When one of my kids was younger, 14 or 15, they used to tell me all the time that I just didn’t get it.
Parents of teenagers rarely do.
They’d say, “But I don’t WANT to go on the trip.”
And I’d say, “I hear you, but we’re still going.”
And they’d say “Mom, you’re not listening! I don’t want to go! You don’t get it.”
And I’d say, “I AM listening. And I get that you don’t want to go, but we’re going anyway.”
“No! You DON’T get it. If you GOT it, you wouldn’t make me go!”
Today’s story, at it’s heart is about “getting it,” about understanding each other to such a degree that when we hear someone else speak, we hear our own language.
Pentecost is NOT actually celebration of the reversal of the confusion created by the Tower of Babel falling.
People don’t begin speaking all one spoken language the way, legend has it, they did before the great tower fell and people were scattered throughout the earth.
They still spill different languages – they maintain their diversity. What changes is that they UNDERSTAND each other.
They GET each other.
Which is the real miracle, right?
Yes, they hear one another in their own spoken languages.
But they not only hear the words, they understand them.
It’s not just teenagers and their parents who have trouble understanding each other.
How many of us have been in situations when we thought we all spoke the same language but had no idea what the other person was saying?
It’s not surprising. Because what we say isn’t just words, it’s body language, it’s culture, it’s context.
The challenge with communication is that it’s NOT just listening and taking in the words.
It also getting that context and understanding the body language and the history and the underlying message.
I’ll give you another example. Last week, someone was talking to me about their church.
At first, I thought they were trying to just tell me about their church.
I’m a pastor, and so I assume when people know that about me, it’s a good guess that they want to talk about religion or church.
But as I listened, it became clear that church was just a way to talk about something deeper.
I learned that they lived in an isolated community, and they felt alone.
Talking about church was the way they could start a conversation with me, but what they really wanted and needed was someone to acknowledge that they matter.
Even those of us that say we’re direct and that say things like “I mean exactly what I say” are not getting across exactly what we say unless the person we’re talking to is listening with a desire to truly understand.
And even then, things get lost in the mix.
In our text today, when it says in verse 9, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” it’s not just about hearing.
It’s about UNDERSTANDING.
Speaking of language barriers – the English falls short this week.
In the Greek, the word used here means not only to hear, but to UNDERSTAND and perceive the sense of what is said.
If you want to look it up later, the word is ak-oo’-o, akouo.
Which means not only to hear, but the UNDERSTAND. In our own language, from our own experience and context.
On Pentecost, they didn’t just hear each other, they GOT each other. They UNDERSTOOD each other.
THAT is the miracle.
That and the fact that the Disciples are vulnerable enough and open enough to receive the Holy Spirit is part of the miraculous event.
We talked a lot in Bible study this week about different Christian traditions that talk about needing to say some magic words in order to be open to receiving the Holy Spirit.
The idea, in some Christian traditions, is that the Holy Spirit won’t enter you or inspire you or inhabit you unless you invite it in.
I won’t say that actively welcoming God into your life is a bad thing.
But there are no magic words that can prepare us for the wild and unpredictable energy of the Holy Spirit.
And there will be times when, despite our best efforts to be closed off, God in the form of the Holy Spirit will break through anyway.
This particularly happens when we’re worn down, when we’re feeling at our lowest points, and when our ego, for whatever reason, is not as strong as usual.
When we’re tired or recovering from an injury or we’re emotionally exhausted – these are the times when the Holy Spirit is particularly likely to show up, invited or not.
Because we’ve let go a little bit.
I’ve experienced this many times myself.
The story I’ll tell you today is that in the middle of my 2nd year of seminary, I was hospitalized for a week with blood clots in my lungs.
And they told me I was lucky to be alive. They said if I hadn’t come in, I likely would have died.
Remember that at that time, my whole world was about studying God, understanding God, wrapping my hands and my head around who God was and what God meant, and yet it was there in that hospital room, isolated and afraid and broken that God really broke through.
I had been gripping this idea of God so tightly, trying to control and understand and name who God was that I’d gotten in my own way.
But when I was knocked off my feet for a week and began to see my own vulnerability, THAT’s when I had a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit could really do.
When I got a sense of what the Holy Spirit meant.
Perhaps, at their core, these texts are actually about letting go.
Letting go of our need to control the meaning of God.
Letting go of making everyone speak OUR language instead of trying to learn and understand theirs.
And I’m not just about those of us who want everyone in the United States to learn English.
I’m talking about all of us who want people to do things OUR way instead of learning and getting to the core of why they do things THEIR way.
Maybe it’s about letting go of our need to be right all the time.
Letting go of some of that ego that might be getting in the way of the Holy Spirit.
If we want God to break into our lives in new and beautiful ways, we may need to quiet our egos for minute, and listen, really listen, and seek to UNDERSTAND.
May the Holy Spirit move around us, within us, and between us.
Speaker: Rev. Sarah TevisTownes
June 11, 2019