May 27, 2020
This is a re-post of a sermon preached in 2018 and recorded in 2019.
When the Spirit is poured out in the Acts reading, the disciples begin to speak in other languages. The Jewish people gathered from all around the world for the Festival, probably spoke common Greek and they all would have known a little Hebrew, but their day to day language would have been the one from their local area. They would have spoken this in their homes. When they thought about and spoke to those they loved that would be their language. The miracle of the Spirit on that first Pentecost and even today is that God through the Spirit speaks the language of the heart. When the Spirit was first poured out until this very day we hear and have revealed to us the wonderful works of God in our heart language!
Imagine for a moment that you are a fifth generation Australian, but you live and work in China, you speak fluent Chinese, but at home with your family you speak English with an Australian accent. You attend a local Chinese church. All of a sudden one Sunday after church you hear a preacher on a street corner and he’s not Chinese, He’s speaking about Jesus and God’s love in English with a clear Australian accent. What would it mean to hear your faith expressed in the language of your heart, the language of your birth.
God is with us and speaks to us in a way which grips us and transforms us. Gripped by that love, like Peter and the disciples we too should share the wonderful works of God in the power of the Spirit.
Lord, we are so grateful that you speak the language of the heart and give us the words we need for ourselves and for others in times of need and times of celebration. In Jesus Name. Amen.
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At the start of acts Jesus says
to the Disciples that he is returning to the Father and that when
he goes he will send a helper the power from on high who will
enable the disciples to be witnesses to Jesus from Jerusalem to the
ends of the earth.
A little later we hear that 120 believers including some women are gathered together. We know that some disciples like Matthew and Joseph of Arimethea were wealthy men, there were fishermen, at least one revolutionary Simon the Zealot, and many others from many walks of life.
I want to be a tiny bit controversial here. I believe that miracles can happen, that God can intervene in ways that do not seem to be naturally possible. So when I have heard today’s story from Acts 2 I have generally taken for granted that what is recorded there happened more or less as it is portrayed. There are other people however who look at the things that Luke writes about in Acts and in Luke’s Gospel and comes to the conclusion that the story in Acts reflects the real experience of God gripping and transforming people’s lives but that it is not necessarily meant to be one specific event, but a telling of what God’s Spirit did in the lives of the believers. In other words some Bible scholars would argue that the events on the day of Pentecost did not happen exactly as they are described but instead they are like a parable which tells us what the Holy Spirit, God and the church are like.
Luke in his Gospel and in the book of Acts tells the story about Jesus and how his message and salvation began in Bethlehem and ended up spreading through most of the Roman Empire. In today’s reading Jewish people from all over the Roman Empire have gathered for Pentecost. Pentecost is a harvest festival and it was one of three festivals which asked Jewish believers to travel to the temple. In the story we heard Jews had gathered for this festival and they had come not only from Israel they had come from all over the known world. Hear the words from our reading. Acts 2:9–11 (CEV)
9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11 Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.
It is likely that people from these backgrounds would have gathered for the festival. The Jewish people had been scattered far and wide for hundreds of years, and so they spoke many languages and among them devout believers would try during their life time to travel to Jerusalem for the major festivals like Pentecost. In the story we heard from Acts these people witness a miracle. The disciples who between them probably only spoke a few languages suddenly able to tell this new and strange message about God’s salvation being revealed in the life death and resurrection of Jesus in their own language, in the language they spoke at home. Imagine for a moment that you are a fifth generation Australian, but you live and work in China, you speak fluent Chinese, but at home with your family you speak English with an Australian accent. You attend a local Chinese church. All of a sudden one Sunday after church you hear a preacher on a street corner and he’s not Chinese, He’s speaking about Jesus and God’s love in English with a clear Australian accent. What would it mean to hear your faith expressed in the language of your heart, the language of your birth.
Those who argue that the story of the first Pentecost was not a literal event are saying that there was no miracle of people speaking languages they did not know. They are also saying that it may not be true that 3 000 were converted on one day. They are saying that Luke is telling this story to tell us that the message about Jesus crosses boundaries and speaks to people’s hearts, to the core of their being. They are saying that the message about Jesus even crosses cultural barriers, and that God speaks to the heart of people who are very different to ourselves.
Now for those of us who believe that miracles can happen, this story could well be quite literally true, BUT that message that the Love of God revealed in Jesus speaks in the language of our hearts that God speaks to our core being is I believe the core message of this Bible story, because within 20-30 years of the first Easter and the firs Pentecost the story of Jesus had begun a movement which had spread throughout more than half of the Roman Empire and today it is the largest religion with well over a billion people across the globe naming themselves as Christian.
Whether 3000 people heard that message in their own tongue that day and were instantly converted, or not, well over 3, 000 people in that year or so of the church’s life did hear that message and they were converted and the church is now represented on every continent on earth.
You see God is present to people and God speaks the language of our heart. To illustrate this I want to tell a personal story. In the winter of 2004 in Clermont, I remember being at a very low ebb. Indeed on this day I was in tears. My Father had recently died and my girl friend had even more recently dumped me. I was sitting in my office in tears and I went to the front door and found there a parcel. In that parcel there was a number of things. There was a warm woolly hat. There were a couple of paintings by the children of a friend of mine. There was a note or card to say that my friends and their children were praying and thinking of me and there were some melting moments. As touching as the note, and the pictures and the hat were it was the short bread buiscuits that really go to me. I love shortbread and what also touched me was the timing. My friends knew that my father had died. I don’t know whether they knew that I had recently been dumped by my girlfriend, or that I like shortbread but they certainly couldn’t have known that, that morning I was in tears, and even if they had they could not have arranged for Australia Post to deliver the parcel on the right day and for me to find it at just the right time. There was nothing magical about it and yet it was a miracle. God spoke to my heart, to my core and said I am with you. That day I had high school RE and I took my present and like Peter and the Disciples I told the story of the deed of God’s power and love that had just happened in my life.
When Luke speaks of the coming of the Spirit, this is a big part of what he is describing. God is with us and speaks to us in a way which grips us and transforms us, speaks to us in our language, in our terms. Moreover for Luke the Spirit calls and empowers not just men but also women, of all classes and backgrounds to be witnesses to this Good News of forgiveness, love and salvation in Jesus. For God can and will speak through tax collector, and fishermen, revolutionaries and women of ill repute, through the educated and wise and through the untutored and the simple and God can and has and will speak through you, to hearts of others to their inner being. The day of Pentecost when through the Spirit God spoke to the hearts of men and women in their own language and transformed their lives is not just a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present and the future too. We are witnesses to these things.