When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
To hear one's native language in a sea of foreign words and experiences is such an immense feeling it is difficult to describe what it is like. My senior year of college I ventured to Rome to visit a friend studying there for the semester. After experiencing Florence and its homage to the vast artistic history of humanity, we traveled via train to the seaside city of Naples. From there we were to take a ferry to Capri. We had tickets and we had maps. We were experienced travelers and felt that this was a simple enough journey. Men plan, God laughs.
Our train dropped us in Naples just as the afternoon stretch where shops close and Italians generally take to their homes for a rest from the heat of the day. Thus we found ourselves picking our way to the docks so we could find our ferry. For over an hour we roamed through what was the commercial and industrial docks looking for the tourist ferries. No one was in sight. Finally, as our exhaustion and hunger caught up with us, we heard voices. That alone was enough for us to cheer up and begin searching out the people that went with the voices. Finally we discerned the language they were speaking. It was English! American English! We practically ran at full tilt towards this middle aged couple. I'm sure the band of three bedraggled college students rushing them was a sight.
Providentially, not only were they English speakers with a clue as to what we needed to do, but the woman was actually my friend's advisor in the very university we all attended. Somehow in the midst of Napoli's docks, we not only found English speakers, but a couple from our very own town.
That sense of relief, belonging, and acceptance that is based on nothing else than hearing words you understand when you expected to be mystified will never leave me. When I hear the words of Acts in this Pentecost reading, I can understand the amazement and wonder of the people listening to the disciples.
As I was listening to our associate pastor's homily, I began to question myself and my ministries. When the kids come to our youth ministry events, when the adults come to Theology on Tap or Ya2acht Club, do they feel that sense of acceptance and belonging. Does the language I use make sense to them? Any profession, ministry, military, government, medicine, teaching, has a nomenclature. Am I careful to make sure what I say can make sense and touch the souls of others?
Furthermore, Pentecost is a moment when God spoke to all of us. Through the mouths of the disciples he was able to show his glory, his compassion, and greatness. The truly universal message of the Good News was directly related to each individual in the crowd. Do my actions show that same universal love of God? Do my own words and actions testify to the presence of Truth? Do they speak of compassion, understanding, and acceptance?