June 5, 2022
When I was attending seminary, one of the dividing lines among the students was what you did before you came to seminary. There were people like me, who had come straight from college. But just as many—more, really—were coming from another career. The call to ministry was one that took them longer to finally answer, but they really did answer it. In fact, they answered the call and brought with them all the skills they had learned in their previous career. Because that’s something that will happen when you change what you’re doing—those skills you’ve acquired don’t go away, they just get repurposed. Today, as we celebrate Pentecost, we heard about how the disciples’ skills got repurposed in a big way.
This was after Jesus had ascended. The disciples were gathered in the Upper Room—but not in the same way they were before when they were afraid. This time, they weren’t terrified that they would be next on the cross. They weren’t paralyzed with “what next?” This time, they were waiting. Expectantly. Jesus told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit; they just had to wait. So wait they did, in the same place that they had their last supper with Jesus. I imagine the conversation in those days was full of wonder—maybe anxiety? They were probably going over the events of the last month and a half, reviewing what Jesus taught them and trying to figure out how they would know when the Spirit arrived. Remember this kind of thing hadn’t happened before, so they didn’t know what to expect. In any case, you know the story.
They were gathered in that upper room, and then a sound like a rushing wind broke in. Windows burst open. Napkins went flying. Confusion abounded. But then fire came pouring into the room, heading straight for the heads of each person gathered. It was fire, but it didn’t burn them! Instead, this fire gave them the ability to speak every language of all the Jews and proselytes gathered in Jerusalem for the festival that day. The Spirit suddenly put them out on the street, and they were surrounded by these visitors who heard them talking in each of their native languages. The disciples were telling and retelling the story of who Jesus was and what he had done to the amazed crowd. And then the visitors to Jerusalem said something astonishing:
“Aren’t these Galileans?”
The disciples were speaking in the native languages of each person there that day, and somehow these visitors knew they were Galileans! It’s the Holy Spirit, so you know the gift was exactly how it needed to be—they’d use idioms and all to make sure the hearers understood exactly what they were talking about. So how did the visitors know that they were Galileans? A friend and colleague of mine pointed out a really obvious possibility: their accents. Yes, they were speaking in tongues, but the visitors knew the disciples were from Galilee because of the accent they spoke with! And doesn’t that just say something amazing about how the Spirit gives gifts?
They could have received the gift of tongues that made them sound exactly like a native speaker. It could have been good enough to hide anything about themselves that might have gotten in the way—if listeners had a prejudice against the stereotyped rough and uncouth Galileans, hiding that accent would have been a sound evangelism strategy. But no, God didn’t hide their accents. Instead, it’s one of the first things the listeners noticed! The Spirit wanted the world to see who the disciples really were.
God isn’t going to erase who you are when you join in the work of the kingdom. The disciples had whole careers before they became followers of Jesus—fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, you name it. But they didn’t have to leave those skills they had acquired behind. They didn’t have to give up the essential parts of themselves that made them unique in order to “get out of the way” in sharing the gospel. God wasn’t asking them to shed who they were in order to share the good news of the kingdom. Instead, even when the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in tongues, right down to the peculiar idioms of the visitors in the city that day, the disciples still kept their accents as a sign of who they were. And they kept more than that as they went on to share the good news with the world.
When we join in the mission of the church, God wants us to bring our whole selves into it. That’s what vocation is about. It’s about letting God use the skills you already have to share the goodness of God’s new creation with the world. And y’all who are officially joining our congregation today—God wants you to do the same. Bring your whole selves, with all the skills you’ve picked up along the way. Bring your life experiences that help you see the gospel in a slightly different way than me, or the member sitting next to you, or the Christian who lives down the road and goes to a different church.
In Pentecost, we see that God absolutely loves variety. God loves the uniqueness of each individual because who you are and what you do and how you see the world will help us all share an even fuller picture of the gospel with the world. Your skills and passions will help the witness we bear in our community to the saving power of Jesus. Your wonders and questions will lead us deeper into faith as we explore the mystery of how Jesus is making all things new together. Your life experiences will give us all a wider range of seeing how God acts in our lives in amazing and unique ways.
So know that God is using your whole, authentic self to proclaim the gospel. The Spirit will empower the skills you already have, and breathe new life into the passions you already possess, in order to show God’s love for the world that much more clearly. Jesus invites you to share your whole self, and don’t get caught up in worrying about whether it’s the “right” way to be a Christ follower or not. Because God loves the cacophony of variety. God loves the accents in new tongues. God loves the backstory that makes you, you, and the you that makes the gospel real to someone like you. Share that wonder. Share that hope. Share that good news, that God is saving the world, and you don’t have to become someone else before you can participate.
Thanks be to God. Amen.