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God's Favourite Language

Cette semaine je suis allé chez Esther et François, une de nos familles qui vienne de Burundi. Moi, je ne parle que quelques mots de Kirundi, leur langue. Eux, ils commencent à apprendre le français. Alors, c’était un peu difficile, on essayait, mais il faut dire, notre communication était assez limitée - jusqu’au moment que Beatrice et Nadia sont arrivées. Elles parlent Français et Kirundi. Alors en ce moment-là, tout a changé. On parlait, on se posait des questions, on riait. Ça fait du bien d’entendre sa langue maternelle.

Isn’t it a great feeling, when someone finally speaks to you in your own language? Maybe you’ve had that feeling, when you were traveling in a foreign land, or maybe even on the other side of the Ottawa River. Perhaps it was a stressful situation. Imagine being lost and trying to find your way in broken Spanish and then suddenly someone comes up to you and speaks your language. It’s that feeling of being home again. Sometimes, it’s a relief; sometimes, it’s a rush. Surtout pour les gens qui se trouvent en dehors de leurs pays d’origine, ça nous ramène un peu chez nous quand on entend notre langue maternelle.

A Pentecôte, les disciples furent tous remplis d’Esprit Saint et se mirent à parler d’autres langues, comme l’Esprit leur donnait de s’exprimer.

At Pentecost, it was a rush. A rush of violent wind, fire appearing among them, and they were filled the Holy Spirit. The disciples rush outside and start speaking about the greatness of God, in many languages. And at this sound the crowd comes together and is bewildered because each one hears them speaking in their own tongue. How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

“Comment se fait-il que chacun de nous les entende dans sa langue maternelle? » demanda la foule, surprise.

This is the first great Act of the Spirit after Jesus’ ascension, the one that Jesus has told the disciples to wait for.

Is this what you would have expected? Surprise! The crowd is bewildered, amazed, perplexed. Some even sneer, accusing the disciples of being drunk. As if that makes any sense. I may think my French is better after I’ve been drinking, but it isn’t really.

Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire ?

It’s the key question, the one that we should be asking too: “What does this mean?”

Is this just a random display of power, some sort of amazing party trick, the Spirit doing a little showing off?

Well, no I think there’s more to it than that.

The disciples, as well as the crowds, Jews and foreigners, all of whom had gathered in Jerusalem for the great festival of Pentecost, they had been led to believe all their lives that God’s favourite language was Hebrew. When they went to the Temple, they would read the scriptures in Hebrew. When they prayed together, they would pray in Hebrew. That was the language they would use. God’s favourite language.

I suppose in a similar way, I have some colleagues who are big on contemplative prayer and meditation, and sometimes they like to say that God’s favourite language is silence.

But this story, this launching point for the church, is telling me that when it comes to proclaiming the gospel, God’s favourite language is your language. La langue préférée de Dieu est la tienne. C’est à dire, qui tu es est important pour Dieu. On voit ça dans l’incarnation, quand Dieu devenait Jésus afin de communiquer avec nous dans notre propre langue humaine.

Who you are matters to God. Your language, your culture, your context, your life experience, everything that makes you who you are, is of the utmost importance to God. Why? Because God wants to speak with you, as you are, where you are, how you are. We see this in the Incarnation. When God wanted to communicate with us, God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus. Why? Because God wanted to speak our human language, God wanted to tell stories, to laugh and tell jokes, to eat with us and share dinner conversations, to smile, to use body language, to touch us and hold us. That’s our language, that’s what we understand, that’s what gives us the feeling of being at home.

That’s pretty amazing, if you think about it. That’s how much God cares about you and who you are. The conversation starts where you are. God’s favourite language is your language. La langue prefere de Dieu est la tienne. El idioma favorito de Dios es tu idioma. Lugha ya Mungu maarufu ni lugha yako.

And if that seems obvious to you, well, it hasn’t been so obvious for most of the history of the church. Those first disciples expected to continue in the Jewish tradition, prioritizing the Hebrew language, maintaining Jewish culture and traditions. Then Pentecost happened. Boom! The Spirit blew that notion apart pretty quickly.

But we reverted to form. The Church thought for centuries that the way to preserve unity was to prioritize the Latin language. We thought that European culture was better, more Christian than other cultures, and so we became willing participants in colonialism, which has done so much damage throughout history, including the damage that has been done to our indigenous peoples here in Canada, as witnessed by the most recent report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

We need to repent of these wrongs. We need once again to become a church that is led by the Spirit.

On a besoin de redevenir une église mené par l’Esprit. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? Trois choses.

What does it mean to be a Spirit-Led Church? Three things:

En premier lieu: des fois, il faut attendre.

The first thing it means is that sometimes we have to wait. Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the Spirit. The Spirit will come upon you, not many days from now, he tells them. So wait for it. Gather, pray and wait. This can be hard. We don’t like waiting.

Deuxième: Quand l’Esprit vient, ça va nous surprendre!

Second thing: When the Spirit does come upon you, when the waiting is over, you will be surprised at where she is leading us. Surprised, amazed, perplexed. Energized and empowered. It happens over and over again in the book of Acts. The Spirit leads to places the church would never expect, would never go on its own, and the church, and the apostles, have to scramble to keep up. There’s the day of Pentecost itself. The baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch. Peter’s visit to Cornelius, the Roman soldier. Paul’s mission to the ends of the earth. The setting aside of Jewish food laws and customs. The Spirit leads, the Spirit surprises, and we have to scramble to keep up.

Troisième: L'Esprit passera à travers les frontières et les barrières humaines pour créer la communauté.

Third thing: The Spirit will blow apart our stereotypes and preconceived notions. It’s not all about us. It’s not about insiders. The Spirit reaches across human boundaries and barriers to create community. We see that clearly on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit reaches across language boundaries to create a new community that goes from 120 Galileans to 3000 people from all over the known world all in the first day. Boundaries of language, of culture, of geography and so much more are overcome: The Spirit reaches across all of these to create community, and then urges us to keep doing it.

We see that boundary crossing dynamic play out in Peter’s very first speech to the crowd. He begins by addressing the “Men of Judea”, a reflection of his culture’s and his own biases of patriarchy and ethnicity. But surely inspired by the Spirit, as Jesus promised we would be, Peter is moved to quote the prophet Joel, and through the ancient words of the prophet, God declares that this isn’t just about men of Judea, this is about all people, men & women, young and old, slave and free, all genders, all orientations, all walks of life, all languages, all people of all cultures and nations. God will pour out God’s Spirit on each one of us, and we will prophesy, and we will see visions and we will dream dreams, all of us in our own way and our own language. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

On attend. On prie. On voit des visions. On rêve des rêves. On suit l’Esprit pour bâtir des communautés qui dépassent nos différences et divisions. C’est comme ça une Église mené par l’Esprit.

Waiting. Praying. Prophesying. Boundary Crossing.

Seeing Visions. Dreaming Dreams. Building Community.


Scrambling to keep up.

That’s what it looks like to be a Spirit-Led Church. Come Holy Spirit, Come.


Homily: Yr C Pentecost, June 9 2019, St. Albans

Readings: Acts 2.1-21, Ps 104, Romans 8.14-17, John 14.8-17, 25-27

Image by ((brian)), Creative Commons


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