Day of Pentecost, Proper B1
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 2:1-21 Sermon
May 31, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
126 "Come, Oh Come Thou Quickening Spirit"
432 "Songs Of Praise The Angels Sang"
123 "Come Down, O Love Divine"
129 "Spirit Of God, Descend Upon My Heart"
130 "Holy Spirit Truth Divine"
YOU'RE NOT FROM AROUND HERE, ARE YOU?
TEXT (vs. 5-8; 11b): "Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? ....we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!'"
This morning, I'm going to take the opportunity to introduce you to somebody. This particular individual rides with me almost every Sunday when I'm driving from my home to the church. His name is John Bortulin.
If you're completely puzzled as to why you've never met him, it's because he's busy occupying a pulpit of his own, at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Plymouth, NE where he serves as an associate pastor. Pastor Bortulin travels with me because his sermons are being broadcast live on radio station KWBE, 1450 am out of Beatrice.
Now by telling you about Pastor John Bortulin, I don't mean to slight the senior pastor, Pastor Joel Frank who has been at the church over 35 years. I listen to him as well when he preaches. However for the purpose of this illustration, I will recount the first time I heard Pastor Bortulin preach a sermon.
I don't think he got through the first paragraph of his sermon when I made the comment to myself, "he's definitely not from around here." Even though Pastor Bortulin was born in this country, and English is his primary language, yet he speaks with an accent markedly different than what we're used to hearing and using.
Here are some examples. The letter "o" is a good one. Instead of the more rounded, full sound that's used here, it's more flat and projected up through the nose. The letter "a" gets much the same treatment. When he uses a gerund in a sentence (that's a word ending in "ing"), it comes out sounding like it ends in "een." So instead of saying "walking" or "running" or "reading" or "sleeping," it sounds more like "walk-een, run-een, read-een, and sleep-een." And instead of referring to his grandparents as "grandma" or "grandpa," he'll say "grammuh" and "grampuh."
Now believe me, I'm not poking fun at him or in any way saying that he's speaking incorrectly. That's the way he learned to form his words and speak. That's the way that everybody speaks in the part of the country from where he comes, which by the way is Tawas City, Michigan, located on the shore of Lake Huron in the northern part of the state.
Even though Pastor Bortulin speaks with an accent entirely different than what one would find in Southern Nebraska, I have absolutely no difficulty whatsoever in understanding what he says. He is an extremely talented preacher who consistently preaches great sermons. And I know I'm not the only one who thinks so. In visiting with a couple who are members of our sister congregation in Fairbury, they also listen to him regularly and speak of him in glowing terms. And I certainly enjoy the privilege of having him riding in the car with me on Sunday mornings.
English is a very universal language. But as universal and uniform as it is, there are still differences as well. The one primary difference is between American English and Oxford English. And then in each category there are a huge variety of dialects and unique colloquialisms and slang. If someone were to try to master all the differences, it would be an almost impossible task.
And I know what it's like too, at least to a certain degree. I went from Northeastern Nebraska to Southeastern Nebraska (and yes, there is a difference!), then to Minnesota, then to Australia, then to Georgia, and finally back to Southeastern Nebraska. And with every move I made, it involved learning the little differences and unique colloquialisms in the English language. It can get confusing!
As we look at our text for this morning, which is the account of the first Pentecost recorded for us in Acts chapter 2, I'm going to call your attention to the words recorded in verse 8. Here we find the people assembled saying amongst themselves, "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?"
At the outset, this might not appear to be anything all that miraculous. People frequently learn and speak other languages than their own native tongue. Some people, like the children of Vietnamese immigrants in this country are completely bi-lingual, where they're able to use both Vietnamese and English equally as well.
Such was the case in the days of the Apostles. For example we know that one of the common languages amongst the people was Aramaic. But the language of commerce and trade was Greek. And the language of the Church was Hebrew. So many people knew two or three languages already. Likewise, there would have been other instances where people would perhaps know the languages of different cultures if they were in close proximity to each other, or for a variety of other reasons.
So the outstanding part of the miracle of Pentecost wasn't necessarily that the Apostles were able to speak in a language other than their own. As near as I can determine, there would have been two major reasons that the people were so astonished.
First of all, the Apostles were able to speak in languages they had never before heard, perhaps because the people lived a great distance away. We know that the people were in Jerusalem for the great Jewish celebration called the "Feast of Weeks." People travelled from far and near to attend this celebration, which was a celebration of the harvest blessings. Jerusalem would have been bustling with a great number of people, almost like the number of people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover feast.
When people came from all over like that, there would have been a whole plethora of different dialects and languages, a lot more so than what happens today at the United Nations. There would have been many communication barriers, and people would have been searching for those who could translate for them.
The second reason this was so miraculous, is that the Apostles began to speak not only in the other languages, but they had all of the accents and dialects and colloquialisms right down to a tee. And they would have been speaking those other languages fluently, without a hint of an accent.
In our world today, we encounter many people who speak English with an accent. It can really frustrate us too. For example, I have called for computer technical support, only to have someone come on the line who doesn't have a good grasp of the English language. It's a frustrating barrier, because I try my best to state the problem in clear and simple terms, only to have the other person not grasp what I'm saying. And so we keep talking past each other, until we are both about ready to scream. One time I became so disillusioned, I finally requested to talk to somebody who spoke English as their first language. I wasn't trying to be mean, I just wanted somebody who could grasp what I was saying.
But this was not the type of situation that those assembled on that first Pentecost experienced. If we look once again at our text from Acts chapter 2, listen to what Luke records the people saying in verse 11: "...we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
There was no communication barrier. There was no ambiguity in what they were saying. The Apostles were doing the work of the ministry by communicating to the people using the exact words and phrases and accents they were accustomed to hearing. The people on that first Pentecost didn't experience the same frustration that we do when we telephone a customer service number for some expensive piece of equipment, and wind up reaching someone in the back alleys of Calcutta who speaks in broken English. What they experienced could only have been a miracle at the hand of the Holy Spirit. And when we consider the frustrations we experience because of language barriers, we can better understand what value all of this had in relationship to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Making things clear and understandable has been of prime importance in God's kingdom. This was the case even at the time of the Old Testament Prophet Nehemiah. In Nehemiah chapter 8 verse 8 we read: "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read." Isn't that just as important today as it was in Nehemiah's day? Isn't that the whole purpose behind what happened at Pentecost?
It is the duty of the Church and every pastor to do just that. We have to be sure that we communicate the entire Word of God in such a way that people cannot mistake what God plainly says. Paul writes to his understudy Timothy some very important words for him to remember. In 2 Timothy chapter 4 verses 1-2 Paul says: "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction."
Knowing God's law is an important first step. In Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 7 verse 7 he writes, "...Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.'"
Just like the Apostle Paul, we would not know about our sinfulness if God hadn't clearly communicated that to us. God's law is like a mirror, showing where we have transgressed so many times in our lives. God's law has us dead to rights, and convicts us in our sin. According to the law, we would have no hope. We stand condemned. The Bible clearly says in Ezekiel chapter 18 verse 4, "....The soul who sins is the one who will die."
As important as communicating the law is, the Gospel needs to be just as clearly communicated, because that's where the hope of sinful humanity lies. In Romans chapter 8 verses 1-2 Paul again writes: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."
Both Law and Gospel need to be clearly communicated in order to bring about God's purpose for all humanity. God very plainly states that purpose in the Bible, that he wants everybody to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; because he has told us in 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 4 that he "wants all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." Things couldn't be any more succinctly and clearly stated than that.
On that first Pentecost, the people gathered knew the Apostles weren't natives from their neck of the woods. And yet, the miracle the Holy Spirit performed on that day permitted everyone to hear the wonderful works of God in his or her own native tongue and dialect, in words they fully understood.
This morning I used Pastor John Bortulin as an example of somebody who, upon hearing him speak, we would immediately know isn't from around here. Even though there's no real language barrier here, his manner of speaking and his accent is different than what we're accustomed to in southern Nebraska. There's no right or wrong with this, it's just different.
In describing his duties as a pastor, Pastor Bortulin says: "I'm thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the fine people here at St. Paul's with our Lord's gift of unconditional forgiveness. It is truly a privilege to proclaim God's Word and administer his Sacraments." There's no doubt he fully knows and understands the importance of communicating God's Word in clear and unmistakable terms. I know that he certainly has accomplished that.
Just prior to his ascension into heaven Jesus speaks words of instruction not only to his Apostles, but to all of his disciples everywhere, especially to us here today. In Acts chapter 1 verse 8 Jesus makes this promise: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
We are indeed his witnesses. Therefore we pray that he will use us, in whatever way he sees fit, to proclaim his message of forgiveness, grace and hope; plainly, clearly and boldly to this lost and sinful generation.