Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ve been reading a juvenile fiction series by Shannon Messenger. It’s called, “Keeper of the Lost Cities,” and the central character is an elf whose genetics have been tweaked so that her powers are greater than average—and where most elves have one special power, she has several. One of her powers is called polyglot, which I’ll define in a few moments. In addition to her extraordinary powers, she’s been hidden among those with no such powers for the first thirteen years of her life, within a human family— in the human part of the world where elves were forbidden to go unless they had special permission from the council.
Of course the elves, along with all the other non-human races, have hidden themselves from the humans for a very long time, because the humans were too—well, what would you imagine? Too war-like? Too greedy? Too stupid? Probably all of that—many of us are all too aware of our failures—Psalm 22 has us calling ourselves worms!
In the series I’m reading, the elves are slowly discovering that they are unable to keep from themselves many of the same problems that inspired them to remove themselves from the humans. It seems no matter what they do to try to control their world, someone does something that makes everything go wrong!
We are approaching the Sunday of Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter, if you want to count it that way. I remember as a child the mystery of the day, picturing the flames resting on the heads of the disciples as they gathered in that room where the wind surrounded them like a tornado and the babel of the languages of many countries filled the room. I mentioned one of the powers of the elf in the book series earlier as polyglot. It means, “many languages,” and describes a person who has control of many languages, much like those gathered in the room on Pentecost.
In the time of my childhood adoration of the Pentecost story, I understood only a few words of German, such as those that we were taught in order to call my grandmother for dinner, and those my father used when he was angry or disgusted. Other than that, I knew only English. The German spoken by my grandmother and my aunts and uncles was not meant for my ears, and I let it flow past me because I’d been taught that’s the way it should be.
I still am not fluent in any language other than American English, though I studied German and Greek in college, and Greek, Hebrew, and Latin while at seminary. Because of those basics, I can discern the meaning of several words in other languages, and I can study through and interpret things in other languages as well. I’ve found the Internet today to be a source of immense value when needed for translations—though the automatic translators fall quite short much of the time!
As I grew older, as I became involved in sharing faith stories with people younger than myself, working with children in Sunday Schools, youth groups, and confirmation classes, I had trouble believing they had no idea what Pentecost was. Most of them claimed never to have heard of it. They may not have.
Often, the day of Pentecost falls after school is out for the summer, and people are on vacation, or merely neglect to gather for worship that day.
Sometimes, the day of Pentecost is not emphasized, because it is used as the day of Confirmation, or Affirmation of Baptism, and people are distracted by many other stories.
Then, of course, there is also the fear of Pentecostalism, which contains the word of Pentecost, and tends to add a kind of legalism that makes many people of faith a little nervous,
Finally, it can be a little embarrassing, I think. We might celebrate this day as the birthday of the church, or as its baptism. We might have a bunch of red balloons or paper flames pasted on the walls. Whatever we do, though, we can’t quite replicate what happened on that Festival day, however much we might want to do so.
Sure, we could rent a wind machine—if we really wanted to. We could play a recording of a tornado, which I assure you, you don’t want to hear in person. We could project something on the wall that represents what happened. Whatever we do, though, we can’t control the Spirit. Though we can use a fan to create some wind, we can’t fully control where that wind goes or what it does. There are elves in the book series I’m reading that can do that, but that’s fantasy.
God’s Spirit moves according to God’s will, and we can’t control that. Sudden understanding of a foreign language may happen now and then, but we don’t depend upon it. Sudden speaking in foreign tongues cannot be planned without extensive education and study… but that’s what happened then. So where do we go from here?
We are nearly 2000 years from the immediacy of the proclamation that Pentecost Day, and even longer from the time of Joel’s proclamation declaring that people of all kinds would be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, that people of all kinds would proclaim God’s word, that people of all kinds would speak, and hear, and see, and rejoice…
What is God’s Spirit doing here today, through Concordia Lutheran and through each one of the persons gathered here this day? We may not know, exactly, but we can be confident that God’s Spirit is alive, and moving within us, as a group, and as individuals. Each time we breathe in, we can be reminded of the life God gives us, and be inspired to live according to God’s inspiration! Each time we breathe out, may it be that we share God’s spirit with those around us.
God’s Spirit is one of life. Just as one creation story from our scriptures tells us that God breathed into the first of us the breath of life, so it remains. We breathe in, we breathe out, living in God’s Spirit.
Today, I pray: May God open our eyes to see what we do not yet see. May God open our ears to hear what we cannot yet hear. May God open our hearts to love those we do not yet love. May God open our lives to be shared with all people.
In Jesus’ name. Amen