God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Prayer after Communion
Faithful God, who fulfilled the promises of Easter by sending us your Holy Spirit and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal: open our lips by your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.‘“
26 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
27 There is the sea, spread far and wide,
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
28 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan
which you have made to play in the deep.
29 All of these look to you
to give them their food in due season.
30 When you give it them, they gather it;
you open your hand and they are filled with good.
31 When you hide your face they are troubled;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
34 He looks on the earth and it trembles;
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
35 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will make music to my God while I have my being.
36 So shall my song please him
while I rejoice in the Lord.
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.“
Sermon on Pentecost Sunday
Welcome to our celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, one of the High Holy Days of the Anglican calendar. However, I would like to call this Sunday “the festival of interpretation”. – Why would you want to do that? I hear you ask. My answer – it is because of today’s reading from Acts.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own language?”
How can these rude Galilean fishermen possibly speak the languages of Parthia, Mesopotamia, Phrygia, Egypt and Lybia, when they had never been further than Jerusalem? How could these diverse foreigners hear “their own languages”? Don’t we use the reverse phrase all the time? Don’t we say, “He doesn’t speak my language,” when we talk of people whom, we think, do not have any idea of what makes us tick? Why – I am sure some you say that of me, when I have wittered on and blathered about how interesting I find the readings for the day.
This phrase of “speaking one’s language” is an old one, isn’t it? Just what does it mean? It was in the news all the time in the 1960s and 70s when the generation gap and the bitterness between hippies and their conservative parents were openly discussed, when demonstrations against just about anything our parents were proud of made us want to rebel, or sometimes even take a harder line than our parents. That divide between people still exists, and I would say it is even more pronounced nowadays, and we still say “They don’t speak my language.” How can we overcome this polarisation between them and us? How can we all start to speak the same language? Do we have to wait for the miracle of Pentecost to happen again in our time?
I think that miracle of Pentecost’s glossolalia is here right now! I don’t think it is very far away from the tip of our tongues. That is why I want to rename this festival of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I think we are in the midst of speaking in tongues all the time – that we can speak another’s language. This may be simply saying, “Hello,” in the mother tongue of a visiting stranger. Or it may take the form of listening really hard to a friend in trouble and speaking exactly about his or her predicament, presenting the troubles in light of some resolution.
That is why I think we are in the midst of a cultural revolution, a changing of things in an extraordinary way. When we “speak another’s language,” we transform the world for that other person and even for ourselves. That is what I can imagine the apocalypse to be – that the stranger becomes a friend through sharing meaning and significance when we speak with one another.
This Feast of Interpretation is one that strikes fear and trembling into the heart of every preacher. It also perplexes the academic theologian. Neither of them thinks they speak anything but plainly to all who would listen to them. Speaking in tongues is a terrifying thing for everyone.
A century ago, however, a famous German theologian looked hard at this problem of the cultural languages we speak. He pointed out that the cultures we live in are very different to the middle east of Jesus’ time. For instance the person in the twentieth century does not have the same expectations as someone living two millennia ago. How could someone with electric lights speak easily with someone whose light was produced only by a fire? The problem is compounded a century on, when we would speak of our children, that present generation which lives in the world of Facebook, Tweets and selfies, a world which is connected twenty-four–seven by hand held devices which can call up information in an instant from many hidden sources.
Such a world would be magical for Jesus and the disciples, wouldn’t it? But we still have to talk about the Jesus from thatworld in this electronic universe. So let’s look at the reading again.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own language?
Two things struck me as I read this passage again – first, everyone was bewildered, and second, they were utterly amazed. We have, I hope, interpreted what it means to speak in another person’s language. So why were they bewildered and utterly amazed because someone so very different could speak directly to them?
I take it as a given that everyone wants to speak with everyone else clearly and without confusion. Either I am naive, or it is a essential characteristic of being human. I am not sure which. However, I think we all want to be clear to the person opposite us when we look them in the eye.
Bewilderment is something we don’t do nowadays, is it? It is seen as a weakness, a fundamental fault, in contemporary social interaction. Who today admits to being utterly anything, let alone amazed? We are much too sophisticated for that. And for that matter, who would say that they don’t understand someone else? That is a most severe character flaw in this day and age.
Further on in the story, we read ‘Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”’ I wonder whether we would do that today. Do we turn to our neighbour and ask about the meaning of something which had bewildered us? Do we ask our neighbour to explain a statement made by one of those people who “don’t speak my language”? How sad is the state of humanity when we cannot wonder about things with our neighbour – that we can’t say, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
Are we any different to the people of the bible who heard the disciples on that day in Jerusalem? The disciples spoke with strangers from near and far. – “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” those strangers exclaim, when they expected nothing but nonsense from the mouths of those Galilean fishermen.
That, I think, is our task – to declare the wonders of God so that others will be able to hear about significance and meaning in our lives. In other words, we have to translate and interpret the words of the bible, as we understand them, for our contemporaries. We have to speak their language with those who would become our friends in due course because we will come to love them as Christ loved us.