Every Nation Under Heaven
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
June 9, 2019
Main Idea: The Spirit moves us outward.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“In 1927, an astronomer named Georges Lemaître had a big idea. He said that a very long time ago, the universe started as just a single point. He said the universe stretched and expanded to get as big as it is now, and that it could keep on stretching.” (spaceplace.nasa.gov/big-bang/en/) A few years later astronomer Edwin Hubble observed galaxies moving away from us, with those farther away moving faster than those close by. This, along with work from other scientists, led to the Big Bang theory of the universe which proposes that all of the universe began at a single point of great energy, which rapidly expanded and which continues to expand today.
Pentecost is the Big Bang of Christianity. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given as a mighty spark to a small group of people. But the power experienced there among them, did not remain contained there among them. It expanded rapidly to those outside the house, to those throughout Jerusalem, to those throughout the Roman Empire, and to those throughout the world. And the Spirit continues to expand today, leading us to move outward, reaching out to new people and new ministries.
Pentecost is a great festival of the church. The story is so dramatic that it is nearly impossible to tell it without excitement. We are mesmerized by the images of the dramatic wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking of languages. And it is the languages that I want us to think about today. The text tells us the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” These were folks who had migrated to Jerusalem and who likely had not heard their native language in quite some time.
If you have ever been in a place where your language is not the main one, you long to hear your own words and your accents. My sister lived in France for 5 years and she said it was always a thrill to hear English unexpectedly. On the day of Pentecost, these devout Jews were thrilled to hear of God’s love and power in the language of their childhood, of their community, of their dreams.
The languages heard were varied and numerous; 15 different languages not counting Aramaic or Hebrew which would be the native languages of the disciples. The people listening were from a wide variety of places. The current names of these ancient places include Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Libya, Greece, and Saudi Arabia. These people had vastly different experiences, cultures, and concerns. They certainly did not see things all the same way. And yet the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak to each of them in ways that would make sense in their context.
This gift of the Holy Spirit was not simply a parlor trick or a flashy display to get attention. It was given on behalf of the outsiders listening, those who did not speak the language, so that the Big Bang, the expansion of the church could continue.
Some present that day did think it was a parlor trick or that it was just folks who had begun drinking a bit early. But Peter set them straight. This gift, prophesied by the prophet Joel was for everyone, all flesh. No one was excluded from the gift. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the young, old, men, women, slaves, and free would all prophesy, see visions, dream dreams, and know the love of God. The Big Bang, the expansion of God’s Spirit in the world would continue.
This expansion compels us to share God’s love beyond these walls. It empowers us to learn new languages and new ways of thinking so that we might speak to outsiders in ways they understand. This means learning the languages of New Americans so that we might work together. In the past few years we have said good morning in at least 9 different languages (French, Karen, German, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Thai, Nepali) as we welcome those from around the world who come to worship with us. We are so blessed by our Karen brothers and sisters, whose presence enriches our combined community. We may not understand every word of each other’s language but we share joys, concerns, faith, and love while working together in ministry. Our work together is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
To share God’s love beyond these walls means learning to talk about our faith in ways that make sense to those who have not grown up in the church. Recently on Facebook someone asked for a list of Christianese words and she was rewarded with a long list of words that mean something here but nowhere else, such as narthex, chancel, stewardship, tithe, doxology, etc. We can share our experiences of God’s love without the churchy words, and we should! We can look at what we do with an outsider’s eye so that we discover where we may not be as welcoming as we think we are. We can be honest about the church’s failings and admit when we don’t have easy answers. We can let go of nostalgia and make space for new ideas and ministries which may look radically different from what we have done in the past.
To share God’s love beyond these walls means learning from those who understand the church differently than we do. Within the Christian world, there is a wide variety of theologies from Catholic and Orthodox to the incredible spectrum of Protestants; even the Baptist world spans from fundamentalists to progressives. All of us love Jesus. All of us strive to serve God. All of us depend on the Holy Spirit. When we listen to each other and do ministry together, we learn together and our perspectives are widened.
This morning we will physically participate in the Big Bang of Pentecost by stepping out into the world in order to share the love of God outside of this building. Emboldened by the Spirit, we will walk and sing to City Hall Park and once there we will pray for the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in this city, in the various communities in which we live, and in the whole world. Just like the apostles on that Pentecost day long ago, we are inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, which impels us to leave the comfortable confines of the familiar to share the Good News of God’s love with all that we meet. The Holy Spirit is expanding across the world, the universe, enlivening and empowering humanity, in all their myriad languages, to share the God’s love. Today we celebrate this holy power which continues to expand our experience and understanding of God.
Let us pray,
Amazing God, we thank you for your Holy Spirit which fills us, guides us, and empowers us to do your will. Help us to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Open our hearts and broaden our minds so that we can imagine great things for your greater glory. Amen