(Acts 2: 1-21)
January 7, 1977, was the day I graduated from the Houston Police Academy and hit the streets ready to protect and serve. The City of Houston was trying to diversify the police force as they were experiencing a mass exodus of retiring officers who had been hired after World War Two and the Korean War. It was a mostly white police force no longer reflecting the diverse make up of the rapidly growing city. One of my early assignments as a rookie was in a part of the city that was predominantly Hispanic. Fortunately, my training officer was Hispanic and spoke fluent Spanish. But as most of the people we dealt with were Hispanic and spoke little, if any English, I felt I wasn’t learning anything so I asked him to teach me some Spanish so I could at least write a traffic ticket and ask some questions while investigating a call for service. I was surprised at how quickly I caught on and some of my more Hispanic contacts were both impressed and amused with my attempts at conversational Spanish. And then, a year later, we had a three-day riot in another one of the Hispanic neighborhoods that had been simmering for about a year as the result of the death of a young Mexican-American male while in police custody. The Department realized it had a public relations problem, so they launched a Conversational Spanish course for officers that not only taught us how to speak street Spanish but to also understand more about the Hispanic culture. We were learning how to speak to and relate to this portion of our population in a manner that not only we could convey it properly, but that they could also understand it lessening the risk of having a breakdown in communications. I got so proficient in speaking Spanish that other officers would call me to their scenes to translate for them. Unfortunately, when you stop using it, you lose it.
And speaking to people in a language they can understand is the whole point of our scripture reading for today. Last week we learned that Jesus had told the disciples that he would be leaving them soon, but not to worry as he instructed them to remain in Jerusalem for the gift the Father had promised. He told them that in a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, and would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power. And, as I stated last week, this power included courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability, and authority. All those things they would need to be powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ in layman’s terms.
In our scripture reading for today the Apostle Luke tells us that it was the day of Pentecost, also celebrated as the Feast of Weeks, which was fifty days after Passover. The Feast of Weeks was one of three major annual feasts which was a huge festival of thanksgiving celebrating the harvest of the crops and, we are told, that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living and visiting in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all assembled together in one place when suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind that filled the entire house where they were gathered. Divided tongues like fire appeared among them with a tongue of fire resting on each of them filling them with the Holy Spirit. And not only were they filled with the Holy Spirit, but they began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. That had to have been a surprise as Jesus had only told them about receiving the Holy Spirit, not learning a foreign language too. We’re told that at this sound a crowd gathered and was equally bewildered, as each one heard these men speaking to them in their own native tongue because Luke tells us that there were people in the crowd from all around the known world including Asia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, along with Cretans and Arabs. Many nations, many cultures, and many languages. The Apostle tells us that the Good News was preached to all these people in their own language. Luke says: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Remember, the disciples and close followers of Jesus were the only ones with advance warning of this coming of the Holy Spirit. I can just imagine what it would have been like if they had cell phones and YouTube. The gospel would literally have gone viral. But others in the crowd sneered and said: They are filled with new wine. I’m not sure but new wine must mean cheap wine. Luke goes on to tell us that Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them saying: Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. He says: No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. Peter’s speech was given to an international audience, and it resulted in a worldwide harvest of new believers as these people went back home and told of their amazing experience while attending the Feast of Weeks. How was your trip dear? Pretty amazing. Some fishermen from Galilee started speaking in my native tongue telling me about the Messiah who had just been in Jerusalem and the forgiveness of my sins if I just repent and call upon his name and declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. Let’s get everyone together so I can tell them all about it. This is pretty exciting stuff.
So, what’s the lesson here for us two thousand years later? Well, as I said last week, God’s gospel has not yet reached its final destination if someone in your family, your workplace, your school, or community hasn’t heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. And what the Pentecost experience teaches us is the importance of relating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in a language they can understand. The Spirit will simplify it for us, and we must keep it simple in return. I mean God’s not a complicated guy. Remember what Jesus said about the greatest commandment: Love God, love your neighbor, and the rest of the law of the prophets will be taken care of. What’s the purpose in complicating a simple message of love, peace, joy and forgiveness? I have no doubt that’s one of the reasons some people have been turned off by organized religion. Without realizing it, it may sound like we’re speaking in some sort of code when we use our Methodist acronyms in conversation or talk about things like redemption, justification, and sanctification. We have to remember that Christianity is not limited to any race or group or class of people and we mustn’t do anything that would impede their ability or opportunity to receive the message. Christ offers salvation to all people without regard to nationality, social standing, education, or any of the other things we use to label people. Honestly, there isn’t anybody out there who shouldn’t hear the message. We just have to speak their language. And, if we do it in a manner they can understand, then like the people from other lands at Pentecost, they will relate their experiences to their families and friends in a way they too can understand and want to learn more. Remember we’re talking to people who are seeking answers. The message is: love God, love others, and serve others. Keep it simple because not only do we want them to become believers as we are, we also want them to tell others about their experience with us whether it be in church, through one of our missions, or in any other context. Keep it simple for those who want and need to know more about the God of peace, love, joy, forgiveness, and mercy.
Let us pray.
God of peace, love, joy, forgiveness, and mercy, we praise and thank you for the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit that has given us the power to be witnesses for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Give us the courage to be witnesses, the boldness to take a stand, the confidence to go forward in times of difficulty, the insight to see the problems that need to be addressed, the ability to get the job done, and the authority to do it as your holy church. Help us to approach people on their terms and give us the ability to speak to them in a manner that they can clearly understand the message of the cross. Move us to use it lest we lose it. In Jesus’ name help us to keep it simple. Amen.