to take their faith outside the walls of the church. To take his faith outside the walls of the church, and especially that he would take his faith with him into his career, into his business. Take his being a follower of Jesus into a lot of his life. THAT is listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work through you!
As a pastor, that really warms my heart and it excites me whenever I see someone doing things outside these walls, simply because of our faith. “I do this because Jesus asks me to do it” or “because Jesus modeled it for me.” To take the experiences they have at church, and what they have read in scripture, and make that kind of application to their life outside that one hour of worship. That's exciting! That’s what makes pastors smile!
So there is a language there. This is the link in that terrible segue. The link between Spirit and language. The Holy Spirit here has empowered this man to be willing to give away some of what he has made because he knows life is more than just profit. It is sharing and generosity.
What it said to me about language came to me after he’d done this. That is that there is a shared language to humanity. We have our spoken ones, French and German and English and etc., but we have a shared language as well that is not words, but action. The language of kindness, the language of generosity. the language of compassion. These are the only languages that everyone in the world can understand.
I thought of how much of Jesus's ministry was done through that language. He spoke Aramaic more than likely, maybe he knew Greek, maybe not. He definitely used words to teach. But most of his ministry was done through the language of compassion, and caring, and listening to people. Kindness. I think one could imagine Jesus’ ministry, his three years or so of ministry, being done in silence. Because it was so action-based. Not just dumping words on people to tell who they should be or what they should, but listening to them say who they are, and offering them acts of generosity and kindness. All without needing recourse to words.
On Pentecost they all understood each other. No matter where they came from, they all understood each other.
And there's no reason that couldn’t happen again. Because we humans have this common language that we understand that is not of words, but that is the language of sharing. The language of being in relationship with one another.
When I was in Japan a couple years ago in Matsuyama. It was a very hot and humid day. Yuki had gone to work, and I went out in the afternoon to walk around. I was taking a little break on a bench [this bench, in front of a music store; google street view is amazing], probably reading a book. As I sat, an older Japanese woman walked by me. She looked at me, and we made eye contact, smiled. There’s a shared language! A smile and eye contact. To recognize each other. Then she went on, and I went back to reading. A couple minutes later, she came back with a kind of popsicle with her. A refreshing, frozen, cold popsicle. I don’t speak Japanese other than to say “Thank you” and be somewhat gracious. There was no way I could have asked her why she did this or what it was for. But I could tell in her actions, and in her face, she gave this to me because she saw me and thought, “Wow, he looks hot.” Not beautiful hot, but temperature hot. And she probably thought, “This guy could use this icy little treat.” So she gave it to me. A shared language of sharing. We had no words we could say to each other except thank you. But we connected. There was a human connection there.
I think of that baker yesterday who could have told me about Jesus until he was blue in the face. Using his words to talk about Jesus for hours and he never would have said as much about who Jesus is, or what this man’s faith means to him, as he did when he handed me the loaf of bread.
Don’t tell me about Jesus, be Jesus. Be Jesus for me. Be Jesus for others.
The baker I encountered could have told me about Jesus six ways to Sunday, till the cows came home, till he was blue in the face, choose whatever homespun colloquialism you like, and he you never would have said as much about Jesus, or cited as well, as he did when he handed me a loaf of bread. Don't tell me about Jesus, be Jesus for me.
In our street ministry, we don't go down there to tell people about Jesus. They don’t need to hear from us about Jesus. That’s not helpful to them. It’s even obnoxious. So we don’t go there to tell them about Jesus, we go there to be Jesus for them. And to allow them to be Jesus for us. That’s important, that power equality, that we are Jesus for each other. They don’t need to listen to us, we need to listen to them. Their spirituality is already way up. We have much to learn from them.
Which means not going there with an agenda to fix them, or pile our baggage on them, but to allow the Holy Spirit to move between us. And as it moves between us, in the human language, the godly language, of compassion, of listening to one another, of sharing with one another, we make room for that holy moment when the Spirit comes and we understand each other and become one. Powerful moments, when we get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit build community.
I was down outside Sojourners Friday night with some others working the street ministry. A woman had come early on and mentioned that she wanted a cigarette, and was hoping some others would come soon so she could get one. Then she left, and later on when a larger group was there she came back. She walked up to a woman, probably had bought a cigarette from her before, and asked if she could buy a cigarette off her. The other woman didn't have any. She did have some tobacco for handrolling, though she had no papers. Another woman heard and said, “I have some rolling papers, but no tobacco” The first woman says, “I don't know how to roll a cigarette.” The other two said, “We'll show you.” So they sat down on the pavement on the parking lot there, these three women. They formed a circle, an intimate circle, a trinity of women, as opened the pouch of tobacco, the other opened up the rolling papers, and as they taught the first woman how to roll a cigarette. Then they sat there, in communion with one another, for a few minutes sharing of one another and sharing a moment. Don’t need bread and wine for communion, just kindness and love toward one another.
They formed this beautiful little community, right there, in a parking lot outside a homeless shelter sharing a time to smoke. It just doesn't get any more Pentecostal than that. That’s the moment. They all understood each others’ language because they were speaking the language of grace. The language of kindness. The language of generosity. The language of love.