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 nation 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, “Men of Judea 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.’
There is a book that is entitled The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams. It would fit in the young adult sci-fi genre. Many of the upper level English classes in school are beginning to read this as a classic piece of literature like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. I read the book several years ago and it’s pretty weird. First it is a little tough to get into because there are so many simultaneous plot lines going on and its also has lots of British humor and idioms that we just don’t pick up on.
However, there is this really cool device that helps the main characters Ford and Arthur communicate and its called a Babel Fish. When you’re cruising around the galaxy you encounter many different species that do not speak English. In the story there is an actual guide to learn how to get along while hitchhiking across the galaxy. The guide in the story has this for a definition and then this explanation.
“The Babel fish (says the Guide) is the weirdest fish ever: it feeds on the brain energy of people around the host and excretes (ew) brain waves into the host. Which basically means that it translates anything you hear into language you can understand.
Some people think the Babel fish proves that God doesn’t exist by proving that God does. Wait, what? The idea goes something like this:
Proof denies faith, says God, and faith is necessary. But, says Man, the Babel fish couldn’t evolve naturally and clearly was created by God. Therefore the Babel fish proves You exist—which means that You don’t.”
In other words, it’s like the Universal Translator on Star Trek. If we shift now to the story in Acts the disciples which now number 12 again are filled with the Holy Spirit and could not stop talking. When they began to speak all the people in Jerusalem who have gathered for the festival of Pentecost hear them in their native languages. The people were amazed that the disciples could speak in each person’s native tongue. There was no Babel Fish in anyone’s ear.
Now Pentecost was a Jewish holiday in which they celebrated the gift of the 10 commandments passed down from God to Moses. This is going to be a new understanding of the Law that comes from God to Peter and the rest of the disciples. Without a Babel Fish, the disciples are filled with the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. What help could come to us if we could communicate like the disciples did on that day? When we look back in history we remember the Tower of Babel and how God destroyed the temple and sent each on their way in a confused language. Sometimes things that seem really good can turn into a mess. The people in Babel wanted to be God-like and so they were mean and cruel to one another and forced their will on those who had less. The unified languages kept people from helping and healing those in need.
The day of Pentecost brings a reversal of sorts to the people in Jerusalem. All are given the message in their own language so that they can know of the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ the Son manifested in person and now in the form of the Holy Spirit. Say that three times really fast! The church as we know though struggles within itself, not just between denominations but with people of the same varieties and tribes. You would think that the gift of the Holy Spirit uniting all languages would bring the people of God together. But the human will is quite a force to contend with. Right away some people who were gathered claimed that the disciples were drunk on wine, not infused with the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, throughout history the church has been more dysfunctional that functioning and that is because the church is the people.
The Greek word for church is ekklesia with no religious connotations. The word translates into a gathering of people. If you remember from last week, there was the 12 that branched out to include Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers and then the women at the tomb and then 120 people. Believe it or not the church functioned without a Session or board of deacons, there was no finance committee, nor budget nor overhead, because there was no pews and no building and no hymnals.
The church was a group of unremarkable people in whom most names were never mentioned. These people were not ignorant or unintelligent, or gullible. At the same time, they did not seem to display any specific talent to be labeled Sprit-filled, or religiously powerful—they were just ordinary folks like me and you. They had not been trained in how to receive the Holy Spirit, there was no app to help them along the way, not even a tutorial. Believe it or not these people had never even been to a university or seminary.
You could say that the disciples now apostles had been trained by Jesus. But a lot of good that seemed to do them, they still had no idea what to do when Jesus rose from the grave, when he ascended into heaven and now what to do with this crazy Spirit thing inside of them that appeared like the rushing of wind and tongues of flame that danced on their heads. They fell asleep during the sermons and prayer time and even through they had a three-year internship they were still waiting for the political coup to take place. They returned home and tried to be fishermen searching for a “normal” life.
But the Holy Spirit came upon them and the world would never be normal again. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things untied in a common cause. The key word is united.
They had no Babel fish in the ear but they all understood the language that the Holy Spirit was speaking. In this work when they spoke the Spirit untied them so that all could understand. The message that they spoke was Jesus. Jesus was alive, then he was dead, then he was alive again. Everyone who calls on Jesus will also be alive—alive eternally. When the people of God keep the message about Jesus everything else seems to work out. It’s when we begin to split hairs over the sacraments, or the offices in the church or policy and procedures that things start to get all messed up. There was no Jerusalem declaration. No mission statement with goals and objectives and sections and articles and outcome based on the data.
Instead they tried to do what Jesus said in his last words recorded in Matthew, “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And remember that I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Pentecost Sunday is a time to reassess what we are all about as a church. We don’t need the babel fish inserted to tell us of the wants and needs of the people who gather in here today and in our community. Even though many different languages are spoken the language of love for one another is universal.
The Holy Spirit is our Babel Fish, the one Jesus said would be our guide leading us into the truth. It is the Holy Spirit that will remind us of our common calling and ordinary people doing the best we can in a confusing and troubled world. It is the Holy Spirit that will empower us to do remarkable and amazing things in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that will unify us in the message and mission of this church. Pentecost is a time to revisit what it means to be faithful to our core values and mission. The Holy Spirit is not inserted in our ears, but in our hearts and our lives. Amen.