This Sunday is Pentecost, arguably the second most important Sunday of the Christian Year. Each year we at Riverview mark Pentecost by celebrating communion.
The Scripture Readings this week are:
- From the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis 11:1-9
- Psalm 104:24-35 (VU p.827 Part 2)
- From the Writings of the Early Church: Acts 2:1-21
The Hymns are:
- 457 As We Gather at Your Table
- 198 Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us (tune 333)
- 195 On Pentecost They Gathered (tune 331)
- 68 Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ
The Sermon title is What Language to Use?
Early Thoughts: Language is a potent part of how we communicate, and of how we miscommunicate. Language can unite us and it can divide us. And sometimes the most dividing happens when we mistakenly believe that we are speaking the same language.
This week we hear the Scriptural explanation for the fact that there are many languages in the world. The Acts passage then tells us how the Spirit is able to move beyond the boundaries of language. While the real point of the story is the transformative power of the Spirit to change lives, it is also important that each person hearing heard the Good News proclaimed in her/his own language!
This story gives us a challenge. It challenges us to think seriously about what it means to tell the old story to people in their own language. And this is not about translating the Scripture from Greek/Hebrew into English, French, Swahili, etc. This is about translating "church English" into a form that people outside the church can understand. When was the last time you used thee or thou in a conversation?
One of the things that is often misunderstood is that language is always evolving. In real terms it changes at least generationally (currently the change may in fact be speeding up). This goes beyond current slang. Idioms and expressions change or lose meaning. The same word gets redefined.
So what language do we need to use? Does it make sense to use shepherding and farming images to inner-city kids who only see food wrapped in plastic wrap on grocery store shelves? What idioms have the meaning that we want to portray when we talk about the Good Shepherd? How do we tell the old old story in a language that has meaning today? How do we tell it in ways that have meaning for people of differing generations and backgrounds?
In the church we really do need to be multi-lingual--even if we are only using English. What language do we use to tell the Good News to those who are around to hear us? In the end the point is in getting the message across. It is less important what words we use to do that.