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The God Who Speaks Our Language

Acts 2:1-4   Steve Schantz

    When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

A precocious group of young teens looked forward to coming together in one place to square off with these words:  Auslaut. Erysipelas. Bougainvillea. Aiguillette. Pendeloque. Palama. Cernuous. Odylic.  While most of us are doing a google word search, these eighth graders in the Scripps Spelling Bee would be going for the gold! (I took a stab at Bougainvillea but left out the first ‘i’ – Bzzzzzzzz… “Incorrect Schantz- sit down.”)  Like many other public events, this year’s National tournament scheduled for the last week of May had to be cancelled due to Covid.

     At the 2019 competition this National event boasted eight co-champions.  It’s interesting to note that seven of them were Indian Americans.

In fact, for the past 12 years a South-Asian American has come out on top in the Scripps contest. Why the extraordinary success?  It can’t just be in the water, nor just the DNA, although a nurturing family of origin is certainly a major factor.  Recent Model Minority studies push back against over simplified explanations such as, “Educational opportunities being equal, they just work harder to achieve the results.”  It’s true that many immigrants to the United States from South Asia are well-educated, success-driven professionals who want to instill in their children values like dedication, hard work, and how to handle oneself in defeat or success.  They have lived in a culture that affirms the value of family. They work together as a family unit and strive to create a bond between parent and child.  Spelling becomes a family sport.  Children look to their parents as role models and coaches, and their siblings often help out as assistant coaches.  But another factor also influences their knowledgeable vocabulary.  Many of these families are multilingual, which helps in facility with spelling.

Languages are made up of words – symbols with attached meaning.  Without these symbols, loaning a book to a friend and asking him to return it might sound like this: “I want that small item on your shelf that you borrowed from me with a title, cover, table of contents, numbered pages which have information and story printed on them written by my favorite author.”   But because words carry with them a commonly understood symbolic meaning with nuance to a specific group of people at a particular time in history, we are able to say, “I’d like my book back.”

The world hasn’t had one unified language since a time shortly after the flood.  You may remember from Genesis chapter 11 the story of the tower of Babel.  A one languaged people built a tower to reach to the heavens.  Filled with ego and pride, they used the incredible gift of human intellect and communication to replace their creator.  They saw God as an unnecessary player in achieving a manmade success, unity, and purpose.  So God confused their language, (perhaps to slow man’s own progress towards self-destruction?)  Try to imagine a hydrogen bomb in the hands of Genghis Khan!  And our world remains thankful to this day that nuclear technology was just barely out of Adolf Hitler’s reach in the early 1940’s.  But God’s intent for His people is a new identity and a new kind of unity brought to us in Christ through His incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension!

That first Pentecost probably took place in one of the temple courtyards, which would have been like an airport on a Jewish high day.  Reading again from Acts 2:2, the sound of a mighty rushing wind, (pneuma in the Greek), came over them.  This ‘breath’ carries meaning that reaches back to the breath/Spirit of God hovering over the waters and bringing about the physical creation of our world.  This new wind of God’s activity is recreating man, born of the Spirit, molded into a new man who is growing up into the stature of Christ.  Our comforter, helper, advocate, and divine power and presence has come.

The Holy Spirit empowers Christians to progress in our spiritual lives. Far too many Christians find themselves on a spiritual treadmill. They’re working up a sweat with religious activities but remain in the same place spiritually.  If your life seems powerless, check your connection with the Holy Spirit. The New Testament writers were so tuned to the Holy Spirit that they were able to write their Gospels and letters three to six decades after Christ’s death. The Holy Spirit— the Helper—empowered them to remember.

We are able to run the race with joy that has been set before us with this incredible blessing of wind assistance!  For those familiar with running, having the wind at your back can change the impossible into the possible.  Obadele Thomson ran a 100 meter race in 9.69 seconds in April 1996 in El Paso Texas. He broke all known records at that distance in that moment, but it couldn’t be recorded as a world record because a tail wind of over 7 miles per hour was behind him.  A world record time can only be recorded for a sprinter if the wind assistance is less than two and ½ meters per second. (A little over 4 mph.)  If there is a tailwind greater than that, a first place finisher will still get credit for the win and his time, but that time can’t be recorded as a world record.

In Acts chapter 2, each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Different languages, different dialects, a cacophony of different human sounds. And suddenly there is the sound of one message in many languages. They begin to hear the gospel of Christ meeting them right there where they are.  The miracle of Pentecost is that, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on earth, God opened the ears of all so that everyone could hear God speaking to them. Not one was excluded. Each one could say, “God is speaking my language.” Each one could see themselves as part of God’s widening circle, part of the growing momentum toward the only and ultimate reunion of humankind made possible in Christ. All could see themselves as fulfilling God’s promise: old and young, men and women, slave and free—all shall see visions and dream dreams. God’s Holy Spirit comes upon all God’s servants. Christ has kept his promise and continues to be with his disciples in a new and powerful way!

John 14:16  “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…”

That’s the Good News of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus. It’s a ministry of salvation, a ministry of hope, a ministry of renewal and refreshment. Jesus is in heaven, but his ministry empowered by the Spirit continues through Peter, John, Thomas, Paul, and to this very day.  Jesus’ ministry continues through young men who dream dreams and sons and daughters who see visions. It continues through prayer warriors and worship leaders, through school teachers, and van drivers, doctors and nurses, accountants and Disney characters.  It continues through school crossing guards and church treasurers and auto mechanics, piano teachers and hair dressers.  Through engineers, and salespersons, retired equipment operators, air conditioning service techs, and insurance salesman.  It continues with a Christian couple sharing their faith with a neighbor, and a housewife listening to the plight of her friend. It continues when a child gives a Christmas gift to another child who has gone without, and when a person donates one of his kidneys to someone who needs it. Jesus’ ministry continues through all of God’s people who receive the Spirit of prophecy from assembly lines to the shopping malls.  A new era has been ushered in. It’s an era of grace and salvation, of mission and evangelism.   How badly our world needs to speak the language Jesus’ has given us!

The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God. – Francis Chan

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