The Language of God?
...Each one heard their own language being spoken... ...Each one heard their own language... ...Each one heard...
Our scripture lesson today tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost... the Spiritual, empowering, indwelling presence of God promised by Christ Himself... and the life altering experience it was for those present...
I recently read where, it’s the custom, the tradition, in some churches, to have the scripture we’ve heard this morning, read simultaneously in multiple languages! Which sounds interesting... I’d imagine, depending on the linguistic abilities of the congregation... some may read “out-loud” in Spanish, some in German or French!
The idea, of course, is to remind everyone of the Day of Pentecost, when people “from every nation under heaven” heard the disciples proclaiming the Good News “in their own language.” Of course, the only problem with such a plan is the inability of everyone in the Sanctuary to clearly understand what’s being read! It would seem like garbled nonsense to hear everyone reading/speaking in different languages... which is surely the point. I’m sure most of us remember the story of the Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis (Ch. 11): it’s essentially a story of pride and arrogance... as the created (humans) tried to reach the heavens in-and-of their own power and ability... which didn’t sit very well with God. God didn’t create us to “go it alone” or to seek autonomy (or independence) from him. So God confused their languages... so that independent human understanding and cooperation would be difficult at best... And the fact is... it’s still hard to communicate and cooperate in our world today. If you’ve ever traveled to another country... you know first-hand how difficult it can be to simply talk to another person, when you don’t speak the language.
In 1995, I traveled with a mission group to the Republic of Panama and Costa Rica... where everyone speaks... Spanish... and I don’t! Fortunately our group had a translator... a living, breathing person... who served as an interpreter... Because, it doesn’t matter what language you’re speaking if the person hearing can’t understand what you’re saying, your communication’s pointless!
Which reminds me... now I’m not sure if it’s true, but I read once that the Pope (Pope Francis) is one of the most learned men in the world... that he knows 7 different languages... he can read and understand 7 different languages, fluently! I don’t even know English fluently! But I do know... and can tell you with absolute certainty... that he may know 7 different languages... but he can only speak one language at a time! Any more than that, if it were even possible... would sound like nonsense... babbling.
Which, honestly, we’re kinda used to babbling! We live in a world filled with Babbling... voices are coming at us from every conceivable angle, or point of view. You can hardly watch the news these days for all the “talking-over” one another that’s going on. Most are shouting, trying to drown-out the rest... and in the end, no one is heard.
It seems, to me, that what can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. But if the Story of Babel is anything at all... it’s an apt description of the human condition itself. We often fail to understand one another even when we speak the same language. At Pentecost, the Spirit of God came down upon the disciples, resting on each of them... giving the disciples and everyone present... a lesson in the language of God.
At that moment... the greatest barriers between us... like language and culture, wealth and poverty, even ethnicity and nationality... we’re declared pointless, meaningless, unnecessary with “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” Of course, that’s what was supposed to have taken place at Pentecost. So, how come we still fail to understand each other? Why doesn’t everyone speak the same language? Or at least understand the world in the same way? Is the promise of Pentecost hollow and without meaning? Good questions. What happened at Pentecost is important to who we are as followers of Christ, but the reality of Pentecost is it for everyone. The disciples were not just speaking to Galileans (like themselves), but to all peoples... God fearing Jews from all over the known world! And what they said made sense. What the disciples communicated was understood... it was heard... despite the differences of languages among the crowd...
You know, maybe the greatest miracle of Pentecost is that the people gathered in Jerusalem heard the disciples at all amid the drumming of the city and the bustle of their own lives.
But hear they did, each of them comprehending the message of the Gospel not only in Aramaic or Hebrew or Greek, but in the language of God. The language of the Spirit...
Of course... some say God’s language is love... and to a certain degree I’d immediately agree! But, the problem is... Love is an emotion... and we have so many different ideas about what “love” is and what it means to “love” that we often fail to understand such language. We distort love. We stretch it parameters; saying that in order to love someone you have to accept that person... you have to accept their behavior. Which is foolishness. You and I can love, and show love, to a drug addicted or alcoholic spouse, or child, or stranger... while never accepting their behavior as being healthy or beneficial. And that’s just one example!
Others say God’s language is peace, harmony, unity. But how? God himself gives examples of times when, unity for the sake of unity can be harmful. God’s Word says there are times to separate... times to “come out from among” those who fail to follow God’s will and ways. (2 Cor. 6:17) Jesus Himself said, “Do not think I came to bring peace... but a sword...” (Matthew 10:34) Division even within families. So what is God’s language or the language of the Spirit?
God’s language is the language of Truth! Truth with a capital “T”. Not “a truth” but “The Truth” - as defined and offered in God’s Word. God’s Word is Truth.
It’s why we, as people of Reformed Faith, say we believe in “Scripture alone... by faith alone... through grace alone... in Christ alone... to the Glory of God alone.”
God’s Word... God’s language... comes to us as Truth... and when we hear that Truth... and when we come to believe that Truth... we can come to understand and know the language of the Spirit. So if our lives and our world often seem to be filled with more babble than Bible, maybe it’s because we’re not taking the time to listen for the only voice that really matters. Maybe we haven’t learned the language of the Spirit.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to pay more attention to the Truth of God’s Word...
After all... it’s the Truth of God’s Word that leads us to real peace, to lasting unity... to true love... and eternal salvation. Amen.