Day of Pentecost Proper B1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 2:1-21 Sermon
May 24, 2015
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
227 "Come Holy Ghost In Love"
226 "Come, Oh, Come, Thou Quickening Spirit"
234 "Holy Ghost, With Light Divine"
236 "Creator Spirit By Whose Aid"
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
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!'"
Back in 1982, I moved from Nebraska to Minnesota. Prior to that I hadn't been in Minnesota but a few times when I was on vacation with my family. I didn't remember that things were too much different than they were in Nebraska. But now it was time to call Minnesota my home for the next six years. And I discovered very quickly that there were differences. There were a few unique customs, and that wasn't too difficult to figure out. But the thing I didn't expect was the difference in language; and it didn't take too long to be aware of that.
Glenn Reichwald was my first year Greek professor. In class he would say, "Mr. Schroeder, please recite the Greek alphabet." So I would stand up beside my desk (we had to do that when we were called upon in class), and I would rattle it off: "Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, Omega." And I don't think I ever messed it up when I would recite it. But when I would get done, there would be a few chuckles coming from the class. Professor Reichwald would get a big smile on his face and say, "I love that Nebraska accent."
Nebraska accent? Nebraskans don't have accents; I should know, I've lived my whole life there. Now the people from Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and Michigan, THEY had accents! But I didn't. I spoke normal English. What in the world was he talking about?
Even though I spoke correct English, and even though I annunciated clearly and used correct syntax, people would still ask me, "Where are you from? It's obvious you're not native to Minnesota!" And of course they were correct. What was it about the way I spoke that tipped them off? I quickly realized that people in Minnesota speak with an accent markedly different than what we're used to hearing and using.
Here are some examples. The term "hot dish" is often used instead of "casserole." They like to use the terms, "ya sure" and "you betcha." As a catch-all term of exasperation or frustration, you'll often hear the expression "uff-da!" (I still find myself using that one from time-to-time).
Then there is the way certain letters are pronounced. 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, sounding almost like it's being swallowed. The letter "a" gets much the same treatment.
Now believe me, I'm not poking fun at, or in any way saying that people in Minnesota are speaking incorrectly. That's the way the people there have learned to speak.
Even though people in Minnesota and the upper Midwest speak with an accent entirely different than what one would find in Southern Nebraska, I have absolutely no difficulty whatsoever in understanding what people up there are saying.
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 talked about people from Minnesota and the upper Midwest as an example of people who, upon hearing them speak, we would immediately know they aren't from around here. Even though there's no real language barrier here, their manner of speaking and their accent is different than what we're accustomed to in southern Nebraska. There's no right or wrong with this, it's just different.
I'll never forget the time I brought a friend of mine, Tracy Griffin, home with me over Thanksgiving. He was from, and still lives in South Carolina. He's a true southern boy for sure. As I took him around to the various places in Lincoln, he got this big smile on his face. He told me that people here talked like they did back home. He never realized that Nebraska had such a southern influence, especially with the way we spoke. When we went on the tour of the State Capitol building, the tour guide had lived in Lincoln all her life. Tracy said that with the way she spoke, she could have grown up just down the street from him in South Carolina.
Living here and being immersed in it, we don't notice it. But for someone who doesn't live around here to suddenly be exposed to it, it becomes very obvious.
We must always remember the importance of communicating God's Word in clear and unmistakable terms. 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 upon 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.