Isn’t it interesting that with just a few simple facial expressions and some varying pitched grunts, squeaks, babbles and cries parents can, for the most part, figure out what their non-linguistic baby is trying to communicate? How more complex and difficult this discerning of communication becomes when we layer culture and languages, age and ethic differences, and so much more.
Speaking so others can understand what is being said truly is an art. Not everyone hears the same way or receives information the same way – just play one round of “Telephone/Operator” and see how quickly a simple phrase can be transformed.
I have always believed that the miraculous Pentecost event had more to do with people learning to speak so others could understand than people suddenly speaking in their non-native tongue. Remember, just prior to Pentecost, Jesus told the disciples to return to Jerusalem and just sit tight, they’d know when the time was right to begin sharing Jesus’ story.
During that wait-time (50 days) the disciples must have retold Jesus’ story to each other hundreds of times. Each time remembering a little more; each time hearing it just a little different than before; each time finding someone else’s choice of words stirred the soul in a different way. A good teacher knows how to explain things in a variety of ways. A good storyteller knows how to rephrase the point of the story so that the message is woven throughout the telling.
Pentecost (Shavout – the Jewish Festival of Weeks celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai) would be the perfect time. After weeks of retelling the story of Jesus to each other and the energy of having so many of their Jewish neighbors “in-town” to celebrate the giving of Torah the disciples must have been inspired. And so they ventured forth, with a fire in their words that woke the sleeping and warmed the cold-of-heart. And they knew…they understood… in a way they had never understood before.
This was the UCC Devotional for Thursday. I love her reference to ‘Social Media” as being a New Language.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” – Acts 2:1,4
Every year on Pentecost Sunday I get the feeling that the church misses the point.
In Acts, the people around the disciples do not suddenly learn to speak the disciples’ language. It’s the other way around. The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to speak the languages of the people gathered around them. They were in the middle of an international crowd, with many different languages, and they could suddenly communicate with everyone.
I’m all for learning other languages, but this story isn’t about taking Mandarin lessons or immersing ourselves in Finnish. Instead, I think this is about learning to speak in ways that are relevant to the people around us.
A friend once told me that she opened her Facebook account before worship and “checked in” at the church. The woman sitting next to her shot her a judgmental glance and said “church is not a place for cell phones.” But that check in on Facebook sent a message out beyond the church’s walls, telling friends and neighbors “Hey, this is my church…and you would be welcome here, too.”
Our ways of communicating are changing every day. Facebook and Twitter and all the other online platforms are calling us into a Pentecost moment. Are we going to wait for the people around us to walk into our doors to learn the language of church? Or are we going to learn to speak a new language and share our story with others?
Prayer: God, thank you for new opportunities to tell the story. Send your Holy Spirit to help me learn new ways of sharing it. Amen.