Good morning. My name is Elizabeth, and I am happy to bring you the message this morning. When the pastor asked me to speak this morning, I was excited, and maybe a little nervous. As a practicing teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages and amateur linguist, the story of Pentecost has always been one of my favorites.
In preparation for this message, I found this quote from Thomas Aquinas: “This is what the philosopher and the poet share in common: both are concerned with the marvelous. Amazement is the beginning of philosophy. Wonder is a kind of desire in knowing. It is the cause of delight because it carries with it the hope of discovery.”
From what the youth read this morning, I’d like to analyze the two viewpoints on what began in that upper room on the day of Pentecost.
Some were amazed, marveled, and possessed wonder. Acts says that they were even perplexed. Maybe they were in doubt, but they still questioned what was happening. They were open to an explanation that was possibly amazing and illogical.
Some were cynical or hardened. They tried to find a reason and came to a quick, seemingly logical explanation: they were drunk. The fact that it was only nine in the morning made it seem even more scandalous, perhaps.
When was the last time you tried to explain something seemingly impossible? Which solutions were you drawn to? The human brain is literally wired to find answers to problems. It’s what keeps us alive, discovering and executing solutions.
But what if we just observed? Without making judgments? We could leave room for amazement. Sometimes things really are as they appear – in this case, what appeared and was evident were tongues of fire and mutual understanding of one another’s languages. I’d like to go back in time and step into the role of an observer here.
I would like to think there was more understanding occurring there than simply language, words received and expressed. There were most likely nonverbal expressions such as gestures. Imagine some universal gestures that everyone there could potentially understand – uncrossed arms, unlocked knees and stance, open hands, wide eyes, a smile that reaches your eyes. In our language in 2021, we might say there was an excited “vibe” that could just be felt. Have you ever heard someone say that there was “just something in the air?” There is no physical explanation for a feeling like that – it just has to be felt. I imagine there were good and excited vibes enabled by this initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
When I was 19, I traveled outside the United States for the first time. I was soon entering my sophomore year of college, a Spanish major with a desire to go out into the world and share my love of language with teenagers as a high school teacher. I would actually say that Spanish was my first love, beginning around five years old with episodes of Sesame Street and bilingual books my mom would let me buy at the book fair. When I was 10, my grandma fulfilled a promise and took me on my first airplane ride to Arizona to visit family. During the trip, we visited the Grand Canyon, and beyond the unreal sights of one of the wonders of the natural word, I remember hearing other languages in real life for the first time. I was entranced and enthralled by different ways of communicating. I went on to start my formal education of Spanish in high school, and as a senior decided to pursue a Bachelor’s in Spanish. I demonstrated knowledge of the grammar such as the structure of verbs and order of adjectives and nouns in sentences. I could use a map to point out the geography of the Spanish-speaking world. But what I was missing was an experience of immersion that would make all my book-learning come to life.
To say that I was excited about my first international trip to South America was an understatement. I went with a group from my church, wide-eyed and with open hands. The first time I entered a worship service completely in Spanish at a mountainside church in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I was amazed and so excited that I felt the same Holy Spirit in that church that I had felt in my English-speaking church back home. I wanted nothing more than to sing songs I didn’t know all the words to, to experience what books hadn’t taught me. While my life, circumstances, color of my skin, and mother tongue were literally a hemisphere away from my new Spanish-speaking friends and siblings in Christ, we were bound by the same Holy Spirit, the same God, who speaks all languages. Who created all languages. We were bound by the same values without having to sit down and have a conversation about it. We knew that smiles and hugs and shaking hands and uncrossed arms were all signs of love and understanding in Jesus.
What was the cause of my openness to new languages, cultures, and of course, people? I’m not sure. But I know it can be cultivated.
The retelling of Pentecost given to us in Acts is a message of hope. It shows us two distinct perspectives of the same event. In these times where a slight misunderstanding can lead to rifts in families, churches, and communities, it’s even more important for us to be aware of our nonverbal and verbal communication when we encounter experiences or ways of life unfamiliar to us.
I imagine that those who hypothesized that those in the Upper Room were inebriated at nine in the morning had a cynical laugh together, shrugged, and went about their day. Maybe they went to the market, relayed their experience by saying something like, “Did you hear about those crazy people speaking all those languages? What a cacophony!” and went on their way shaking their heads, missing the wonder and amazement of what just happened, what was only the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth.
However, those who were “amazed and perplexed” experienced something they would never forget. They would share the details of their experience for years to come, and express how special it was to have the Holy Spirit present and enabling them to mutually understand one another.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be the latter. I’d rather be the poet who observes and takes in rather than the philosopher who analyzes. I never want to lose the amazement and openness to new experiences or even miracles. Our complex and evolved human brains look for logical solutions – and this tendency does bring about many wonderful discoveries in all aspects of our existence. But there are phenomena that are bigger than we are – things we haven’t figured out yet and may never make sense of. And that’s okay.
Acts chapter two goes on to describe Peter’s message to all the people there, citing the prophecies about that day. Some accepted the good news and were baptized, and some did not accept it. Which will we be?
Let’s lead with curiosity. Let’s be willing to be immersed in experiences where we may not always understand. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us through these experiences. Let’s let ourselves be amazed and maybe even perplexed, and we ourselves can become a conduit for bridging cultures and peoples so that we can bring the good news of Jesus to all places, not the least of which, our community right here in Maryland.
I’d like to conclude with a song we sang in that church that has stayed with me since: “Abre mis ojos,” or “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” I invite you to listen and observe – while you may not understand, can you still feel the same excitement and amazement of the same Holy Spirit? If you are perplexed, can you approach the experience with curiosity and wonder?
Thank you, and praise be to God.