The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is Acts 2:1-21
For some of the thoughts that are going into this weeks sermon see also this column I wrote for the May 21 paper.
Early Thoughts: Language matters. If you have ever been in a place where you do not understand the language you know how much it matters. If people have tried to explain something to you using terms that you do not understand you know that language matters. We all want a chance to hear important things in language that we understand, in words that mean something to us.
One of the beautiful parts of the Pentecost story, in my opinion, is that everybody is able to hear the Gospel in their own language. I am not going to get into a discussion of how (or if) it actually happened. I am going to accept that it did, and that this is a beautiful statement about God caring for the needs of God's people.
In my first year at seminary a fellow student was recalling a discussion she had in a University English class. The instructor asked who spoke with an accent. The student named that she did, which confused everyone else because she didn't appear to. But the student explained that they all spoke (and wrote and heard and read) with an accent. Even if the words were are pronounced the same they may carry different meanings based on our own personal accent, how we have been shaped by the world.
When we refuse to use language that the other can understand we are making a statement. Same thing happens in reverse. When we refuse to allow others to use language with which they are comfortable we make a statement. Same thing is true in reverse. More than once I have heard people complain about folk talking amongst themselves and the person overhearing is upset because they don't understand the language. Most often in that situation the complainer has been someone from the dominant culture insisting that "they" must speak "properly" (usually this has to do with English vs. non-English in my experience, but I have also seen it in a cross-generational context and different slang/idioms).
Language matters. Being allowed to hear and speak the form of language that brings you comfort matters.
Another example comes to mind. How many adults have grown impatient because a child in their care did something that "they knew better"? I suspect almost all of us have done that. How many times have we asked why and found out that while we thought we were clear, the message did not get across for some reason? Maybe we used the wrong words. Maybe we used concepts the other did not understand. Maybe we used shorthand of some sort and assumed the other knew what we meant. Language matters.
Acts 2 tells us that God knows how much language matters. Acts 2 reminds us that to actually communicate we need to take time to translate -- sometimes into a whole other language, sometimes into a different form of the same language.
What language do we need to use to spread the Good News today?