Sermon from Sunday 23 May

A Pentecost sermon about hearing in our native language and becoming 'capable of God'.


Reading(s): Acts 2. This sermon was given by Victoria at St Denys Church, Chilworth.

I wonder if you can speak another language? I do not have the gift of languages, I have a smattering of school girl French, like most of us and enough Arabic to order in a restaurant (seems to always come down to food in our family) and to pass the time of day. My sister however is fluent in French, having lived and trained in France – she is baker and chef, she also speaks passable Italian. Luckily the gift of languages, although having passed me by, has passed on to Em who studied French and Russian. However, her friend is studying for his PhD in English, his third language, his first language being Russian as his parents speak Russian and his 2nd language being Estonian where he grew up. Fancy being able to study to that level in your third language!.

I think you will agree however, that generally we as a Nation are fairly rubbish at languages., Maybe it’s something to do with being an Island Nation, or maybe more to do with colonising everywhere else and expecting everyone else to speak our language! Whatever the cause certainly we do not have the range of language that our brother and sisters in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle-East seem to have.

However, we often use the phrase ‘you’re speaking my language’ when we don’t mean another language at all - but that somebody else is on our wavelength. It might be something frivolous such as at the end of a busy and stressful day you might be offered a glass of wine or G&T by a partner or friend and you reply ‘well now your speaking my language!’ or it maybe something a bit deeper when you meet a group of people who enjoy the same activities as you, or deeper still when you meet your soulmate, your partner your loved one and you just think – this is the one, they speak my language!

It happens when we discover our vocation and we know that we are living the life to which God has called us and a voice reassures us, saying, “This is your place.”

Our own language is in moments of joy-filled creativity, and when we wonder, “Where did that come from? How did I do that?” It is the soft voice in the midst of sorrow and loss that says, “I am here. It won’t be easy but you will be ok,” and somehow we have the strength to get up and meet the next day. It is the voice of compassion that enables us to care for another. It is a word of encouragement that points the way, a word of truth that causes us to turn around, a word of peace we embody as a reconciled relationship.

These and a thousand others like them are the moments of Pentecost, moments when we know God is not just with us or around us but within us and we are somehow different; more real, more alive, more whole. These, however, are often not the story of Pentecost with which we are most familiar. Instead, we listen for a sound like the rush of a violent wind to come from heaven and fill our entire house. We look for divided tongues, as of fire, to appear and rest on us. We wait to speak in another language.

Sound, tongues, and languages are how St. Luke describes the day of Pentecost. They are the images we most often associate with Pentecost but they are not the story of Pentecost. We sometimes confuse the two, the images and the story. It’s easy to do because the images are so vivid, so powerful, so different from ordinary, every day life. With their power, however, comes danger.

The danger is that we look at these images but fail to see through them. We make the images literal and closed rather than symbolic, transparent, and open. We allow the images to define and identify rather than point and invite. When that happens the images lose their power and purpose. They can take us nowhere and Pentecost becomes a single event in history; unique, limited, and seemingly unavailable to us. Just another story. Sound, tongues, and languages are not the keepers of Pentecost. They are the pointers to Pentecost.

When we see through these images we find that Pentecost is happening in all times, all places, and all circumstances. We hear in our “native language.” We realize that Pentecost is not a sound like the rush of a violent wind. It is not divided tongues of fire. It is not speaking in other languages. It is in that feeling of sudden knowing ‘this is home – this is my language’ ever get that? That feeling of this is just where I should be at this moment – this excites me, this is right?

Hearing is what “amazed and astonished” on the day of Pentecost. They were not amazed and astonished at the sound of wind, the flaming tongues, or the foreign languages. They were amazed and astonished, asking, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

That means that Pentecost is more than sound, tongues, and languages.. They are just the gateway to our own story of Pentecost. They empower us to open ourselves to an invisible world, to cross old boundaries, to be a different way, and to live a new life. They make us “capable of God.” Ultimately, that’s what Pentecost is about, becoming “capable of God.” That is not our doing. It is the Holy Spirit’s doing. The Holy Spirit makes us each “capable of God.” It is unique and personal to each one of us.

And so if we are capable of God, what are we doing about it? It’s all very well basking in the beauty of our own language, but if we don’t share it what point is it? We live in a very selfish age, our society is very ‘me me me’. I read recently that the sales of Mega- yachts have gone up exponentially. The very very rich who want to go on holiday are buying themselves their own little corona-free bubble so that they may travel and soak in the sun completely safe from covid, safe from the world. Each of these yachts cost Billions of pounds, not even millions. How much good to how many thousands of people could that money help, how much good could you do? The daily news is heart breaking. I see fear. I see death. I see protests. I see anger. I see violence. I see prejudice and racism. I see arrogance. I see privilege. I see unemployment. I see poverty and economic hardship.

If you want to know how you are being made “capable of God” then go to the places where you hear in your own “native language.” There you will hear the stories of God’s presence filling lives. They will be stories of love, hope, joy; stories of patience, gentleness, courage, and peace; stories of mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation; stories of wisdom, creativity, and wonder; stories of healing, life, and resurrection, even if the place where you are is a place of war or sadness, pain and desolation, the reason you are there is because you are uniquely able to hear those stories, the ones of hope and heroism and help to bring the peace and love that is so needed in is that place.

Where do you see injustice? Where speaks to you, where do you hear your language? and how will you bring the Pentecost to that place… Will you be brave enough to act, are you capable of God?