God’s Official Language

Acts 2: 1-13

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t or the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “ Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

This Sunday is Pentecost, so while I have been thumbing through my closet trying to figure out what flame-colored ensemble I’ll be wearing to church on Sunday, I’ve also been thinking about the meaning of the story.

My first experience of this story was that it was a miracle of languages. God made the people able to speak other languages miraculously so that everyone could hear about Jesus. Super efficient, I think. They’re all in town, why  not hit them all at once? Later, I began to understand this as a miracle of hearing. God speaking to people in a way that they can understand shows God’s passion for communicating the message of the good news of Jesus.

Pentecost is a big deal. It’s the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, the birthday of the church, and an event that tells us a lot about God. A few things have stood out to me in this years’ study of the passage.

1. They were all together in once place

This passage takes great pains to remind us that there were Jews from all over the near and known world who had come together for the celebration of Pentecost. That God chose to send the Spirit at this event both underscores Christianity’s Jewish roots but also God’s global plan for the message of Jesus. It’s also seen as sort of a close to a parentheses that began with the Tower of Babel in Genesis. In that story, the people of earth gathered together for the purposes of their own pride and fear of moving out into the unknown. God scattered them by confusing their language and now God is bringing the people of the world back together by eliminating the barrier of language. The difference is that the people were gathering for the purpose of celebrating God’s activity and not their own.

2. The wind was “violent”.

In the days following Pentecost, the mid-west was ravaged by tornadoes the likes of which have not been seen. The entire town of Moore, OK, was literally blown away, leaving nothing but rubble and devastation. The images of what happened there have become associated with “violent wind” in my head.

3. The word of God was all anybody could hear.

God has to drown out our chatter and force us to hear what God wants to say. If you think about it, God did that one time and look at the history what happened.

4. What is God’s official language?

We like to think that we speak “God” fluently, and, more arrogantly, that we understand “God” perfectly. The truth is that God is at work in the entire world, not just in the part of the world where I function most comfortably. The only way to be transformed is to be open to hearing God in another way, in a way that is unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable, but still very clearly God.

On a personal note, God has swept through my life and blown away somethings that I believed were cast in stone, as native to me as my native language. They’re gone now, replaced by light and warmth. The wind that blew was warm, gentle, and not violent in that it was destructive, but violent in its power and impact.

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2 thoughts on “God’s Official Language

  1. You have a gift for writing about faith thing in an accessible and engaging way, Tiff.

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