Languages are divisive. They illustrate the differences that exist between cultures. We have trouble understanding, appreciating, and connecting with people of different cultures in part because of our different languages and our inability to effectively communicate. Even when we speak the same language, we may speak it differently.
In Chapter 2 of Acts, we find the disciples gathering with other Jews in Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest festival known as Shavuot. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit which enabled each of them to speak a different language such that the many Jews visiting from other nations could understand them. And they spoke about the wonders of God. We know this coming of the Holy Spirit as Pentecost, and it is celebrated in the Christian church 50 days after Easter.
While many are lost when the discussion turns to spirits, fire dancing overhead, and speaking in tongues, there is much more to this passage. It holds many lessons that should resonate with us today.
1. The universal Christian church which was formed with this initial gathering was intended to be broad-based and inclusive rather than a small, isolated sect of people who shared the same language and culture -- the same background, lifestyle, and politics.
2. Those who choose to follow Christ will be given strengths and gifts that will allow them to relate and thus effectively communicate with others – with subsets of our community and society. And they should use those tools to discuss the wonders of God, just as the disciples did. Their friend group may be those with whom they share similar interests, lifestyles, training, education, life experiences, and hobbies. Who speaks your language?
3. We must recognize that we can see and hear the wonders of God in those from whom we might not expect to hear and see those wonders in places we might not expect to see. We should always have our eyes and ears open for God’s reassuring and affirming presence and grace.
4. Unfortunately, not everyone will appreciate what they see and hear. Worse, they may judge those to whom they choose not to listen. That should not stop us from speaking the truth of the wonders of God that we experience to those with whom we share the same language.