“How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
I wish I were fluent in another language. I took Spanish in high school. I can still recognize a few words and say a few phrases if you twisted my arm. I should have continued it in college, but I had the brilliant idea to instead take two semesters of Norwegian– not that it’s such a bad thing, but it’s not like I’m bumping into many Norwegian speakers on the street these days.
All this is to say that I would be totally and completely lost in any non-English context. I’ve been to foreign countries, and so to an extent, I know what that feels like. It can be lonely, exhausting and isolating; it can be confusing and even a little scary at times.
On that day of Pentecost so many years ago, I can imagine how it must have been a relief for the foreigners in Jerusalem then to hear the Gospel their own language – like water in the desert.
It’s a small detail, but we should note here that when the Holy Spirit came, everybody was able to hear the Gospel spoken in their own language. The miracle wasn’t that they could suddenly speak (or at least comprehend) a new language. No. God spoke to them in the language that they could already comprehend.
And that says something about how God values diversity. On this pivotal day in the history of the Christian church – a day that announced the Gospel was truly for the world – the Holy Spirit didn’t ask the people to conform to one language. The Holy Spirit spoke right to them.
It’s something we should take note of in the church. The Holy Spirit’s approach to ministry is to meet people where they are at – not try to force our own language and customs on others.
That could mean a lot of things in different contexts, but no matter what, it requires us to ask, “How can we speak the Gospel in languages other people understand better?” I of course mean that not just linguistically, but culturally as well. How can we preach the gospel in the “language” of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? How can we preach in the language of our teens? How can we preach in the language of a foreigner to our sanctuary?
A familiar language can go a long way.