May 27, 2012
Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
1st Reading: Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
2nd Reading: Romans 8:22-27
According to 1 Corinthians 12, “With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed… To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.” I quote you this portion of the Bible because it has to do with today’s readings from Acts when the Holy Spirit came upon the Disciples and they started speaking in tongues.
I have to admit that speaking in tongues is not my favorite of the spiritual gifts. You won’t find anyone signed up today to speak in tongues and to share that gift with us this morning. It isn’t found anywhere on our time and talent survey, but maybe we should throw it in there to make sure you are paying attention. With my luck you’d sign up for it. I’ve heard people speak in tongues and it just sounds like babbling to me. I don’t see who it helps or what the use of it is, so I don’t really see any need for it.
Reading the story from Acts makes tongues make more sense. On that day it was about sharing the message far and wide, about speaking so that people could understand in their native language. Part of me has to wonder if in this story time is compressed, so what really took many years is collapsed into one day. The Holy Spirit came. The people were on fire for the Gospel. They learned the languages of the surrounding people and shared the good news with people of every nation. In this case, speaking in tongues makes sense, because it is a tool for people to share the Gospel. It isn’t the babbling it has become, but real languages that are used the share the good news.
Part of the miracle of Pentecost is the speaking in tongues, but the other part of the miracle is in the hearing of it. The Gospel said the Galilean disciples spoke in other languages. Amazing! But perhaps even more amazing is that there was someone there to hear it and receive it. If you have known what it feels like to truly be heard, you know what a miracle that is. Listening is an art. More than a dozen years ago, I took an active listening class in college. There is so much more to listening than just hearing. We may hear sounds, but in listening we also pick up on body language and many other nonverbal cues, tone of voice, pauses, little clicks of the tongue, volume, enunciation, and so on.
We always hope that in committed relationship, a couple truly listens to each other. But that takes practice. When you come home at night and share about your day, do you look each other in the eye, or do you share while you’re watching TV, reading the paper, or cleaning up after dinner. When you stop and devote that time to sharing and listening, when you look each other in the eye, doesn’t it make a huge difference? I know it has for us in our family.
We can shout the good news from the rooftops and tell people about God’s love, but it won’t do any good unless there is someone there to listen and receive. And you can’t force someone to listen. The best thing to do is to listen to them. Build a relationship. Don’t do it because you’re going to fix their life with the good news of God’s love. Listen because they are precious. Listen to them because they are interesting and unique and special. Listen with curiosity about the language they speak. It might not be Spanish or Russian, or maybe it is, but I’m talking about the kind of language they use about what is meaningful for them or what gives them joy. Stop, look in their eyes, hear the words, the stories, the pain and the hope. Learn their language because they are a precious child of God. And someday they might ask you about where you get your faith and what it means to you and that is a good time to share your experience. And you’ll probably find that they’ve already shared God’s love with you in the friendship you share.
God’s message needs people to share it and people to listen to it, or receive it. We find ourselves in both rolls all the time. We need to constantly hear it. That’s why we read the Bible, do our daily devotions, pray at mealtimes, go to prayer group, volunteer, etc. And we need to constantly share it, so that our lives reflect God’s love. The Holy Spirit is more than just carrying Jesus in my heart. The Holy Spirit is carried between us. It takes a sharing to involve the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Bible says, “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name.” God is between us, to be given away and to be received. An individual experiences God in relationship with another. We experience God in our interactions with other people. We, who are the Christians, find that others are sharing God with us, when we thought it was our job to share God with them.
There were a few years in my home congregation when the organist would ring a bell during the words of institution leading up to Holy Communion. The pastor would quote Jesus and say, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And the little bell would ring. I thought it was a little cheesy. I would elbow my mom and snicker, “Here comes the Holy Spirit.” She would always glare at me for being snarky. I’ve come to believe that the miracle of the Lord’s Supper, the point when the Holy Spirit swoops in, is in the sharing of it. I try to make eye contact if people are willing. I try to see each person as I hand them the bread. I hold them in a little prayer. I say the words, “The body of Christ, given for you.” And I feel blessed back. The Holy Spirit stands between us at that moment, a miracle transforming us, connecting us and connecting this congregation, and other congregations, and our neighborhood, farther than we can imagine.
And you don’t have to wait for Holy Communion to share the Holy Spirit. That can be translated to any interaction between people. Take a moment to look in the eyes of the person who holds the door for you at the store, or your checker, or the guy holding the sign on the street. Look in the eyes of the pantry client and ask them with genuine curiosity how they are doing. Stop and take the time to let the Holy Spirit do her work. The Holy Spirit is something that happens between people that connects us to each other and to God and transforms our lives into ones of love.