On Each of Us

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “On Each of Us” Acts 2:1-13

Anyone who has lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time can affirm how hungry we become for the sound of our own language.  My classmates and I had been living in Switzerland for about three months when culture shock set in. We were exhausted by trying to decipher the nearly incomprehensible accents of Swiss-German.  We were sick of the mockery of Swiss students, who thought we were all cowboys, Madonna, or surfer dudes.  We had had more than our fill of sausages, Smurfs, mopeds, bidets, smelly cheese, and toilets with observation platforms.

Then one day, my friends and I were wandering through a labyrinth of displays at a cultural expo when we heard something that made our hearts beat a little faster: the familiar twang of country music.  With ears tuned to that beacon, we zeroed in on the source: a booth where women were speaking English, not the clipped rhythm of British English, not the thick brogue of the Scots, not the lilt of the Irish, but real American English.  It felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.

On that first Pentecost, there were devout Jews living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, from North Africa to Mesopotamia to Rome.  I suspect that those who had been sojourning for a long time were hungry for the sound of their mother tongue.  They were strangers in a strange land, and no one let them forget it.  They were weary of the overweening pride of the priests in the Temple and shocked by the exorbitant price of lodging.  They were missing the tastes of home and thoroughly sick of falafel. 

Then, as they were walking to morning prayer, came the rush of a violent wind, followed by a sound that was music to their ears. For each one heard in his or her own language the story of God’s great deeds of power and the truth of God’s immeasurable love for them, the love revealed in Jesus.  In that foreign city, surrounded by a sea of strange people and foreign languages, each heard the language they most needed to hear.  It must have felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.

When we think about Pentecost, we tend to focus on the disciples.  We remember Peter’s powerful proclamation that inspired 3,000 people to make the choice for Jesus. We imagine Philip finding the courage and vision to take the good news and go to the Samaritans and that Ethiopian eunuch.  We consider James, who stayed put in Jerusalem and thanklessly worked, year after year, to teach the Jewish people the gospel of Jesus until his enemies put him to the sword.  When the Spirit came with rushing wind and tongues of flame, it empowered those disciples to do extraordinary, heroic, and miraculous deeds in service to the Kingdom of God.

Yet a closer reading of the Pentecost story reminds us that 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in that place when that wind from God blew and the flames danced above their heads.  There were twelve disciples.  Another seven men were present who would become the first deacons.  There were the largely unnamed women who provided for Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Susannah, and Joanna.  There were Jesus’ brothers and mother.  Even if we are generous with the math, that leaves about ninety other people who were there in that Upper Room at Pentecost—ninety people, whom we’ve never heard of, were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost.  We don’t know their stories.

Back at that cultural expo in the Basel, Switzerland of my college days, we discovered that those speakers of our mother tongue were American ex-patriot women.  Their lives had landed them abroad for decades. They taught at the university or were chemists with CIBA-GEIGY.  Their husbands were titans of industry or wizards of global finance.  Some had raised families in that foreign land, children who spoke the strange sounds of Swiss-German with just as much fluency as they did English.  Each week, those women gathered in one another’s homes to drink coffee, speak English, and navigate together the difficulty of being strangers in a strange land.

They could have been our mothers or grandmothers as they turned to us with the listening ears and compassionate care that we all need when we fear that we are alone in the dark, a long way from home. They didn’t have to be so nice, but they were. Each of them, in her own way, was extraordinary in her ordinary kindness.  There were smiles and hugs and cups of coffee.  In days to come, there were bowls of chili and slices of apple pie that tasted just like home.  And in some way when we were with them, we were home, even if it was only for an hour or so at a time in the midst of that sea of indifferent faces and other languages.

I trust that on that first Pentecost the nameless ninety went out into the streets of Jerusalem to be extraordinary in their ordinary ways.  They were kind and welcoming.  They listened and cared.  They were a lot like those American ex-patriot women I met in Basel.  In their willingness to love, they revealed that other love, the Great Love that spins the whirling planets, puffs into our lungs the breath of life, and waits to welcome us at the last.  They showed forth the holy love that walked this world in Jesus.  Filled with the Spirit, the unknown ninety went forth in their quiet, quaint, and ordinary ways to speak other languages that made the world feel like home to people who feared they were alone in the dark.

As we celebrate that first Pentecost and the falling of the Spirit upon all those named and nameless followers of Jesus, may we remember that the Holy Spirit rests upon each of us.  Empowered by the Spirit, some of us may go forth to serve the Kingdom in ways that are truly remarkable and well-worthy of the disciples.  Yet most of us will be like the ninety.  We’ll go forth to speak the languages that others long to hear in a world that feels lonely, unsafe, and far from home.  It may surprise us to learn that we are already fluent in the loving language that Jesus spoke so eloquently, the language that our neighbors long to hear.

We can speak the language of prayer.  We’ll lay a hand on the shoulder of a hurting friend and seek some holy help.  We’ll pray with the headlines, lifting up the victims of school shootings, natural disasters, and the tragedy of war.  We’ll pray for those whom we love, gently naming the worries and fears that plague every family and trusting the Lord to be at work.  We are fluent in prayer.

We can speak the language of caring.  We’ll feed hungry people with monthly food offerings. We’ll share the gospel of fresh, church-grown vegetables.  We’ll testify with toilet paper and paper towels for Grace Pantry. We’ll wrap hurting neighbors in prayer shawls made with love.  We’ll cheer friends with the gift of a prayer bear.  We’ll bless folks through times of crisis with help from the deacons’ fund. We are fluent in care.

We can speak the language of welcome.  We’ll take the time to truly see our vulnerable neighbors, to notice, greet, and listen.  We’ll reach out with concern for those who feel invisible, due to advancing age or growing disability.  We’ll greet and honor children, whose voices are often dismissed.  We’ll embrace diversity as God’s wondrous and stunning plan for humanity.  We’ll welcome students who feel like strangers in a strange land as they contend with sub-zero temperatures, long dark winters, and cafeteria food. We are fluent in the language of welcome.

By the power of the Spirit, each of us can be extraordinary in our ordinary, everyday ways.  Through our prayer, caring, and welcome, this world may even begin to feel like home for those who fear they are alone in the dark.  Let us go forth to speak the languages that others need to hear.  Amen.

Resources:

Karl Kuhn. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 5, 2022. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Debra J. Mumford. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 31, 2020. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 9, 2019. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Greg Carey. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 20, 2018. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Mikeal C. Parsons. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 8, 2014. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.


Acts 2:1-13

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


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I Yield Thee Praise

Poem for a Tuesday — “I Yield Thee Praise” by Philip Jerome Cleveland

For thoughts that curve like winging birds

Out of the summer dusk each time

I drink the splendor of the sky

And touch the wood-winds swinging by —

I yield Thee praise.

For waves that lift from autumn seas

To spill strange music on the land,

The broken nocturne of a lark

Flung out upon the lonely dark —

I give Thee praise.

For rain that piles gray torrents down

Black mountain-gullies to the plain,

For singing fields and crimson flare

At daybreak, and the sea-sweet air —

I yield Thee praise.

For gentle mists that wander in

To hide the tired world outside

That in our hearts old lips may smile

Their blessing through life’s afterwhile —

I give Thee praise.

For hopes that fight like stubborn grass

Up through the clinging snow of fear

To find the rich earth richer still

With kindliness and honest will —

I yield Thee praise.

from A Sacrifice of Praise, ed. James H. Trott. Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999.


Philip Jerome Cleveland (1903-1995) was a Congregational minister. His diverse ministry included service as a prison chaplain, a newspaper editor, a radio pianist, and a Sears and Roebuck Santa Claus. He pastored churches in Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. He had several bestselling novels about church life, including It’s Bright in My Valley, Three Churches and a Model-T, and End of Dreams. After his death, a portion of his manuscripts, articles, and papers were acquired by The University of Southern Mississippi — de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection


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Prayer for the Weary

Dear God,

No one told us twenty months ago that this was going to go on soooo long.

After all, how long could it be? A week, a month, a season?

Our cheeks are chapped from wearing masks.

We’re sick of minding our social distance.

We’ve been tested, immunized, and boostered.

We miss hugs and hanging out.

We worry about friends on the frontlines; their hopes are worn thin as suture silk.

We’d love to see a holiday comedy in a packed theater while eating an enormous bucket of buttered popcorn and laughing out loud with our neighbors.

We long for the days when we went caroling — “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” floating through the skilled nursing corridors, stirring memories of Christmas-past.

We fear that this will never end, or if it does, there will be a new normal that isn’t nearly as spontaneous, joyful, or carefree as life once was.

We’re tired, Lord.

In this Advent season, grant us the grace to remember that you are Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of all that makes us weary.

Renew us in hope — and patience.

Could you please double up on the patience?

Through Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.


“But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:31


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Prayer for those who sigh

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” — Romans 8:26


You know them, Lord.

She heard from the oncologist.

His wife left.

Their child is being bullied.

She’s hearing voices again.

He can’t get a fair trial.

Their dog crossed over the rainbow bridge.

He’s got more month than money.

She just peed on a stick.

They haven’t left the house in twenty months.

He’s afraid to come out of the closet.

She’s off the wagon – big time.

Wrap us in your Spirit, O Lord, and pray for us with sighs too deep for words.


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Cosmic Hand Holding

Midweek Moment

“Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.”

Psalm 73:23-24(HCSB)

As psalms go, it isn’t the prettiest. In fact, much of it is existential angst about the prosperity and popularity of the arrogant and wicked, which apparently was as commonplace in the Biblical world as it sometimes feels in ours. But sandwiched amid the despair and disappointment are two verse of sheer grace. The psalm writer describes God in tender terms. Like a caring guardian and guide, God walks with us, holding our hand and providing the wise words that are needed most. There’s a beautiful promise, too, of honor and glory to come.

Unless we live a very charmed life, we all have days when we could use a holy friend to hold our hand and whisper reassurance. At the risk of sounding like a whiney psalmist, I’ll admit that there are day when I wouldn’t mind being first in line for the cosmic handhold, even if my problems are universally “first world” and smack of privilege. I work too much. I minister to folks in crisis. I cry most days over the dog who died in January. I have a parent undergoing surgery. I’m so sick of COVID that my eyelid begins to twitch when I hear the possibility of new mask mandates. I live in an historic home amid an ocean of honey-dos (Please, Lord, let the bathroom be finished sometime soon). The slugs are taking over the garden — and the deer just ate my daylily buds, which were liberally sprayed with deer repellant last night. Really? That’s my moment of existential angst.

How about you? Take a second and let it rip. I won’t tell anyone.

But maybe today, amid the despair, disappointment, and Delta-variant, we can claim the psalmist’s truth: God holds our hand and walks alongside. Can you imagine it? Take a quiet moment. Place one hand in the other. Breathe deeply, use your imagination, and listen with the ear of your heart. God is with you, like a patient and loving parent; like your best friend from elementary school; like Jesus, who called his disciples his friends. Thanks be to God.

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Who is fighting for you?

“Oppose my opponents, Lord; fight those who fight me. Take your shields–large and small–and come to my aid. Draw the spear and the javelin against my pursuers, and assure me: ‘I am your deliverance.'”

– Psalm 35:1-3


That David. He sure could write a poem – raw, intense, and gritty. From the verses that I share above, David goes on to further invoke God’s protection, judgment, and wrath against those who oppose him. Take a moment to read Psalm thirty-five. You’ll be glad you did. If you are familiar with scripture, the verses may evoke the painful difficulties of David’s life: from the wrath of King Saul to serving as a double agent with the Philistines, from the contempt of his wife Michal to the betrayal of his son Absalom. David needed a God who would be his shield.

I like the notion of God fighting for me, weighing into the fray and using a big shield to guard me while getting some powerful licks in against the “enemy.” The most poignant part of the psalm comes in verse twelve when it becomes clear that David wasn’t writing about adversaries on the battlefield. He was coping with everyday enemies, people for whom he had prayed, fasted, and cared deeply through times of hardship, sickness, or trouble. David’s compassion was rewarded with mockery, betrayal, and ridicule. He must have felt terribly alone.

We may not face the same difficulties that David did, but his words stir within us memories of old hurts and betrayals: the colleague who took credit for our hard work, the sibling who drove a wedge in our family harmony, the spouse who walked out the door, the friend who broke our trust and spilled our secrets in harmful, hurtful ways. Those difficulties may not be personal; they may be systemic. The playing field isn’t level for people of color. Women still struggle for equal pay and professional opportunity. Grey hair and crow’s feet may render us invisible in a culture that prizes youth. Of course, “enemies” can be figurative: the silent spread of cancer, the slow creep of age, the pain of past abuse. What or who are the “enemies” that press in upon you today?

I am grateful to know that God–who chose to walk among us in Jesus–is with me in all those difficult circumstances. The Lord is with you in all that makes you say, “Woe!” I like to imagine that on the days when I, like David, feel terribly alone, God’s mighty shield surrounds me. Active in battle and always victorious, the Lord parries, thrusts, and repels. The Lord, mighty in battle, is more than a match for all those “enemies” that preoccupy our thoughts and fill us with woe.

I suspect that Psalm 35 inspired Patrick of Ireland in the fifth century to write the prayer that has become known as the lorica or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” The word lorica is Latin. It alludes to the body armor worn by Roman soldiers to protect them in battle. Patrick knew enemies. He dedicated his life to sharing the gospel with the very people who had enslaved him for six years. The prayer, like a magic spell woven around the body, invokes God’s powerful protection. It has long been used as a “Prayer Upon Arising,” a morning prayer to invoke the help of God for the day to come. As you go forth into your day, may you remember the words of Psalm 35–and Patrick of Ireland. The Lord is fighting for you.

Blest be the tie!

Joann White


“St. Patrick’s Breastplate”

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

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