Date: May 24, 2015
Title: “Interpreting the Language of the Divine”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: John 15:26, 27; 16:4b-15
In the spirit of Pentecost, and in the lingering glow of vacation, let me begin this morning by saying, Hola! Buenos Dias mis hermanos y hermanas! Grace y paz a vosotros en al dia de Pentecostes!
Many of you know that I just returned Thursday evening from a two week trip with my oldest daughter, Sarah, through southern Spain. It was a great time. I’d be happy to tell you tales and show you pictures (I have about 1100 of them)… there’s the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, and the birthplace of St. Teresa in Avila. There’s the Flamenco dancing in Sevilla and the swimming in the Mediterranean Sea along the Costa del Sol. I could tell you about Morocco and the markets of the Kasbah. I could show you the wonders of the Alhambra in Granada, or the Prado in Madrid.
But then, it is Pentecost Sunday, which is a big day in the life of our faith. And I probably should move on from vacation mode…after I tell you just one more story.
About the third day of our trip, I instituted a daily requirement: Una hora por dia solo hablamos espanol. For one hour every day, Sarah and I would speak only Spanish. This had nothing to do with Sarah, really, and everything to do with me. You see, Sarah’s Spanish is excellent. She made me so proud when people speaking with her would ask where she was from, they couldn’t believe it was the United States. They would invariably say her Spanish was just too good… all that education really paid off! Unlike Sarah, however, my Spanish is pretty atrocious, as all the Spanish speakers here today have already figured out!
Outside of Madrid and the Costa del Solo, it’s like they speak a whole different language in Spain! There was very little English spoken anywhere we traveled, so throughout our journey, Sarah was the one who had to ask directions, and check into our hotels, and order our meals, and engage in lively conversations with the people we met along the way.
I was so grateful for her Spanish agility, and her willingness to serve as my interpreter, and for each of those daily hours, to also serve as my instructor. I would have been literally lost without her. On my own, I would have known where every bathroom was located (Donde esta el bano?), I could have asked for the check in every restaurant (La cuenta, por favor),I could have greeted everyone politely (Hola! Buenos…), but I couldn’t have done much more than that. Without Sarah I would not have had the full depth of experience, the full richness of adventure, or the full confidence of travel.
Which brings me back to Pentecost. Beginning in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago, God surprises us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift enables us to have the full depth of experience, the full richness of adventure, and the full confidence of faith. You see, in many ways, the spiritual life is like a different language. If you go into a relationship with God thinking that everything is going to make sense in the way your relationship with your sisters and brothers here makes sense, you will be sadly mistaken. If you expect there to be nothing but rational, reasonable, and totally understandable encounters with the Divine…if you hope to practice a faith which never changes and live a spirituality which never changes you, you are simply wasting your time.
The Spiritual life is like a different language. And we all need the help of an interpreter from time to time. Enter the Holy Spirit. Jill Oglesby Evans put it this way:
On that first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers are transformed from a clutch of scared, like-minded folks hiding out from a baffling world, to an absurd collection of human candles set on fire to share what they know with the disbelieving and baffled world.
And when they open their mouths to say “Hey! Watch out! Your head’s on fire!” what comes out instead are weird words, strange languages, until the great noise they are making draws a crowd.
People start leaning through the doors and windows of the hide-out to hear themselves addressed in words they all can understand, until there’s not room enough for all of them in the hide-out anymore.
Which is kind of the point of Pentecost, after all. The Holy Spirit shows up and God is made understandable – or at least embraceable – by everyone. The Holy Spirit comes in and we all can finally go out – there is no longer any need for any of us to hide out any more.
We have been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. We are given that gift in our baptism, in our communion, in our community itself. We have been given the gift of One who translates belief into action and interprets God’s love in ways we can understand it. As the Spirit descends on those gathered together in a small room, breaking open their hearts along with the doors, we are reminded that resurrection is not for us alone. Resurrection is not just for we who attend church, or for those who intend to follow Jesus. Resurrection with all its possibilities – the depth of experience, the richness of adventure, and the confidence of faith – is for everyone. And it turns out that the story of Pentecost is at its core a story of the courage that comes from breaking through our established boundaries.
The story of Pentecost is the story of the courage which comes to us when we accept God’s help to interpret the language of the Spirit, and when we leave behind our fear, and our disappointments. It is the courage which comes to us when we find a way to move beyond our own timidity.
That one hour of Spanish instruction each day was challenging for me. Sometimes it was a very quiet hour, although Sarah could be counted on to ask me questions when I ran out of things to say. And I did learn some things. And it was fun, the two of us engaging one another like that. But toward the end of our trip, Sarah reminded me that the one hour a day just wasn’t enough. If all I wanted to do was talk to my daughter… so what? We could easily converse together in English.
The whole point of the exercise was for me to risk leaving the hide-out of English and begin to engage with others in Spanish! The point was for me to find the courage to break my own established boundaries.
I wish I could say I did that with frequency or even with panache. At least I can say I did it with hope. I did it with the hope that what I thought was unlikely – that I might be able to carry on a conversation with a Sevillan, or a Nerjan, or even a Madrileno seemed highly unlikely. And yet, I began to see that what I thought was unlikely was actually within my reach.
Now if I can do that, even in some small measure, maybe I can find freedom from the other fears which bind me. Maybe you can, too. If I can do that, maybe I can make a real, positive difference in the world. Maybe you can, too. And if we can do that together, then maybe the future is not yet determined. Maybe God is here with us, even while we are still learning to speak the language of the Spirit.
And maybe Pentecost is only the beginning again for all of us. Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God! Amen.