In my first year of Seminary, I went on a mission trip with my denomination to Mexico. It was part of our denominational education. All NACCC students from across the country were flown into Mexico City. But I was only given a ticket with a destination. This was my first trip and I knew no one by name and had no idea where in Mexico I was to be going. I remember getting on the plane with no one to talk to because no one spoke English. And at that time my Spanish consisted of three words: amigo, banyo, and hola. None of which would be of any use if I were in trouble.
As we landed, the flight attendant handed out the paperwork that needed to be filled out. I had no idea how to fill it out. It was not in English either. I tell you, I must have been looking all sorts of confused and frustrated because the individual behind me noticed that I was struggling and he happened to speak English and helped me to figure out the forms. But that was just the very beginning of my adventure that day. As I got off of the plane, I looked around this huge airport and didn’t know where to turn or who I was supposed to meet.
Eventually, I decided that I should probably just go to the baggage claim because if I was going to meet anyone from this group it would probably be there. Well I started walking and realized that I was going the wrong way. I couldn’t read any of the signs; I was kicking myself for not taking any Spanish in high school, and the picture signs with the arrows didn’t seem to make any sense as first. But then I calmed myself down, took a deep breath, prayed for some clarity and looked at the signs again and I was able to make sense of them.
Signs are universal. No matter what language we speak pictures and signs can generally get us to where we need to go. Signs are a universal language we all can understand. In Jesus’ time, after he was ascended into the heavens. The Apostles needed to find away to unite people under Jesus’ message of compassion, love and care for all. But how do you do that in the metropolitan cities of Israel where Jews and Gentiles alike all spoke so many different languages and had so many different cultural experiences? How do you ignite passion into the people and have them feel that same burning fire that they felt and experienced themselves? There was no good answer to this question.
God answered this question for them with the appearance of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. For the first time, people from all over their known world were hearing the message in their own tongue. For the first time they were united through the Holy Spirit with a message that was universal. For the first time, people heard Christ’s message and it became a message that was originally intended for the small group of Jews Jesus had preached to in life to a message that was intended for all people who longed for something more in life.
In our world, we too need to feel the message of Christ just as clearly, just as pointedly. We too need to feel the uniting peace of Christ’s message for ourselves. In the time of those first Apostles, their world was torn by constant war. There were constant rebellions in Israel against the Roman occupation of their land. Rome was battling against other peoples as they expanded their territory. People feared the violence of their people as well as the abusive violence of their occupiers. There were problems with famines, continuously rising taxes, extortion from the tax collectors and the threat of disease and crippling poverty just around the corner. People feared what the future held and often times their politicians didn’t represent their needs or fight for their peoples.
They had no representation and their religious officials offered no sense of comfort as they were put into power by their very occupiers. They had no place to turn but violence, poverty and death. But with that first Pentecost there was hope for a different future than anyone had ever known. There was hope for a more peaceful world, a world where people were united by their faith, united by something greater than themselves. For the first time, language, culture and governments were no longer a barrier to their progress.
I look at our world. It is different but it too suffers from much of the same worries for many people. There is expanding poverty; people are dealing with the affects of war and violence. There are people dealing with the affects of terror in our world. Taxes are going up instead of going down and there is increasing corruption amongst government officials. There are people who feel their only options and voice in the world is through violence and young people who lack an identity in this modern world. People need to hear a life giving message not words that take away options and life but ones that inspire, reinvigorate and give hope amidst life’s greatest struggles.
Today, we are reminded that we are not a divided people. Christ’s message isn’t just for a few. Christ’s message isn’t an exclusive one. Pentecost reminds us that his message is one of inclusivity. It is open to all who search for something more in life. It is a message that knows no language, a message that speaks in a language all of its own. The spirit is like those signs in the airport. It’s universal and all people can understand it. All people can feel the passion of the Holy Spirit anew in them each and every day. So remember what our scriptures for this morning said, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”. The Spirit has lighted upon us this day encouraging us to use the message of Christ to unite all peoples around the world to live for one another, to live for community, to live for compassion. Let’s allow Christ’s universal tongue, gifted to us, to be used to build us up and not to tear us down as in the tower of Babel. Our challenge is to allow for the Spirit to speak through us, through our words, through our actions, through our lives.(Acts 2: 1-21)