A homily for the Feast of Pentecost: Acts 2.1-21 & John 14.8-17
It’s the Feast of Pentecost, and not surprisingly we hear this morning the remarkable reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they begin to speak in other languages. Of course, those who hear the noise are bewildered, and they go and see what has happened. To their astonishment, each one of them hears the disciples speaking in their own native language, and telling them about God’s deeds of power.
Although on some level, this means that everyone is able to understand what the disciples are saying, not everyone does fully comprehend: some sneer and accuse Jesus’ followers of being drunk. This raises the question about which I would briefly like to think this morning: “what do we need to understand?” From our reading we gather that being addressed in our native tongue alone is not enough, so what else do we need? To answer this question, I would like to look at our reading this morning in two metaphorical ways, two additional layers of meaning without intending to deny the reading of the events as historical.
Although it is not enough, it is of course a good starting point to be spoken to in a language that is not completely unfamiliar to us. The level of sophistication of the common language between messenger and recipient will depend on the complexity of the message. No matter where we find ourselves, we will probably be able to tell people that we’re in pain or danger, or maybe even give directions. However, if I was asked to explain the rules of tennis in Russian, I wouldn’t know where to start.
So maybe one message which we can extract from the fact that everyone hears in their own language is that the language of God, the language of love, is universal: we don’t need a sophisticated language system to convey a message of love. This insight is as relevant for the Church today as it was for the first gathering of the Church on the day of Pentecost: our actions speak louder of God than any doctrine, and Jesus himself was maybe the best example of this. However, that still hasn’t given us an answer to the question what we need to understand a message.
Communication is a two-way process, and so let us turn from the messenger to the recipient. I guess that some of those who accused the disciples of being drunk may not have really wanted to understand the message. No matter how inspiring or passionate those are who speak, if the listener does not want to hear, the message will be lost. Also this observation is as relevant for us now as it has ever been.
For some people the tragedy of life seems to be the inability to understand the message of love. I have met some people who just did not seem able to hear that they were loved, appreciated and respected. Whether it was through their experience or personality, their lack of self-esteem seemed to deafen them to any encouragement, any hope of love.
However, for many of us, there will have been times when we did not want to listen; when we did not want to understand. The Spirit given to the disciples is the spirit of truth, and I think most, if not all, of us, have been in a situation when we did not want to hear the truth. It may have been too painful, too embarrassing or too costly to admit that we were wrong and to hear the truth. Maybe it is at those times that we need to remind ourselves that the spirit of truth is also the spirit of hope, the advocate, the comforter.
Pentecost is the day on which the disciples not only received the Holy Spirit, but also committed to keep the message of Christ alive: the foundation of the Church. It is also an opportunity for each of us to renew our commitment to the promises we made, at our baptism, confirmation or ordination: the promise to keep the story of God alive. So we see that there are two things to which we need to commit if we want to do this: to speak the universal language of love – by actions rather than words –, and to listen to the truth, not matter how difficult this may be. That is what makes us disciples, that is the promise we have been given, and that is the promise we have made.
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation
the way of life eternal:
open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.