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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Many Voices, One Spirit

Acts 2:1-21


New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’







It happened on a subway (U-Bahn) platform in Berlin. He had been in Germany for a week. He didn’t speak German. He was surrounded by, what seemed, a sea of gibberish, random sounds that he couldn’t understand.


All of a sudden, he heard a voice from the other end of the platform that was familiar. A person speaking English! US English, no less. His native language. It was like a ray of sunshine had broken through the clouds, penetrating through the haze of noise he had felt lost in. He focused on the voice, understanding all the words. It felt to him like coming home.


In the Pentecost story here in Acts, we see this dynamic played out to a greater extent. The disciples are empowered to speak nearly 15 different languages in addition to their own. These aren’t random foreign languages. The Spirit empowers them to speak the specific languages of the “devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem.”


Imagine these immigrants from all over the Mediterranean region hearing a message spoken in their native language perhaps for the first time in years. They didn’t have to nudge the person next to them asking what was being said or admit they didn’t understand. In the midst of what seemed like a sea of random sounds, each person heard the good news of God for themselves. No one had to abandon the culture that gave them an identity in order to hear from God. They mattered. They mattered enough that God wanted them to hear about Jesus with their own ears.


We read in acts that the Holy Spirit that came like wind and flames that day gave power to the disciples to speak God’s word. Later they experience that power by healing the sick, teaching the people, and continuing Jesus’ ministry.


In thinking about the Holy Spirit, we often think of it as a power that indwells believers for the inside ministry of the church. Preachers talk about the gifts of the Spirit, the talents God gives each person for the building up of the body of Christ, the church. We think of the Spirit as giving us power for ourselves.


Here in Acts, the Spirit comes for others. Understanding the work of the Spirit is realizing that the power isn’t only to be used for our own purposes, but what others will experience as the Spirit works in and through us.


When we read about what happened that day, that Pentecost, we see that the command Jesus gave in Acts chapter 1 is beginning to be fulfilled. The disciples would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The disciples are sharing the good news of Jesus to the immigrant residents of Jerusalem who had come from all over the Mediterranean region. Through these listeners the message that Jesus was the expected Messiah was carried back to their homelands.


God’s gift reached outside the immediate circle of Jesus’ followers – about 120 in number – who represented all walks of life. They were ordinary people who barely made ends meet, some who were better off, slaves and servants, and Romans including a few soldiers. The message was for people in all stations of life.


This is a message we need to hear over and over. One of the works of the Holy Spirit is that we are empowered to connect with others. Connecting with others isn’t so hard in some ways. We think to ourselves that talking with those sitting in the pews around me or those I sit at the table with during fellowship after the service. We can connect with friends and acquaintances, and even with the cashiers, servers in a restaurant, and gas station attendants who have nametags. Who else, though can we connect with? Who else does God want us to connect with?


In this text in Acts, the response the people had to Peter’s speech and to the disciples speaking a variety of languages was to suggest they had been drinking. How else could they, these Galileans, be speaking in such a way? They didn’t understand that God was present in a powerful way.


Peter responds to their accusation. In this section of Acts, we read the first part of his response, the quote from the prophet Joel. The prophet foretells that the last days are coming. Joel says that in those last days, the Spirit will come upon all giving them the words to speak God’s message. The Spirit will give dreams to some. Dreams that will convey God’s plan for what they are to do next.


Peter says to the people, “Look, here we are. The beginning of the last days when God is starting a new thing. This new thing is God reaching out beyond our small circle; beyond those who are here today in this place.” God’s new thing will continue until the day when the Lord returns. When Jesus comes back, whenever that will be, the signs in the heavens will appear.


I imagine that many of the Jews that were there knew this scripture. They were thinking, “We don’t get it. What do you mean the last days are starting now? The last days of what? What is it that we are supposed to be looking forward to? We don’t want to hear about the sun becoming dark and the moon turning to blood. That’s not what we look forward to.”


Many were already looking for the Messiah to come. The message that Peter proclaims in the rest of the chapter is that the Messiah has already come. He tells the people the story of Jesus and that Jesus is the One they have been waiting for. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has freed them to live a life of faith empowered by God through the Holy Spirit. The last days are here. Do you see them?


The last days are here. Do we see them? Do we understand that we are living in them right now, right this very minute?


We don’t like to think that we are living in the last days. That Jesus’ return is on the horizon. We have plans! I just started my garden and I want to be around to harvest the vegetables. I have a vacation planned. I am going to visit my grandchildren who live across the country. There is a wedding coming up. I have many other things on my schedule. I don’t need to know that the last days are here. Once I finish all these important things. Then we can talk about last days. Just not right now.


We live in a time where we struggle to understand that Jesus could come at any moment. Yes, we are told in the gospels to be ready because we don’t know when that time will come. But we want to know. We like to hear those people who tell us that they have figured it out. They have figured it out based on the signs the Bible describes in various passages and how those fit in the calendar. That we can pinpoint the day so can be ready to go with Jesus.


The important thing is to be ready. To know that we, too, are people empowered by the Spirit to carry the message in words and deeds of the good news of Jesus out into the world.


Periodically we hear those words, the command from Jesus to go out into the world. Even so, we sit back and say, “let someone who has that spiritual gift to do it. Not me.”


Think back to that day we read about in Acts. The day the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak languages to people from all different places in the Mediterranean region. Don’t you think it possible that the Spirit could give us languages to speak to the people around us?


This could be a foreign language – many people are bilingual. There could be other ways. Think about the people you know. Some hear through the language of music. Others through the lens of science. To hear that it is God’s creation they are studying. Creation that has made minerals with distinctive characteristics to identify them by. Trees that know when it is time to begin forming leaves in the spring and when to begin dropping them in the fall. All because God created everything so that these things happen at the appropriate time.


Still others hear the message though acts of service. Things such as bringing a meal, helping out in the yard, providing a ride, watching children for a couple of hours. This is the language those people need to hear.


I have read a book by Bill Hybels several times that tells that there are people in the world who need to hear the message in just the way you can tell it. Not the way someone else tells it or the way you think you are supposed to. Rather, you are to tell the story in your own way. The Holy Spirit has empowered us to connect with others, particularly those who are different from us.


A key message from this passage is that although there are many voices, there is one Spirit that empowers all people to speak the language of faith.


As you head out today, look for ways that God has opened doors for you to use the language of your own self to share with someone who can only hear the message of Jesus from you.


Amen

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