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.
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.
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.”