Today is Pentecost Sunday – the day when the church celebrates that we are not left alone to be God’s people in the world but have the gift of God Holy Spirit to work within us so we can do things with God that we might not have imagined possible. In the bible we read the story the followers of the way of Jesus receiving this gift from God, and it tells us that when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit they were able to speak to people from all over the world and everyone understood them in their “native language”. This is an amazing story of the way God worked among these early followers of the way of Jesus and reminds us of the importance of language. It is very significance that God worked through them, so they were able to speak the native language – the mother tongue – of the people who were there. This is a story about meeting people where they are, as they are. And who were the people who heard the words in their native language? They were people who lived in Jerusalem from all over the world, people who had been scattered and forced to flee as refugees from their homelands. On that day, they hear the language of home: imagine how powerful that must have been.
Historically, language has been used as a weapon to control people. Native languages have often been supressed by the powers that wanted to force people to speak a new language. Historically, as a colonial power, Britain has been a terrible offended in this way, claiming that English was the correct language, and in the worst cases claiming that English was the language of God.
Language, and our relationship to language, is far more than the words we speak or the words that are spoken. As a person who is not good at languages, I always feel dreadful when I struggle to speak the language of someone who is not a native English speaker, because I know that when we do communicate with someone in their native language that we can make a very deep connection and that connection grows into love for the people we communicate with. And more – the desire to connect through language grows out of respect, which is why language control is so terrible and grows from disrespect. At it’s worse it says your language does not matter because you are not a people. So, this story of speaking in the language of the people declares that they are people, and they are respected, connected and loved. And this is the work of God and it is God speaking out loud about what really matters!
This is about how God works when we connect with those who are not like us. This is very relevant and contemporary because we live in a world of separation and division and control, so this story is about boundaries being broken down and respect being given to those who might more commonly be disrespected and expected to fit in and not show their difference. And more than that – this is saying that difference is when God is at work!
This is a challenging story about how we live in a world of difference and about the challenge given by the Spirit of God at work in the world. A Spirit that works to make connections, to help us learn and respect and to grow in our relationships with those who are not like us. And we do this out loud! We need to ask ourselves about the language we need to learn from each other and what we need to respect. We need to notice what we might be tempted not to hear or to push down. Whenever differences come together, we must ask ourselves about the language we need to learn from one another, as well as the new language that we need to create together. This is about how we practice hospitality: Do we expect them to learn our language, or will we learn theirs? And of course, I’m just talking about the languages we speak, this is also about ways and habits and attitudes and so much more. This is about how we live with others who are not like us, for so often we welcome people by saying “be like us”, but that’s not a real welcome. This story is a real welcome for those who are considered outsiders by so many and a day to celebrate that we can say welcome in words that will be understood.
If you want to talk about anything here or anything at all, please do send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
Every blessing, Rev Anne