Pentectost C 2010
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-17
St. Luke’s, Burlington
22 May 2010
By Stuart Pike
Airports are one of my favourite places. Being a traveler at heart, airports represent, all at once, a thousand different destinations. The other thing which I like to do at airports is to see and hear people who have arrived from all those destinations. Some of them are en route to other places. All their lives and mine have intersected at this one place. I am always impressed by the number of different languages which I hear. And language is another of my interests. Sometimes at a busy international airport I’ll let my eyes close and simply listen to the sounds of many languages.
Each language has its idiosyncrasies and characteristics. I’ve learned a few languages and have dabbled in a few others. At an airport I like to listen to some languages which almost sound like singing - like some of the Asian languages. I went to Spain to learn Spanish and all twenty of us Canadians were billeted with different Spanish families who couldn’t speak English. I remember some of the young women saying that their hosts always seemed to be yelling at each other, and meanwhile, they were just wishing each other good morning. It’s a loud and emotive language!
The Italians have the advantage of sounding romantic and melodious and also speaking with their hands.
Zucchina alla Griglia
Zuppa del Giorno
Penne Cana Mia
Vitello Involtini Portabello
It sounds amazing even when you don’t know Italian and are simply reading a menu!
I love to hear the guttural and percussive languages like German and Hebrew and the consonant-rich, vowel-poor Slavic languages. In Russian there is a single letter which can only be transliterated by four of our letters called “shcha.”
At airports, you are treated to a cacophony of different languages and every single noise is transmitting meaning from one person to another.
I think I love languages so much because I have this innate need to find meaning. I want to understand people - I want to know how different cultures tick. And there are some ideas and images and emotions which simply cannot be translated - they have to be experienced within another language. I think many people share this need for meaning and understanding.
Of course, even though I appreciate the sounds and marvel at the variety of languages which there are at a place like an airport, languages can also represent a great division between people. Having been an English-speaking person living in Quebec I know just how true this can be. Wars are most often fought between speakers of different languages! I might like the many sounds of different languages, but without understanding, it is really just so much noise.
We know about this division, for even when we do speak the same language, we might as well not if we don’t understand each other. That is why, for example, a young person might complain to a friend about their own parents saying, “We just don’t speak the same language.”
It is so amazing how when divine things are happening, we are presented with surprising reversals. Our world is turned topsy-turvy. Things turn out to be opposite to what we would expect. And so it is in today’s reading from Acts. Humble, confused and scared fisherman become courageous proclaimers of the good news of Jesus to people far and wide. What is closed is now opened. And the clamour of different races and nationalities is filled with meaning and understanding!
The scene opens with the Disciples once again all congregated together behind closed doors. They’ve been doing this a lot recently. Perhaps they feel more secure in numbers and away from the crowds. Also, being together, they are giving each other support and are experiencing the solace of praying together. They are waiting for the promise which Jesus gave to them ten days earlier as he ascended away from them into heaven. Something about an advocate or comforter which Jesus would send them.
Then there is the sound of rushing wind inside this closed-up house. The description is typical of a spiritual experience - which can only be approximated by the use of language. We can’t over-analyze it. We’ll not understand exactly what happened and how. The spirit arrived in swirling wind and fire and is just as unpredictable as those two elements. And the Disciples are changed! Doors and windows are flung open and the miraculous noise brings all those foreigners together and the barriers of language dissolve.
The scene is an opposite to the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, different languages divide people who are trying to put themselves in the place of God. Division is created and the people are scattered and isolated by their differences.
At Pentecost, all of this division and misunderstanding is undone. People are gathered together instead of scattered. And the Church is born.
This lesson poses several questions to us, the Church of today.
What are the “languages” or barriers which separate people in our community today? In which ways is our religious language, with which we are so familiar, simply not understood by the people outside our doors? How can we be enlivened and given the courage to fling open our windows and doors and attract those around us to hear the Good News of Jesus? How can we speak to our youth, or young families? How can we welcome people who are different from us? And how can we reach across the barriers of religious upbringing, economic class, ethnicity, generation gaps and simple personality differences which can divide us?
Somehow the answer to all of these questions will have to do with the Spirit which changed those disciples over 2000 years ago.
And here is another astonishing reversal: despite the rush and noise of that Pentecost experience, I think the spirit is often first felt in great silence. The 16th century mystic, St. John of the Cross wrote that “Silence is God’s first language.” The spirit can be nurtured in us in the silence and the simplicity of spiritual practices. I think that is what those disciples were practicing in those days before Pentecost, when they were waiting for Jesus’ promise.
I believe the challenge to us and to the wider Church is to find our centre once again in spiritual prayer: to learn how to pray again: to ground ourselves in divine things. And as God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” And, being transformed by our spiritual experiences, we will once again be able to speak a language full of joy and power and Good News, which will be understood.
There is a risk to all of this. Once the Spirit starts, there is no telling exactly where you will be led. You will be directed and moved by the swirl of Wind and Fire. Will you take up the challenge of Acts and dare to be transformed? Amen.