The Spirit's Languages
May 23, 2021
Recently, I’ve been looking at getting a bike. It’s always a challenge to find kinds of exercise that I actually enjoy, and after a trip a few years ago where we rented bikes, I discovered it’s a lot of fun! But while I was researching to figure out what would be a good kind to get, what to start with, and what wouldn’t be a huge waste of time and money to buy, I kept being confronted by this indecipherable jargon. What does it mean that the wheels are 700-35? What’s a derailleur and is the brand important? What’s the difference between a hybrid, a road bike, and a cruiser? And when I’d search for answers, it was more insider language.
What happens when the words we use, the language we speak, becomes a barrier to sharing the gospel? We have a lot of insider language in the church—who else talks about paraments, or liturgy, or witnessing, or reconciliation? But on that first Pentecost of the Church, it was actual language that was the barrier. Peter and the other apostles, gathered in the upper room, spoke Aramaic and maybe some Hebrew and Greek. But all that changed when the Spirit fell on them like tongues of fire.
This great crowd, gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost, were drawn to the words the apostles were saying. They weren’t sharing the gospel in Aramaic, a language these pilgrims might not even know. They were sharing it in each pilgrim’s own unique language. They were using the idioms and unique expressions that only people who spoke those languages knew, witnessing to the words and deeds of Jesus, and how his life, death, and resurrection changed everything forever! It was a miracle of miracles! God was removing the barrier of language from the Church to share the gospel.
But that gift didn’t end on Pentecost. It may not be quite as dramatic, but we are each gifted with the gift of tongues for our particular place. The good news of God’s salvation isn’t something limited to one way of sharing it. God’s good news doesn’t always look exactly the same to everyone, but it is always good news to everyone. One author I read recently said he connected the gospel with a student by the good news of the end of animal sacrifice! And the archbishop of South Africa said that the good news for the hungry is literally bread to eat. God’s Spirit shows us different ways that we can share the gospel with others.
Like today, when we take part in God’s Work-Our Hands. This service Sunday, we are going to go out and share the gospel in one of the many languages God has given us. By serving our neighbors, by tending to the cemetery, by cleaning up the ballpark mission space, by cooking food, we are showing with our actions how the gospel changes things. This is putting our faith in action, and it is another language that the Spirit gives us to share the gospel, and this is a great place to practice it.
Because let’s face it, our actions may be the only witness of the gospel some people ever experience. Seeing how Christians act in the world may be the only witness we can give to the gospel for some people. So let’s take advantage of that. Let’s serve others in need, showing kindness and standing up for justice and putting the needs of others before our own so that others will see just what kind of difference Jesus makes in our lives. We can let our actions speak louder than our words, and even speak the language that whole swathes of the population will readily understand, so that more people will come to know and love Jesus. The Spirit empowers us to do it!
So when you pick up your service today, remember that this is one more language the Spirit gives us to share the gospel. Take that with you this week, so that when people see you at work, or in the store, or on the road, they will see Jesus being witnessed to. Share the gospel at all times, and if you need to, use words. But always remember that the Spirit gives us the language we need to let others see and know the love that Jesus gives to us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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