Most of us know about ESL—English as a Second Language. These classes are offered at many locations around the city as a way of helping immigrants assimilate more effectively. If you can’t speak English, it is pretty difficult to navigate around Nashville. I’ve often wondered what it was that caused us, as a nation, NOT to teach our children additional languages. I meet people from time to time who have come here from Europe or Africa or Asia who speak 2 or more languages beautifully. Why didn’t we insist on doing this?
This became most real to me when we journeyed into places like Mexico for mission efforts. We wanted so desperately to be able to converse with the children in those places and we couldn’t. The best we could do was to be sure we had at least one person on the team who spoke the language for all of us. It made the experience less rich.
Next Sunday is one of the High, Holy days in the life of the church—Pentecost. We have a tradition of celebrating Confirmation for our young disciples and we will have two of them confirmed next week. But that’s not all that happens on Pentecost. It is a reminder of the promise made by Jesus to send a Comforter, an Advocate to us so that we would not feel like “orphans” when he ascended to Heaven.
I’d like to call it SSL—SPIRIT as a SECOND LANGUAGE.
Pentecost, the day when everyone heard the words they needed to hear and heard them in a language they could understand. The miracle of HEARING. Some believe Pentecost was the final reversal of a curse inflicted on humanity way back in Genesis with the building of The Tower of Babel. Remember? Humans tried to build a tower so high it would reach the heavens and people could actually be in the presence of God. I never thought that sounded like such a bad proposition, but it was determined that their motives were not the best, so God “confounded their tongues that day” and made it so that people couldn’t understand each other.
On Pentecost, people from all over found themselves in one place and there was a “happening.” A rush like a mighty wind. Tongues of fire dancing on people’s heads. But those were mostly good show biz. What happened that day of real import was that they all heard the words of Peter—heard them in their own language and understood all of it.
That’s the real miracle—understanding. Understanding is the source of great power. Unless we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit of God work inside us so that we might understand each other, we will remain as cursed as the day we built a tower.
I like to think of Pentecost not only as a noun, but also as a verb. So my prayer today for us as we make our way to next Sunday is that God might “Pentecost” us.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.