Summary: The church’s communication medium is the Spirit, who understands us and allows us to understand one another.
Of all the achievements of human genius, nothing is more wonderful than language. And yet, it is also true that nothing is more destructive than language. For language unites us and yet, language also separates us.
Of all the gifts we have been given, nothing is more useful than language. With language we can communicate almost anything. We can speak forcefully and vigorously and make sure that our point of view is heard. Or we can whisper sweet subtleties and keep others guessing about what we really mean. Language is a wonderfully versatile gift.
With language we can declare our love for one another. It may take many forms. Whether it be the sublime simplicity of "How do I love thee, let me count the ways", or, more likely, these days, the raucous rap of, "I gotta have ya, baby, yeah, yeah, yeah", still it’s using language to open our hearts to each other.
With language we ask for food, we write laws, we create road signs to find our way around. Our world is unthinkable without language, for language unites us.
And yet language also separates us. Language can be destructive. For every word or love, there is a word of hate. For every time we speak peace, someone declares war. For every truth, there is also a lie. Language separates us and can even destroy us.
Maybe that’s why there is a movement on to declare an official national language. Several states have declared English to be their official language, and one group is trying to get a constitutional amendment passed so that English will be the official language of the United States. There is a fear that if we do not all speak the same language, we will be badly divided. People point to Canada, officially bilingual but experiencing a great deal of tension. Others point out that only two countries in the world have more Spanish speakers than the United States. So maybe there is reason to worry about our being a divided country. Language can separate people from one another.
This past week I saw a vivid illustration. As many of you know, we have moved my wife’s mother into a retirement home. In its dining room, one of the workers is a Russian lady; her sole task, it would appear, is to pour coffee. As nearly as I can tell, she knows only one phrase of English: "Regular or decaf’. If you speak to her about anything else, she grunts, turns away, and murmurs, "regular or decaf’. That’s it! Not much of a basis for understanding!
And the news services carried the story of a deaf teenager who asked to be taken from her father’s custody because that father, among other issues, refused even to try to learn the deaf sign language! If we do not have a common language, we are separated. Small wonder that there are calls for an official language!
But the Christian church already has an official language. The Christian movement has a distinctive way of communicating. Our official language is Spirit. Spirit is the speech of the Christian church. But Spirit speech is not just words, but something lying down deep beneath the words. Spirit speech is not just ideas, but someone who speaks beneath what we say. Our official language is Spirit.
On the first day of Pentecost, when all the believers had gathered in one place, on them came something some felt as a rushing wind, some saw as tongues of fire. Something, no, someone, came on them and gave them a gift. The someone was the Holy Spirit of the living God; and the gift was this Spirit language.
The text says, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
I want you to notice two things about the official language of the church, Spirit language.
First, Spirit language means that you and I can learn to speak to one another’s deepest needs. We can understand one another, despite our differences. Spirit language means empathy for one another, real understanding.
And, second, Spirit language means that, someday, all of us may be taught the key words that will bring us together. Spirit language holds out the wonderful promise: that one day all of us will be understood and given wholeness by God Himself.
Spirit language: understanding and being understood. Let me explore this with you.
First, Spirit language means that we can speak to one another’s deepest needs, and we can understand one another, despite our differences. Spirit language means that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can speak to the deepest needs of those whom the world separates from us. The gift of Spirit language means that you and I are can be empowered to address the heart hungers of persons who are very different from us and whose ways are quite foreign to us. "Amazed and astonished, they asked, ’Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia ... [and so on and so on.]’" At Pentecost, the believers could speak to the needs of others.