Preached on Pentecost 2010, May 23, at Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ by Rev. Andy DeBraber
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, 25-27
Have you ever been misunderstood? I mean really misunderstood, like no one ever understands you and no one ever will. Certainly we identify this with teenagers who feel like their parents will never “get them.” Maybe you’ve seen the youngest among us struggle to communicate as they just begin to grasp the language; and seen them throw their hands up in dismay or cry in frustration or yell out in anger, even repeating what they are saying over and over and over again, as if somehow repetition would bring clarity.
We may have experienced being misunderstood, or may be experiencing it now, in the relationships to those closest to us, in relationship to our coworkers, or in relationship to what we do for a living. “Why can’t you just see it my way?” “Don’t you understand I have a job to do?” “Is this really what I’m meant to be doing with my life?”
The Great Misunderstanding may also come around the health of our bodies, minds, and emotions: “Do you know how badly I want that next drink?” “How can you really understand what it’s like for me to be so depressed?” “You don’t know what it’s like for me to have to live in a body that’s like this.” “Do you know that sometimes I think about just driving off the road?”
With Pentecost, the early Christian church converted the Jewish Festival of the Weeks into its own festival. The Festival of the Weeks happened seven weeks after Passover and was a celebration of the first fruits of each year’s harvest. Thus pente-cost, fifty days.
The Church’s festival of Pentecost also became a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. The story Ron read for us this morning later concludes that 3,000 people “were added,” the first additional followers of Jesus since his death and resurrection, at least on the record. Thus this is sometimes called the “birthday of the church.”
How did it happen? With the promised gift of the Spirit. As evidenced most clearly by what? Languages. Many languages. The followers of Jesus speaking in tongues previously unknown to them. And those gathered in Jerusalem, having brought the first fruits of their harvest for the Pentecost celebration, heard this speaking, each in their own language.
Not unlike the experience of walking around in another country, feeling lost because you can’t read the signs. Whenever you try to ask a question, people just look at you quizzically. Walking by certain places, you see people talking and laughing and pointing, and you worry that they are laughing at you, but you have no clue because you can’t understand what in the world they are saying!
Until one moment you think you hear something familiar. Walking past the open door of the local pub and grub, a word catches your ear. And you can understand it! Glory be! Hallelujah! You rush in, happy to have found someone to connect with -- finally, someone who understands!
Now imagine that scene again, except this time, suddenly it’s you who, upon seeing a stranger lost in the Great Misunderstanding, begins to speak a different language. Something somehow comes over you (read Spirit) as the Divine Translator. You speak another’s language. They understand. They feel welcomed. They feel heard.
One of the miraculous truths of Pentecost is not that everyone understood the same language, but rather that God’s Spirit delighted in and joined in the great diversity of languages present that day. One common language would have been another way to pursue the same end, but at the cost that some would become dominant and others subservient. Pentecost restores the dignity of each language and recognizes the beauty and necessity of the many.
Many of us have been attracted to this community, Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ, because we have been understood for the first time in a place where for so long we have felt misunderstood. Whether it’s our gender, gender identity, intellect, sexual orientation, or open-mindedness, we have been heard and spoken to here in a language we understand, in a language we haven’t heard in many other places that call themselves “church.”
The paradox inherent in our welcome here, in the Great Misunderstanding, in Pentecost, is that we are never alone -- someone somewhere always understands and speaks our language -- and that we will never be fully understood -- we are complex beings full of mystery and changing by the day.
Living in this Pentecost Paradox means finding someone, or a group of someones, who understand at least in part and who are willing to listen to my language. Such people don’t always simply appear. Often, we must seek them out.
Living in this Pentecost Paradox means being someone who understands, learns to speak other languages, and truly listens, trying to understand those who “speak” differently than we do. When we see another caught in the Great Misunderstanding, into which they will often offer fleeting glimpses to those with eyes to see, the imperative is upon us to trust that the Spirit will give us ears to hear their language and voice to speak it. They will know again they are not alone. Someone cares. Someone understands. This might mean inviting others to this place, that speaks a Progressive language of faith not found many other places in west Michigan.
Finally, living in this Pentecost Paradox means putting ourselves in the presence of this Spirit, this Advocate, this one who understands us fully and fully desires the best for us, this God who Loves us, each day. Breathe it in. Know it. Let its peace dwell in us, that we might share it with all the world. Let us practice this now.