God Talk

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 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.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

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.’

A priest and a pastor from two local churches were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that read, “The End Is Near! Turn yourself around before it’s too late!” They planned to hold up the sign to each passing car.

The first driver sped by and yelled, “Leave us alone you religious nuts!” From around the curve they heard screeching tires and a big splash.

“Do you think,” said one clergyman to the other, “we should change the sign to just say, ‘Bridge Out’?”

It’s crazy but one of the biggest complaints I hear about religion is that it’s too complicated to understand. We have taken the concepts of the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and made them into these big long studies using words that is in no way common language. For example, if I said the word Theophany many people’s eyes would start to glaze over and you are probably thinking here we go again. Some might even think that the preacher just uses those words so that they can let everyone know just how smart they are. In reality the word Theophany has a simple meaning. It means when the voice of God is heard, like at the baptism or Transfiguration of Jesus when God said, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”

It seems like we have made religion too difficult and because of that many people are no longer talking about religion. It’s usually because of one of two reasons. The first is that they are afraid that any talk of religion will cause an argument with friends or family. The second reason and the one I want to talk about today—is that we are too often unsure what to say when we want to talk about God. We feel inadequate and are afraid that we might use the wrong words. It’s not natural for us and we think that we might screw it up.

According to a survey that was conducted by religion writer Jonathan Merritt reports that it’s getting harder and harder to talk about God. Although more than 70 percent of us in the United States identify as Christian, most of us don’t feel comfortable speaking about our faith.

According to a recent Barna survey, more than three-quarters of Americans do not often have spiritual or religious conversations. Six in 10 say that they have spiritual conversations only on rare occasions. A meager 7 percent of Americans say that they talk about spiritual matters regularly.

Seven percent! What if only 7 percent of the apostles had spoken up? The day of Pentecost might have been a dud.

Some observers are not surprised at these findings, noting that the survey included a cross-section of Americans, both churchgoers and others. But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly don’t do much better than the general population. Only 13 percent of these people have a spiritual conversation about once a week.

So why do we struggle so badly with God talk? Jonathan Merritt says that today, “work often takes precedence over worship, social lives are prioritized over spiritual disciplines and most people save their Sunday-best clothing for Monday through Friday.”

The day of Pentecost the disciples made the message simple “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The message was spread using a universal translator. God’s love is for everyone professed in all the local languages of the day. Sometimes even that idea messes with our minds. We get upset if other languages are being spoken around us because we don’t understand. Fortunately that day someone was able to translate for every person present, which eventually made its way into an English translation known as King James and then finally into our modern language.

But what do we do with the message? First, we need to have the confidence to know the Spirit that was with the disciples that day in Jerusalem, is the same Spirit that is with is today. Now the Spirit may allow us to speak in foreign languages, but it may not. What the Spirit will do is give us the courage and the words if we are willing to listen. Second it means that we must be willing to be silent and listen for the Spirit’s words. That’s often difficult for us, especially if we disagree with someone. We want to defend our position, and when we do that we don’t listen well. Hearing God speak—the Theophany does not occur when the mouth is engaged. When John the Baptist and the disciples; Peter, James and John, heard God speak they fell to the ground in awe. When was the last time you fell to the ground in awe?

For me I have to admit I never have? But I would like to. I can admit that I have seen the working of the Spirit in people. I see the results of the Spirit each week when I preach because I truly feel God is in the words in my sermon. I see the Spirit when people are reconciled to each other, when someone does a kind deed for their neighbor, when we see the sunset or the sunrise when a few clouds are on the horizon. I see the Spirit present in answering prayer when someone is sick and even when someone is called to their eternal home.

Paul also speaks about God at times in very simple terms, like our reading from Romans today and those 4-simple verse. (Romans 8:14-17) Paul speaks clearly about life in God’s family, something that most people desire for themselves and for the people they love. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” writes Paul, meaning that we are children of God when we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God (v. 14). The Spirit leads us away from self-centered living and toward God-centered living. We want God to shape our actions, attitudes and values.

And what can we say about God directly? Paul talks about God by once again referring to family. God is like a father who’s adopted us — chosen us — to be his children. This means at least three things:

  • We are chosen;
  • We can talk to God;
  • We are heirs.

Let’s look at each of these quickly: We are chosen. According to the Roman legal concept of adoption, an adopted child has a whole new identity, status and set of relationships. Such a child is chosen to become part of a new family. “Because the Spirit makes us God’s adopted children,” writes professor of biblical studies Richard Carlson, “we are empowered to address God in intimate and direct parental terms: Abba, Father.”

If someone asks you about your conception of God, you can reply: “God is like a parent, a mom or dad, who’s adopted me — who quite specifically chose me” — and go from there. Once again, no mystifying religious jargon: God is in an intimate and direct parent-child relationship.

We can talk to God. And it is because of this close kinship that we can approach God with any concern and do so at any time, just as a child can do with a loving parent. When we come to God in this manner, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” Paul says (vv. 15-16). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to experience a new identity, a new status and a new set of relationships as members of God’s family.

In a world of so many dysfunctional families, the family of God is always going to be an attractive topic of discussion. In this family, God shows us unconditional love and unlimited grace. Our value comes from who we are, not from what we do. There is truly nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us any less. In this family, the Spirit bears witness “with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16).

In addition, we become heirs — “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (v. 17). This means that we will be “fully conformed to the glorious image of God that now exists in God’s Son, Jesus Christ,” says Carlson. We will find ourselves side-by-side with our joint heir Jesus, the one who is “the firstborn within a large family” (v. 29).

Being an heir feels good, doesn’t it? Inheritance! But being a joint heir with Jesus does not mean instant luxury and ease. We may need to suffer with Jesus “so that we may also be glorified with him,” says Paul (v. 17). The life of a true Christian — including love, mutual affection, honor, zeal, hope, perseverance and hospitality — is inevitably going to include real sacrifice and suffering. Yes, it is a Spirit-led life, but such a life requires us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

We all know the value of love, honor, hope and hospitality, and if we fail to use these words, then they will fall out of use. Jonathan Merritt has discovered that language about Christian virtues is, unfortunately, declining right along with God talk. Since the early 20th century, humility words like “modesty” have fallen by 52 percent. Compassion words like “kindness” have dropped by 56 percent. Gratitude words like “thankfulness” have declined by 49 percent. When such words fall out of circulation, our entire culture suffers.

On this day of Pentecost, the church should begin to talk again. Not with religious jargon, but with clear words about what it means to be children of God who are led by the Spirit of God. Each of us has been adopted by our loving Abba, and we have an opportunity to serve God right alongside our brother Jesus.

When we speak of love, honor, hope and hospitality — and, better yet, when we back up our words with our actions — the world will get the message. Amen.


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