Lots of amazing things happened on the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. Earth was overcome with Wind and Fire. Chaos ensued. Rushing. Falling. Power. Roaring. Speaking. Hearing. Wind. Fire. Pow! What a day. The promised Gift of the Holy Spirit did not come gently to soothe. He is NOT that kind of comforter. He came powerfully to shake!
But sometimes, lost amidst the supernatural chaos is a less-heralded miracle. People heard one another. People understood one another. What one person was hoping to say was matched perfectly by what the other person heard. A miracle. Tongue spoke, ear heard, mind awakened, heart turned. Was the miracle in the speaking? What the miracle in the hearing?
We live in a time when it is easier than ever to communicate. Or at least to talk. The truth is, though, that it has perhaps never been harder to faithfully transmit one idea or emotion from one person to another through the medium of language. The text message that was read with the wrong tone. The tweet sent too hastily. The third-hand account of what another said. Or this often repeated dialogue:
Her: I thought I told you when we were leaving; I remember saying it to you.
Him: Was that today?
Her: Was what today?
Him: The day we were leaving?
Her: No, yesterday was the day I told you we were leaving today?
Him: I thought we were leaving yesterday!
Her: Okay, but now we are really late!
Him: I’ll get the keys.
And every preacher knows that whatever is spoken from the pulpit is often not actually heard in the pews. So much is lost in the translation even with people who (ostensibly) speak the same language!
Lost in Translation?
This week, the Internet’s latest viral sensation brought this into focus. Yanny or Laurel? Poll after poll shows an even split—we can’t even agree on the sound of a single spoken word. Yikes? We may need some help!
Pentecost is a reminder to us that this is not easy work. When the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples, those who heard them were bewildered and believed them to be drunk. Even as the truth became clear—that these Galileans were somehow speaking in all different languages confusion still reigned until Peter stood and actually addressed the crowd.
And what should we make of Peter’s address? He proclaimed the gospel, yes, but observe how. He begins by returning his hearers to familiar words—from the psalmists, from the prophets. These were words that his audience had heard a hundred times before. They took for granted that the knew these words. Peter says to them: this isn’t easy work. He shows them that these familiar phrases find their meaning in Jesus, the one they’d rejected. He helps them to re-hear the message, pressing through obscuring prejudice and presupposition.
To be sure, there is a wildness to this moment. The rushing wind, the tongues of flame. But the result of all that chaos was a radical re-order the world has not known since the disorder of Babel. An unprecedented unity between what is said and what is heard—and all of it directed toward the outward and upward mission of the gospel. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us that we might proclaim more perfectly the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Earth, Wind, and Fire
I had a conversation about this with my colleague at LeaderWorks, Kolby Kerr. He extended some of the reflections I’ve offered here, applying them more practical to our work in the pulpit. Following the Spirit’s lead, how do we ensure that we are preaching so that God’s Word is heard and understood?
I hope you’ll check it out. You can also see my collection of quotes and thoughts on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.
Canon David has over 35 years of local congregational ministry, diocesan and national involvement, leadership, and ministry experience and is the founder of Leaderworks. He was the founding Rector/Pastor, Christ Church, Plano and currently serves as the Strategic Leader and Dean, Diocese of C4SO.