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.