Back in our seminary days – a long way back, there was a new wave of the urge to speak in tongues.
A few years into the ministry, two church members came to the parsonage with the intention of helping me be caught up in a trance that would pull me out of myself, releasing me to let out strange sounds of ecstasy beyond human expressions of joy,
identified as speaking in tongues.
They prayed and prayed, then stopped and looked at me – nothing had happened.
Then one man prayed himself into a trance and began to utter
strange words; when he stopped, he asked what I had heard.
I said it sounded like an indisguisable mix of Middle East languages, too confusing to understand.
At midnight, after five hours of trying, I confessed it was hard for me to learn to speak another language, maybe read, yes, but speak, no.
“I guess,” I said, “this proves that I would flunk the course on the language you are trying to teach me to speak.”
With that confession, they gave up and went home.
On this Sunday, when the calendar of the Christian year brings us to the Festival of Pentecost, we witness the after-Easter followers of Jesus, waiting in Jerusalem, as their crucified and risen Lord has ordered them. There, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
“Take a deep breath” to have enough breath to name all who are reported to have heard them speaking:
“Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.”
Say those names and realize it is a strange mix of Jews who had moved away or settled after being carried off in exile; some had only a memory of a long gone past, like the Medes who had not existed as a distinct ethnic group for 500 years.
What Jacob Myers, (Assistant Professor of Homiletics Columbia Theological Seminary Atlanta, Ga.) calls “Luke’s wonky list of Pentecostal observers.” Listen, hear them say what amazed and astonished them,
“…in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Listen and hear Jesus’ promise being fulfilled:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and … declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All nations – past, present, and future, hearing in their own languages, all understanding that each was declaring to the other “God’s deeds of power.”
How different from that long night in a parsonage, when a man was praying his way into a trance that would lift me up, out of the room, away from everyone else, into speaking a strange language not heard on earth!
The difference seen and heard in that upper room where the multi-language, after Easter followers of Jesus crowded together in a very-down-to-earth place, where, suddenly they found themselves not just hearing but speaking to one another about the wondrous works of God,
and being heard by many people of many languages from many places, all feeling a God-given breath being poured into them.
Like Ezekiel’s vision, they were seeing their dry-bones of faith, coming to life to take on the life of Christ,
they were seeing themselves being knit together into parts, into members, of His Body.
Different languages, all speaking, all living, all being their own, unique translation of the love of God in Christ, now in them,
each and all being a witness – as Jesus had promised, the Spirit of truth… will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
“Take a deep breath” that in Madeleine L’Engle’s words drives out the “ultimate evil” of “a gigantic, disembodied brain, a mind or soul divorced from its body.”
“Take a deep breath” that, like oxygen., brings life to bone, sinew, muscles, brain, making us fleshy, beating heart humans; God’s ultimate intention for humanity.
“Take a deep breath” in this space intended to be a “place of worship for all Christians,” from pacifists and Civil War militants, to Vietnam-era doves and hawks, to this day when so many more crises threaten friendships, national alliances, and the Body of Christ itself,
to us, struggling to speak Christ’s language of love.
“Take a deep breath,” breath in the presence of Christ given afresh at the Table of Holy Communion, where we become what we receive, one more wonky individual, one more body part in the Body of Christ, one more member of His Church let loose in this world to do the work and word of Jesus, as best we are able.
“Grace, mercy, and peace to you,” who have blessed me as you will now bless Pastor Suzanne to “become multi-lingual, spirit-possessed, mad-like, proclaimers of the good news of Jesus to a hurting, hungry, and, at times, hopeless world.”
The church as God intends it to be!
Thanks be to God. AMEN!