Updated: Aug 6, 2020
This sermon was delivered on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018 At Westminster Presbyterian Church In Trenton, New Jersey
Text: Acts 2:1-21
But what do you mean? What are you saying? What am I saying? What are we
You know that moment when someone is talking to you (or maybe at you) but
you’re just not understanding what they’re saying? I like to call these
“communication train wrecks”. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to watch
these so-called communication train wrecks. I think one of the best places to watch
them is in a classroom setting. There are countless times that I have watched as
fellow students of mine raised their hands to ask the teacher a question and the
teacher answers an entirely different question altogether.
But let’s be real, the classroom is not the only place that our communication seems
to go awry. Communication is intricate and complex. I mean, think about what
we’re doing when we communicate: we employ our tongues to formulate words
that we have learned based on a language that we have both inherited and create.
And we all know that just because we are speaking the same language does not mean that we can understand one another. Once the words come out of our mouth,
the other person or people that we are communicating with or to do not always
hear or understand what we are trying to communicate, because they filter
everything that we say through their own experiences. And sometimes this means
that we are misunderstood.
Other times, however, those with whom we are communicating understand what
we are saying more clearly than we do. (Don’t believe me? Find a good therapist!)
Others are sometimes able to read our body language and hear our tone of voice
that go beyond our words.
Let’s pause here for a moment. It’s important to recognize the implications of this
truth: we can be disconnected from ourselves and this disconnection shows through
our own communication. We can fail to be aware of what we are saying or how we
are saying what we are saying. Perhaps this comes from repressed needs and
desires that we have failed to acknowledge and deal with. What we feel will
usually come out of us whether it’s through dealing with our feelings in a way that
leads to healthy communication or through unhealthy behaviors, which usually
include unhealthy communication.
On the flip side, we can be disconnected from others as a result of communication.
We can have a lack of communication, meaningless communication, an abundance
of poor communication, or somewhere in between. No matter where we find
ourselves on this communication spectrum with others, it is not hard to experience
misunderstanding, frustration, and hurt which leads us to disconnect from certain
Our experience of disconnection that is both a result of and a creator of poor
communication is not only true of our world but is certainly true of those we read
about in this Pentecost story.
In fact, one of the key questions asked in our passage today by those observing this
strange communication phenomenon is, “What does this mean?”
While it is clear that there are many layers to this Pentecost story, I think that one
of the most profound layers in this story is the Spirit’s drive to help the disciples
connect to themselves and to the world around them using language.
When the disciples find themselves speaking in the languages of those who are in
Jerusalem for this important Jewish festival, I believe that two important things are
occurring. First, they find that the divine essence is at work within them. Their
experience of the divine is affirmed. Their time spent in contemplative practices
listening for the voice of the divine mystery is affecting their lives in tangible ways
in this moment. This divine gift that they have received is a reminder that they are
loved and they are enough in the eyes of God. The embrace that Jesus of Nazareth
showed them is affirmed in God’s gift to the disciples on this day. For the gift that
God bestows is God’s very essence in abundant measure, overflowing in each of
This essence enables the disciples to reconnect with themselves in a deeper way.
Their voices are empowered by the Spirit. Their tongues are instruments of healing
in the world. They are the ones who are testifying of love that changes our
experience of the world. No longer are they only “Galileans” whom the crowd
believes to be simple and uneducated; instead, they are Spirit-empowered people
who are filled with the divine essence and agents of reconciliation. As temples of
the divine, they have found that they have something to say. They are able to see
the world in a different way, which changes the way that they talk and ultimately
the way that they live in the world.
I imagine that for many of these disciples, this moment is a moment of salvation. I
imagine that some of them are being saved from their own negative perception of
themselves that has limited what they believed they could do in the world. God is
showing the disciples that their potential is far greater than they had at first
believed. The book of Acts continues with many stories about these disciples who
were emboldened to do amazing things. Usually, those who do amazing things are
told somewhere in their journey by someone that they can do amazing things.
The disciples do not only experience a renewed connection with themselves but
they experience a renewed connection with those who heard them that day. While
not everyone responded positively to the disciples, those who did experienced a
connection with the disciples and through this connection they experienced a
connection with God.
I believe this is the other important part of this story that is occurring. Our
connections with one another are often times the spaces where God encounters us.
And it is not just that we go out and tell people about God. It is that we speak the
language of others. Others speak our language. And shared language helps us to
trust the messenger. And God does just that. God uses the languages of the hearers
to speak to them. God honors our differences. She meets us where we are without
asking us to erase our own cultural contexts.
Instead of erasure, this Pentecost story invites us to find God in the midst of our
languages and cultures as well as other’s languages and cultures. We are invited to
hear the Spirit as she whispers and shouts through all languages. And just as the
disciples were reminded that they are carriers of the divine essence, I believe that
we are invited to remember our own divine essence. In doing so, we find power to
create. To love. To live. To include. To trust. To grow.
And we find power to speak. To speak with our words and our actions. We find the
power to listen to those around us and learn their language. Through learning the
languages of those around us we experience their divine essence as they experience
our divine essence. And in this dance of speaking and listening, we find
understanding, which I believe is what Peter speaks of when he says, “Everyone
who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Beloved, let us call upon the name of the Lord today. Let each of us ask God for a
fresh outpouring of her essence in our lives so that we might hear the Spirit speak
to us in our language, in our time, and in our culture. And let us also listen for the
Spirit speaking in each other’s languages. For surely we shall be saved as we call
upon the Lord in our encounters with one another.
Beloved, remember that God chose to speak our languages; therefore we can
confidently connect with the divine essence that is in each of us and in those
around us to find the shalom of God here on earth.
May God bless you and keep you,
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you,
May God’s countenance be lifted upon you and give you peace.